saint cloud yoga

After the election

I have been quiet, but I am here. I was invited to a 'yoga and race' conversation. I paused. I am leery of 'yoga for', anything. In particular, I don't know that we should use our yoga to address systemic problems. I'm afraid that's whitewashing. Your yoga will not save the world. It might though, save you. That is the point and has always been the point. We need to work through and with our own, problems. Race was a white American problem, before the election results. Blaming, shaming, now says more about us than the country or republic. Do what you can. Use your practice. Use it to sooth yourself, steady yourself, see more clear. And then let it, and the safety pins, the facebook, the reactions go. Don't mistake practice for peace, social justice, or an answer. Just do it because it helps you.

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

Since the election, everything feels upended, volatile, and confusing.  I encourage you to use all the tools of your practice to help with this: use it to sooth you, to ease the excess of tension and fatigue riddled across the body, to find a bit of space around your emotions, actions, and social roles.  It is terribly important that we take good care of ourselves, now.

And, I encourage you to realize that your practice is not going to solve your, or the world's, problems.  It is only a tool.  Don't mistake it for an answer.

As a way to steady yourself, to not be alone, practice is a tool of non-harming.  As a way to escape, it causes suffering.  It too easily slides into self-righteousness.  It is too easy to forget that practicing  - especially practicing together - is a privilege.

The thing about privilege is its tendency to be forgotten or denied.

I raised some heckles about six months ago, when I said that yoga is not as inclusive as it claims or wants to be.  It uses a lot of words and ideals.  Often, it has given those who practice it a renewed or completely new sense of empowerment and connection.  But it is not inclusive so much as it is race blind.  And race blind (or gender blind, or social justice blind) is nothing but loud ignorance.

This is hard.  And, it's okay.

If we don't realize our privilege, its a tool of harm.  When we do realize it, we can perhaps wield it more skillfully.

So many people have been surprised by the election's results.  Angry, terribly disappointed, disillusioned.  We are mourning, and grief is hard.  Notice, however, that many people of color were not surprised.  Notice that newsworthy acts of racism have been perpetrated by children. Notice that race and power issues, gender, sexuality, and assault issues, gun issues, environmental issues, were real long before this election.  Notice that Donald Trump even running for the presidency highlights a virulent current in our culture.  The issue may not be that he won, but that he had support to run in the first place.  #notmypresident expresses tremendous rage, a sense of disempowerment, and revolt.  But it also denies the process of presidential elections: Trump IS our president elect.

The election was, indeed, a critical moment.  Don't fall into believing, I said in community discussion the other day, that this was an election like any other.

Go deeper, go closer, use the practice:

It can help you.  But it's end result is to send you back into the world.  Private, and public.  Real, time.

Don't shame others for their reactions, feelings, protesting or deciding not to.  Realize that millions of people voted for conservative, neo-fascist, fear mongering politicians across the ballot: if this is surprising, than we need to more realistically understand our neighbors, just as we need to understand who is vulnerable and what vulnerability means.  Wear your safety pins, but don't think them more than a gesture.  Post or do not post on social media.  Join, civic organizations.  And know that it's also okay to not join, everything.  Do your practice.  But go closer into understanding what these things actually are and what they are, not.

Practice is both self care and the cultivation of skillful, action.  It's the discernment, of one for the other.  Don't confuse your self-care for other people's benefit.  And don't become so active/passive that you lose all possibility of self-care.

Take very, very good care of yourself.

And act, skillfully as you can.  Knowing that skillful is sometimes this, sometimes, that.





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.


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.


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

Whispered Wisdom

for the upcoming Praying with our Hands, Dancing with God workshop.

Whispered Wisdom, Bhakti diary

Down through time, seekers and gurus have trespassed across the ordinary and cultivated paths to wisdom.  Across traditions, deep in our ancestry, wisdom teachings have been passed like folk cures from teacher to debutante.  Every single holy book there is is a collection and transcription of an oral tradition going back thousands of years before the things were written down.  Yoga stands there, in half lit hallways of time, where individual soldiers of life have sometimes found a thing that worked for them, throwing open the doors of perception.inquire within

We know this.  Yet, strangely, a bit wonderfully, yoga is popular. You can take classes in libraries, college gyms, retirement centers and vacation line cruises.  You can download teacher wisdom.  Yoga is a practice of books, DVDs, and the world wide web.  NBA and NFL players do it.  Sexy popstars do it.  Suddenly, practices handed down across centuries are available at WalMart.

We are, ahead of anything else, practical people.  Understanding that makes the increasing popularity of yoga an obvious thing: yoga is  a very practical endeavor. It cultivates cardiovascular health.  It builds musculoskeletal strength and flexibility without the grind and shock of high impact aerobics or sport.  It peaks every organ system  – the respiratory, digestive, reproductive, endocrine, lymphatic, and nervous.  It cultivates the capacity to relax and dramatically cuts away at the negatives of stress.  Yoga instantly makes us feel better, breathe better, sleep better.  We digest better.  Many claim easing or healing of long entrenched illness.  You do not need long years of apprenticeship or training.  The effects of yoga are immediate and profound.

Still, the physical and practical benefits of yoga may mask, or at least be a superficial version of, something more.  Hang around any yoga studio for a bit and you’ll hear stories of remarkable self transformation.  People report a profound rediscovery of self and purpose.  Some claim their capacities of concentration, creativity, and  intuition blossom strangely.  People start talking like believers or religious. “Chronic” illnesses wither.  People find focus, purpose, and meaning in their lives. Some trespass across the common world of the ordinary and find the doors of perception flung wide.

It can be hard to know what to make of this.  Is that stuff ‘yoga’? And which yoga? A basic google search turns up such a wealth of philosophies and interpretations the neophyte can be overwhelmed.  There are rumors of enlightenment, hints of change.  But the incomprehensible stew of every conceivable philosophy, psychology, and metaphysic is bewildering. The ancient and the modern, the esoteric and the practical, the magical and the scientific fuse.

Or, they don’t. The deeper, promised secrets of yoga are not easily had.

better personAs I came to yoga, I had intimations of the something else, something deeper, something profound, but very little idea if those things applied to me.  My practice involved the ‘gross physical body’: I was a hardbitten atheist, strongly attached to reason, struggling to make sense of a hurricane life.  I found that there was something in the practice that I deeply, physically, needed.  In the beginning, it was simply about hanging on and feeling better.

When I began to look into the deeper aspects of yoga, I had difficulty knowing what to make of it all.  There are a plethora of how-to books to teach the asana and breathing techniques.  And there are treasure troves of lore: mythic adventures of gods speaking to nearly godly men; fascinating accounts of levitation, knowledge of former births, bilocation, states of nirvanic bliss.  The wash and swell of Hindu texts elucidate ecstasy.  Union with the One.  Knowledge of the Absolute.  Cosmic consciousness.  Pulling back the veils of deception and the phenomena of the material world.  But it is hard to know what those things mean to me.  Are those descriptions of what’s happening during a lunch hour vinyasa class?  Where is the transformation story of a neurotic Western agnostic like me?  Is this supposed to be my story?  If so, why can't I glow?  Why are things like alarm clocks and financial fear still part of my existence?

The questions I have – and hear from others – sometimes seem quaint or simplistic.  We come to yoga hoping it will help.  It usually does.  It usually does in unexpected and stunning ways.  But it remains hard to know what that means, or to answer the questions.  ‘Can a Christian practice yoga’ sounds like a ridiculous rant out of a t.v. evangelist’s mouth, and it is, but it is also a valid question.  Where do I begin?  How much do I have to do?  What is kundalini, chakra, ayurveda?  What is supposed to happen in meditation?  If you stick with this, do you end up vegetarian, wearing mala beads, annoying your friends?  Do I have to give up french fries?

Historically, yoga is a wisdom tradition.  It is a story of journey and transformation.  Ultimately, the ‘secret’ has less to do with what is whispered than the fact of whispering: if it were just getting the answers, we could read a textbook and have done.  There would not be thousands of texts, nor millions of practitioners.  Truthfully, journeys are made with teachers and maps and guides.  We suffer from a lack of mentorship, a not quite knowing what we’re supposed to do, no clear route of initiation.  We’re not terribly sure that we even want initiation, but the wisdom is tempting.

I am coming to believe that the ‘whispered wisdom’ is a slant truth, a cunning little word play.  The texts, teachers, and mentors are helpers.  Historically they have been the lights.  In the end, though, I believe we start to hear a whispering, haunting voice inside.  The texts, the practice, and the philosophies are not the end product, not the prize: they are maps to the prize.  Maps themselves are not the terrain covered.  They are representations.  Translations.  Metaphors.

Happiness, they say, is not a thing you find one day or a constitution you are born with, even if some of us are more predisposed than others.  Happiness comes not from any specific thing, but from the building of a life in which happiness has room to come in.  Create, cultivate, the conditions, and the thing appears.  Remove obstacles.  Clear spaces.  Recognize barriers and work through them.  Give time to the things that contribute to happiness: friendships, family, intellectual expansion, spiritual growth, play. Give priority to reflection, regeneration, commitments and slow and steady growth.

Yoga is a creeping, haunting thing.  With any exposure to it, and half-assed effort, a kind of inner whispering begins.  We find there is simply more of us than we thought.  A great deal more.  More consciousness, more energy, more equanimity, more life in the body, more connection in the emotions, more fire in the depth of our emotions, good and bad.

I have always had voices in my head.  Most of my life, they have been conflicting.  There have been a number of them that echo the judgement, critique, or down right abuse I’ve taken in from elsewhere.  I began to notice a year or two ago that those voices, all that conflict and resultant paralysis, began to fade.  This in itself seemed a wonderful thing, and I was unsure exactly what had happened.

But in the last year, a different thing has begun to happen.  There is still more there – an astonishing amount of more.  More consciousness, still.  More and deeper empathy.  More energy.  More equanamity, more depth.  I continue to spy into the practices and philosophies and metaphysics.  I soak it in.  I have begun to take that happiness approach: make room, establish the conditions, let go.  The conditions mean I look for gurus and mentors.  I practice listening.  I give time and priority where it seems most appropriate.  I try to apply the ethics, restraints, observances.  I get frustrated and then I let go, go deeper.

There is suddenly a voice.  Suddenly is not the right word: I am aware that this voice was one of those earlier voices.  Some of the themes are familiar.  The songs.  There is a clarity and a surety that was never, ever there before.  An authenticity.  But it is more than just ‘my true self’, more than ‘clarity’: it’s also a tremendous and haunting reserve of beauty and wisdom.  So much wisdom, I am baffled.  Things that seemed difficult aren’t difficult any more.  I am not afraid any longer.  Situations that seemed hopeless, or hopelessly complicated, suddenly are not.  I hear voices: I am walking the dog at midnight, thinking of any random string of things, and I suddenly hear a voice ten leagues deeper than that conscious stream of thought tell me exactly what I need to do about some other thing, that I wasn’t even thinking of.  I am driving midmorning, anxious and listening to the world news on NPR, running between bank and grocery and vet, and suddenly two words sink in and everything sinks magically into perfect places.  As if magnetized.  As if tethered by strings and drawn in.  I move to a sudden understanding of world and myself.  Am changed by the understanding.

A haunting, resonant voice.  A steady knowledge that this yoga is not just practical, not purely popular.  There are strange questions and stranger answers out there.  America is suffering a crush on yoga, and like any love affair, there are ups and downs.  Any mature relationship to yoga has to acknowledge those dark places and low points.  The pushing the physical too far.  The commercialization.  The idealization of gurus.  The trade in of spiritual path for monthly membership fees.  The weird attempts to transcend realities of work, intimacy, identity.

Ultimately, the yogic path is about work, intimacy, and identity.  It goes as deep and as pithy as psychoanalysis.  It can ask questions and leave us hanging for lack of good answers.   Not transcendence, but depth.  Not overcoming, but going deeper in.

But there is that voice.  It surfaces.  It becomes more clear.  It keeps us company on the journey, through wild goose chase and moments of inner calm.  It knows why we are there.  It, too, is determined to save the only life we really can save.  When the sages say the wisdom is whispered, they mean it’s a thing you have to listen to hear.  That the listening changes who you are.