American Symbolism


Driving home yesterday, I was passed on the highway by an enormous white pickup truck.  It was raining.  The sky was mottled: now fuzzy, now slick.  Hitched to the truck's tail were both an American and a Confederate flag.  The truck was covered in Trump propaganda: 'the silent majority has spoken', 'God Bless Trump', and 'Trump 2020'.  He splattered my small car in a wash of kicked up rain.  I felt my whole body recoil.  This was Sunday morning.  On Friday night, a Neo-Nazi rally had gathered in Charlottesville Virginia.  With three dead and torches burning around a black church, it spilled over into Saturday.  By Sunday, the president of the United States had finally been pressed for a statement.  He prevaricated. Far from Charlottesville and alone in the rain, I wondered when this guy had gotten his truck done up.  Was it post election?  Was it more recent than that?  Was he out joyriding and fear mongering precisely because of the events in Virginia?  Where was he going?

And where had he come from?

This is part of the fear, isn't it?  The knowing there is danger in our midst?  We've known racism is endemic and systemic (different things, synergistic to each other); but for it to be so bold as to gather in public and shout Nazi slogans, for it to be endorsed by the silence of the White House, is terrible. It's terrifying.  As in: terrorism.  And yet, the seconds keep ticking by, unaffected and unnoticed as drops of rain.  Days, pass.

As soon as the protest or rally or whatever the hell it was was deemed illegal in Charlottesville, it was effectively shut down. This took less than 20 minutes.  However, I don't know that it was effectively 'shut down' so much as the Nazis disappeared.  No one knows where they went.  Through the veins of undercurrent, fringe internet chat rooms, and outlier fraternal gatherings, these people are organized.

Meanwhile they are neither so fringe nor outier as our sense of decency wants to believe. They are not quiet about their intentions. And however and whoever they are as 'organized' is perhaps less concerning - since they are really ego maniacal idiots who could be identified and held accountable - than are their counterparts outside and inside.

Outside: individuals who are alone are emboldened to act; the erroneous rhetoric of white supremacy and 'reverse racism' start to bleed all over the media, family gatherings, school playgrounds; events in Charlottesville are both horrifying as an incident and indicative of a swelling, global, atmospheric shift.  The environment has changed.  It tilted. Distortion seems to warp pubic spaces. It is toxic. It only takes one person, in a split second, to cause enormous and irreparable harm.  We live in an environment in which guns, slurs, and violence are everyday threats. We are waiting for the unspeakable to happen.   As has been pointed out elsewhere, the people at the rally are supported by the 52% of white women who voted for Trump seven months ago, anyone who is swayed by the rhetoric of 'shaking things up', everyone who is willing to tolerate sexual assault, bullyism, and vitrolic rascism in exchange for a mythic 'great America'.

And above: the people who act on these dangerous premises are backed by the executive branch of government.  Yes, by Donald Trump.  He's the front man.  He's provocative. But the ideology and power for this state of affairs lies in the hands, the heads and the history of the people behind him.  To say that white supremacy and violence are not endorsed by the president of the United States is to deny that office's entire platform. This is exactly what Trump asked for - and promised - throughout his campaign.  This is explicitly the polemics espoused by Steve Bannon before, during, and after the election.  Social recusal of the White House comes both from the blurring of reality that is the linchpin of totalitaritanism and abusive relating - we're dealing with the absurd here- and an earnesty of heart that does not want to believe racism could exist in such a sacred space, in the heart of government, where it matters most. Not at this point in history.

History is suddenly so present.

The white pickup was not the only one I saw in my forty five minute drive down the interstate.  There were three others.  None so provocative as the first, but all of them disturbing.  When the first passed me, I felt rage.  I wanted to scream.  I wanted to deface that truck.   I wanted a baseball bat and a can of spray paint.  I visualized getting close enough to spit, or at least flip the guy my middle finger.  But I realized: I could, maybe, possibly, get away with that ( being a middle aged white woman.  And the fair enough assumption that the driver is more swagger than action), but I might be hurt if I tried.  It is my privilege - and a personal dose of fuck you bawdiness - that would allow me to even dare.

After the fourth truck I pulled off the freeway.  The rain alternately stopped and began again.  It began so subtly you wouldn't notice. It was not raining and then you'd realize it was, and had been.   The long low sloping hills and fields and lakes were heavy with a green spiderweb of mist.  I was lulled by the somnulant metronome of windsheild wipers.

But it kept going, this confusing ride home.  All over the place, out in the countryside, people had decided to put out American flags.  I would just start to daydream and think of other things when I'd come around a bend and there would be another flag, rising up out a barrel of geraniums or lilting over a mailbox.

I realized I had no idea what the flags meant.

The symbol has been used and misused and bandied about so egregiously that you can't know what people mean by them.  Were these flags a stand in for a swastika?  Or were they an image of resistance?  It's terrifying to realize they mean both.  The Johnson's are proclaiming one thing while their neighbors the Swanson's are endorsing the other.  The empty mailboxes and soggy fields in between become just as mysterious.

Symbols are important.  They are the definition of human meaning.  By symbolism, fabric and metal and geometric shapes become more than they are in themselves.  They are dense and alive, laden, portent with history.  Symbols evoke god, justice, and identity. They refer to blood. Both the most senseless of pastimes - like sports or commercial branding - and the most bitter aspects of history can be tripped by a symbol, instantaneously. The response is visceral, organic. It's stronger than words and faster than logic. Start fucking around with symbolism and you're messing with the sacred and the profane.  Use an image, and you touch people's hearts. I mean people's souls.  This is precisely why oppression works: burn an effigy and you threaten millions of lives.  You can make a joke or excuse a thing as colloquialism, but you directly invoke slavery, condone rape, whisper that you and a whole culture behind you would be okay with your death, deportation, or lynching.

Language is nothing but symbolism.

So long as a certain language is established, the vast majority of the population doesn't even have to participate: their silence is enough.

So long as we have a president who deals in silence and false equivalencies, using language intelligently is a profoundly political act.

Like so: Neo-Nazis are responsible for events in Charlottesville, including both terrorism and murder. The president of the United States is on their side.  See? This is both true, and it is treason.

I stopped to visit my mother and father.  I told them about the flags.  My father shook his head.  He said he wished there could be a reclamation of the flag.  A movement to take up the ideals it once stood for. A strong and colorful affirmation of it's meaning for the future.

Reclamation and revision are part of symbology.  There is a long, long history of reclaiming the curves of the body, and hair, and sex, The righteousness of anger and the food on our tables has had to be recovered. The voice has to be reclaimed. Social justice, by definition, reclaims space.  Reclamation is a vital thread to feminism, black pride, and indigenous rights. Interestingly, revision often cuts past the objective to the vulnerable underside of the symbol: justice goes under the abstraction of geometry or slur directly to the flesh, to buried bones and politicized wombs.  This is why it matters, why it hurts: symbols mark identity.  This, again, is exactly why oppression is possible - by a magical process of abstraction, bodies are made invisible, history and civil liberties are denied, threats to children and communities are made clear. To un-abstract them is revolutionary. Social justice movements reclaim symbols precisely because symbols reveal the body's primacy.  I mean the desperate urgency of one's right to exist.

I burned a flag at the tender age of thirteen or fourteen.  I don't remember exactly when, other than junior high. I do recall that we had to first buy a flag, my buddy and I, at the local hardware store.  Made of synthetics, it burned poorly.  It melted and dripped, burning my hand.  We did the thing covertly, with hot whispers and a sense of adolescent blasphemous thrill.

You might ask what the hell I was doing.  I don't, and didn't, know.  I am not, in telling the story, saying I did right or saying it was okay.  I was hitting puberty.  When I say that I mean more than hormonal fury and testing of boundaries; I was coming to realize that my body was female, and by it's female nature it was as much an object and a target as it ever was subjective.  This wasn't hypothetical. Even if it were, it would have been harmful. I was also reading Howard Zinn for the first time. I was in love with both Walt Whitman and J.D. Salinger.  I read something called American Holocaust, the cover of which I remember vividly though I couldn't tell you today who the author was.  In that book, I learned the forests and lakes I loved were haunted and stolen.  And I was hanging out with a kid named Matthew Brown, who was Indian, and this somehow made me realize that history wasn't ghosted so much as it was denied.  Indians didn't disappear any more than I did.

The original act of resistance is knowing: reality is not the same as the dominant narrative; the dominant narrative itself is woven of lies.

I never burned another flag, but my resistance was early born and for decades turned in on itself. It was much later that I crawled out of the ugly roiling mess of self-hatred, self-effacement, complacency and alcoholism.  It took me a very long time to say things like 'my body' without simpering.  My body.  Mine.

A few weeks ago I saw an Audre Lorde quote pop up on my social media feed.  It's a popular one; a recurring meme in a world endlessly trying to find authenticity (sic).  The quote reads:  "Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare."  As I say, the quote is popular; but the final phrase is usually hacked off.  It's rote to speak of self care only as self preservation.  This is comforting, enough.  And it's benal. That is, we bandy about this idea of self-care or equally ubiquitous ideals of love trumping hate, all being one, yadda yadda.  But we are rarely brave enough to follow these things to their logical end.  We so often espouse ideals without being able to embody them.  Ultimate, absolute truths displace relative truth, current truth, this moment in time truth. It's one thing to say all are created equal; but walking down a street as a black person is not the same as walking the same street as a white male.  Even if people do know who Audre Lorde is, they couldn't recite her.  They couldn't say for sure whether she is alive or dead.  I'm not suggesting we all need to bulk up on our poetry; I'm suggesting our understanding of ideals and philosophies and history, the greatest and most beautiful things, is too often superficial. I don't think we're doing it on purpose.  After all, understanding takes work.  As I say: honesty is threatening.

But what of this: "caring for myself is an act of political warfare"?

Being objectified is painful.  I do mean physically, but I really mean psychologically.  Being made into an object is a violation of one's innermost reality and the superficial and forceful imposition of some other 'reality'.  Healing from such a deep psychological wound has to involve a realization, somewhere along the line, that the 'ism' and the pain were not personal, even though they took place on your body.  You realize your problems are not yours - in cause or in consequence.  They are a part and function of a social wrong.  Therefore: to affirm yourself is political.  To speak the truth is political.

In the wide narrative of racism in America and the narrower one of events in Charlottesville, this shows up: white people believe that calling things by their name is somehow a personal threat. Trump pretty much said so in his first- belated and reluctant- public statement: by blaming 'all sides' he simultaneously portrayed the resistance as threatening, and dismissed the legitimacy of resistance.  To say nothing of excusing the racism. You hear the undercurrent, the shadow, in the wider dialogue of white supremacy: renouncing privilege feels like losing something.  The removal of confederate memorials is 'erasing history'.  Any conversation about race or gender is harking on old resentments.   The left and the media are lying. Success is getting what you want, generally out of somebody else's pocket.  This is the natural order of things. Strength is force.  The mythos of white supremacy depends on a false narrative in which 'white male' is or at some time was a majority, and greatness is an outcome of dominance.

But America is and has always been indigenous, black, female. Brute strength has never been our greatness, but our shame.

Calls for letting symbols stand and moving on, or that we 'remember, never forget', are distortions of history rather than commemoration of it:  'moving on' suggests that white supremacy is a thing of the past; 'remembrance' is a distortion of when and why Confederate memorials were erected in the first place.  Confederate memorials are the works of Jim Crow America, not honor of the dead.  This is not 'like' historic preservation of Auschwitz.  The intent of maintaining Auschwitz is to honor and revisit tremendous grief; to keep woke to the danger of acquiescence and silence; to elicit not pride but mourning.  The intent of confederate memorials is not mourning, but pride.  Threatening, inciting, pride.

Later that evening, my husband and I went to a candlelight vigil at Bde Maka Ska lake.  Most people around here call it Lake Calhoun.  The place was purposely chosen as a local example of placemaking, unmasking the inherent racism of our landmarks and civic structures.  Before it was Lake Calhoun, it was Bde Maka Ska.  Bde Maka Ska is Dakota for White Earth Lake. In 1817, the United States Secretary of War John C. Calhoun sent the army to survey the area.  He'd previously authorized the construction of Fort Snelling.  The lake has gone by the name of Calhoun ever since.  Reactions to calling the lake by it's name, per the local paper: this is pointless; it will always be Calhoun to me; so tired of this PC bullshit, where does it end; Minnesota is the land of common sense, if Lake Calhoun offends you, leave.  No one will miss you; so very, very tired of the PC police and endless looking for things that might offend them or melt their snowflake; everyone will still call it Calhoun so cute but no cigar.

See: every single one of the comments feels burdened or imposed upon, threatened. Change is dismissed as nonsense, childishness. The problem with these reactions is not their ignorance of history, but their denial of the present. The White Earth Tribe still exists.  The Dakota still exist.  We are not talking about relics and archaeology; we are talking about children.  The great failure of the American Dream is believing that history is over.  The civil rights era ended.

It was still raining.  People gathered under a mass of umbrellas.  One woman carried an American flag.  I was touched.  It took a long time, and much work, but I have come to be deeply proud of being an American.  I love the magnanimity and the hope of it's oldest ideals.  I love the noisy, dynamic, vibrant reality of who and what the United States of America actually is. The flag hung limp in the rain. Two women next to us whispered the same questions I'd had earlier; why is it the sight of the flag is riddled with complicated emotional and physical reactions?  What does the American flag, mean?

It seems to me this confusion is related to another: how do we engage with a problem that seems so intractable?  How do we make sense in a world that seems so depressing?

There was a moment when sudden noise - loud noise, sudden - caused the speaker on the podium to stop and the whole of the crowd to turn.  It was a moment of fear.  There had been talk; white pickup trucks might show up.  In that moment I thought: the violence isn't done, yet. I thought: this isn't over.  But the noise was only a party bus, circling the lake.  The speaker on the podium half grinned, and then he continued.

This isn't, over.

It may be- and this might be treason again, but I'm over that - that we need a new flag.  Something that references not only colonies and states, but the Mexican and the Indigenous. We need something that acknowledges both slavery and Jim Crow.  Something that celebrates immigrants.  This rag would have traces of blood in it and threads of deep song.  I think it would be woven of hair.  This flag would ripple like a dancing body and it would sing in the wind.  It would sing.  It would sing not because the race issue went away but because the race issue endured.  It will dance not because the civil rights era failed, or reconstruction did, or the ideals of America are and have always been hypocritical; this flag will fly because the ideals of America still have a chance of coming to life.

If the America of the future is not black, not native, not hijab wearing and spanish speaking, not female, than there is no hope.  America will kill itself.  We are lost.  Humanity is lost.

At the vigil, we sang.  People lit candles in the rain.  Others carried LED lanterns.  A tall, white man standing in front of me wept.  I wept. The woman with the flag switched her grip. The flag leaned left, then right.  I kept looking at her out of the corner of my eye.  Lots of people talked to her.  I took comfort in this.   I thought of that stance, holding something aloft in the rain.  I though of beacons, and beckoning.  I thought of the Statue of Liberty and her relationship to abolition; she wears broken shackles. It seems that the great, the terrible sadness of this moment is not just sadness, it's also the only hope we've got.  It's an indication that we care.  Care, as Audre Lorde taught me, is not merely preservation.

We can only make sense of this sad and ugly world by understanding and believing that the race issue endures, and that is it's greatest and only hope.  It is black communities that will bring us out of moral turpitude; it is Somali women and indigenous women who will ignite our government; it is children who will judge what we do as history.




Sacred Rites

Michael Stone died yesterday. He was one of my most important teachers.  He was my friend. Death is so incomprehensible.  It's unfathomable, and at the same time everything goes on like before.  When someone we care for dies, our lives are broken and will never quite be the same.  And, people are dying all the time.

I don't know anyone other than Michael who could make these things feel true and beautiful at one and the same time.  He himself was so beautiful.  As I numbed myself with internet feel-goods in the last few days I came across a documentary of a Syrian ballet dancer. When the war came, he said, we all lost someone.  The terror went into our hearts.  I thought of Michael. He talked of our crooked world as important, and as personal.  He never lost the deep suffering of the world to the merely political, economic, or historical.  They remained - or became - human. And we were rendered more humane.  Michael insisted we believe in ourselves.

A friend sent me condolences on social media: "I'm sorry you lost a believed teacher", she said.  Auto-correct is so Fruedian.  I knew she meant beloved, but I liked the mistake.  I believed Michael.  I suppose that's what makes a teacher great.  They don't trade in bullshit.  They speak to those parts of ourselves that need to believe, that ache for it.

This morning's class was lovely, heartful. My voice cracked at the ending chant; others took up the chant for me. I thought: well, isn't that just the point. But it wasn't thought, it was felt, it was grateful and besmitten and so tired. I came home, slept, woke and couldn't do anything but steady, constant, pointless things. It was like cleaning but wasn't. It was like unearthing closets but was more a dishevelment of them. It was sort of like gardening, for a few hours, except I'm not a gardener and it was just an attack on weeds and vines and creeping into the yard trees. I stood up with dirt up to my elbows and sweat down my spine. It was baking, sweeping, dog bathing frenzy. It was in and out of the writing. It was like reading twelve books at once, a sentence from this, a phrase from that. I dug out old journals from retreats and trainings with Michael. I read through my own years. I dug though the texts he's guided me through, others he pointed me toward, the mass of sutra and Sanskrit that became my own work, largely because he encouraged it. I reframed, tore out, rephrased. I scattered them, threw them away, brushed off a few scant pieces that roughly hold together. I put them on the wall. Just now, I cried for the first time. It was short. It was rubbed away quick. And then I came back up here to this pacing. As my teacher leaves the world, I am mad with a need to write. Poems, psalms, explanations, apologies. Questions. Emotions. Salt and adrenaline. There is urgency.

A post shared by Karin L Carlson (@coalfury) on Jul 16, 2017 at 7:03pm PDT

I call him 'my teacher', but he wasn't mine.  His family has a wholly different claim to his last hours and his body than I do.  That privacy is sacred.  I cannot imagine the pain and tenderness they feel. I can't do anything but offer them my love. Thousands of people across the world are gathering this evening.  I am awed: one life can do so much.  And I am sad: now that he is gone, there is so much that won't be done. So much needs to be done.

I haven't seen Michael in over a year.  There were times he was teaching nearby but I always had other commitments.  He does an annual retreat to France: I'd always wanted to go.  But I put it off. I assumed I'd go some other time.

Last week in the techniques session I mentioned time as one of the four parts of learning.  We're quite neurotic about it.  We don't take time to say I love you. Or, we say it but don't feel what it is we're saying. We act as though there will be a better time to meet our neighbors or try in some way to make a difference in our community. We put off the important and beautiful things while our lives are mostly routine and spent in the earning of a living.  We're busy.  We're so tired. We whine about not having time but we don't take the time we have. People often ask me, as a teacher, how to find the courage and the energy to take on the really big problems.  Why is it we know what it is we need, but can't do it? How do we possibly take on the problems of race, violence, and fanaticism without losing heart? How do we finally find the courage to do the great and beautiful things we really want to do?

I think we need to do more great and beautiful things.  Life is so hard.  It needs great beauty.

I think the only answer is the jnana or wisdom of time.  When we really feel the passing nature of things and the uniqueness of people, we're moved.  I don't mean intellectually; it isn't an idea. And I don't mean mere sentimentality, either. I mean we're rocked to our soul. An urgency is born.  Clarity and courage come that we didn't know and couldn't have known otherwise.  We don't have to be good enough or ready enough or prepared.  We don't need answers. We realize there are many answers, and no one answer is perfect.  We don't have to be anything at all because the urgency itself carries us and we are left changed.  I think we misunderstand the nature of change.  We spend so much time thinking we have to orchestrate it or fearing the pain of it, disbelieving it's actually possible. But it isn't something we do.   Change is something we allow to happen to us, something we finally allow in.  This isn't easy.

When I heard Michael was dying, I understood something for the first time.  I've known dozens of very good teachers.  Some opened doors for me along the way.  Others helped me understand an aspect of teaching or the dynamics of backbends.  But none became so intimately woven into my way of thinking and feeling that my life itself was changed.  Michael had, and hearing that he was gone I knew my life would never be the same. I understood: some teachers speak to your heart. No other teachings last.

I met Dharma Mittra once.  When I asked him about teaching, he said teach spirit.  If you teach spirituality, people will come back.  Even if you never see them again, they will come back.

But the holiest things are unspeakable.  Michael taught me that.

I had a whole plan for this week's session, a meditation involving birds.  But I think it's more important to be with this.

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.

You're Not Lost

There are moments when it all seems so easy.  Things fall into place without effort.  You seem to float. Only later, when it's not like that at all, do you start to wonder what it is you did to make it so easy.  Where it is you lost track.

The answer is usually, nothing.  You did nothing.  It just happened.

The middle of winter, the turning of the year, the newness of the moon, social upheaval and exhaustion around us do not make for smooth sailing.  I've always wondered at how - at why - the new year should be such a collective time of goal setting.  Of longing to start over.  Why we should collectively ask for resolve, just at this juncture.

I think it comes from being uncomfortable with where we are.

It's an uncanny transition.  It's clearly time to let go and move on. But we don't know where we're headed.  It's chaotically uncertain.  When the festivities of the year past have ended, going back to work is unsavory.  When New Year's is finally run in, there's a kind of discontent in having months of winter left to go.  We're stretched thin between the physical and emotional strain of the past and scattering our selves all over the place moving forward.

We're flailing.  Flailing - this determination to list things, change things, rearrange and grab or finally and emphatically renounce them - is a symptom of feeling lost and drowning.  Flail is opposite of float.

This year suffered enormous losses and deep social strain.  We're going through a collective grief.  We're trying to say goodbye to the Obamas.  We're trying to wrap our minds around a United States operating in ways the United States have never, ever behaved before.  It's hard to wrap our minds around this.

After a moment - the ringing in of the new year, the flipping of a calendar, or the inauguration of a new president - we tend to lose the poignancy of reflection and slide into the mundane.  I think it's important to realize that the clarity itself came from a deep dark place, rather than a fresh springtime one.  We work with intention exactly when times are hardest.  Intention only means anything if it works with our barriers.  It's culling patience and skill in working with obstacles.  It is a level, honest way to address things as they are.  We have to direct ourselves exactly when we feel most lost, ground when we feel most vulnerable, and move when we most feel lethargic, uncomfortable, and unable.

Over and over again I'm hearing how deeply lost people feel.  We have lost hope, lost direction, lost connection with where we were going or why.  Relentless work or moving on or dealing with the next crisis and week are fair enough coping techniques.  But they aren't effective healing.

In previous weeks I've been leading deeper practice through some work with intention.  The tradition calls this Sankalpa, or intention that arises from the depths.  Sankalpa is direction that arises from the unconscious, from the body itself, from experience and stillness.  It is not about goal setting or ultimatums.  This isn't productivity boost so much as it is a discernment process.  With that discretion, force and impetus arises.  An energy sourced from a deeper well.  Sankalpa is direction that arises naturally from the heart of awareness.

The thing about resolutions - New Year's or any other kind - is that we tend to set the same ones year after year.  We have the same problem areas, sticking points and bad habits circulating through our lives like an undertow.  Over and over again we approach the same problems, have the same experiences, feel the same feelings.  Cue cycles of shame and resentment.

What if we were to inquire into the deeper urge and get to know it, rather than endlessly - and meaninglessly - work for superficial change?  When we do, we gain bright honest knowledge of the obstacles and ever greater skill in working with them.

I'm bringing us back to our intentions for the new year in this week's practice.  To be effective we need to work with them consistently, more thoroughly, with a resolve.  To re-ask a question from a different light illuminates the structures below.  Clarifies the obstacles.  Shows, with a steady and sane mind, that the obstacles are riddled with our own dysfunction.  The obstacles resolve themselves to the underlying clarity, like a camera lens coming into focus.

Physically, many of our dysfunctions tend to be in the upper trunk.  We experience chronic tension in shoulders, upper back, and neck and have a great deal of difficulty balancing strength with range of motion.  From a subtle body perspective, intention and personal obstacles are also upper torso phenomena, a kind of miscommunication between our pumping vital capable body and our feeble flimsy neurotic mind.  We end up trying to power our way through things or overthinking them, never able to smoothly sail betwixt the two in symphony.

People who have practiced with some consistency for a while tend to have more of a problem with this than neophytes.  That is, while the neophyte tends to be completely disconnected and unaware of upper body, a yogi tends to have driven dysfunction deeper with the way he or she practices.  As we start bearing weight on our shoulders, elbows, and wrists we develop tension areas we never had before while feeding a craving for more movement, more strength, more postures, and more sensational feats.  We're feeding our craving/disgust cycles rather than quieting them.  We get addicted to arm balances or have a very complicated and intervention-worthy relationship, with them.  (Read, we might summarily dismiss them as ever being possible).

I've been working with upper body strength with some consistency for weeks: this time of year means compromised immunity, gunked lymph, hunched shoulders, raspy breath, and layers and layers of clothing against the elements.  Upper body strength asks for a unique cardio-vascular and respiratory charge - a boon to midwinter - and is a reclamation of more natural and expansive ways of moving in our bodies. Psychologically, this tends to be more of a slap to awake than a stiff espresso.

Upper body strength is a kind of spooky, complex initiation.  For many, it's simply not a thing we've ever felt.  Strong.  For those of us who have leaned on our strength our whole lives, it demands a subtlety and mastery, a kind of flexibility and refinement, more challenging than brute strength.  And behind all this is a question: can we and should we be able to go upside down?  I'm flirting with 'inversions' in these recent sequences: if you are a headstander or handstander feel free to take the whole of the pose.  I'm cautious about teaching 'inversions' in an online format.  You should learn to headstand with a teacher nearby.  But the skill sets I'm teaching are the groundwork for the postures - they are the grammar out of which inversion language can sing and write poems.  And they are the skill sets - the basic grammar - that most yogis brag with and bitch about without being able to really command.

This wheels back to a concept of float - of being able to suspend judgement, worry, obsession. To linger in potency, tap the root of deep urges and pulse.  To feel for a moment that we aren't, actually, lost.  We can let this weird space be transitory, rather than forcing a change.

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.


Use your practice. Let it help you.

I wasn't kidding when I said we should fully use our practice these days.  Let it sooth you.  Let it support you.  Let it help. If you can get to a class, great.

But your practice doesn't depend on that.  Your practice is a few minutes of shifted breath and attention, so that you can feel what it is like to be alive.  In this moment, and the next.

This felt like an important point to make, so this morning I recorded a jeans on, no mat, no sitting down, no weight bearing on the arms thing.  To get into breath.  To move for ten minutes.  So that you can sit, for ten minutes.


Feel from Karin Burke on Vimeo.


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.




Studio open tonight: move, sit, talk

social-justiceSo Trump won. This morning  I spoke of the importance of being together, of caring for ourselves, of feeling what we feel. We learn that we can stay in our body.  Practice - the whole of our practice - has created a reservoir we can draw from on days, like today.

I got an email this morning.  It asked if I realized I was wrong, yet, to politicize the space.  "You lost the election, and you're losing your business.  Can't you see that your fighting on the wrong side?"


I am afraid, and I am sad.  But I am not done speaking of fear, of deep social need, and of how important personal practice is.  How necessary, community and dialogue.  Trump's win last night shows, something: he isn't the problem, the clown, or the bully: we are. This is our real. The issues are not new.  They are systemic and they live in our bodies, our thoughts, our own community.  The color of skin, the ways in which we love and are most intimate, how we worship and pray, gender is politicized.  The problem isn't Trump, but a society that has lost it's democratic values, places bullying and violence over parity, is powered by fear.  This is social, and it's personal. I continue to say: we are in crisis.

This is a practice of sitting down, so that we can stand up for what is most urgent.  Sometimes, what is most urgent is the ability to speak with our kids.  Or go to work.  Sometimes, what is urgent is advocacy, empathy, community.

Wednesday 6 pm is usually a closed, class.  But tonight everyone is invited. We'll move, a bit, as a way to sit, awhile.  Together.  To listen, to talk.  Tears are safe here, as is anger and confusion.  Everyone is invited.

Be not alone.  Take care.  We are not done.





Brick and Mortar - Studio space to close November 30


Dear, everybody, With sadness, with deep feeling, I have to announce that the studio space will be closing on November 30, 2016.  I recognize that this will bring questions, and sadness, and deep feeling to you as well.  The studio will remain on full schedule for the rest of the month. I will be there every day; I want to be there for those questions and emotions.  They are valid and important.  I also want to help you figure out other options for practice locally, and how to continue practicing with me outside the studio space.

I've thought long and hard about this, and have explored every possible alternative to closing the doors.  But renting a storefront is simply not financially sustainable for the kind of work Return, does.

In the early days of this decision, I felt a tremendous sense of failure and loss.  This building holds such meaning, has held so many moments, took so much sweat and time and tears to bring into being.  Opening took a tremendous leap of faith and unheard of personal bravery; closing felt like defeat. But going more deeply into the question, with talk and with time, I'm realizing this isn't a failure.  It is, sad.  But it's not a failure.


What has happened here has been stunning.  Over 4000 people have practiced with Return, either in the studio or through outreach programs.  That includes more than 500 kids.  Return has worked with police, the fire department, and CentraCare.  We've served domestic violence shelters, crisis centers, children's programs and public schools.  From Return, people have brought their own practice to work, to classrooms, to co-workers, to students and clients and community groups.


Let's not be shy: the kind of teaching and level of practice at Return is far above par; the community, relationships, and experiences are special.  We've gone through training, we've gone through births and deaths and community difficulty.  We have cried together, realized how deep our hopes and intentions go, carved out strange new paths.  We've healed, some things.  And, we've discovered and held space for those things we can't, heal.


Even though the yoga industry is booming, and more people are practicing, independent yoga studios are struggling to hold ground.  If the studio subsidizes classes, this is exacerbated.  This is a hard, fact, and an open ended question: where do we find individualized teaching, educated instructors, and community if yoga classes are going the way of the gym?

It's an important question that I hope you take up, seriously, for yourself.  I hope you seek out, experiences.  Bring your discretion: know you don't have to resign yourself to classes that feel alienating or classes that feel injurious; nor do you have to feel alone.


There is a loss: having a public, special place is something we're losing in our culture.  I know that a storefront window and open door policy makes practice available and visible. Without such a public space, how will the people who most need yoga, find it?  How can practicing in a store or a basement compare to having a 'studio', devoted to the practice, smelling of incense? What happens when there is no place where you are invited to light candles in prayer?

I don't have an answer to this question.  710 West Saint Germain is precious to me.  It holds all the resonance of a childhood home, or a place we first fell in love, a remembered lake.  Brick and mortar places are often the structure for beautiful, life changing, and ordinary events.  A context, for what we call our lives.  They are the background out of which the 'self', appears.  Without that structure, the 'self' is confused.

I don't have an answer to this question, other than a knowing that things can both be important, and change.  Nothing lasts, forever.  That doesn't make them less beautiful.  They are beautiful, and they change.

One of my teachers spoke of the pain he felt on realizing his teachers were aging; the pain of knowing his teachers were going to someday, die.  After some time, he came to a new understanding: You don't take the teaching of the teacher, with you.  You become, the teacher.  You embody, the teaching.

I've heard this teaching in old Buddhist stories, when social service agencies close, and when beloved yoga teachers move.  One story has it that the teacher was dying.  The students gathered.  The man was seriously, dying.  Mortally ill and pale.  Wheezing, ashy, and mostly dead.  When the students began to wail and mourn, he sat up.  He sat up and he threw things, directly at their heads.  You idiots, he said.  You idiots.

The story ends there.

The moral does't.

The students had forgotten the point of this practice, the whole gyst of the story.  The moral of the story isn't about the teacher.  It's about, you.  You become, the teacher.  You go on, making space around you sacred.


This morning Mariah taught the 8 am class.  It was the first time she'd ever done such a thing, led others through what she feels and loves so much.  She opened with a few words about finding direction and times of change.  I sat, as a student, and felt hot tears coming.  They burned, and they were sweet.

Mariah came to the studio - was pushed into it, reluctantly, by her therapist - as a young and hurting teenaged girl.  Something in her stilled.  Something broke open.  Something made her see her own beauty.  She came, she practiced, she asked questions. She kept coming back.  She didn't notice, but others have been inspired by her.  When she speaks of how yoga gave her tools for anxiety, how she'd struggled her whole life and found something here, others listened and nodded.

I've watched her grow over the last few years.  I've watched her step into autonomy, independence, strength.  Sometimes she still says  'I don't know if I can handle it', but when I look at her and consider where most people are at her age, I know she'll be just fine.  She wants to be a teacher, got the training syllabus, has done the homework even though she hasn't been able to attend training yet, shows up on her mat every single day.  When she heard the studio was closing, she asked if she could teach.  I don't want to miss the opportunity, she said, this has changed my life.  She closed class with a flash of a grin, told us 'it's been my dream to teach here'.

This morning, Mariah taught us love, and change.  I hugged her hard and felt like a proud, mama bird.  She isn't the only one.  She isn't the only one, changed.


I am, still available.  Speaking with a close friend, she pointed out that my teaching has outgrown, the brick and mortar of 710.  Opening the space, running the space, was a tremendous step of personal growth.   It was important to me that I come home to Saint Cloud, that I be of service, that I set down some roots. It was important to me that I try an alternative to commercialized, yoga.  And, it's important that I not hang on.

I am still available.  I'll continue to work with trainees and mentees, setting out goals for their work, co-coordinating service work, talking about on-going study and personal development.  I'm doing this long distance with a few, far-away teachers, across the country, via skype, and am open to taking on more.

I am, still, available.

The Unstruck Heart

  tentacled-heartWhen I was a little girl, a local boy was stolen. ‘Kidnapped’, I suppose, though I remember it as stolen.  Taken.

He was taken by a man in a white van.  He was with two other little boys, and they were on bicycles.  The man got out of the white van and stopped them with a gun.  He told them to lie down, asked their ages, and then told two of the three friends to run into the woods and not look back.  They ran. When, later, they did look back, the other boy, Jacob, was gone.

This happened in the fall of 1989. Jacob never came back. Some say this was the moment small town Minnesota, changed.  We lost our illusions. We realized bad things could happen, even here.  I was 12.

A few weeks ago, Jacob’s remains were found buried alongside a corn field, below a line of trees.  27 years later, everything tilted, came back, re-arranged.  The story ended, and didn’t end.

Still, October was gorgeous.  Earlier today, the air was so spun with gold leaves it was like rain.  It was like rain, and yet none of the trees seemed to lose their color.

I don't know when I learned the relationship between sunlight and the fall coloring of leaves.  East or south facing branches, catching the most light, will turn first, leaving whole trees split in halves like drama masks. Half hanging on, half ready to let go.  They are a montage of time, in a single organism.  I don't know when I learned this.  Maybe when I was a kid, when I was 10 or 12.  Maybe I’ve always known it.

But I'd never before noticed the way daylight, time, and color actually converge.  There are moments in the day when the particular angle of sunlight exactly hits the color of the leaves, creating a kind of loudness.  At the right moment, you can feel leaves and sun touching one another.  I've never before seen light do that.  Or trees with such volitional, reaching for what burns.  It's like seeing, time.  It’s strange to see the invisible forces.

Beauty is always jarring, when there is such clear pain.

This small midwestern town feels tender.  Everyone seems traumatized.  This is true I suppose: less than two weeks after Jacob's remains were found, a Somali boy attacked the crowd at the local mall with a knife. So The FBI is in town, investigating terror.  Fox news is in town.  Dixie flags stream across Minnesota, which was never a southern state.  Teenagers, old white men in John Deere baseball caps: we're all, traumatized.

And it isn't just, us, or just here.  The whole country feels wounded.   Everything is so charged. Alternately, I hear people taking up argument or retreating.  It’s everywhere.

I've done, both of these things.  Called up my anger, and suppressed it.

For example, I didn't read any of the news, when they found Jacob's body.  I suppressed, that.

I started to read it, but then I set it down and left the house.   I couldn’t fathom a single reason why reading it through would be helpful.  This wasn’t unconscious or subliminal, nor did it elicit demonstrable anxiety, grief, or rage.  I just set the paper back down.  Something rose up in my body that was like nausea, but also like blindness.  There was a kind of presence, and it carried my childhood, and everything about the place I was born, all of time since I rode bicycles to that very morning.  I snapped to when a car honked behind me.  I'd not noticed the light had turned green.

It wasn’t subliminal. I knew what I was doing.  I was deliberately opting not to recall or revisit this story because I was already struggling with the story of black bodies being murdered. I was having a hard time with the racist, sexist, hateful and blatant propaganda becoming a ‘valid’ thing, an actual reality unfolding, in our presidential race.

Ever since the school shooting at Sandy Hook, I have tried to hold my small, local yoga studio space open after these national crises.  I have wanted it to be a place open to discussion, to mourning, to questions.  And to immigrants.  It seemed that space was important.

But I am weary. These crises happen, too often.  They seem to always be, happening.  It seemed, in the first years of my business, to be the right thing to do.  I wrote ‘black lives matter’ in the store front window and have hosted community meditations, sent out newsletters. I thread social media with urges to vote.  I believe that bodies are inherently political, insist that where injustice exists we have a moral obligation to look at it.

Suffering is central to this teaching.  Just as suffering is central to our lives.

It isn't easy.

It isn’t easy, nor is it the way we want it to be. We’ve found refuge: to recall suffering irritates our sensibilities, our emotions, and our heart.

My teacher, Leslie Kaminoff, once said he challenged his teacher, Desikachar:  It can't all be about suffering, he pleaded.  He wanted there to be some other, ground.

Desikachar replied in a simple, devastating way.  Teaching people to look for bliss and transcendence causes suffering.

Endorsing spiritual transcendence is a direct route to disappointment. Let alone conflict. And ignorance.

I once spoke with a woman who taught yoga to youth in a treatment facility. When I said the word 'trauma' she leaned backward and did something with her face, akin to smoothing a shirt front.  "I choose not to go into negative energy," she said, and the conversation ended.  I wondered: what happens when a woman works with traumatized youth, but doesn't want to acknowledge, trauma?

What happens, when we are silent?  Or are silenced?  What happens when we silence, ourselves?

Having taught, and practiced, for years, I’m familiar with the urge to practice because it makes us feel better.  To focus on feeling, good.  But sometimes I wonder if we’re practicing because we want a better life, or because we want to feel better for a few minutes?

Yoga is often a sludge of dippy platitudes and a wash of silence about what's really going on.  And it isn't only that the yoga industry is superficial: this is us.  We want yoga to help us feel better.  We want an hour or two to zone out.  That's why people do drugs, too: to get just a little, tiny, bit of space around their problems.  Just one, bare, moment.  A few precious seconds in which we feel some small portion of control and safety.

And, that desire isn't wrong.

I have a dozen yoga books on my shelf with titles like 'overcoming trauma'. The urge to include trauma sensitivity (and, hopefully, diversity) training in teacher certifications is on the rise.

I am part of this conversation. I think it's a tremendously important, conversation.

But I wonder about the language.  I wonder if we're trigger happy.  I wonder if trauma sensitive yoga is all that different from fitness, yoga, or bliss yoga. I wonder about the consequences of teaching people to 'overcome' trauma or 'manage' stress.

As I understand it, you don't get over trauma.  And you can't, manage stress.  It's more important to realize how stressed we are, and how this is affecting our lives.  Realization brings up questions, and it’s important to have questions.  Change comes from questions, not ‘managing’.

Trauma doesn't go away.  You only get more comfortable, gradually more appreciative of your own, and other's, lives. I mean down to their depths. You can only do that if you have space to work with the ways you yourself have been wounded, you yourself have been a politicized, sexualized, targeted body; the ways you yourself have participated in and are bound by culture.  You can only work with your pain by knowing your stress, fear, power and it’s lack, privilege and it’s costs, your needs and narratives of flesh.  There isn’t any space, if we are ignorant.

Without the space, there's only suffering.

This turning toward is the only way we can reconcile the beauty of the world, and its pain.

In a world where everything is so charged, every statement political, where every choice matters, where democratic processes and ideals of the country are criticized by a presidential candidate, it is vital that we be able to work with our own problems.  If we can't, the only thing we contribute to the conversation is our own ignorance.  We make it all about us.  There's only, suffering.

It is hard to know what to do, as yoga teachers and yoga practioners.  We think of ourselves as yogic.  This carries undertones of spirituality, ethics, and contemplation.  There is this narrative of liberation.  But how do we practice yoga, or meditate, or even use words like 'self care', when the world is so shitty?  What does liberation, mean?

On the one hand, turning toward a yoga mat feels selfish. It's so beside the point. On the other, the current state of things is so complicated it's hard to know where to begin.

Everyone I know is weary.  Many of my peers are spiritual leaders outside the yogic tradition, and I hear them struggle with knowing how to be ministers, therapists, clergy.  Hell, we don't know what to say as parents.  As school teachers.  Regardless of who we are, our identity is suddenly quite political.  Our skin, is.  Our sense of god.  Our pussy.

We are part of current crisis, whether we want to be or not.

There are two narratives we're familiar with as yogis: that of the warrior, and that of the renunciate.  Both have what seem like philosophical reasonableness behind them: we must, fight when things are so awful; and, we have to take care of ourselves, before we can do any good.

Both narratives miss the point.

Both, make it about us.

The Warrior stance - the anger, the passion, the reposting and vitriol- is not dialogue.

And renunciation, - masked as self care - is not a political stance.

There is a danger to abstracting the language of yoga.  There is a danger to responding to situations with ideology.  Situations aren't ideological.  These questions are too important, too real, and too urgent to have ultimative style answers.  Situations mean there is no 'right' answer or action, but a constantly shifting, context.  Sometimes, the right action is to bite tongue.  Sometimes, to scream.  It's important that we have space to rest.  And, it's important that we not rest all the time.

We can't supplant abhaysa (commitment, dedicated practice)' and vairagya (surrender) for responsibility any more than we can trade savasana for family time.  Your child doesn't need your warrior self: she needs you.

The difficulty is we have to be, so many different things.  Mothers, and voters, and bodies who are judged based on gender and age.  Without a space in which to realize all the different ways we’re being pulled, the effect the pull has on us, how can we do any of them well?

We have to be ideologically responsible for our dedicated practice and our surrender, rather than use them as a surrogate for ourselves. Let alone beat other people over the head with our yoga mats and namaste everybody to fucking toxic mumbling.  We cannot vote, parent, lead, or speak as yogis, just as we shouldn't vote, parent, or lead as Christians, as Muslims, as gendered, or as democrat.   We have to vote, and parent, and lead as something, as very many things, which are more than our personal lives.

These problems go beyond gender- feminism is not a women's issue.  They go beyond race, precisely because race is targeted.  They go beyond indigenous land rights and the sexualization of children.  They go beyond political or religious ideology because they are questions of human rights, and the crucial truth that diversity does not imply divisiveness.  Your vote won’t count any more because of anything you post on facebook, or any hours you log on a mat.  Those things aren't political or social action, and we shouldn't use them that way.

Your vote matters because it's a vote.  Votes - keystones of the democratic process - are a way to go beyond creed. They go beyond gender, race, and affiliation in a world that is scarred with labels, identities, and affiliations.  This is one of the most important accomplishments of human history.  Don't abstract it, and don't make it personal.  This isn't about, you.

And, of course, it is.  It is so personal.  We are offended, so scared, so overwhelmed.  Our bodies are, politic.

Which is why we need, our own practice.  We need teachers who can hear and hold our struggle.  We need spaces in which our gendered, targeted, politicized narratives can unravel, and dominant narratives can be challenged.  We need our practices so that our personal lives improve.

It is so important that we be able to feel what has happened to us.

In this teaching, heart is the center.  Heart is, and is not, a muscle.  Heart is definitive, central, essence, and core.  It’s called anahata, or the unstruck.  I have been trying to figure that out, for years.  It’s related to sound, but it’s a sound that emerges, out of nothing.  Heart is actions and emotions that aren’t bound by karma or the personal. Anahata means unstruck, unviolated, unharmed, unbeaten.  The implication is both that we are, wounded, and that there is something essential that is, not.  That the heart of our personal work is to transcend the merely personal.

The trees and fields are gold and umber.  And yet the world is so harsh. Along a chain linked fence, surrounding a stone church, school children have tied white ribbons in Jacob's memory.  There are hundreds of them.  They are pale as skin.  They flutter along the church stone, the still verdant grass, and the decadent season of sweets and fire and ghosts.  Both mourning and harvest, happen.

I went home the other day and pulled up Jacob's story.  It seemed important that I do so.  It is important that I recognize my own aversion - pain, fatigue, pungent rage, inability to go on, wanting to quit-  and it's important that I work with it in the best ways I can.  I wanted to work through my own triggers so that I could read Jacob’s, story.  It's such an old story.  I was a little girl.

Yoga is not the story of overcoming old trauma.  If yoga is anything, it has to be the story of how we survive trauma, and go on loving.  It's a way to not lose the beauty that is still left to us.  Just as daylight, colored leaves, and time converge, so too do pain and healing, the personal and politic.


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.





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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Ongoing, deeper, practice

sutra-1-14That (Abhaysa) becomes a solid foundation when practiced with devotion, sincerity, and for a long period of time without interruption. 1.14 There are certain things that happen in a yoga practice, if a person hangs with it long enough.  They happen with such precision and such regularity that I want, sometimes, to offer a guarantee that they will happen.  The thing is, though, they are generally not what we expected nor what we first came looking for.  Folks come in for stress reduction, weight loss, relief of back pain.  Or someone suggested it would help with a knee problem, a shoulder injury, a difficult period in life.  When people come in, these are the things they're going to ask about.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Movement into Stillness: Fall 10 week special series

Start date postponed so you can still sign up.  New dates: September 19 - November 23 Yoga has been touted in recent years as a healing modality.  It's said to balance the body, and stabilize mood.  As the seasons shift, these are important issues.  Autumn tends to be stressful - a returning to school and a sudden shift of gears from summer activity to winter's, dark.  Any seasonal shift brings with it a rash of allergens, digestive stop and gos, changes to sleep and schedule.  But this shift toward winter, in particular, is hard on the body and the nervous system.  It tends to light up sore joints, remind us of aging, bring down all the pressures of the world.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Practice, Depth. Subscription video now available!

authenticityThis was a long time coming, and a fairly big deal.  And, as things which are a long time coming and a fairly big deal always happen to be, this is so simple. You can now subscribe to deeper practice videos.  All of Karin's deep anatomy and deep philosophy, ruthless ditch the sequence and the alignment and find the breath, teaching.  In your pocket, your cellphone, or your living room.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yoga is personal.  Take it that way.

The meditation session, freebie from Karin Burke on Vimeo.

Guru Purnima

As the sun sets tonight, I plan on making my way outside to sit in the moon.  Tonight is Guru Purnima: a time in which the 'guru principal', or that which dispels darkness and wakes us up, is a thousand times stronger than any other day.  Traditionally, this night marks a time of honoring spiritual and academic teachers.  The ones who saw us, lit us up, called us out. According to Buddhist tradition, Buddha gave his first public sermon on this night.  According to the yogic tradition, Shiva became a teacher on this day, and Vyasa, the author of the sacred Mahabarata, was born.

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

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

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

guru purnima


lynchedFor the last week I've been writing an essay on privilege, identity, politics, and our own lives.  This isn't that essay. This is just saying I am angry, and terribly sad.  I've been reaching out to POC friends today.  One said, we're in a war against black bodies.  And we're losing.  I feel insane.

I'm hearing them say be safe out there to each other.  I am wildly terrified at the implications of this.


This isn't small.  It will not go away in a few days or news cycles.  It is important that we grieve, that we feel, and that we take care.  And, it's important that we do what we can.  I use my physical and meditation practice to feel and realize how I'm doing, what's happening in my life.  The anger.  The fear.  The speechless grief in my gut.  My physical and meditation practice helps me know, so that I can then stop practicing.  Then, I can be in my life without so much of my own reactivity, apathy, exhaustion, bitterness filtering my world.  I can listen.

On Saturday, 10:30 am, trainees and I will be sitting meditation.  Afterwards, we'll talk.  We'll break for lunch around 1.  I want to open that time up to everyone.  Trainee or not.  Yoga student or not.  We have to be able to sit with our anger, our fear, and our confusion.  And, we need spaces in which we can talk, that aren't facebook.

I'm also thinking we'll wash the windows of their current signage and get #blacklivesmatter, up there.  I was talking with a cop friend today, about trying to get yoga, in there.  I want to hear from my friends.  I want to hear from my students.  I want to know how I can help.  Not 'if'.  I want to know how.  I would love to hear from you.

Please consider joining us, or sharing the info with someone who might.  We have candles. We have hearts.  And we can talk.  We can also sit, quietly.

In love,


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.


intimacy, pornography, yoga

This begins with a phone call from a stranger. She said she’d been Google searching for a yoga studio, found mine and tried to click it, and suddenly just like that she was watching porn. No kidding. No filter. No warning. Slapped flesh and bared bums, thrust right in your eye. So close you felt sticky. So fast you weren’t sure what happened, but that it happened in your belly and your mouth. So unexpected you were caught. I got three more phone calls within an hour. I got Emails. And I got silence. I’d been hacked. The silence was thundery. This I don’t know what’s happening. This this is out of my control.

There was a vomit of re-action, out of me. I was pissed. I recoiled. I muttered and paced. I spent hours hunched over my laptop, ignoring the physical need to pee. My face hardened and my voice went high and tight. I was embarrassed. I was crazy scared; what did I do wrong? How do I make it stop? What would happen to my writing, to the studio? To my students? What would happen to my name? I felt incompetent: I can send an email, post a blog, share on Facebook but I don’t really know how the internet, or computers, or basic math, works. Have I been playing with fire, all this time? I felt insulted. I was afraid. I was terrified people would look, for the first time ever, to find some answers about yoga or some guidance, and be slapped in the face with an aggressively erect penis. I felt, sundered. My eyes burned. I spent the whole of the night with people more tech savvy than me coaxing me through the back end of a coded labyrinth. We were trying to find the one thread, the one glitch, something maybe that blinked or was red or broke a pattern. I was blind. Eventually, these kind and more skilled than I people managed to figure out it was deep, not a superficial or amateur problem we could lift up and off and out of all those numbers. It was a seeping, poison. The best we could do was to shut the whole thing, down.

We shut the whole thing. Down.

Then, the real re-activity began.

A real question was raised. Many questions. First: what happens when you lose so much? Second, what do you replace loss, with? If, faced with having to start from scratch or trying to resurrect something from years ago, why this pull toward not losing? What is it I think I’ve lost? What emotive and pathetic and visceral psychology is this, now?

Third: what does the internet have to do with me, with yoga, with a small studio in a smallish town in the Midwest? ** Fact: most people spend vast swaths of their day, of their lives, online. We know this is impersonal, and we do it anyway. Fact two: we are a globalized, socially mediated, enormously fast, culture. This is both alienating, and connecting. Revolutions are instigated on twitter. Police brutality is caught on cellphones. People are called to protest, effectively and quickly, out of the privacy of their own otherwise uncommitted lives. People date, hook up, end up married. It’s unreal, in so many ways.

And yet there is something intimate in what we’re doing online. We laugh, out loud, so often it’s changed the language. Images, move us. Words come, into our hearts. We send out, words. I have found people I would never have been able to find – good, kind, wild, inspiring people - in the strangest of formats **. On the one hand, there is an irresponsibility and disconnect to who we are, online. We say things we would never say to a human face. We posture, frame, and pose more than we’re able to in the flesh and the heat of moments. Much of our online presence is mimicry; reposting; liking and blocking without consequence; mindless click bait that dulls the brain; polemics and memes that we shouldn’t have to post, anyway, because all our ‘friends’ are so like us they probably already agree with us. In this sense, what we’re doing is masturbation. At what other time in history have individuals so been able to curate their identity, choose their own profile, correct their image?

The pleasure centers of the brain light up when someone likes a post. We’re hooked, physiologically and emotionally and in the hours of our days. In real time.

In a sense, what we’re doing is exhibition. There is a difference between what happens in a feed and our actual posture, gait, face.

Yet, in a sense, what we’re doing is the best we can. And every once in a while, we find ourselves collectively mourning, collectively outraged, publicly validated and communally informed. We find things we would never have access to, otherwise. We browse, globally. We test world class educational systems, cutting edge research, second by second politics. We’ve access to experts and universities and artists, images, music, unimaginable to previous generations. Every once in a while, we read something that changes our lives. Sometimes, this is moving. Often, this informs our lives. We find our answers. We connect.

In the wild blue light of midnight, naked in our own bed, we sometimes get lost in human stories. We sometimes, tell them. Sometimes, we are braver than we thought. More vulnerable. More willing. More real.

This raises a question, of yoga. What was living isolated in a cave has become mass produced, readily available, consumed by millions. In the most recent Yoga in America survey, a staggering proportion of the millions doing yoga have only ever done it in their own home.

The implications, the questions, are dizzying. What if teaching were to become an internet based reality (already true)? What if this media provided a way toward depth, resources, community?

What if this is jet fuel?

Yes: the stupidity of yoga advertising, the way yoga is used to sell products completely unrelated to yoga, the blitzkrieg of ‘mindfulness’ and the stupidity of the Zen-esque memes with dubious quotes is silly. It’s heartbreaking, at times. It’s annoying and mind-dulling, always. Yet: what if we could make this, real? ** I never knew what I was doing. A long time ago, I realized procrastination and fear were a personal problem that had caused and was symptom of other deep, scary, entrenched problems in my life. I wanted, desperately wanted, to write. But most of my life was spent doing other things. Procrastinating. Deleting. Supporting other people’s writing. Believing that I wasn’t ready, wasn’t good enough, that it wasn’t gorgeous the way I needed it to be, yet. Believing I was a fraud. That no one could see the depth of what I intended to write. That if I didn’t ever manage to get the writing, out, life was meaningless. Hyperbole, probably. I can see the obsession. But this is the truest thing I know.

I once had a favorite writing professor. I kept taking her classes. In the sixth or seventh, she said she’d fail me in her course if I didn’t submit my stuff for publication. On the last day of that semester, she marched me to the corner mailbox. I dutifully deposited five fat, ponderous, promising manila envelopes, addressed and stamped, into the box’s maw. What she didn’t know, and I did, was that the envelopes were fat not with poems or even my name, but with hundreds of sheets of blank paper. What she didn’t know, and I did, was that following this façade, I’d never see this woman I’d been calling a mentor for years, ever again.

That’s mostly what my life, was. Phone calls that weren’t returned. Goals that never got off the ground. Promises that weren’t kept. A feeling that my face value was so low I’d be better off shooting blanks than offering my heart.

It was a problem, you see. If I wanted to change, I’d have to get over it. So. I committed to writing something, every single day, and hitting ‘send’.

I did this, for years. I never knew what I was doing. I never did feel, ready. ** What happens, when you lose so much?

Nostalgia distorts what was a small, daily thing, to a romantic or breakthrough one. Memory renders us. As in, tenderizes us. What was just a normal old pair of jeans, or a kitchen floor, or the laugh of a girlfriend, becomes luminous and gilded and portentous.

Honesty tells me that none of the things were so very large, when they happened. They only accumulated. They ripened. They laid down a path for next steps and next ones until I’d arrived at some wholly other place.

And yet, they were: precious. And small.

They were the story, the record, of how I left Brooklyn a willowy, jaundiced thing with dirty hair, with no home or prospects or skills, and ended a yoga teacher whose name people know in Australia, LA, and New Orleans. They were daily moments of recovering from alcoholism and a lifetime of running away, to coming home. They caught, in mis-used Sanskrit and a terrified voice, the way it was yoga that woke me up, the way I went off to teacher training not sure what teacher training meant. They enumerated the insights; how to teach, how to move. How to love. How to be, upright. The seeking out of something that could answer, something that made sense, someone who could help me. The looking for teachers. The wisdom of the teachers. The becoming, my own, teaching.

I felt like a kid who’d spent all day painstakingly, deep focusingly, care-fully constructing a fort out of feeble materials on unsteady ground. Only to have it knocked over by wind. I felt like I’d been hunched over a jigsaw puzzle, for years, trying the strange little pieces in my hands at different angles and different light. The kinda puzzle that covers the dining room table. Takes months. Establishes residency and re-arranges your diet. Then, someone kicks it.

I never knew what I was doing. I just hit send, one day, and kept on sending. It was mostly rough. Hardly coherent. When I needed a tool, I’d slowly learn it. And then some other tool. So that given years, I don’t remember the little things I learned along the way, what I started with, or how it’s all jerry-rigged together. So many, words. So many times the tool was a bit of flesh and tenderness, a skinned knee insight, the calloused knuckle of many other hours, undocumented. So often, it was licking my dry lips, swallowing, and opening my mouth to break a silence. Or to invoke one.

People read them. People found their strange, oddly shaped little pieces and turned them in their fingers, held them up to different light, cocked their chin and focused their gaze. What happens when we lose something, or someone, or the way we took to be normal, is that we aren’t sure we’re ourselves, after all. The quip says something like, if you did a one armed handstand but didn’t post to Instagram, did it ever really happen?

Of course, it did. Of course, this is what yoga philosophy is for. It’s trite and it’s full of pathos and lamentably awkward positions, but it is our life, our identity, and when our identity is questioned, all sorts of monstrous emotions erupt. Monstrous: wild, huge, irrational, strange.

This is what yoga, says: our identity is mostly a house of cards, a duct taped fort, a castle of twigs. Sometimes, they topple.

I answered a friend: it wasn’t very good, most of it. If it was, it was good by its honesty. It’s naked. Good by heartrending. It was good only for being the moment of change, scored in ink. It was, I think, a good story.

I went on: It’s okay to let it go. ** It was a good story.

But the thing was, all of it, every flash of clarity or moment of rare authenticity, every long worked for skill or accidental wisdom, was nothing if passage to the next step and a new question.

The longing, the pull, to recover or not lose the past is a plea of identity. We fear we will lose, credibility. A thinking that our merit or goodness or worth lies in something we did, a long time ago. We tend to think we are, who we’ve been. Go ahead and try thinking differently. I mean it. I dare you. Try. For all our talk of neuroplasticity, healing, authenticity, and change, we none of us are very good at believing we can change.

And, in a sense, this is true. We are what we have learned, how we have loved, what we’ve experienced. But we are not limited to that experience. We are not, that experience. The experience is gone. We are, only, what we make of that experience, now. How we use the ingredients of this moment, the seasoning of what we remember, the courage of having survived, so far. It’s uncanny to think about, really. That we are here.

You replace loss, with this. ** This isn’t a story about yoga, I suppose. It’s a private bitch session about having your work, though it’s value be negligible, erased by something as faceless and as cruel as an internet hack and pornography. I felt lost and personally insulted, but had no one to be personally mad at or put responsibility, on.

It was only in the hours that followed, when other tech worldly people told me of their own experience of smut wiping out their sentences, their hours, and their accounts, that I realized part of what I felt was violated. I’ve written about that word, before. In the context of rape, domestic violence, a wider culture of violence. Somewhere, in that long tract of words I can’t go back to, I said violation is having the self, destroyed, by a force or a person or a culture that is indifferent to the personal nature of the crime. It’s having one’s self, denied.

Shortly after realizing that was what I felt, I didn’t feel it any more. It wasn’t, personal. In the context of all the world, my website was nothing. Nothing compared to gun violence, terror and crime. All these things I was aware of, yet separate from, through that miraculous communication maelstrom called the internet. My loss was nothing compared to the things I know are not broadcast, but closer to home, so close I know they are secrets in my community, in my friend’s lives, in every body that walks in the door: loss, time, violence, identity, tits and ass. In regards to wider culture, and the private lives, and the way I know most human beings are more likely to look for answers and support when alone, after hours, or before the kids are awake, the question is not what I’ve lost but what I’m going to do.

Yoga was once ascetic; lonely men, who chose to live in caves. Today, it’s hawked at Walmart. It’s so readily available there is a glut. As in, gluttony.

And yet, we moderns all seem isolated. We’re every one of us weary. We are all, lost and seeking. We might as well be living in caves. Caves of modernity, lit by screens, shadowed by ancient human drives and young fears. The web (the weave, the tantra, the thread, the sutra, the line, the union) can function just as well as any ancient practice.

More. I say: more. I have three teachers that I talk with, once a month, via skype. Not a single one of those airy, oddly lit conversations is terribly meaningful. But the fact that I can have them, that I go on having them month after month until years have gone by, means something. The fact that I get handwritten letters from Belgium, wishing the author could study with me. The emails I get from students who have moved away, saying they miss my classes. The distant friends who have never practiced with me, but say ‘I wish you taught here’. Young girls are googling yoga for eating disorders, middle aged women are looking for something more humane than the tripe offered by the health care industry, men and boys are looking up symptoms and workouts and top ten lists from smartphones and iPads. Even those in the minority who do seek out a yoga class in a gym or a studio or a library tend, after some little study, to start a process of wondering: how to find more; real; better; answers; guidance; teaching. It can be hard to find, teaching.

I often snarl at wider yoga culture. And I am leery of prescriptive, one size fits all, nothing but asana, approaches to yoga. People trying to handstand in their bedrooms, without ever having met a teacher. Reading about meditation, endlessly, but unable to find two minutes a day to make it real. Scared, if it does get real, because it’s so real. And they are so alone. This frustrates me and worries me.

And yet: yoga is connection. Yoga is intimate, or it’s nothing. I snarl and say yoga’s gotten the soul kicked out if it, it’s been prostituted, it’s been bought and sold and it’s hollowed. I say yoga is intimacy: wherever we happen to start, something in us touched, irritated, or called out. I say screw around all you want, take it lightly, go for the circus tricks or the weight loss or the stress busting. But sooner or later, you’re going to have to get personal if you want it to keep going, at all.

We do, start to take it, personally. We start to wonder. What if? What is this? What more? Is it possible? We don’t ask in a hypothetical kinda way, but in the ruthlessly personal one. The kind that shows up out of nowhere, surprises you with its immediacy, worries you with its questions.

We’re asking some of the most private and scary questions of our lives. We’re talking about our bodies, for god’s sake. We’re starting to feel things and wonder things we don’t have easy answers for, can’t quite wrap our minds around. The sense of feeling grounded and safe, of empowerment, of release, all the quirks and the hang ups that show up in our head, the behaviors that start to come out of us, all this is nothing if not personal. I’m looking for the light, please help me, said the student. Forget the light, said teacher: give me your reaching. The question isn’t what I’ve lost, but what I can offer. What I’ve got left to.

Everything. Personal. My very own self; whole. In a world where sex is porn and yoga is cheap, I want to offer love. I want to have breathy conversations about the soul.

(The joke of it is, it all came back. All the words, the website, the format, the story. But in losing it, I realized that wasn’t ever the question.)

the art of transformationcreative

The Secret of Sequencing

This weekend was deeper practice, aka teacher training, at the studio.  People ask such good questions.  They have such good hearts.  To wit: 'how do we translate this to a class?'  How do we take all of this philosophy, all of this anatomical knowing of what's happening in people's bodies, all of our own wild experience and confusion into a neatly packaged, hopefully articulate, and we'd-like-to-think-enjoyable 45 minute 'yoga class'?IMG_3353 That is: how do we teach?

They have such good hearts.

I said, you teach love.  I shrugged (probably no end of aggravatingly), and said on Monday, I teach Monday.  

I left, as I always do, both exhausted and jacked up.  I leave bleary tired and gutted out, having given everything I had to give.  Simultaneously, restless with enthusiasm.  I leave so tired thoughts don't congeal or make anything but nonsense, and words out of my mouth are just plain stupid.

And yet, I leave so touched, so hopeful, so excited I can't sleep.  How do you take care of yourself, someone asked, when you have big classes and lots of people taking your energy?  I said, it takes me a week to recover from these weekends.  I meant: it takes me a week to recover, and it feeds me more than any food, any travel, any information.  It's the most meaningful thing I know.  It is the best thing, I do.  The best things often cost.  They ask more of us, than normal.

I once said to my teacher: I don't know that I'm particularly good at teaching.  But I also know that the best things I've ever done, I've done while teaching.  I'm not, necessarily, a great teacher.  But teaching is the greatest thing I've ever done, as a person.  It is the most humane I've ever been.

After training, I laid under a tree and put my legs up.  The wind, softly, moved the young leaves.  I hadn't laid under a tree yet, this spring summer.  It took all of thirty seconds for me to slide into marveling, hearing bird, feeling time slow down to the lift of the breeze.

Huh.  I thought.  It takes 30 seconds.

Which I knew, already.  But re-discover, every single time.

With my exhausted restlessness, I decided I didn't in fact want to be alone but wanted to make the drive to see my boyfriend, spend the night with him, drive back to teach Monday morning's class.  This morning's, class.

On pulling into the coffee store early this morning, I realized I didn't have a wallet.  I had no money, no driver's liscense. I didn't know where my wallet was, but it wasn't with me.  I realized I'd lost it on the way down.  Had stopped for gas.  Had set the wallet on the car while I pulled back my hair.  All that exhaustion.  All those questions.  All that restlessness.

Starting Monday morning with a voluntary commute, while realizing you've lost your wallet, is not the best of ways to start the week.

Three minutes before class, only one woman was there.  She and I chatted.  I drank coffee from the studio's Kuerig, since walletless I'd been unable to caffienate, prior.  We talked about teacher training.  The exhaustion.  The open hearted vulnerable, ripped open thing.  The tears.  The knowing that, even as it is a realization of how little we know, how our answers have to be dropped, we also know that it's a good thing.  This crying that is unlike the crying we've done in the months or years before is both hard, and probably a very good thing.

Two other women came in, right as the hour struck.  Three women who I know very well, students who aren't strangers but hearts, personalities, folks who've worked with me for a long time.

Now, I felt all sorts of things, had all sorts of thoughts.  Not least: fucking wallet.  Driver's license.  More cash than I ever carry (post training weekend) and really the bulk of the month's income.  Also: three students does not the rent pay.  Also: fucking wallet.

But, also, this: I know these women.  So well.  I know what yoga has meant to them, what they have learned, where they can go, what they are living.  I quick fire said grab every prop, all the things, two chairs and blankets and all of the toys.  Today, we go deep.

The last, also, was the humming and loudest.  Was on the tip of my tongue and in my eyes.  This last, also one was spicy and reverent and ready.  My heart - all of the ways in which I love this practice, have been changed by it, lean on it, fall back into it, have been made more stable and less reactive - was able to speak directly to their souls.  I repeat: I spoke with my heart, to their souls.

As in: I invoked reverence.  I invoked Monday morning.  I talked to their shoulders.  I referenced their personalities.  I reminded them of bodies.  I said, first, now we do yoga.  Yoga is not the world out there.  Stop, first.  Then, we moved and breathed, tried to move and breath in co-ordination for awhile, to see and to be with whatever came up.  Then, we stopped again.  For long minutes.  Before the day started.  They lay, and I put away the room full of props while they lay.

Sirsasana.  Sarvangasana.  Hold.  

The secret of teaching is this.  It isn't about which postures you do, or how you describe and instruct them.  It isn't about the anatomy or theory you know.  It's only that you, yourself, have fallen in love with this practice over the years.  Your cumulative knowledge is like a soggy, dense, inarticulate mass in your brain.  It runs the fibers of your muscles, curves with the aorta.  You've done this, a long time.  You have changed, and are changing.

When human beings come to you, you offer your soggy mass to their wide open experience.

We all, together, stop.  Move and breath in co-ordination, seeing what chitta bubbles up.  Then, we stop again.

It takes 30 seconds.  You become.  Everything changes.

Inhale: puraka.  Exhale: rechaka.  Now shoulder, now throat, now eyes.  Inhale, are you here? Exhale, lay it down.  Anjayneasana.  Trikonasana.  Extended side angle.  Words aren't words.  Poses aren't poses.  It's this: breath, and know you're doing it.  Inhale and see: what crazy, and what gratitude, what love, comes up.

I am not trying to downplay the art of vinyasa krama. It is an art.  There are vast stores of information.  You can't possibly take in all of the information.   There is sport's medicine, kinesthetics, anatomy, psychology.  All of this is changing, constantly.  All of it has specialties, variant hypothosis, big characters and incoming studies.  Let alone the vast tradition.  It goes both deep and broad, across so much time.  You can't cram, that.  You can't memorize it.  The fact is, you'll never even know the half of it.  And, the fact is, within a 'class', you can't teach, that.  You have thirty seconds.

You're here because something in the practice, a book, or a posture made you feel.  Made you want, more; feel, wild; understand, it's all messy, and yet there's something beautiful.  You're here because something in the practice made you feel.  The answer to the question isn't yoga.  The answer is you, your own self.

I asked: who is it you think would most benefit from this?  who is it you think you want to teach, or what questions are you yourself asking?  Then: from that, what is it you need to develop in yourself?

You go deeper and deeper into having your own experience.  You must go on, letting this work you over, being uncomfortable, falling apart and then realizing the falling apart made you more clear.  You must maintain your love, and fall more deeply into it.  You have to allow this path to change who you are.

And then, you stand in front of others.

The best teachers are deeply knowledgeable.  Some, of bodies.  Medical, anatomical, pathological.  Some teachers are like walking wiki pedias of sayings, teachings, stories, sanskrit.  Some seem to have truth laced into their breath, and others have such a calm and awake presence that you see serenity in the way they blink.  Some seem to have an intuitiveness that is neither 'anatomy' nor 'philosophy', but reads bodies, knows what students are thinking, anticipates and acknowledges.  The best teachers have teachers, a lot of time along the way, and incredibly funny stories about the dead ends and false starts and things they have had to work through.

When you stand up to teach, as a knock kneed neophyte, as someone who is scared shitless and mostly knows that you don't know all the answers, you don't teach yoga.  You offer, yourself.

Then people find, themselves.

If you want to do this - and I don't mean if you want to become certified or if you want to open a studio or you think you might want to teach kids, I mean: if you want to understand, yoga - you have to be willing to have your own experience.  That means you learn now this, now that.  You learn what you can learn, right now.  You say yes.  You teach, Monday.

If you want to understand yoga you have to become yourself.

This takes 30 seconds.  And, it takes years.

I'm offering, both.  Sometimes, I doubt myself, and slide back into trying to be someone else. Falling into pessimism, delay, thinking I'll do it later when I'm better or when there is more time.  Thinking either I can't or what's the point or the whole 'business' is trash, anyway.    Usually, all these at once.

But at this point, all these at once happen within the context of an abiding, soggy knowing.  This is the best I can possibly give.  I lost my wallet.  I'm going to have a lot of crappy and inconvenient things to do today.  It's probably okay.  I once lost my passport the night before I flew to Guatemala. I used to lose things all the time.  I sometimes loose them, now. And, also, more than this: yoga.