I often think of this practice as a call.  Or, more rightly, as something that calls.  More right still: this is the state of feeling something is there, calling to us.  We feel it, and hear in our deepest recesses.  Everyone has some version of this.  Everyone wants, in some way, to be better.  When we stop to feel our breath before we move, or open our voices in sound, or open our ears to the sound of the bell, we are listening for the call.  Of course, sometimes, what we feel when we most deeply listen isn’t a clarion bell or a lightening bolt or a wash of serenity.  Sometimes we feel doubt, or pain.  Sometimes, all that comes back is silence.

It’s so hard to know what to do with silence.

Yoga is an art.  A science of experience.  The last time trainees gathered, I had them write for ten minutes in silence: what is the experience of yoga and meditation, like?  Then, I had them write across the bottom, hopefully in bold, heavy handed, graffiti text: How do you teach, that?  A few sneered.  One laughed out loud.  One looked at me like I’d just taken her toys away.

I think the experience is a kind of nakedness, a sudden sincerity.

We mistake posing for sincerity.  This gets worse, when we think of ‘teaching’ or ‘advancing’ or ‘going further’: Posing becomes outright contortion.  It becomes a game of props, plots, plays.  We begin to suffer an intolerable sense of faking it, the misery of being an imposter.

This is a human ailment.  It’s an outright cancer amongst yoga teachers.

Somewhere we’ve developed the misconception that teaching involves demonstrating a skill we’ve learned or expressing knowledge we’ve gained.  As though wisdom or experience or accomplishment is so packed under our skin it leaks when we open our mouths.  An enlightened, drool.

And we’ve somehow taken on the misconception that yoga practice is yoga, class.

And so we cram: we binge on podcasts, blogs, and google; we horde and wish list training and certificates; we despair in thinking the really heavy, substantial knowledge is in the distant and time consuming experience we can’t have.  We’re uncomfortable with the way different techniques clash or seem to contradict one another.

Mostly, we hide.  We hide what’s really going on with us.

As in, we stop practicing, because we’re ‘teaching’, or because the classes raised an issue you didn’t know how to deal with, or because they suddenly didn’t seem to ‘work’.

So many people lose the sincerity of their experience in trying to go deeper.  So many people leave yoga altogether after going through RYT 200, with a kind of heartbreak.

In December, I’m hosting an intensive (Monday-Friday, 8 – 4) on the craft of practice.  I want it to be a way for us to recover the sincerity of our practice, a kind of sussing out where we got lost and where we are, where to go.  We’ll do this by parsing: getting really clear about techniques (props, sequence, tradition from modern practice).

Craft: as in, artistry, skill, worksmanship.  Elegance, efficiency, something that looks effortless. Artists in any genre or trade would tell you: there’s the beginning, which is kinda wild and full of discovery and deeply emotional, often messy.  But that’s not ‘art’.  Art is what happens with refinement, the slow and steady ability to direct the emotion and power and material we generate, to stop wasting time, to bring something to fruition.  Any artists or craftsman would tell you: there are tools.  Art is more than self-expression: in fact, art is finally finding freedom from self-expression to something that matters in the world, something that isn’t limited by your limitations, something that is more.

What does that mean for practice?  What is, personal practice?  What does that mean of yoga teaching? How do we strike back up with sincerity?

This is a requirement for RYT 500, can be used as continuing education hours, or can simply be a way to explore:

-sequencing.  how to pull together practices that work, and are developmental.  They’re going somewhere.  There is a purpose to the practice.

-props.  Understand your tools.  We’ll explore ‘restorative’, ‘supported’, and ‘no prop’ practice, as well as props as feedback loops.  You’ll get savvy with chair yoga, bolsters and pillows and blankets, and learn to support your body in a shape.

-an overview of the aspects of practice, and a crash course on how to fill your toolbox: sanskrit, how to learn chant, meditation, visualization, the texts of tradition

-an understanding of the wholism of practice, and of teaching: we all have some skills, and we all have some blind spots.  Learn where you can harness what you already have, and gain what feels out of reach.

Expect a lot of practice.  A lot of silence.  And some pithy workshopping of both body, thoughts and beliefs, and how we express ourselves.  You’ll come out with direction.


Ongoing, deeper, practice

sutra-1-14That (Abhaysa) becomes a solid foundation when practiced with devotion, sincerity, and for a long period of time without interruption. 1.14

There are certain things that happen in a yoga practice, if a person hangs with it long enough.  They happen with such precision and such regularity that I want, sometimes, to offer a guarantee that they will happen.  The thing is, though, they are generally not what we expected nor what we first came looking for.  Folks come in for stress reduction, weight loss, relief of back pain.  Or someone suggested it would help with a knee problem, a shoulder injury, a difficult period in life.  When people come in, these are the things they’re going to ask about.

I can’t, honestly, say that yoga will fix any particular problem.  I can’t promise that it will heal our traumas or relieve our anxiety.  I can’t promise it’ll fix bum knees.  I can’t promise that because, a) that depends so much on how the person goes about practicing and what they practice and b) we actually have very little idea of how yoga works with things like healing, pain, and emotions.  To be fair, this is because no one, science or religion included, understand how healing, pain, or emotional life really work.

So I say that.  I say I don’t know if yoga will fix your ……..  But I can say it will improve your life.

I want to say, I can promise.  I guarantee.

If you practice for a very long time, consistently, with some reverence and willingness, and with sincerity.

If a person does, inevitably we gain a self-clarity.  We see, ourselves.  Both the bullshit and the potential.  The sastras talk about this as a quieting of the distractions, so that who we really are becomes apparent.  Or, a journey to the self by seeing through the self.

Secondly, a person gets a kind of unshakeable, unflappable, honest self esteem.  This isn’t the kind of self-esteem wrought by affirmations, accomplishment, or privilege.  It’s a self esteem that can fully handle feeling remorse, without falling apart.  And, can fully accept opportunity, without being oppressed by fear.  It’s a self esteem that comes from a slow process of coming to understand we can trust ourselves.  This is no small thing.  I think the vast majority of humanity doubts, this.  It’s important that we trust ourselves to survive.  Trust ourselves to act humanely.  Trust ourselves to do well.  I heard a woman in a check out line this morning, getting the work done before dropping the kids at school and going to the job before the second job, say ‘you know, like women do‘.  This is badassery.  But it’s not quite what I mean.  I mean a capacity to do such things, but not be slowly ground down by them.  To actually feel enlivened by them, and better over time.  The kind of self-esteem I see come up recognizes that we are better today, than yesterday, but still has some hope and faith that tomorrow we can be better, still.  Without that, we get lost in yesterday’s accomplishments or a sense of loss.  Or, we suffer grave doubt.  Doubt is smothering.

Thirdly, I watch a kind of sacred knowledge being born.  The body, itself, becomes sacred.  We begin to regard the body, to listen to it’s whisperings, to be lost in wonder at it.  It loses it’s terrible warzone, aspect, and becomes instead a sanctuary.  This is important.  This is feminism.  This is also, humane.  We cannot come to this relationship with our bodies without feeling, deeply, understanding, that this is true of all the other bodies in the world.  There is something precious to humanity.

With a devoted practice, a person also develops resilience.  The world is hard.  Aging is, hard.  We practice as a means of mitigating and understanding what has happened in our lives.  But, if we practice long enough, resilience becomes something more.  A kind of reservoir that runs deep.  A kind of source that doesn’t run out.  Practice itself is filling this well.  And we’ll need it, sooner or later.  We’ll need a source of inner dignity, because the world has a way of withdrawing the dignity it once gave, dismissing bodies as they age for younger versions, forgetting you.   Further, this resilience is the most valuable thing we could offer.  It will, in the long run, be more important than money, or accolades, or social rank.  It will be called on.  It will be called on precisely when money won’t solve the problem, or social rank, or mere words.

Eventually, through the process of having a devoted practice, we move through handed down wisdom, then cognitive wisdom, to finally having insight or embodied or experienced wisdom of our own.  Various strands of the tradition call this the perfection of practice, the perfect wisdom, the most true source of clarity.  But the only route to it is time, commitment, experience with a lineage handed down and some practice time with a mentor and guide.

I promise these things happen.  They are inevitable.  Practice gone deep enough changes our behavior, and ultimately changes the direction of our lives, changes who we are.  This change is mysterious and stunning.  And, inevitable.

If: we practice for a very long time, consistently, with devotion.

This raises questions, though.  Once people understand it.  The question of how to keep practicing.  How to find a guide.  What exactly to practice rather than the sporadic things taught in drop in classes, or the one you scroll through on the online sites, or the DVD you happened to buy.  Where is any of that, going, over time?

A person’s practice develops once they begin to work with how the body works, rather than looking to perfect it, master a pose, work out or do gymnastics.  There’s nothing wrong with any of those things: they can all be done.  And they can even be done in a smart way.  But if a person makes the shift from wanting those things to wanting a deeper practice, they inevitably begin a bigger curiosity about asana, the interface of psychology and physiology, the questions raised by flesh and time.

And, they eventually begin to work with breath, to understand that it is a doorway to a different experience of body, and psychology.

And, they begin to work in a way that is developmental.  That builds depth over time.  That goes into themes.  That allows for personal experience to deepen.

I’ve been playing with many of these ideas for years, asking my teachers about them, wondering how this path works in modern day america, in our current conditions, with what we have.  I’m enjoying playing with this in the weekly videos.  A way to practice, developmentally, rather than sporadically.  A practice that begins to tap breath, mantra, physiology, bhavana.  A practice that has a purpose and dedication to it.  A way to weave time, experience, soft tissue and structural understanding with the subtle body and mind-body aspects of dharana, dhyana, and samadhi.

This month, we’re going to the mountain of the spine, all sorts of spinal release, and a bit of bandha.  Watch as the tactile ‘getting it’, grows.


Movement into Stillness: Fall 10 week special series

Start date postponed so you can still sign up.  New dates: September 19 – November 23

Yoga has been touted in recent years as a healing modality.  It’s said to balance the body, and stabilize mood.  As the seasons shift, these are important issues.  Autumn tends to be stressful – a returning to school and a sudden shift of gears from summer activity to winter’s, dark.  Any seasonal shift brings with it a rash of allergens, digestive stop and gos, changes to sleep and schedule.  But this shift toward winter, in particular, is hard on the body and the nervous system.  It tends to light up sore joints, remind us of aging, bring down all the pressures of the world.

Winter is hard, metaphorically, and physically.  Seasonal Affective Disorder is a fancy name for a very real thing that happens as we lose the long days and spend most of our waking hours in the dark.  I’ve found that other mood and psychological issues are also sensitive to the seasonal shift: depressions darken, anxiety moves more, old griefs return and the monotony of living our lives feels more tedious. Auto-immune issues flair. Our worlds get smaller as we shift from social and community life to staying at home where it’s warm. We lose the freshness of the garden and start to eat stored things.

It’s said that yoga, helps.  Yoga can be, therapeutic.  If it is used that way, taught that way, and understood to be more than yoga asana. Yoga asana can be more than a shape. Yet yoga therapy is distinct from physical therapy, and psychotherapy.  Come learn the how, the why, and the practices.

Yoga therapy is distinct from physical therapy.  AND a therapeutic practice of yoga veers away from yoga as generally taught in classes: postures and sequences done a few times a week are not enough to effect healing (though the insight gained there often launches people off, into a more healing and personalized practice).

Yoga therapy is distinct from psychotherapy.  Partially, in that it so clearly identifies the person as a complex of body and mind.  Yoga sees emotions and moods and experiences as happening on both psychological and physical levels.  But yoga therapy isn’t just a mind-body wellness system, like deciding that exercise and diet will help our moods.  This is true, but it’s only the beginning of understanding the interface of mood, experience, personality, and body.

This ten week series will look at the interface of physiology and psychology, mood and body, through the ancient system of the ‘subtle body’.  It will tie ancient practice to neuropsychoimmunology.  This will be a course on mind-body wellness.  But it will aim at personalizing, practice, as well.

Unlike the summer special series that used the same asana sequence every week, this course will introduce different principals and progressively explore the concepts of vi-yoga (release or purification) and samyoga (connecting to something whole, healing, true).  We’ll work up and down the spine and discuss chakra theory and practice in depth, while coming to understand modern somatic healing techniques.  We’ll develop our yoga practice beyond asana by learning a few new chants, deepening our meditation skills, and coming to understand yoga methodology or practices as working on the physiology, psychology, and behavioral spheres not only through postures but through a range of practices.

If you have any fascination with subtle body and chakras, or any interest in the therapeutic applications of yoga practices, this is a course you should attend.  If you are interested in the way yoga affects psychology and behavior, you should be there.  If you just enjoy learning in more depth than is possible in drop in classes, come.


Practice, Depth. Subscription video now available!

authenticityThis was a long time coming, and a fairly big deal.  And, as things which are a long time coming and a fairly big deal always happen to be, this is so simple.

You can now subscribe to deeper practice videos.  All of Karin’s deep anatomy and deep philosophy, ruthless ditch the sequence and the alignment and find the breath, teaching.  In your pocket, your cellphone, or your living room.

Each week you’ll get a 90 minute asana sequence AND a 30 minute breath/meditation/technique video.  That’s two hours of practice a week, at your convenience, for fifty bucks a month.

More expensive than the freebies on youtube or the other subscription sites, yes.  But I’m not teaching canned vinyasa.  I’m not looking for mass production, but for a way to interact with human beings, provide a context for learning and practice.  This is deeper practice, my teaching, getting the tools and actually understanding what’s going on, feel the difference in your life, stuff.  I draw the people who are called to personal change.  To deep thinking.  To reason, not vapid hippy-dippy stuff.  I teach to people who love yoga but have become disillusioned with the culture and the studios.  To people who realize it isn’t about contortions.  Folks who realize sun salutations aren’t always possible, chronic illness is hard, that there’s something to asana and breath that is NOT about alignment or advanced postures.  I teach to soul and am only really interested in teaching, that.  Let the masses learn, elsewhere.

More expensive than the freebies and the cheapies and the franchised studios, yes.  But, still, you could pay for unlimited classes in studio, and get the subscription, for less than other studio’s class packages.  Those things are two and three hundred bucks.

This is what I believe: learning, healing, the gifts of practice are available to anyone who makes an honest commitment.  But the gifts of practice involve breath, meditation, study, developing body literacy, and intelligence AS MUCH AS ASANA.  Asana are, ideally, paths right up to those other bits.  You could practice postures for years and still be a jerk.  Or, practice postures for years and wonder why you’re still miserable.  Or, practice a certain style for a while and then be lost and confused when illness, injury, or life trouble comes up.  Or, finish your RYT 200 and realize you don’t know diddley squat, yet, and long for more.

We need practices that go to depth, and don’t snag on the superficial.

Put this in your toolbox.  If you miss my teaching, sign up.  If you can’t make studio classes.  If you’ve never been to the studio, but are still drawn to reading and the idea, of having a personal yoga practice.

Yoga is personal.  Take it that way.

The meditation session, freebie from Karin Burke on Vimeo.

Guru Purnima

As the sun sets tonight, I plan on making my way outside to sit in the moon.  Tonight is Guru Purnima: a time in which the ‘guru principal’, or that which dispels darkness and wakes us up, is a thousand times stronger than any other day.  Traditionally, this night marks a time of honoring spiritual and academic teachers.  The ones who saw us, lit us up, called us out.

According to Buddhist tradition, Buddha gave his first public sermon on this night.  According to the yogic tradition, Shiva became a teacher on this day, and Vyasa, the author of the sacred Mahabarata, was born.

I think of the nights I’ve spent laying flowers and candles at the feet of teachers.  But I also think of the happenstance people who’ve helped me on this path, whether they knew it or not.  Whether I knew it, or not.  My folks who didn’t know if it was a decent career goal, but supported my trying.  The girlfriend who pulled me into a class.  My mentors who’ve said, go and see.  Teachers who held space for me to doubt, to cry, to fly and to fall.  In busstops and church basements.  In doctor’s offices and university hallways.  In a parked car, while we tried to get to the bottom of it or simply sat back in quiet wonder.

We are so lucky.  So privileged.  That at some point, a path was shown to us.  Take a moment tonight to light a candle, touch on gratitude, do a little puja (ceremony) to recall the folks, living or dead, who held the light before you.  Thank god, we’ve been inspired.  Good gracious, but we’ve been ignited.  Soak in the principal of light, the dispelling of darkness, the possibility of waking up.  Gratitude to the moon, who ignites women and sages and seekers, those who don’t believe the dark is impenetrable.  May we all know this inner light.  May we never think it ends.

Come chant with me tomorrow morning, and feel the light of bones.

guru purnima