The Yoga Weekend held a Yoga pop up at Bright Lights event venue. The evening included a star line up of Yogis, a dj and an ecstatic dance party. A portion of proceeds were donated to support New Leaf Foundation

The evening brought together a powerhouse line up of health and wellness entrepreneurs who collaborated to weave together their expertise to create the dynamic healing experience. This interview features three of the wellness entrepreneurs. Sari Nisker is an entrepreneur, Yoga Teacher, Consultant, Holistic Life & Business Coach, co founder of The Yoga Weekend.  Jen Birenbaum is owner of hOMe private yoga studio, co founder of The Yoga Weekend retreat and runs workshops and private sessions. Tracey Soghrati is a passionate change-maker with a critical eye and the capacity to inspire people to action whose signature skill is the ability to deliver classes that explore the intersection between mind and body through the practice of yoga

A meaningful aspect of the yoga pop up experience was that is allowed guests to sample a variety of healing modalities all in one event and participate regardless of any previous experience. It created an opportunity on a very cold February night to find some inner inspiration and feel a sense of community in an urban city. 

group of people doing a seated meditation at the beginning of a yoga class

What follows is a series of questions and answers that will introduce some of the experiences curated for the yoga weekend pop-up and also give you a brief introduction to the various practices, teachings and wellness modalities that these wellness leaders offer. 

What was the guiding inspiration behind creating your first Yoga Weekend Urban pop up?
Sari Nisker : The inspiration behind creating the Yoga Weekend City Pop-Up is multifaceted; the core of it, stemming from our desire to stay in touch with The Yoga Weekend campers throughout the year. 
We have heard many times over that those who have attended the retreat weekend have a special connection and beautiful association. If we can offer a little dose to keep them connected to that feeling of tending to themselves through yoga practices, nature and community, then it’s a win for all! This particular Yoga Weekend City pop-up was a combination of yoga, meditation, and ecstatic dance which encompasses just a few of our offerings at The Weekend. 

What are some of the considerations you make when accommodating such a broad range of peoples experiences with yoga?

Jen Birenbaum: We start with the intention to offer a space for all to come and practice exactly as they are. We bring together a talented team of teachers that have the skill and desire to share the practice of yoga with everyone and we work hard to create a schedule that offers variety throughout. We also have the benefit of being in a huge playground of nature where people generally feel more connected to themselves and each other and free to choose what they feel in the moment.

What was the motivation behind choosing Bright Lights as the space for the pop up and what were some of the criteria you were looking for in a space for a wellness event to take place?

Jen Birenbaum: Bright Lights is an aesthetically beautiful space, but it also has a beautiful energy. The open space, grounded wood floors, the greenhouse that feels like a little jungle haven and people excited to help you make your vision a reality. During the day, the light that comes in throughout is uplifting and fresh and at night, the room feels cozy even though it’s large. We knew we wanted a space that could accommodate us in a flexible way; room for yoga mats, space for snacks and drinks to be served and then space for dance and hanging out. Bright Lights has it all!

Bright Lights is an aesthetically beautiful space, but it also has a beautiful energy.

a yoga teacher talking and gesturing with her arms
Jen Birenbaum:

What was the best part of the pop up experience for you?

Jen Birenbaum: It’s hard to choose the best part… I loved the visioning and planning, I loved teaching, I loved the ecstatic dance party! But overall, I love feeling connected. I feel proud to have been a part of creating space for people to be together in real life on a cold February night.

Jen Birenbaum and Sari Nisker

As a yoga teacher teaching in your own space now how has your perception of what yoga can do for people shifted and evolved?

Jen Birenbaum: The practice of yoga constantly surprises me both as a student and a teacher. There is so much space to explore within the practice and it seems to only have positive effects over time. Having my own space has provided the opportunity to more consistently connect with people through their practice and be a part of their journey. The slow and steady change that I get to witness is very powerful. The healing that happens just by breathing, moving and connecting with yourself is profound.

I think the shift or evolution for me has been deeply seeing and believing that my own experience of healing and growth is universal. I think I knew that before, but the more I see it happen in front of me, the more it becomes truth.

three women in yoga outfits chatting before a class

How does having a live dj and an ecstatic dance experience add to the overal  experience?
Sari Nisker : Yoga and Meditation offer a more structured and ancient practice. Adding contemporary music, a talented and passionate yogini to facilitate that as well as a free flowing dance experience offers a current and complementary practice. Dancing makes you feel free, joyful, alive in a different way. When you participate in a grounding meditation and then begin to come into your body through a yoga practice, by the time you start to dance, there is more ease, comfort and an even brighter vibrant connection to the present and yourself. 
a yoga teacher talking and gesturing with her arms
Messina Movement and Carmen Dimanno Yoga
You run a dynamic company that includes yoga, coaching and wellness. How do the moving parts of your portfolio work so well together to be able to offer a full program to individuals and groups?
Sari : To feel “well” in your life, means you have to really look at all aspects of your life. We can’t just rock one area like work or be in tip top shape if our relationships are suffering or we don’t feel a purpose outside physical achievements. Much of the work starts with mindset; how we view the world and experiences we have shape how we engage with the world. Yoga is not just about the physical but the body and mind connection which helps to cultivate presence and self awareness… more than any other form of exercise.
close up shot of yoga students meditating with hands in yoga mudras position
Meditation and mindfulness is finally becoming a mainstream activity that is being embraced and marketed. The world is just waking up to how powerful the mind really is and how we have more control over our thoughts then we think! That is where coaching really drives me. I get so much joy out of supporting a student or client breaking through a limiting belief about what they physically can or can’t do, switching careers, finding love, learning to eat better for life – whatever it is, I support their forward growth. 
A lost style venue with plants and yoga mats laid out for a class
Building community has always been a passion of mine. I am a connector. I see collaborations in my mind before I even say them. Owning a yoga studio for almost 10 years, building 4 big (200 ppl +) retreat weekends (The Yoga Weekend), and other wellness events (Yoga to Conquer Cancer put on by Princess Margaret Cancer Hospital) continue to sharpen my skill and affinity for attracting partners and people that are mutually aligned and think big about how to positively impact others. 
Whether I am teaching or coaching or helping to market The Yoga Weekend, for me it is all the same. My bigger why is always asking myself, how can I drop inspiration for change for the better? How can I help someone be more conscious of their thoughts, words and actions?  How can I help them move from where they are to where they ideally want to live? 
I create programs based on the needs and “ideal” desires of the individual or group!

What are some of your go to sources for inspiration and self growth?

Sari Nisker : I don’t have to look far for inspiration – It is all around me. My kids have become a central source of inspo! They teach me to be consistent, patient, a clear communicator, and remember the joy of each day. 

I work with incredible practitioners and teachers weekly.I am always inspired by my colleagues and local teachers that always see and uplift me.  My clients are constantly teaching me to dig deeper within my own coaching skill but shine a mirror into my own personal development. We all essentially want the same things in life; to be happy, to feel good in our skin, to have tools to deal with the hardships and have better than average relationships. 

a lost style venue with chandeliers with yoga students seated on mats

I have feel fortunate to study with charismatic and powerful teacher, entrepreneurs, thought leaders who have shared their experiences, skills, and work. I soak up and take cues from not only a mentor’s tactical work and philosophies but I observe how they live and show up in the world. They are leaving me clues.Some of my teachers and people who inspire me include (have included) Jonathan Fields, Anthony Robbins, Chloe Madanes,  Brendan Brouchard, and Brooke Castillo. I love to read books by inspiring teachers and bad ass bosses. 

three women charring and smiling

I am continuously inspired by my own self meditation and yoga practice. Insights, clarity and ideas are born when I go below the chatter in my mind. Travel also opens up my mind to create new offerings and collaborations. Toronto has a beautiful wellness community that Is inclusive, relevant and always moving the innovation dial in regards to workouts, wellness offerings, and churning out thought leaders who are right in my city! 

head shot of yoga teacher Tracey Soghrati
Tracey Soghrati

A big tenant of your yoga is the ability to deliver classes that explore the intersection between mind and body through the practise of yoga. What were some pivotal experiences for you that made you want to develop a mastery in the field?

Tracey Soghrati :When my mother died tragically when I was 14 years old I moved out of my father’s house to support myself at 15. When I think of that girl- because that’s what I was, a little girl, I feel both awe and sorrow. I’m in awe that my body kind of shut down to the trauma that I was experiencing and just went into survival mode, and then sorrow because I effectively lost a sense of safety in the world for a period of time.

As a survivor of complex trauma – and a kid- I put myself through University ( 2 degrees) . I studied biology and then healthcare and part of that drive was to prove to the world that I was good enough or even just ok, and part of it was that I didn’t know myself. I had even through so much, even prior to my mother’s death, and I could tolerate facing the pain that other people were experiencing, but the only way I could visualize working in a helping profession was to train trough the existing biomedical model.

Then one day, I ended up in a yoga class, by accident really, and I had this experience of feeling totally and completely integrated. I was connected to my body, and my mind wasn’t spinning and I felt whole. It was the beginning of my love affair with yoga. over time I realized that we have the ability to process our life experiences throughout the body and when we can integrate breath, body and mind with the present moment through yoga or breathing practices or meditation, sustainable change happens. I’ve spent the last 20 years of my life experiencing this personally and exploring through the practice of yoga therapy.

yoga teacher meditating on mat outside on cobbled street
Tracey Soghrati photo credit Michele Crockett Photography

Recently you launched an online yin yoga training program. What has this new experience of delivering your teaching in this format been like?

Tracey Soghrati: I’m thrilled with the opportunity to offer my training through on-line education, There was definitely a huge learning curve though. I’ve spent the last 10 years avoiding social media and I’ve never even taken a graduation photo of my teacher trainees, so I had to really adjust to being out in the world in a more obvious way. I think that societal trends are changing so fast that we have to adapt. The traditional way to learn a skill was to participate in person, this use isn’ the reality anymore.

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Yin yoga for athletes!!! This variation is for the IT band and glutes (runners and athletes). Step the left foot in front of the bolster to the right side, bend the knee until the shin comes down in front of the bolster, slide the right leg back (knee can be extended OR flexed depending on your mobility). Walk the left foot right so that the knee is medial to the left hip (adduction will target the piriformis), then walk the body back in space so that the knee hovers and the shin and thigh form a 90 degree angle. Dorsi-flex the foot so that the calf muscle acts like a brace for the knee to prevent rotation. Stay upright or fold forward for 2-5 min!! #yinyogatoronto #yinyoga #traceysoghrati #yinyogateachertraining #soghratiyoga #athlete #yinforathletes #yinforrunners #yinforcrossfit #yinforitband

A post shared by Tracey Soghrati (@traceysoghrati) on

This project really came to life when I had my own kids and realized how difficult it was to attend training because the needs of my family were a priority. After struggling with this for a number of years, I wanted to give others a chance to participate in high quality education even when limited by family responsibilities, income or time I feel that I’ve really been able to create a training that gives students the best of what I have to offer in a flexible format- and there’s more coming !!

A portion of proceeds to support New Leaf Foundation

The Yoga Weekend

Sari Fox

Jen.B Home 

Messina Movement

Tracey Soghrati Yoga

Paria Mirazimi

Carmen Dimanno Yoga 

Bright Lights Event Venue

photos : Paul McNulty