mn yoga teacher training



Today is a Monday, late in the year.  I have to say this because I get confused, recently: I was supposed to be headed to New York City, yesterday, and a Zen retreat center early this morning.  Instead, I'm at home nursing Ty, listening as cancer swells his abdomen and pain laces his bones.  We wake and sleep all night long,  The neighborhood went silent and empty over the holidays, and I cancelled my flight, and there didn't seem to be any sound anywhere.  All the people went away, to family and parties and airports.  I stayed.  Snow fell, eventually. Time stopped.  We - the dog and I - fell out of the world. Time moves, for us, differently.  Time is measured by his breath, this waking and sleeping all night long. I measure time since he last peed or ate, the hundreth time I clean up after him, the thousandth time I lay my forehead on his heart.

When I wrote to my teacher to tell him I wasn't coming, I used every word I could: cancer, diagnosis, uncertainty, responsibility.  He answered simply, and intimately, as he does.  Using the one word I didn't.

I'm sorry your dog is dying, he said.

I didn't say that, I realized.  I didn't say the one thing.  I didn't say: death.

Late in the cold, silent night I sat on the stoop and watched him limp around the yard.  Put my hand on his big square head when he came back to me.  Here is the gist of it: I don't know how many more times he will come back to me, anymore.  It's a limited number, now, but I don't know what the number is. While on this retreat, I was to take my buddhist vows, to say out loud to my teacher I vow to follow this path, I vow to practice, I vow to practice until all sentient beings reach enlightenment.  In the way of late, silent nights, it occurred to me that I am vowing: I am crossing over with this sentient being.

At four am, he fell asleep with his head on my lap.  I sat still.  I sat so still.  I've often sat at four am, and this morning I remembered all of those times.  I often joke that there was no transition period for me; I went from still being awake at four am as a drunk to waking at four am as a yogi with no interlude.  The threshold of one day to another goes back a long time for me, touches a lot of people and places.  This morning, my heart opened like an umbrella in my chest.  I started to chant my chants, and then I sang old folk songs, and then I sang nothing at all. My throat stayed, wide open.

I wrote this much, this morning, and then stopped.  I took Ty out to the woods and he refused.  He looked at me as if apologizing.  So I lifted him, carried him, back to the car and then the house. I took him out hours later and he left blood all over the snow. I want to write about blood on snow, but I can't find any words for it other than blood, on snow.  A few hours ago, with his head up against my chest and my lips on his head, Ty died.

There is no direct lineage to this tradition, yet there is said to be a bloodline.  The bloodline is the vowing, by countless human beings over time, down through time, that brings the length and breadth and abstraction of this practice to the bruisy aliveness of your own heart.  We vow to use this moment, this experience, to wake up, to not be asleep, to not break.  In some ceremonies, you chant all the names from the Buddha to your own teacher.  Joan Halifax has a ceremony in which you chant all the names of the women ancestors, down to your very own.  Bloodline ties abstract ceremony and intention to your own veins, to the reality of hot blood on cold snow.  To say, right now, I use this moment to wake up.

I lost a dear friend, last February.  Now Ty.  Both of those beings formed me, or informed me, or something.  Without their being in the world, I don't know who I am.  Or, who I am isn't real any longer.  All the meanings and things that tethered me to a schedule, a role, a relatedness, are undone. They are words that don't reflect reality, signposts that point to nothing, maps to things that no longer exist. I tried to study some of the work another mentor has sent me, but was absent minded and couldn't concentrate.  I tried to review what I'm going to teach and couldn't understand my own handwriting. I can't remember the train of thought my notes were intended to map out. I feet lost: disconnected from my teachers, disconnected from what I am doing or why, disconnected from the ones I love.

Of course, grief is not my story.  Getting lost, having the things that make our life, change, is the only certainty there is.  We do something for a while.  We love people or places or landscapes for a while, we say oh this is how it is, or find a practice and say oh I'm going to do this everyday, this is the beginning of the rest of my life, but then it changes.  The marriage you're in today is not the marriage you started with.  The body you have today is not the one you had a few months ago. Michael Stone once said he used to wonder how people go on living.  We continually have to find new meanings for our lives.

Sometimes, the changes feel wonderful.  You fall in love. Sometimes, they are death.

As Leslie says, you've never been this old before.  And you'll never be this young again.

Bloodline is a question of how to enter where you are, now, amidst all these changes, as honestly and as bravely as you can.  Because of this practice, over time, I have learned and can see how much depth there is.  There is so much depth for me to move in my life, and so much depth for students to move into their own.  Bloodline, a depth practice, is a way for us to not just 'know' things about yoga, or ourselves, but to really go for it, to go all the way. To keep giving ourselves to the practice, so that the practice can give you to yourself.  It's so important that you not waste your own time.

You are on this threshold, too.  Of time.  Certain things have come to you in the last year or months, and certain things have gone away.  Where you stand is a question, how to really go for it, into it, to find the deep heart of the question that is, ultimately, you.  There are parts of this heart that are mechanical, routine, and rote.  And there are parts of it that are wild.  Parts of it that are poetic, mysterious, unknowable as a dog's deep eyes and unsayable as blood on snow.  It's this part we come closer to though the bloodline.  The wild bit of the heart that both loves and mourns.  The part that screams out for healing.  The part that is murky and unborn.  The parts you suspect but can't quite explain.

I don't have much to say today other than grief, but time spins: if you'd like to go deep, deep into practice, deep into your own mind and your own experience over the past year and coming blank slate, I recommend the intensive at Saint John's January 17-22 or in Costa Rica this March.  How can we let go, without ceremony?  How can we make space for all that rushing newness in you, without marking space?  How can you know what deeper means, if you don't open to deepening?

Costa Rica is 10% off if you book by January 31 (use GIFT4ME at check out here).  Saint John's is 20% by the same date (use link below).  And everyone who has NOT been to the studio in the past three months is welcome to come back at the intro rate of $30 for 30 days.  Use this moment.  Wake up.

20% off if purchased by 12/31


Everything, and nothing.

Yesterday, snow, and today the cold.  My body doesn't do well with cold snaps.  Sudden cold seems to be the sure fire trigger to fibro flares.  So I'm tender today.  Sore and slow.  I've never been able to figure out if sadness is a symptom, same as shouting bones and sour muscles and confusion, or if it's a natural consequence.  I stub my toe and it doesn't stop that panging all day long.  All day.  I walk cautiously, which helps and doesn't.  I am teary and sad, but also not.  I am both sad, and sweetened.  Things are so beautiful, I'm made sweet. I walked the dog yesterday in the new fallen snow.  It was so quiet, so still, so detailed in it's millions of black branches and millions more snowflakes.  My pain doesn't bother me as it used to.  I'm not as afraid of it as I once was.  There are whole days I can't do asana or eat or sleep, but this doesn't seem very terrible any longer.  I've learned some things.  I've learned to breath.  I've learned that most of the time there are things I can do, squiggling on the floor and moving my spine, opening the siezing muscles, letting my weight find a not so sore spot to drop.  And somedays, I can't.  I never know which day is which, until I start.

When I walk in the new snow, it seems the sound of my walking is the most beautiful sound on earth.

And then when I stop, it seems the silence is.

Someone asked if I was angry or disappointed in yoga: wasn't it supposed to heal me?  I certainly have moments of that.  But also, no.

No: at some point my practice became a way to work with pain, rather than a fantasy about 'curing' it.  I tend to think my practice has, largely, healed my fibromylagia.  But it hasn't cured it, and that is okay.

Last night, in dharma talk, I told people this practice would make their lives harder.  They would become more aware of everything going on in themselves.  They would see and not be able to unsee.  At the same time, their lives would become much easier.  They would enjoy themselves more.  The world is a mess and they will know it; their minds and bodies are a mess and they'll know it; but they will have an equanimity in which those things don't belittle us or need to be pushed aside.

This morning, someone asked why we're doing 108 saluations for the solstice.  Why 108, in particular.  One symbolizes everything, I said.  Zero symbolizes nothing.  Eight symbolizes infinite relationship.  There are dozens of other meanings of 108, but this is my favorite.  Everything, and nothing at all.

As in, this practice is nothing.  The postures don't matter much, and you'll lose all of them in the end, anyway.  The meditation doesn't get you any cash and prizes.  And accepting the ethics and an inner awareness doesn't necessarily make you happy.  They often make life more hard.

But it is also, everything.  It is the absence of fear and the walls of fear.  It is a remedy to re-activity and expectation and chosen ignorance.  It is a way to be in our life, pained or anxious, terrorized or privileged, with an ability to work with those things rather than suffer them.  We work with our conditions, with our heart, with our bodies, and we become people able to know pain, fear, or death, without fear.  Yogis will die just like everyone else will.  But the time before might be spent, differently.  Dying itself might be a wonder.

You can't hold or quantify the gifts of this practice.  They are immaterial.  Last night I said it'd be like taking a mason jar out into the snow and gathering some up, intending to keep it.  Or bagging a breeze.  Boxing an angle of sunlight.  They aren't yours, and they don't last, and you can neither create them nor claim them.

You can only stand in wonder.

In a few weeks, I'll be leading retreat at Saint John's Abbey.  You won't really get anything out of that, either.  You may be working your way toward certification. You may be developing your capacity to teach, or to sit.  You may learn a new chant or get some insight during meditation.  You might develop.  But it's only real outcome is a quality of wonder, an experience you do or don't have intimacy with, a depth to your inner life that you could never explain to another, anyway.  I think it's everything.  Sign up here: Spine, Soul, and Breath 2016.

Other notes:

108 Sun Salutations December 20th, 7 pm

Paula is adding a 6:30 am Friday class, starting in January.

I'm opening up more time to privates - in studio or via skype - for $108.

The Deeper Practice curricula is about to launch into the feet, which is a very good time to start, indeed.  We'll meet January 9 and 10th.

The Art of Self Care 11 week online course will run again starting Feburary 1, on a new platform hosted on this site.

108 sun salutations Sunday December 20, 7 pm. $108 private sessions, Skype or in studio.

A photo posted by Karin L Burke (@coalfury) on

Scar tissue

"Memories are stored not only in the brain, but in a psychosomatic network extending into the body, particularly in the ubiquitous receptors between nerves and bundles of cell bodies called ganglia, which are distributed not just in and near the spinal cord, but all the way out along pathways to internal organs and the very surface of our skin." Candace B. Pert, Ph.D I can explain why we sometimes cry during savasana.

There are tears of relief, tears of gratitude, tears of exhaustion, and tears of mourning.  There are 10,000 kinds of tears.  Generally, we know why we're crying.  Or at least we think we do.  We stubbed our toe.  We get divorced.  Something dies.

Or there's just one straw too many; after waking up late, fielding two hundred incoming emails, having an unhelpful and largely inane conversation with tech support, your boss gives you another responsibility without having said thank you for the last three weeks of around the clock work.  Then you pick up the kids and your kid's school has sent a note home that feels mostly like you're not giving enough time to the school district and the classroom, you're a failed parent, you don't dress your child adequately and their behavior reflects your own disorganized finances.  When you get back to the car, a traffic cop is writing you up a parking ticket.  And then suddenly there you are.  Holding on the the steering wheel and crying, and crying, and crying without there seeming to be an off switch.  Crying that is disproportionate to the day.  Crying that has more than the day in it.

It has the whole of your career at this bloody job behind it, all seven years of your kid's life and the difficulty you had in pregnancy, the whole garbled romance and relationship with the kid's father, the failed relationships before that one and the way you tend to short sell yourself, contort yourself, try to make someone love you, and how you've done this since you yourself were seven carrying a note home from school.

Or whatever.  Or maybe you have very good off switches.  That would prove my point, not unmake it.

We think we know what we're feeling and why.  And we tend to think we've got it all under control. But sometimes, without knowing why, we cry during savasana. Emotional release - tears or laughter - aren't actually things we understand or do not understand.  The 10,000 things between relief, gratitude, exhaustion and mourning don't comply with reason and they live outside of time.  They live in bone, in fat tissue, in old songs, and our perfectionism. Yoga calls them samskara.  Scar tissue.  Effective yoga practice softens, elongates, heals deep body tissue.  Letting the breath and the light shine on the old places, the gristled tissue, the storage around your pericardium and the ballast around your lower back is evocative.  It is healing.  This isn't an understanding, thing, but a bodied one. Your mind and your body are not "related"; they are the same thing. It's deeper practice weekend.  We're going to:

    • understand yogic ideas of scar tissue, neuro plasticity, character and why we keep doing the same things in our lives.



    • see how stress affects metabolism, cognition, and immunity



    • learn how to effectively practice to relieve built up tension, rather than creating more.



          • Explore how this moving in or toward is ultimately where the healing happens, not in the final expression of a pose.  This is the vinyasa or mindful, attending, movement, more than sequence is.We'll also look at transitions in asana practice, the way we move from pose to pose and into a pose.
          • Thus we'll understand how to get where we're going with clarity, strength, openness, and integrity.  This in terms of asana, but also in terms of life.  We move differently and make different choices and ultimately, rocket ourselves into change if we move from openness, clarity, strength, and integrity.
          • We'll look at relaxing the diaphragm and getting better at reading our own bodies, making asana more effective