Karin L Burke

Love, Death, and Glitter

I haven't written here for months.  I have an excuse: I didn't write because I didn't know what to say. The studio closed.  I moved to Minneapolis.  I got married.  The world, the social and political world in which we move, has taken quite a few upending turns.  I haven't had words to address any of this. People ask questions: where can I practice without the studio? What will Return Yoga look like, now? Where will you teach?  Will you teach?  These are all reasonable questions.  But I've deflected them, or answered with dumb silence.  I haven't had an answer.  I simply didn't know.

I still don't.  I was married and am calling myself Mrs. Carlson these days, but I'm carrying a driver's license that says otherwise.  My signature has become an exercise in attention and confusion, an ostensible proof of the whole neural-patterning thing.  You wouldn't believe how many times a day one has to sign a thing, or introduce oneself, or log into a bank account.

I spoke to one studio about teaching.  I was interviewed (interviewed?  Is that the word?) by a woman who had her two hundred hour certificate from Core Power and no idea what I was talking about with all my anatomy is psychology, movement is a question, talk.   She didn't recognize my teacher's names, though they are big names in yoga studies. She didn't know my name, or Return Yoga, though I'd like to believe these things carry some weight. So I stopped talking.  I just shut up.  Though I'd brought them with me, I put aside all of the curricula I've written and courses I've taught, the interviews I've done and the publications of my work. I pushed them under my chair with my foot.

What this woman wanted was a group exercise instructor, someone to guide a work out two or three times a week.  I can do that.  I can push vinyasa flow til you tremble just like hundreds of other yoga teachers in the metropolitan region.  Maybe (probably, one would hope after all this time) I can do it better than the most of those teachers.

But I don't know that I want to.

I came home and told my husband - who wasn't my husband yet - that it feels a tremendous step backward.  I don't know how to make the transition from running a community studio (let alone the teacher training, the outreach, the sum cumulative body of work that is what I've learned), to being just one amidst hundreds of 'yoga teachers'.  Not to cast aspersion on any one of their individual skills, but they are a dime-a-dozen.

Meanwhile I was asked, now that I'm not running a studio seven days a week, to work with the recovery community. Strictly therapeutic work.

One of these gigs is an addictions treatment center specifically for the queer community. There is always glitter on my mat.  This pleases me.  There's something redemptive in being fabulous at the darkest moments of your life. The last time I was there, the glitter moved from my palm to the air, and then to a woman's cheekbone.  I noticed it like a drift of thought as I spoke and bodies breathed. After class, we had the most profound conversation about savasana I've ever had: there was a genuine inquiry, a pale open honesty, to the conversation; a straight look into how we're living and how we'll die.  Because these folks don't have any preconceptions or ego investment in things like headstand, it's all inquiry. The questions, the fear, the novelty and exploration of experience is front and center. I can have them wiggle toes and roll around on the floor the entire time and call it 'yoga'.  No one would challenge me. This is a blessed relief after trying to teach drop in classes seven days a week for years on end.

Yoga therapy is a contested topic:  Do we mean physical therapy or is this some kind of mental health practice?  Do we teach a different 'style' of yoga if trauma is involved?  To apply clinical language to the thing raises questions of validity and measurable outcomes; it leads directly to insurance and all the other problematic issues of the medical industry. Furthermore and in the first place, is any of this provable?  As much as I balk at group exercise, I'm also uncomfortable with the concept of yoga therapy. It has a weird, greasy smell to it.  It has a vaguely fraudulent texture.  Alternative is not a good word, when it comes to health.  Just as alternative facts are lousy politics.

I tend to think 'yoga therapy' is a redundant phrase.  More: the word 'yoga' and the word 'therapy' cancel each other out, making it a downright illogical phrase.  It's a phrase hinting at cognitive misfire. To call anything yoga therapy is like saying 'medicine-pills', 'apple-fruit', or 'car-automobile'.  It's not that these phrases are false; it's the troubling way they belie any context.  Given context, reasonable people don't speak this way.

All this begs questions rather than answers them. So I contest and subvert and am never teaching what people expect.  Teacher training isn't what people thought, but a startling exploration of one's place in the world and relationships.  Inversion workshops end up being a lot of laying on the floor.  Emotional health classes spend the whole time exploring the hip socket or the way the knee glides.  It isn't that I object to yoga therapy so much as I am trying to do it:  we all have physical issues and a broadband of mental health.  You can't have sensation without emotion.  Mental health, belief, and experience are physiological realities.  Go ahead and try to parse the body from the mind.  Mostly, I'm trying to discern and help us get a greater feeling for the context in which we're living and the choices we have.

But here I am teaching yoga -therapeutically- in clinical scenarios.  Most of these folks have never done yoga before; they are not good at self care; their lives are troubled.

I'm loving it.

I love it except for the fact that it is a closed opportunity.  It's an inherently limited experience: sooner or later it will end and it doesn't lead to anything. People can't just walk in to these classes, though I know a lot of people in the world who crave this kind of intimate practice. I came home and told my husband - who again wasn't yet my actual husband - that I love the work, the people, the feel; but I can't imagine staying in such a small space.  I said this while studying a fleck of glitter on my forearm.  Rubbing didn't dislodge it.  I blew on it like dandelion fluff. It lifted and disappeared into the air.

What I'm personally trying to suss out as a yoga teacher is only a small - albeit privately urgent - version of what is happening on a broader scale.  Small independent studios are closing.  Seasoned teachers tend to start to teach things that don't 'look' like yoga.  They weary of the workout and the stretching.  Difficult questions inevitably come up, often in the form of their own bodies or the bodies they work with.  I've watched a handful of teachers in the last year quit teaching because their own chronic health issues don't allow them to teach 'yoga' any more.  Others simply  can't stand the one-size-fits all, get-as-many-bodies- in- the- room- as- you- can approach.  The festival and advertised aspects of yoga aren't as appealing as they looked from the outside.  The Yoga Journal conference is cancelled until they decide what 'direction' they are taking. Online subscriptions are selling more than in-studio classes, although to look at Meghan Currie and Dylan Werner I'm not sure what it is we're practicing. The Observer notes that for every yoga teacher there are two in training. But a rumor reached me that Core Power - whose whole model is teacher training programs made to the order of puppy mills - is verging on bankruptcy.

This mass identity crisis isn't all bad.   At some point we have to let go of childish illusions.  Yoga is no different.  Some yoga teachers become  psychiatrists and social workers, others take up other systems of body work or cross disciplinary lines.  I know one former yoga teacher who is calling herself a death duala these days.  I know someone who dropped teaching to go into seminary.  Others leave teaching in order to reclaim their own 'practice' and go on with their lives.  There is so much more than yoga practice and teaching.  There are relationships.  Study.  Work.  Far from being a failure, I see this as proof: unless yoga resolves to a changed life, somehow informs our most intimate choices and important questions, it doesn't mean anything at all.  It's just a hobby.

I watch this happening, over and over again: generally yoga is a phase and is dropped the moment shit gets real or a new shiny object comes into view; but occasionally, yoga seems to be the common but largely silent thread behind beautiful expressions of the human heart.  Often this is exactly what happens when people stop coming to yoga after a year or three: they've changed, for the good, and the yoga served it's purpose. You see a glint of it, behind the story.  But the story isn't yoga: it's about cancer or dancing or school children or oceans.  It involves justice, and the meaning of a human life, singly and by the millions. It's the detritus of history, really, and the vague outlines of hope. The best stories are about death, or love.  They are prayer songs or glittering star poems in the hot night, plain speak about the terrible difficulty of the beautiful world.

None of this answers the question of what do I, do.  Not directly.

Someone said, a few months ago, that this is a transition and she's okay waiting until I get new gigs set up.  No matter what, I'll be teaching yoga, she said.  She said this with her face cast down but her eyes looking up at me from under her hair.  I didn't answer as quickly as she might have wanted.  I spent months not writing precisely because I didn't know, I wasn't sure: will I be teaching?  I didn't even know that I wanted to, let alone 'should'.

Of course my students have a hard time parsing 'yoga' from my identity - they've only ever seen me in the context of teaching. Occasionally they run into me in grocery stores and don't recognize me in my street clothes.  But I wasn't born to be a yoga teacher.  This is is not the fulfillment of a life long dream.  I've spent the last decade of my life objecting to the yoga industry, not aspiring to it. When people come to me for yoga therapy I send them forthwith and with alacrity to a mental health professional or medical intervention. This isn't a personal dream job.

It does happen to be the best thing I've ever done.

That isn't saying much: my life prior to yoga was a long eulogy, a kind of fantastic record of causing harm.  My teaching career is proof that I can do better: I can be responsible, authentic, make a difference.  Behind that, prior to that: I can be healthy and happy, I can be intimate and embody my own days, all the things necessary to entering a more meaningful life.  But my identity is no more tied to teaching than it is to the surname I've just dropped.

I admit this is confusing.  Reference the above difficulty in going through the day.

Everything happened so fast and simultaneously.  It all happened at once: My high school sweetheart asked me to marry him and I closed the studio.  These were different and independent things - correlation is not causation and all of that - but they happened at the same time. So I celebrated and I grieved, the one within moments of the other and often with snotty, blind and inchoate crying jags. Trump was elected.  I bought a gown and began to think in terms of flowers. The government splintered between yes-men and rogue dissenters.  The country splintered between swaggering bullies and the offended, the outraged, the in the end overwhelmed.  The fourth estate came under fire.  The judiciary came under fire.  Old fires we thought dead roared into open spaces, licked into private ones. Civic and humane gains that took generations to make law have been attacked, undermined, and retracted. Formerly taboo racism came into the streets. Schools were plastered with racist epithets.  Dreamers were deported and doctors, scientists, teachers were detained. Queer folk were targeted.  Black people expressed mortal fear. White liberals were devastated with the revelation of their privilege. The Klan gathered in public spaces.  My heart broke.  Women marched, radiant with love and dissent.  Scientists marched.  Social workers, poets, and nurses marched.  My heart swelled.

I stepped away from teaching just as people most needed community and a modicum of stress management. I hit the end of my own endurance just as the shit hit the fan.  While things fell apart, my not-yet-husband and I adopted a puppy, bought a house, got a license to wed.  My heart sang, and it busted.

A week before the wedding, I was at the florist. Surrounded by the dank breath of flowers, carrying an assortment of nominally crucial but mysterious to me wedding things, my cellphone rang and I learned someone had died.  I was talking of bridal bouquets, but noticed the funeral arrangements.  This was poignant enough to make me snort.  The man was family, if we can call the divorced years of our lives still meaningful; he was my first husband's father.  He was a man I used to dance with at Christmastime, drink coffee with on ordinary mornings.  I remembered, in particular, a long drive in an old pickup truck across Wisconsin, toward Chicago.  He smoked perpetual cigarettes.  At that point, so did I.  I imagined trails of tobacco breath and wisps of folk music, drifting across the long green hills and miles deep distance all these years later.  I could smell his kitchen and taste Irish whiskey in my dry mouth.

More importantly - since death as far as the dead are concerned never worries me too much - I loved his son.  I love him still, if love is a thing you can do years after parting.  I wanted suddenly to catch him, my ex husband. I wanted to wrap my arms around him and lay my chin on his head.  I could suddenly, presently, stronger than musk of roses, smell his hair.  I know his skin.  I didn't want him to hurt and knew he did hurt.  Something private and tender in me burned. I thought: We walk around empty handed.  Or with nominally crucial but mysterious things.  Death shouldn't be a surprise, yet is always is.   I don't have words, he was saying, for how bad this hurts.  Standing like a bird bath in the flowers, I flushed with the phone to my ear, my knees wavered.  I didn't want to hold him, I didn't want to protect him; I wanted to shelter his grief.  It's so wild, grief is.  And it is so vulnerable.  Grief can be dangerous.

I was thick with an urgent love and a need to promise, something, to the man who was not yet my husband; and frail with sympathy for the one who used to be.  Here are roses for the hot blood of vowing; lilies pale like the innocence returned by death.  All of this was green.  It's all fleshy.  I found myself touching every nearby bloom, covertly tracing stem and fingering soil.  I wanted to stick my face in flowers, ear deep, to weep and breathe green gratitude, white happiness, plain sympathy.

I came home and told the man I was about to marry that my ex-father-in-law had died, my ex-husband was grieving, and that I'd offered to bring food or comfort or just take him for a drive, help with the idiotic normalcy of funeral arrangements if he needed me to.  I watched Gunnar's face as I said this, trying to decide if this was wrong, how to be delicate, if this was okay.  I know the timing is ridiculous.  Gunnar nodded, and I spent the evening with my ex.  He collapsed, drunk into my arms, in the middle of the afternoon sidewalk.

Then I got married.  My gown was encrusted with iridescent beads and structured like an architectural wonder.  I called it my Empire State dress.  It sang of monumental things and poured over me like throaty jazz.  It glinted so that I myself shimmered: I bent and scattered the light of diamonds, walked and rivaled moon light on water. Glittering became a subjective experience, rather than an objective one.  One piece of stray glitter is a surprise, out of context.  To be glitter, glittering, itself, changes everything.  I don't know when it was, exactly, if it was the signing of the paper or the kiss or the I do, but at some point that evening the man I love became my actual husband, and I became a wife.

But why, asked someone close to me, was I taking his name?  Aren't I a feminist?

Yes. But my maiden name carries just as much patriarchy in it as a husband's name does.  And then my husband is a feminist; in the months leading up to our marriage he repeatedly said he was willing to take my name. He further pointed out that his name isn't even his father's name, but his younger sister's father's name.  Further still, as a rule, a black American surname goes back to a slave owner, at least the time of slavery, not familial identity.

These weren't my reasons, though.  I took his name because I am willing to be changed by this relationship.  And I am uninterested in going backward.  Context - all of it - matters.

It means so much that I was nineteen years old. And, it means so much that I am not nineteen anymore. It's so important that I got sober, that Eddy didn't, that time has moved on, that Trump was elected, that people die, that we go on, that there is such suffering happening all the time, that the very planet is hurting and the ocean moans, the ice melts, the sky breaks.  I have to believe these things mean something.  And - more important - I have to believe that from all of this we can be deepened in our sympathy, have insights, become better lovers, discern the tools necessary to affect our own lives, touch gently the lives of others, change ourselves and our society in ways that, as of here and now, we can only imagine.  I'm not talking about politics, or grief, or relationships and personal life.  I'm talking about yoga.  I'm insisting that contextually, they are exactly the same thing.  You can't parse them.  If you do, than yoga is nothing more than a hobby.  If it's ever going to be anything other than a passing fad, it has to speak the language of our actual lives.  When it does, lives change.

I still haven't answered the questions of what do I do, now.

I have to change my driver's licence, my bank account, my website.  I had to order new business cards.  I have to, in some way, decide and announce what it is I do.

I ended up with the words 'yoga therapy', in red text, across the bottom and under my name.  I wondered at this, why I should choose something so provocative, what it means and if I'm not begging questions rather than answering them. But in the end I just went with it: I prefer to take up the questions and insist on context.  This seems to be the best part of the process.

This morning I swept the floor. In the dusty browns and flecky dirt there was a rogue bit of glitter.  I knelt and cocked my head at it, lifted it on my forefinger towards my face.  I don't know if it came from teaching or from my wedding gown, or how it ended up in my dustpan.  I realized, or was able to finally verbalize, a thing I've been trying to articulate for weeks: context is what makes yoga therapeutic. I can't teach pop culture yoga anymore; I think there's more to it than that. I think it's the glitter in the dust.


If there was ever a time when the deeper practices of the yoga tradition should be taught, it is now.  I'm actually teaching more than I was in the studio, but quite differently.  I'm working with people in a more intimate, on going way online; I go on mentoring other teachers, and can be found Thursdays at noon teaching at Tula Yoga in St. Paul.

Deeper Practice

mangalaA number of people have asked in the last few months about what the studio closing means.  What it means for me, personally, and what it means for their own practice. One of the answers is the work online.  This happened fairly organically.  Providing asana teaching online has been something requested for years and years and I just never got around to it with the running of the studio.  And I began to have more and more students, at a distance.  Working with them became a question.  I also began to have more and more questions, even in the studio, about how to learn chant, how to really begin a meditation practice rather than just intend to do it, how all these various concepts and experiences are supposed to tie together.

I'm trying to tie them together in the deeper practice subscription.  I'm having so much fun with it.  It feels progressive and organic, where drop in classes tended to feel very haphazard, something used for sporadic workouts or stress relief.  When students want to start going deep, drop in classes aren't necessarily the best way to do that.

Anyway.  I upload to the subscription site every Friday.  Both a 90 minute sequence and a 30 minute guided sound/breath/somatic movement thing.  I recorded them already for the week and have uploaded them - but won't move them to the subscription till Friday.  So you can check them out for free until then.

Check them out.

December Techniques 1 from Karin Burke on Vimeo.


Bhavana - culling up, image, reality


These are notes to complement the Deeper Practice, online, work:mountain-meditation bhavana : (nt.) becoming; a dwelling place. || bhāvanā (f.) increase; development by means of thought; meditation.

(mental) development: bhāvanā. - Effort to develop, s. padhāna. - Wisdom based on d. s. paññā. - Gradual development of the Eightfold Path in the 'progress of the disciple'.

'mental development' (lit. 'calling into existence, producing') is what in English is generally but rather vaguely called 'meditation'.

Somewhere in his writing to other writers, Stephen King makes a profound argument for mind reading.  Telepathy - communicating from one mind to another without gesture, moving the mouth, or making a sound - is entirely possible.  Not only is it possible from one person to another, but it's possible to transmit ideas across time and distance.  He wrote that in 2006, and spoke to me reading it years later.  And reminded me that this happens across centuries when I read Dickens.  I can travel millennia when I read scriptures.

Yoga works with this.  It's called Bhavana.  It has to do with this thing called consciousness, or awareness, and its power.

If I say the word mountain, you have some kind of intellectual, physiological, and psychological response.  It might be a memory, or pure invention. Even if you have never seen a mountain in your life, something happens.  Even if you have only ever read the word mountain in books, and have no visuals but those garnered by imagination and the descriptions of fairy tales to guide you, the fact stands: mountains are real things in the world, and you have some inkling, of them.  I'm saying 'inkling' is both psychological and physiological.

Take a moment to realize this, and let it sink in: if I ask you to put your attention, all of your attention, to the color of the text on this page, something shifts in your body.  Your eyes change.  Different lines of communication fire up in the brain.  Certain nerves fire, rods invert, light is registered.  Noticing a color is a physical, act.

If I were to ask you to shift all of your attention to something internal, there would likewise be a complex physiological response.  Try it.  Send all of your attention to the hairs on the back of your neck.  Or to the space on the inside of your big toe.  Or the space between your eyebrows, deep to the bone.

I don't know what you experience when you do this.  But I do know there is a physical response.  Interestingly, this response isn't a thing that can be measured by the most sophisticated of laboratory tests.  We can measure heart rate or analyze the chemistry of your blood.  We can get brain scans.  But the brain scan is not a map of what you did, 'in your imagination'.  There is no possibility, yet, of following the profound sequence of events called 'paying attention'.  And yet there is no doubt that it is a physical, event.

This is the first thing to recognize; it might just be 'observation', or 'noticing', or even 'imagining', but there is a physical reality to imagination.  There is a physical and physiological component to what is called 'attention'.  When I say mountain, a litany of events happen in your body.  Some of this is muscular, some chemical, some mechanical.  Some has to do with the composition of water and mineral salts, some with electricity.  When I say a word, a poem begins in your body.

The second thing to recognize is that by suggesting the word, mountain, I am referring to a reality that you understand.  Even if the understanding is purely conceptual,  hand me down, or theoretical.  Things, like mountains, actually exist out there in the world.

But the reality you call up is also, abstract.  The mountain in your mind's eye is in your mind's eye, not Utah.  The imagery in your head might approximate the Himalayas, but is distinct from the Himalayas.  There is something subtle, to the mountain in your mind.  It's like an Platonic form.  It's not real in the world, but it is real, in it's own way.

This sense, the fact that something called 'mountains' are real, is bhava.  The essence.  The being, ness.  The reality of there being things called mountains.  Even if the planet were to spontaneously combust, explode in to a gazillion pieces, and even if there were no such thing as mountains and valleys on other planets, we could still make a firm argument that something mountainous has a reality.  You could say it in Spanish, Sanskrit, or Cantonese.  The words vary.  The images, vary.  The details are infinite.  Yet mountain-ness, is.

Bhavana is when we call up the is-ness, of a thing.  Like a mountain, or light, or circles.

Thirdly, notice that by drawing our attention to something like, mountain, we are re-directing our mind.  It was somewhere else.  Probably, it was many other places.  It was probably narrating, assessing, measuring something up.  It was probably worrying, or projecting.  Bhavana is an interruption to this usual rambling of our mind.  A calling of mind, to attention.  Minds are not good at this.  They are much better at wandering.

This is important.  Bhavana is a technique of centering uncentered attention.  By doing so, it links our attention to something, while de-linking it from where it was.  If you've done any yoga at all, you'll recognize this as an important aspect of how and why to do yoga.  We're trying to train a mind that usually can't center, to center.  And, we're trying to disassociate from our normal pathways of thought - which tend to be both irresistible and utterly predictable, outright boring - toward something more worthwhile.  If I were to be high minded, I could say we are trying to connect more and more frequently to the things that matter in life, and disconnect from the things that don't.

Mountain culls up an aspect of reality, and elicits a physical and psychological response; you see, bhavana is a direct provocation of our responses to and core beliefs about reality.  The same 'reality' of a mountain, for example, can provoke one's sense of being on a precipice with a long way to fall, being lost in clouds of confusion, or the density and stability of physical reality.  It may alternately inspire with magnitude, lend the perspective of a removed distance, or invoke steadiness.  Depending on the context, a mountain peak may mean we've come a long way, or that we have a terribly long way to go.

This is where it actually gets interesting.  Given the same invocation, everyone comes up with a startlingly unique, response.  Last spring I used the imagery of a seed, or a packet of seeds.  Sometimes, people would plant them and watch what grew.  Sometimes, the seed carried the genome of a peaceful or familiar place.  And other times seeds represented decisions, invoking karma.  At yet other times, students envisioned themselves, as seeds.

One woman's seeds were fine, tiny, weightless and delicate, silvery.  Another woman's was as large as an avocado, but dark.  One seed was as big as a hand, with a burr around a dense black core, spiney, spidery tendrils that seemed to move with volition.  Watching what came of the seeds brought up English gardens or a single, passionately exotic and perfumed, bloom that wilted after a few deliriously beautiful moments.  Some grew rows of wheat, some blackened and cracked the earth.

These images are not talismans, fortune telling, or prescriptive.  But they are rich with information.

I was once in a training working with bhavana.  The teacher asked us to close our eyes, drew a symbol involving intersecting triangles and dot on the chalkboard (yes, chalkboard: this was years ago), then asked us to open our eyes and let the image sink in.  Then, we were asked to share.  At first, no one said anything.  The symbol was abstract, after all.  And we were students, probably invested of the idea that there was a right answer, and that we were in some way supposed to perform.

After a few achingly silent moments, a woman spoke up.  She said she saw the star of David.  Then someone else laughed, at themselves, but out loud in the room and said yes, I see that now, but what I saw was a human body, with stubby arms and legs.  Then someone else spoke up and said they saw an angel's wings, someone else saw moving geometric shapes, as in a kaleidoscope, and a final person said she saw a wound.

There is so much, information, here.  It's deeply psychological.  And, if we were to ask about heart rate, emotions, breathing, we'd see that these responses are also deeply physiological.  It's not, the instructor pointed out, that the image itself means anything; it's what we ourselves bring with us that makes meaning.  From a few innocuous lines on a blackboard, we call up religion, tradition, and persecution.  We see human flesh, divinity, art, whimsy, and pain.

It's important to notice and understand what this means.  Working with imagery, archetype, or symbolism isn't important because symbols mean or do anything in particular.  The mountain doesn't have portents like a tarot card or attributes like a medicine, clues like a mystery novel.  It isn't about the image; it's about us.

I can't emphasize this enough, especially in this context of training the mind through yoga.  All too often people say things like 'blue symbolizes fluidity', or 'the heart chakra is green and is associated with serenity, balance, and calmness'.  It's misleading to say images mean, anything.  As I suggested, a seed doesn't necessarily mean anything.  Some seeds spread waste to the ground, some seeds grow weeds, and some grow manicured and predictable rows.

However, the use of bhavana and imagery does have art and reasoning, behind it.  It loses it's meaning if images are chosen at random, just as surely as it loses it's meaning when someone imposes meaning, for you.  Bhavana can't be arbitrary.  Inviting students to feel a cool breeze of breath, or to see the color red, or to expand their heart awareness becomes gobbledeegook unless it's resonant with context.  You see, although we do each carry our own inner meaning, that inner meaning also unfolds in a shared, reality.  That reality is the place in which things like mountains really do exist.  Bhavana or imagery has to resonant with the current context.  If it doesn't, it will fall flat, sound like hippy-dippy shit, or wrinkle people's foreheads.  It will clash.  Physically.  And psychologically.

Done well, bhavana can enrich a moment, an experience, a breath, or a physical movement.  Meaning has layers.  Bhavana develops, these layers, while creating a temple, a resting place, a developing mind.

Training the mind to focus for whole seconds at time is said to be the most effective methodology for working with thought.  And if we're going to be honest, most of us take a good deal of our yoga benefits from the way it works with thought.  Most of us have a very hard time indeed focusing the mind on anything, at all, because we're multi-tasking, catch our information in short clips of status updates, headlines, and traffic signals, and have the hardwiring for negativity and looking for the next coming problem.

But this is more interesting, still: if what comes up in bhavana is unique, created by our own memories and experiences, than there's a sense in which we aren't working with mountains, at all.  What comes up is you, and what you work with is you.  What comes up is your general reactions to having a long way to go, or confusion, or being grounded.  Chase Bossart says that yoga is the science of experiences: what we're doing with bhavana is directly cultivating experiences of uncertainty, grounding, growth, decision making, or whatever, in the context of safety.  These aren't actual mountains, but the story you carry about loneliness, or beginning new ventures, or being overwhelmed with information.

We're invoking the place between conscious and unconscious mind, and laying down new experiences.  Which is how neural pathways and images and memories are made.  How, samskara, are laid.  We are having a new experience.  And as all the literature will tell you, it is one thing to 'understand' or read or have told to you, it is quite another again to go through the thing yourself.  Experience is the most profound, knowing.  As psychotherapists would have it, we heal our past experiences by having the same experience, with a new outcome.  All this to say: memorizing or dissecting or reading this article is not the same as sitting down, now and then, and going through the experience of bhavana.

One last point.  At it's best, bhavana or evocative language as used in yoga should have it's source not only in context, but in anatomical realities. We can touch people with our words. I think this is a more profound touch than is actual physical adjustment.  It touches deeper physiological structures.  It reaches for 'subtle body'.  It has more meaning, to it.  The spine and the human form have been metaphor for mountain, and vice versa, so long as there have been poems to say or maps to follow.  Mountain mimics the human structure in altitude, having the fullness of three dimensions, a sense of ascent, a view from the top,

The Siva Samhita says:looking inside

In your body is Mount Meru

encircled by the seven continents;

the rivers are there too,

the seas, the mountains, the plains,

and the gods of the fields.

Prophets are to be seen in it, monks,

places of pilgrimage

and the deities presiding over them.

The stars are there, and the planets,

and the sun together with the moon;

there too are the two cosmic forces:

that which destroys, that which creates;

and all the elements: ether,

air and fire, water and earth.

Yes, in your body are all things

that exist in the three worlds,

all performing their prescribed functions

around Mount Meru.

He alone who knows this

is held to be a true yogi.


Deeper Practice online is a $50 subscription based study.  Each week you get 1.5 hour asana practice and .5 hour techniques/meditation practice.  This allows you to go much more deeply into thematic work and developmental, practice.  Join us!

Karin's bio. from Karin Burke on Vimeo.




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.

Art of Self Care begins again July 18

body language 2This is the third incarnation of this class, and it keeps getting better.  The whole is hosted on the website.  Guided meditation and asana sequences are included in each week. The course presents the yoga tradition in a way that cuts through all of the fads, the lists, the hard to understand herbs and the conflicting advice.  I try to explain the principal of change, which is consistent to the tradition and the most cutting edge modern day research on brains and bodies.  What we find is that healing is uncovered, change is allowed, power is something revealed if we can just create a space for that to happen.

You are encouraged to sign up for this course WITH A PARTNER, as a half hour chat with them once a week fuels the practice and makes the whole thing go.  Each week centers on an hour long podcasted video: supplementary material is optional, something you go back to in time, or dive into when you are ready.

This is rich material, a lot of karin's deepest personal work, (and experience, and years of trial and error, slowly coming to understand) streamlined for you to learn, more easily and without the stuck points.  This helps us understand what asana are, what minds and bodies are, how energy and mood and thinking works, so that we can feel yoga unfurl in our lives, off the mat.

Repeat students can retake the course for $108.  This is required of the 500 hour training, because questions of self care and life and meditation are central to a deepening practice and the majority of the questions you'll be asked, as a teacher.  This is a golden place for newcomers to begin, as NO EXPERIENCE is required but you'll get the principals down.  This is ideal for students who have been practicing for a long time, have some idea of a meditation practice, but are wondering about the gap between practice and life, longing and reality, all those conflicting rules and cues.

I love this stuff.  I love watching what it's done for people, so far.  I think you will love it, too.  Sign up, here (and then bookmark it).

The Art of Self Care: Clarity from Karin Burke on Vimeo.


Ahimsa. First, Ethics.

(more for the body, mind, feeling, world workshop coming up Sunday December 30th.  Come!) Ahimsa.  First, Ethic.ahimsa

Karin L Burke


My practice began with asana.  It began in the body.  Words and understanding, all this ethics and philosophy, came later. I felt a strange, deep stirring when I practiced.  I chairdidn’t know a thing about yoga philosophy; it would be a stretch to say I ‘understood’ it.  Yet I intend to say exactly that:  I think that strange and deep physical stirring was ethical, what the body said and the mind heard was the beginning of understanding.  This is who you are, body said; why can’t you remember?


First, the body.  Later, the words. Like life its own self.


What I thought, at that point in life, was that philosophies and religions fail when you try to use them as actual tools to open jars with, relieve headache, or cope with a difficult human being.  They are pretty.  Pretty like a dress you wear on banner days when you yourself feel gorgeous and all the world is right.  But most of our lives – my life, anyway – didn’t happen in the way of lace and poetry and kid gloves.  It happened with bitten nails and chapped lips, screaming alarm clocks, and much weariness.  Makeup, and make believe, church and ethics, all amounted to the same thing.  Fairy tales and palliatives.


Yoga’s ethics are different.  They are not an excuse or escape from the body, but an expression of the body.  They are part of the human, as skeleton is.


Harm none, honesty, purity, ahimsa are words written on and of bodies.  They are as much a part of us as is skin.  As is bicep, bone matter.  The smoke and heat of blood.


When I was a girl, I wrote poems.  Sometimes, lacking a notebook or simply trying to catch the moment of clarity, I wrote on the inside of my forearm.  But I don’t think convenience was the whole reason I wrote there; I think it was a part of what the words were, a piece of their meaning.  It was important to have the ink there, on my flesh like that; a constant flicker of ink in corner of eye reminder.


Like a branding.


Words for the sake of argument are sterile.  Words in a book may or may not be read.  Words around ideas are just words.  As marking, though, as witness, words take on gravity and dimension.  They are a manifesto taken to bodily extremes; a manifesto of the body and for it.

One of these poems little girl me wrote described a storm and a lost man.  It got cold.  The sky poured.  The man was alone, had nothing, and there was darkness.  Over and again the poem said naked, damp, and hungry.  Every human being of us knows what that means.  All the saints and native gods of all the corners of the world have known it.  We know.


As in, This is my flesh.  Our veins are veins of compassion, not of blood.


When I was a young woman, I still had poems inside me, but my lifestyle ricocheted from safety and fairy tales to darker, harder places.  New Orleans Parish Prison, for one.


I thought, while sitting there one day, that I was now qualified to write folk songs.


I have a tattoo, now, woman grown, on the pale and thin flesh on the inside of that left forearm.


Yes: the place I used to scribble and ink on day after day.  It is my handwriting, this tattoo; the needle traced over what I myself had written and made it stay.  Naked, it says.  Damp.  And hungry.


When people ask, I say it’s just a prison tattoo.  This makes them laugh and the conversation stray.  But it is exactly true: I laid my forearm across another woman’s lap and she patiently, slowly, branded me.


When people ask about the words, all that nakedness, they usually think it’s some innuendo.  All is sex.  I don’t correct them.  But the words are not about lusty, satisfied desire so much as they are a description of need.  These are the words we know.


Is it strange, I wonder, or delightful, that the most rigorous intellectual exercises and sublime metaphysical contortions of yogic science echo what I’ve felt and tried to express my whole life:


We know what the words are.  We ought to know our veins as compassion.  We ought – because we do, in a sense – have first words branded into our arms and the palms of our hands.

To have the words bless and sanctify everything we touch, mark everything we do, witness our hours; we ought to be reminded of ethics as soon as we are reminded of body.


First, ethic; first.


All two year olds know what generosity is.  And every two year old knows selfishness.  We stay infants all our lives.  Unless we decide to grow up.


You stand, you breath: the whole body trembles.  The nerves flash.  The breath roils.  It all says yes: yes, this has been true, all along.  This is who you are.  You were born to love, and yet you are alone.


Figure this out.  Go slowly.


Nonviolence is not a discrepancy or diversion of the body.  It is the logical outcome of having one.  Do this, and remember.


Still, I am a wordy, philosophical kinda gal.  It tickled me no end when I found the philosophy.  I found the philosophy to be a pure distillation of what I felt on the mat, knew with my hands and my eyes.  The point of practice is not physical contortion and heavy breathing; it is a question of aliveness, is sensitivity.  Yoga is ethics, first.  If it begins as a flash of physical knowing, it holds true all the way to the most rigorous of intellectual understandings.  Compassion is a truth we know across all the different fields of knowledge.


The logic of yamas and niyamas appeals to our highest level of intelligence.  At first glance smarts isolate us, put the smart one on a different level and lead to accolades, cloisters, academia. Intelligence separates us from the fold. But this isn’t the whole thing; intelligence taken to its conclusion resolves to withness and leveling. Full expression of genius lies in relation, not isolation.  I don’t say easy, I just say genius.


The fully developed human being knows his own self, and where he stands.  He knows everything amounts to this: either he sees the body of every other as equal in importance to his own, or he does not.


Compassion, ahimsa, is inborn and instinctual.  But it is also – and this makes it rare – a truth the mind can find no shortness with.  Any shortness found is with the self, and not compassion.


Like god, I suppose: bigger than mind, it contradicts the mind.  This doesn’t prove the smallness of god. It proves the smallness of self.


Ahimsa is historical. Hippocrates, father of medicine and citizen of ancient Greece, is credited with the healer’s code to ‘first, do no harm’.  He understood medicine holistically and humanely; illness is not the concern of wellbeing, wellbeing is.  When healers act out of their own diagnostics of what is ‘wrong’, they may injure the person while treating the limb.  To ‘fix’ a disease or wound at the cost of harming the person in some way is worthless, even if the disease is ‘cured’.  To not harm, then, takes precedence over the healer’s own accomplishment and the treatment of disease.


A doctor is concerned with physical pulp and tissue.  Oxygen, the grey matter of the brain, depression and anxiety and the muscle fisted heart.  From there, directly, a doctor is concerned with the soul and the being.  With communities.  With the bodies of history and the eyes of the not yet born.  Compassion, ahimsa, is the only way such disparate bodies of knowledge form a whole.


The body is knowledge, see?  To feel is to sense one’s humanity, however jaded and limping.  To sense is to know.  To know one’s own senses is to realize the mirror and shadow and echo of oneself in everyone else’s body.  It feeds directly into using one’s wisdom as a means of connection.  One’s history and secrets and accomplishments as communication.  One’s fear as the impetus to love.


The body is wild, and messy, and discordant.  There are reasons we prefer to live in our heads.  And yet to feel what one feels, moment by moment, is ultimately the kindness of telling the truth.  It demands bravery; it is frightful to see not with our expectations and ideals and shoulds and oughts and musts but with what is.


The word courage translates, in latin and old french, ‘with heart’.  Compassion, as translated as the greek of the new testament, means to feel ‘from the bowels and gut’.  It is not easy, no.  To face reality.  To stop living in the boundaries of our heads and enter the field of the body, where things are not so orderly and are, quite frankly, terrifying and hard to understand.


It is large and expansive, that land of what we do not understand.  To ground ourselves there we ourselves must grow huge.  We must, sooner or later, realize that courage, bravery, ethics, true self, are not things without fear.  But a place where the fear doesn’t matter any longer, where fear can be felt without leaving us paralyzed.


Our eyes grow gentle to see this way.


This is what eyes were capable of, all along.


You were born to love, and yet you feel alone.  Figure this out.  Go slowly.


If you pay attention to the breath, eventually you realize it is not you, breathing.  It is your body responding to the universe.  It is atmospheric pressure, breathing you.  The breath is, with out you.  When you end, there will still be others breathing.


This is a primordial, gut wrought, deep stirring experience.  It starts in the privacy of the body.  From there, it softens the eyes and reveals a universe, an atmosphere, a word.  It speaks. We develop like children: first in body, later in language and its brainy knowings.  If you allow yourself to feel what you feel, see what you actually do see, you resolve to fierce compassion.


Ethics are visceral.


Every human being is marked, branded.  We all have these tattoos across our foreheads, written into the lines of our hands, but the things are mostly invisible and private.  I am born to love, built of it, it says; and yet I feel alone.


We know the words by heart.