yoga for healing

Chronic Pain

We have a hard time relating to pain, humans. Everything tells us we should be happy and pain free.  We are sold 'cures'.  Medicinals are hawked at our symptoms, which tells us symptoms should be gotten rid of as best as possible.

Yet if we're human - and I'll just suppose for the moment that we are - there will come a time when pain levels us and can't be avoided.

Since we're practicing, we're becoming more sensitive to pain, not less.  We're becoming more attuned not only to floated, inspirational moments where we feel so alive but also to the nagging voices, the days we creak, and the murky underlying issues in our hearts.

Practicing, we're more sensate not only to our own inner pain, but the pain of others.  Compassion and empathy are noble and valuable things.  We want to be kind.  The science shows that these practices draw us open in that direction, along with healing our anxieties and soothing our depressions.  This is great. This is true.  But the advertising of mindfulness doesn't quite touch the bone truth of the matter: tenderness and compassion sing with ache; this stuff literally hurts.  Months ago, around a death of a student's parent, two children unknown to myself, and a rash of American violence in the headlines, I said sitting with our pain opens us to humanity.  Ours.  Other's.

I don't know if I also said 'it hurts like hell'.  Maybe I did.

Practice makes us aware of how we react to the pain of others.  Good intentions aside, we're rarely compassionate.  Generally speaking, other people's pain is usually worse than our own.  You'd think this would elicit gratitude or sympathy. It makes us angry.  The pain of strangers elicits judgement. The pain of loved ones moves us to fix, advise, or in some way 'handle' the situation.

Relating to pain is hard.  The heart is tender.  It bruises so easily.

Relating to the pain of other human beings generally proves we need to change the story we've been telling ourselves. A mawed heart rearranges us.

Pain forces a visceral knowing of vulnerability.  I mean actual viscera.  I mean the fact of dying, on top of the frailty of relationships, money, day to day grind.  All out of the blue, we are totaled.  The car is wrecked.  The delicate balance of finances has to be rearranged and the day to day is out the window.  It's gone, like a flit of paper napkin out a car window, hundreds of miles deep into a highway.  Such things will never be touched by a hand again.


I am alone in the house.  It is January.  January with it's big swallowed chestedness about how I will act in the coming year.  This year, I've promised myself I will write about yoga, which has historically been hard for me to do.  Something of a fear of being incredible, lacking authority; something too of exasperation - how does one write things that are beyond language?; and something, too, of the self doubt and perfectionism that spoil most everyone's resolutions.

With gusto, with jazz and trumpeting, with a sense of relief and finality, I dedicated the year to writing a book.

Then I got sick.

The sunlight in my house is spectacular, mid winter.  It is the idea of white, the only warmth winter has.  My living room is a sundial and the light pours in the old windows, floods room after room like water bursting a dam.  I love this light, this clarion solitude.  It's a place of sun washed skin, and paper.   The insides can come all out, haloed.  All, out. Hallowed ink haloed.

Today I lay in it, not writing, sprawled gingerly, hardly breathing.  I am wrapt with disgust. This is not what I meant when I said I love the light.  This is not what I wanted.


The Sallatha Sutra has a teaching on pain.  It says a practicer relates to, rather than reacts. The story explains how this still hurts.

The story is called the two darts.

One who hasn't learned these practices feels pain, and then seeks soothing.  Through the mouth, sweets and cigarettes.  Or though the mind, blame and indignation.  This reaction is like a second dart, a second wounding, infecting the first. It tends to feed the first pain, hang around in it's own right, and become the only sensation left.  Sugar balm.  Nicotine stain.  Resentment like a crude oil on the whites of our eyes.

The practioner ("noble, well trained") feels the pain.  Knows the rising, passing.  Knows reality.  "Is not fettered by suffering".

But the story doesn't ever say "be happy and painfree!  You'll never have to feel that way again."  It just doesn't.


A girlfriend - not a yogi or a buddhist - asks me sweet heartedly how I am.  I cite aches and pains.  Mounds of kleenex.  The inefficacy of medicine.  The thing under my back rib that feels like a rusted blade.  I explain how I try very hard not to touch this when breathing.  How hard my shoulders and neck and jaw and eyes are with the effort.

She asks, all sweetheartedly, how I am doing emotionally.  I gave more physical details.

I'm sorry, she says.  That sounds anxious and fearful and angry.  A little resignation, sadness, and uncertainty.

Yes, I said, internally wondering how she is not the buddhist and why I, the yoga teacher, slipped into complaint and didn't catch all that she just summed up in 10 odd seconds. I suppose anyone who relates, who is compassionate, is buddhist and yogi.  She fingered at my bruise.  She prodded, true.  She related to my pain while I was shooting daggers at it.

Yes.  How can I be a yoga teacher, I said, how can I possibly run a studio if I am dealing with a dumb and inexplicable and uncontrollable thing called 'chronic pain'?

My disgust is not with plegm, ache, or the muddy thinking; I am disgusted with uncertainty.  I am afraid.  I am disgusted by the uncontrollablity of pain.

* Nyanaponika Thera's translation of the Salltha Sutra says:

"An untaught worldling, O monks, experiences pleasant feelings, he experiences painful feelings and he experiences neutral feelings. A well-taught noble disciple likewise experiences pleasant, painful and neutral feelings. Now what is the distinction, the diversity, the difference that exists herein between a well-taught noble disciple and an untaught worldling?

"When an untaught worldling is touched by a painful (bodily) feeling, he worries and grieves, he laments, beats his breast, weeps and is distraught. He thus experiences two kinds of feelings, a bodily and a mental feeling. It is as if a man were pierced by a dart and, following the first piercing, he is hit by a second dart. So that person will experience feelings caused by two darts. It is similar with an untaught worldling: when touched by a painful (bodily) feeling, he worries and grieves, he laments, beats his breast, weeps and is distraught. So he experiences two kinds of feeling: a bodily and a mental feeling.

"Having been touched by that painful feeling, he resists (and resents) it. Then in him who so resists (and resents) that painful feeling, an underlying tendency of resistance against that painful feeling comes to underlie (his mind). Under the impact of that painful feeling he then proceeds to enjoy sensual happiness. And why does he do so? An untaught worldling, O monks, does not know of any other escape from painful feelings except the enjoyment of sensual happiness. Then in him who enjoys sensual happiness, an underlying tendency to lust for pleasant feelings comes to underlie (his mind). He does not know, according to facts, the arising and ending of these feelings, nor the gratification, the danger and the escape, connected with these feelings. In him who lacks that knowledge, an underlying tendency to ignorance as to neutral feelings comes to underlie (his mind). When he experiences a pleasant feeling, a painful feeling or a neutral feeling, he feels it as one fettered by it. Such a one, O monks, is called an untaught worldling who is fettered by birth, by old age, by death, by sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief and despair. He is fettered by suffering, this I declare.

"But in the case of a well-taught noble disciple, O monks, when he is touched by a painful feeling, he will not worry nor grieve and lament, he will not beat his breast and weep, nor will he be distraught. It is one kind of feeling he experiences, a bodily one, but not a mental feeling. It is as if a man were pierced by a dart, but was not hit by a second dart following the first one. So this person experiences feelings caused by a single dart only. It is similar with a well-taught noble disciple: when touched by a painful feeling, he will no worry nor grieve and lament, he will not beat his breast and weep, nor will he be distraught. He experiences one single feeling, a bodily one.

"Having been touched by that painful feeling, he does not resist (and resent) it. Hence, in him no underlying tendency of resistance against that painful feeling comes to underlie (his mind). Under the impact of that painful feeling he does not proceed to enjoy sensual happiness. And why not? As a well-taught noble disciple he knows of an escape from painful feelings other than by enjoying sensual happiness. Then in him who does not proceed to enjoy sensual happiness, no underlying tendency to lust for pleasant feelings comes to underlie (his mind). He knows, according to facts, the arising and ending of those feelings, and the gratification, the danger and the escape connected with these feelings. In him who knows thus, no underlying tendency to ignorance as to neutral feelings comes to underlie (his mind). When he experiences a pleasant feeling, a painful feeling or a neutral feeling, he feels it as one who is not fettered by it. Such a one, O monks, is called a well-taught noble disciple who is not fettered by birth, by old age, by death, by sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief and despair. He is not fettered to suffering, this I declare.


A few days ago, someone brought me tulips.  Their milky, fleshy white is exactly the texture of the light from the south facing windows.  As I have been laid up, I move them with me, room to room.  I place them on the bedside table while I sleep.  In the morning I chew toast and watch them breathing.  In the evening, they are with me when I soak in the tub.

I realize this is silly.

The things I do when no one is looking are out and out absurd.  I do them, anyway, out of a weird and desperate honesty with myself.  These little ceremonies are what I am, mostly.  The best things I know of being alive.

I think of a passage May Sarton wrote in one of her journals.  "When I am alone the flowers are really seen; I can pay attention to them.  They are felt as presences.  Without them I would die.  Why do I say that?  Partly because they change before my eyes.  They live and die in a few days; they keep me closely in touch with process, with growth, and also with dying.  I am floated on their moments."


We are hardwired to resist and avoid pain.  This is aversion, or dvesha.  As this translation of 'the two darts' shows, dvesha run deep enough becomes resentment.  Other people's pain pisses us off.  Ours is an unfairness and elicits self-pity.  We alternate between selfishness and self-loathing.

Dvesha, aversion and avoidance, blossoms to avidya, not seeing.  Not seeing.  Not knowing.  Not feeling.  Not able to be with life.  Not able to be emotionally present even to ourselves.

Blind and stunted, we can't know reality - the beginnings and endings of things, their gratification or cessation, their escape.  We don't know pain's healing.

Aversion becomes so deep, so under and habitual, it becomes the only thing we know.  It becomes substratum, the underlying, the 'truth' through which we filter every grit of detail and arising experience.  Every sensation is the heavy lidded one of our own unseeing.

I am a sundial

A photo posted by Karin (@coalfury) on


Most of the time, I am well.  I was diagnosed a long time ago.  Pain was constant, if alternating between 'grim' and 'mildly incapacitating'.  But it's changed.  I mean, over years and years.  I became what is loosely called a yogi.  Over time, I became a person who eats vegetables.  I am organic and damned near vegan, most of the time.  Over the course of many years, my relationship to stress, sleep, money, time management, and other human beings has changed subtly and profoundly.  It's now mostly balanced, honest, felt.  Therefore, I am mostly well.

I believe this:  yogic movement and meditation change the way the body works so wholly the very conditions of the body change; I believe what we eat has everything to do with wellness and disease, happiness and lightness or lethargy and malise; I believe the practices of a spiritual life radically rearrange us into graceful modes of being.

I believe yoga has changed my pain.

So it is hard for me to face the fact that in spite of my yoga asana, in spite of my diet, in spite of mindful effort and good intention and new years resolutions, there will be days I will be flattened to the floor and incapable of thinking through a clear sentence.  I simply don't know how to relate to this.


Talking with a woman, recently, about chronic medical conditions and yoga, she suggested I focus my teaching there.  'Chronic pain' could be my schtick.  I could advertise it.

But how, I wondered.

If we know anything about chronic conditions, it's the fact that everyone's is different.  Symptoms are different; pain itself and prognoses are different.  No two people experience fibromylgia (or MS, or IBS, or PTSD) the same way.

There is no 'teaching' or 'sequence' or 'pose' I could offer for fibromylagia.  Just as there is no teaching that could answer to every knee, heart condition, or fear.  If I were to 'market' my expertise to chronic pain, what happens to the students who don't have chronic pain?  There are two dozen people around me who have 'knee pain', arthritis pain, grief pain, stress pain.  The pain of loneliness, boredom, stupid meaningless life pain.  Sometimes, normal people are totaled, all out of the blue.

Symptoms shouldn't be mitigated.  The arising and passing should be explored.  The arising and passing, of both pleasure and pain, are life.

It takes humility to be so intimate with your own life.

Intimacy with blooming and wilting flowers makes them sweet and wholly naked.  Intimacy with suffering makes suffering less personal.  Pain isn't personal.  It's chronic.

The petals yawn, fully flushed, going yellow.  They mark my hand with a shadow.  I am close.


Relating to pain hurts.  It asks me to not advise, not palliate, not fix or condone or judge, but to open.  Openness is ruthless and will not end.  Openness tends to demand much more of me.

Staying close to process is the only way for me to know where I am in the process; what to do, how deep it goes, what feels.  Tulips keep me, my writing, my teaching, from the foolishness of black and white, hyperbole, all or nothing.

Pema Chodon says there is a longing, a yearning, a need to honor our own wounds while opening our hearts to the wounds of others.  She says this is the way the heart wakes up.


I take the flowers with me, room to room.  And a box of kleenex.  And a blanket.

I cancel classes.

The tulips are four days old now.  They are limp.

Most of the time, I am well.  Today I write half a poem.  It begins, "I love the light..."




Spring's breath: detox, saucha, resurrection.

flexible enoughSometimes things touch us.  A breath of green air from an opened window after a long, cruel winter.  The combination of innocence and insouciant wisdom out of a kid's mouth.  Suddenly, a robin's song.  The bud of a flower, not opened yet, but full of kinetic energy, potency, brilliance.  The chords of a song, perhaps.  The whispers and shades of flirtation.  Briefly, suddenly, we are snapped out of our day to day lives.  We feel the pangs of longing, we desire.  To live more.  To know more.  To learn.  "Normal" is doubtful.  We hunger and thirst. Of course, other things can touch us: the death of a dear one, recognition of passing time, a diagnosis, an old pain become so pervasive you realize you are a prisoner.

Years ago, before I knew anything of yoga and while I bounced from barroom to bedroom to suicidal moments alone on my kitchen floor, a friend sat across from me in a dirty hospital room.  I was sick.  She was not.  The pity on her face made me more sick, but I didn't have the audacity to send her away.  And I was afraid to be where I was, alone.  I am so sorry for you, she said.  I don't think you know how good it is to be alive.  A few minutes later she stood up, touched my hair, and left.  This same friend, in a different crisis I'd imposed on myself, said you can't do this any longer; you won't survive.   She went on with things about self-respect, responsibility, yadda yadda.  I scowled.  How, I wondered, do you possibly begin to 'love yourself' when you hate yourself so very much?  It begins with your behaviors, she said.  Sooner or later, you just start to feel better about yourself.

She wasn't entirely right.  I did have hunches about the sweetness of a human life.  I had memories.  I had loved, once in a while.  I had known the passions of travel and art. I had a dog, once, and I had walked in the woods.  There had been times I'd felt something like the breath of spring on my body and the riptide of a mind on fire, but all I had of it at the time was echo and memory.  Memory so vague I doubted it's authenticity and disbelieved in it's return.

I once spent Easter in Guatemala.  Once, I spent it in Greece.  Once, in New Orleans.  All are places that celebrate holy week in visceral, ritual, soulful ways.  I consider myself an agnostic at best.  Yet the passion plays of bloody crosses, pilgrimage, fasting, ashes, and rebirth move me deep.  I described to a cerebral, 'life of the mind' kind of friend back in New York the way Greek widows, hunched with age and dressed in black, spend days crawling over broken streets on their knees to reach a sacred site.  She listened, with a wry look of pity and dismay, as if I were telling her about something just as human but less profound.  Abusive families, maybe.  Blue collar beer bellies.

How pathetic.  she said, and shifted the conversation.

I wondered, though.  The dark clothes a widow wears, always.  The bearing of crosses down streets.  The falling of rose petals through an Eastern Orthodox chapel.  Fasting, feasting.  Not pathetic, I thought.  Not pathetic at all.  Passionate.  Heart wrought.  An emotion I don't quite feel, but recognize.

And how can we say healing is real, that hope exists, unless it is possible out of broken family histories?  Why should not blue collar beer bellies be profound?

We long to be reborn, we humans.  Sometimes we realize that life is not 'normal', that day to day is not enough.  We ourselves want to be resurrected.

Rites of spring and rebirth are not unique to that Christian heritage.  They are earthbound and global.  With them, with spring, we have all sorts of ideas of being reborn, starting over, going further.  Cleaning house.

Detoxification, purification, are deeply embedded in this.  Now, years away from hospital rooms but not so far away I've forgotten what alcoholism and major depression are, I sometimes want to drop flowers from cathedral ceilings or blow into people's ears like spring wind.  I walk around at dawn, deeply busy and yet still in a life I love and find challenging.  This morning I heard a robin, after a very long, very cruel winter.  Brown, muddy stuff shimmers in April sun.  I want to show people, promise them, somehow reveal: this works.  This is real.  Detoxification and purification and rebirth, resurrection, are coded into you. Deep as your thumbprint and DNA.

Most human beings have no idea how good the human body, the human mind, is designed to feel.

And yet we can.  There are ways.


The first personal observance of the yogic tradition is roughly translated as purity.  It seems to me that purity is what spring time does inside us.  It stirs and awakens our inherent, deeply human longing to live more, to taste more, to shed our pains and step into something greater.  To become, ourselves, greater.  Perhaps simply to not hurt any longer.

There are very specific practices of food, of cleansing, purification of both body and mind in the yogic tradition.  But the heart of the thing is relational.  The heart of it is recognition - sudden remembrance - of our deepest self and the beauty of aliveness.

Detoxification and purification are central tenets to natural medicine.  And yoga is medicine.  The point is simply that life and ourselves in it are good - no matter how batted about or broken or far away from 'good' we have gone.  But it is hard to enjoy life if we are trapped in a body that leaves us sick and in pain.  It is impossible to feel the fire of our intelligence and love if we are haunted by brittle thoughts and emotions.  Therefore, regular detoxification is essential to not only heath, but to love and happiness.

A frantic woman, driven by busyness and over-strain, rushed from one task to another.  Her little boy tried in various ways to get her attention.  Finally, he took her face in both of his little boy hands and held her still: you're not recognizing me, he said.

Saucha, purity, is asking us to recognize ourselves, others, our work, and the day itself without the scrim and junk of past impressions.  It is an invitation to see our bodies and our minds not from a perspective of diet, reform, control, or punishment, but with the idea of nourishing body and soul so we might drink from the depths.  To purify so that we can live more fully.

Many of us - hell, all of us - are somewhere in that foggy land of not being able to see, not being able to feel, not having a clue how to go on or move forward or be kind to ourselves.  Yogic practices are perfect, here.  It is a fact that your body hears and responds to every thing your mind says and every enviornmental factor and dietic factor you come close to.  But it is ALSO true that your mind feels everything your body does and everything you eat.  This is our way in, this is where hope is; there are things we can DO even if our mind and heart waver.  As my friend said - it starts with your behaviors.  You act.  You practice.  You do things with your body and you try to drink more water.  And eventually, suddenly, almost impossibly, you'll one day feel the green air of spring inside.  Even if you didn't really believe it was possible.

TRY THIS: Spring Detox: Food, Stuff, Heart

Food: The body is in a constant state of self detoxification, as we are exposed to both internal and external toxins and irritants.  However, when the body's self healing mechanisms are over taxed, we are prone to illness, injury, fatigue.  Our culture does not make it easy to eat well, and 'diets' are all too often unsustainable, unrealistic, and punitive.  Finding a detox that works for you a few times a year might surprise you with its results.

Spend a day or two not changing your diet at all, but noting everything that you eat.  Spend time asking me, a librarian, or google about different cleanses and detoxes.  Come up with a plan that is realistic and set it in action for three days, a week, or a month.

The cost is minimal, the efficacy is sound.

A body that has not occasionally detoxed becomes less efficient (in sleep, in sex, in attention span, in digestion...) Symptoms of an overloaded body include allergies, PMS, indigestion in all of it's forms, headaches, skin problems, sleep problems.  Diet has been scientifically proven to affect auto immune diseases, ADHD, mental health, and inflammatory issues from asthma to arthritis to fibromylagia.  Lifespan, wise, it means we age without pain or with heart conditions, arthritis, memory problems, failing joints and bowels.

The benefits of detoxification offer increased energy levels; weight loss; healthy aging; greater motivation,; better digestion and assimilation of nutrients; better concentration, memory, and focus; reduced allergic symtoms; reduced chronic pain symptoms; clearer skin and eyes; decrease or elimination of headaches, migranes, joint pain, body aches, colds, allergies, auto-immune symptoms, sleep disturbances, to name a few.

This is true for me: I did not realize or feel how sluggish and lackluster my normal was until I began to incorporate dietic practices into my life.  Things I thought of as 'just the way I am' in terms of monthly cycles, skin, digestion, concentration, and sleep have radically changed.  They radically change again when I stop eating from a wellness perspective.   Within a day.

But they are things you do not recognize, and do not understand, unless you are paying attention.

Stuff: our lives are full of messy closets, half baked plans, procrastination and dirty laundry.  All of this takes an enormous amount of physical and psychic energy to maintain (even when maintence is "I'll deal with that tomorrow").

The lightness, motivation, and sudden eruption of energy and hope and creativity that comes from one task done or one drawer cleaned is almost insulting in it's efficacy.

Look around.  Cleansing and purification will look different for everyone.  Perhaps it's an unfinished project.  Perhaps its a phone call you haven't returned, a sinkful of dirty dishes every night, a closet become chaos.

Give it fifteen minutes.  Or commit to one drawer cleaned.  Or ten minutes every night this week to clean the kitchen up before you go to bed.

You'll feel better in the morning.

to be drunkenly awareHeart:

The first toxin in our lives is stress.  It is more directly related to physical illness than is any fat, sugar, or pathogen.  Just as physical clutter in our houses drains our vitality, mind clutter mucks up our sense of hope, joy, purpose.  Recognizing negativity, resentment, anger, and grudges when they come up is a first step in self-resurrection.

No diet, no asana practice, and no house cleaning will ever truly detoxify you unless and until you have also purified and healed the broken stuff inside.

I speak of forgiveness.  It has nothing to do with other people.  It has nothing to do with fair or justice.  It is much more important to realize that forgiveness and healing are things you need to do for your own damned self and beginning the hard work that it is.

Practice watching your emotions and mind in your asana or meditation practice.  Notice how often judgement, criticism, and blame come up.  Use those same practices - asana, class, meditation in whatever form you do it - to begin learning to let go, forgive, and regard others with compassion.

It is not easy.

But it is the way through.







The Strong Body, Quiet Mind Project

The Strong Body, Quiet Mind Project provides high quality yoga classes to veterans, first responders, at risk youth, and survivors of trauma.  All veterans and first responders are invited to participate - service and health providers are invited to collaborate with Return Yoga.  Participants are asked to pay $30 per month for unlimited yoga classes.  A veteran's i.d. card or first responder i.d. is all you need to sign up. Sign up must happen in-studio for Strong Body, Quiet Mind.  Every class on Return's schedule is open to project participants.

Participants are invited to all yoga classes rather than 'special' classes: there is no need for labels, anonymity is respected here, and all to often 'help' comes with stigma.  The truth is, we all need healing. Further, 'special' programs or classes are all to limited in time and scope, leaving participants after a few weeks rather than encouraging an on-going, life process of growth.

The Need:

Our society is rife with anxiety, stress, and trauma.

Studies have shown that PTSD and 'shock' in this generation of military will overshadow anything known to previous generations, costing billions. Veterans returning from service are finding a depressed economy, a dirth of future and career opportunities, and a shortage of services that answer their physical and psychological needs.

Research is showing that domestic violence and sexual assault survivors are just as likely to suffer trauma symptoms, with an even fewer sources of support and intervention.

Similarly, first responders are on the front lines of crisis situations day in and day out.  On going exposure to traumatic situations takes its toll on responders, who are under appreciated, under respected, and under protected.  Trauma, stress, and shock are status quo.  The private costs are often invisible, but no less deep.

These populations suffer in their own lives, and the effects of trauma are passed onto the next generation. These demographics are over-represented in the unemployed, the homeless, the incarcerated, those seeking emergency services, addiction services, and medical assistance. Their children struggle in education, health, and social connections. These kids are more likely to be involved in crime, high risk behaviors, and have inadequate medical and educational support.


Trauma has proven to be one of the most difficult issues to 'treat'. However, current research has shown that the skills of mindfulness, meditation, and yoga promote autonomy, well being, and genuine healing in away medicine and traditional 'talk therapy' can't. 8 weeks of a yoga practice has proven to calm the sympathetic nervous system and increase activity in the areas of the brain associated with the parasympathetic nervous system, sense of safety and autonomy, and cognitive functioning. Further, yoga can be taught at very little cost, with no negative side effects, and is accessible to any level of ability/mobility.

The effects of trauma (or stress, for those who have been labeled too much already) are pernicious, at times devastating, at other times manifesting as a numbing sense of being 'damaged' or 'broken'. Many who have lived through trauma (from a car accident to the death of a loved one, a sexual assault to active duty)often describe it as a chronic state of hopelessness.

Yoga is a rediscovery of hope, and the lived experience of grace.

It was so for me.

There is a profound difference between trying to 'get over it', and feeling oneself okay from the soles of the feet to the deepest parts of the brain.

Yoga allows us to experience ourselves not as 'wounded' or getting over it, but as powerfully alive and worthy human beings.

How the Program Works:

Return subsidizes costs directly, in such a way that every class dollar spent by students goes to funding the Strong Body, Quiet Mind Project.  Return is incorporated as a non-profit.

Additional funding may come from community or private donations or grants.

If your program is interested in accessing yoga classes for your demographic, please contact Karin Burke at  All support, whether by participating in class or donating directly, is greatly appreciated and provides a demonstrable good.

Private yoga sessions with Karin

Traditionally, yoga was ‘whispered wisdom’, a lineage handed down from one teacher to one student.  As yoga burst into the American mainstream, group classes became the norm.  This is wonderful, as it allows anybody anywhere to experience yoga.  It can be a cost effective way to have a consistent practice.  It means we can try out different styles, different teachers, and different locations.  It means you can find a yoga class wherever in the world you happen to go. However, classes can be intimidating, alienating, or too generalized for what you most need and want.  Private sessions return yoga to its heart: the goal of personal transformation.

Let's face it; 'yoga classes' simply don't feel right for many of us.  That in no way means yoga is not an option.

In my own practice and as a teacher, I have seen that a few private yoga classes can teach more than years of group classes.  This is especially true at the beginning of a practice, at a point of ‘taking it to the next level’, or when students have specific physical, emotional, or private concerns.  Private sessions are entirely adaptive, supportive, and personal: any body, with any degree of mobility, can find here the profound healing, restoration, and preventative benefits of a yoga practice.

The basics: $125 per session.  Each session lasts about an hour and a half.  I strongly recommend that you commit to taking these in a sequence- taking a single class will give you a lot of information but no follow through.  To make this more accessible, you can purchase 4 privates and get a fifth for free.

Students New To Yoga

Starting a yoga practice with a few private sessions can rapidly introduce both a sense of familiarity and ‘easing in’.  It can break down some of the barriers of intimidation and alienation we feel in walking into a group of people we perceive to be ‘better’ at yoga than us, more flexible, more strong, or more confidant.  Working with a teacher who will directly answer any question you might have and who can explain yogic concepts and postures as they apply to you and your body, your lifestyle, your experience is an invaluable gift.  It is also entirely possible to set up an ongoing private session as your practice evolves; this can help you assess where you are, how to advance, and keep your practice rather than a synchronized yoga team as the goal.

Taking it to the Next Level

“I am currently in a teacher training program, and stumbled on Karin’s webpage.  After a single class with her, I knew I had found my teacher.  I learned more from her classes, her insights, and her conversations than I have in any trainings or workshops I’ve attended.  She has clearly made yoga a calling and not a career.  She watches to make yoga work, really work, for each and every one of her students.  You don’t find that in most teachers or studios.  You just don’t.” – Cari S

“I am a yoga teacher. I consider Karin to be a ‘teacher’s teacher’.  She teaches yoga of the heart, yoga of life, yoga as the whole experience of being alive.” David S

“Knowing Karin has taught me how to make yoga real – not a brand name or a thing I do once a week, but real.” anonymous

“I’ve practiced yoga for more than 30 years and I have never understood or felt alignment the way I do when Karin teaches.  Not all teachers are teachers.  Karin is.” Maria K

Sometimes we plateau in a yoga practice.  Sometimes we just wonder how the heck what we do on our mats is supposed to translate to ‘the path’.  And sometimes we need to know more; we become interested in arm balances, say, or we are worried our practice has to change as we age, or we want to use yoga as part of training for a marathon.  I’ve worked with a number of people who are in or are considering yoga teacher training and are hungry for dialogue.  Whatever the prompting, private sessions are a powerful way to take your group classes, your home practice, your path a little deeper.  It doesn’t take much – a private or two every once in a while radically transforms a practice.

Yoga Therapy, Yoga for Mobility, Weight loss, Personal Training, or Emotional Healing

We know – science has proven – that yoga works with things from anxiety to cardio vascular disease to Parkinson’s disease and fibromyagia in ways pills and talk therapy can’t do.  But we may also struggle to feel a group class is right for us, or how we can possibly participate.  Private sessions allow you to learn the appropriate modifications, experience the full benefits of postures, express any and all concerns and have them addressed.  All Return Yoga classes are open to and appreciate the participation of beginners and those who adapt their poses: but stepping into a class means the teacher cannot focus on you constantly.  Taking a private session or two can give you the confidance and information you need to adapt group classes appropirately and safely.  Yoga CAN be practiced safely, promote self healing, and turn limitations into strong points. Yoga IS for you, it’s just a matter of answering to your specific needs.

Life coaching, spiritual direction, philosophy, distance coaching

“Yoga”, real yoga, does not mean yoga class or physical postures.  Long story short, yoga is an eight limbed path, and the physical practice of asana is only one of those eight branches.  Many of us are interested in all those other branches.  This is incredibly important and something I want to encourage.  Further, many of us need time to process and dialogue our yoga experience, ask questions, or get some insight into that vast and often times confusing world that is ‘yoga’.  Many of us suspect ‘yoga’ might help but aren’t interested in the group style format.  Private sessions allow for all of this.  It’s your time.  Sessions can be all asana (physical practices), all conversation, or a blend of both.  Karin has training as a counselor, crisis intervention specialist, and advocate.

Quick FAQs

Who are private yoga sessions for? 

Any of the above (new to yoga, looking to start a home practice, wanting to take it to the next level, or have a specific concern).  Privates are also frequently recommended as a starting point or addition to group classes for fertility issues, obesity, disability, anxiety, depression, PTSD, pre and post natal, stress, chronic pain, cancer recovery, sleep trouble, illness….

Q: Why are Private Sessions Recommended for Herniated or Ruptured Spinal Disks? Many doctors are suggesting yoga to people with disk issues. Yoga can be very therapeutic and provide back pain relief. However, certain postures offered in a group class setting could also aggravate disk conditions. Safety and ahimsa (non-harming) is our first priority. With a little private coaching, someone with a disk issue can learn how to practice yoga safely alone or in a group class. In just one private session, a student can gain a basic understanding of which postures are most useful to their condition, which ones to avoid, and which ones to approach in a modified form.

Q: Why are Private Yoga Sessions Recommended for Pregnancy? Pregnancy is such an individual experience that it deserves individual attention and support. This personal guidance empowers the mother to be to practice safely. She can then attend ANY regular group yoga class at her leisure with the understanding of how to take care of herself by modifying postures to avoid strain or injury to the baby.

Q: What do I Bring to a Private Yoga Session? – What do I Wear? – How do I Prepare? There is nothing you need to do to prepare for your private session. If you have a spinal condition like scoliosis and you may want to bring a your X-rays or MRI report for the instructor to review. Wear clothing that is comfortable and will stretch and move with your body. You are encouraged to bring a notebook and pen. If you can, you may want to write down your questions or concerns in the days before your private to bring with you.