Bhakti Yoga, Karma Yoga, Decolonizing Yoga

The following is a piece is inspired by the work I’m exploring in both the Albuquerque Waking up to Whiteness course and Denver Iyengar Yoga Teacher Training.

In contemplating my embodied experience of the definitions BKS Iyengar lays out in the introduction to Light on Yoga, I am inequal measures reflecting about the marga, or path, of Bhakti Yoga, and of Karma Yoga. I am interested not only in each separately, but in the places where the two intersect: the field of spiritual justice.

I understand Bhakti to be the love and devotion to a divine and seamless wholeness, as described in the Isha Upanishad, which the individual soul is an aspect of, and Karma yoga to how we relate to others, interact, and how we can truly serve in the complex context of the external manifestations of our collective existence. (Of course Bhakti and Karma margas could both be analyzed in internal and external ways, but for the purposes of this paper I will explore them to correspond in this way, since that is how I have experienced them.) I have felt at times a dissonance between the inner and outer work, between my yoga practice and my drive to serve peace and justice in the external. Intuitively, I sense these two types of work – inner liberation, and collective liberation – to be inseparable. Looking at the ways they overlap, merge, and support each other is of great interest to me. In the introduction to Radical Dharma, angel Kyoto williams writes eloquently on this topic:

“Each community possesses, as Gandhi offered, a piece of the truth, of dharma. When we seek the embodiment of these truths, giving ourselves permission to be more honest, more healed, more whole, more complete – when we become radical- neither the path of solo inward-looking liberation nor the pursuit of an externalized social liberation prevails, rather a third space, as-yet-unknown, emerges. It is a radical dharma. And it is ours. …(We) cast our bodies into the third space that emerges when radically inhabiting the to the inner and outer paths towards liberation. We do it out of necessity, choice, for healing, and the unwavering faith that comes from having touched… by the truth.”

Bhakti yoga, which Guruji describes as “realization through devotion to and love” of the Divine, deeply relates to the inward journey, the shift as Rajiv Chanchani described so beautifully, from the gravitational field of the external world towards the gravitational field of purusha. Patricia Walden recently referred to Patanjali’s sutra 1.36 vosoka va jyotismati when discussing Bhakti Yoga. Guruji’s translation: “Or, inner stability is gained by contemplating a luminous, sorrowless, effulgent light.” In his commentary he goes on to say “Here, the concentration is on the innermost core of the heart, wherein alone the sorrowless, effulgent light glows. That is the seat of the soul.” So lovely.

I have experienced that the deepest source of clarity, peace, motivation, resilience, and will power to be this connection and sublimation to the divinity within. It is the ultimate reason all the anatomical details are vibrantly intriguing: they provide doorways in, towards knowing that true source-light within. Even a small taste of this sublime connection transforms and illuminates my perception of all things. One example of how this has shown up for me is when I am struggling to hold a very muscular asana, one that is challenging to organize, I have learned that if I let the asana be an offering to that divinity within, an offering to that quest to connect to what is beyond the peripheral koshas, that my effort no longer is “my” effort, but rather I observe the miracle of what is happening inside, even if it is very uncomfortable or difficult. Then I find I can stay longer, almost as if god is the one “doing” the pose, and I am simply observing. This shift towards “effortless effort” feels like a powerful tool not only for asana, but for the rest of life, too. In Light On Life, Guruji discusses the difference of a willpower that comes from the head, versus that which springs from the heart:

“The simple fact is that the will of the ego is finite, because the ego is finite… Coming from the head, it will always feel forced. Coming from a finite origin, it will always run out. The will that springs from the intelligence of the heart is, by contrast, linked to an infinite resource – cosmic intelligence (mahat) and cosmic consciousness. It is a well that will never run dry.”

This connection to a heart centered, rather than “I” centered approach to action empowers a more grounded foundation for taking action in service to others, which leads us to Karma yoga. The love and devotion of Bhakti seems a natural wellspring to draw from, for the ongoing commitment, patience, and heart required to do well in our personal lives, as well as ultimately working to alleviate suffering in the greater world. Guruji’s section on direct action in Light on Life is very inspiring to me on many levels, including when I think about social justice work, which is often interpersonal, sensitive, and takes me and others outside of our comfort zones.

“The point we are seeking to reach is where we can act directly in the present. Direct action stems from direct perception, the ability to see reality in the present, as it is, without prejudice, and act accordingly. This is what it means to live in the present moment. …. The yogic action is an action absolutely unfettered by past habit and without desire for personal reward in the future.”

Here is another intersection of Bhakti and Karma yoga. To take direct action is to be profoundly present. This presence stems from being anchored in the unchanging, to seek the seer, rather than only be caught up in the seen. Then we can be more fully with the work required, as is arises moment to moment. To think, speak, or act from a place of clear, heart centered awareness requires letting go of regrets of the past, and projections of the future, which serve as distractors to the responding to the fresh, quivering reality of what is, right now. Guruji relates this inspiring passage from the Bhagavad Gita in describing Karma Yoga in the introduction to Light on Yoga:

“Work alone is your privilege, never the fruits thereof. Never let the fruits of action be your motive, and never cease to work. Work in the name of the Lord, abandoning selfish desires. Be not affected by success or failure. This equipoise is called yoga.”

This type of selfless presence could be considered requisite to an act of Karma yoga, yoga of action- a “taintless” action, without reaction. Karma yoga is a conscious action which is outside the well worn rut of what has come before, what is habitual, or convenient. In our asana practice, this may look like shining the light of awareness within to sense where some imbalance is creating asymmetry, misalignment, or injury. Then we can change our way of working, and shift out of the ingrained conditioning into a more satvic way of being in the body, nervous system, and mind. In our lives it may look like recognizing how a deeply exploitive and violent cultural history affects how I, and how we all — including our yoga communities — exist today.

Just as the momentum in our physical bodies and minds are hard to see and feel at first, because they are so familiar, the destructive patterns in our shared world can be difficult to see, especially by those on the receiving end of certain privileges that come with moving through the world as white, cis gendered, etc. One of my teachers, a long time physical therapist, Patti Lentz often says “we default to the known, and we get good at what we practice.” The decision to look squarely and compassionately at our weakest, most imbalanced parts is key for true healing and integration. This is where these deeper definitions of yoga are very powerful.

Yoga isn’t here to make us feel good, although this grace is often a natural side effect. It isn’t here to wrap us in a positivity bubble of insulation, sometimes called spiritual bypassing  which psychologist John Welwood defined as “the use of spiritual practices and beliefs to avoid dealing with our painful feelings, unresolved wounds, and developmental needs.” Yoga is a process of courageously clearing all that is in the way of complete absorbtion, samadhi, freedom — integration —which Guruji describes as “taking the parts of the self which have been fragmented, and returning them to the whole.”

The momentum behind settler colonialism, slavery, capitalism, and toxic whiteness is all pervasive, painful, and complex. Systemic racism is so well established and adaptive, that it could hum along just fine even if there were no individual “racists” and we were all nice to each other. This is one reason why this idea of “decolonizing yoga” is so helpful: it asks us to see and question how the context of Western culture affects yoga practice, and it invites a process of disentangling, and to know what came before. Disentangling from a culture that values and affirms those it labels white over black and brown, thin over fat, binary gender over free, authentic expression, consumption over connection and growth. This is external manifestation of “vrritis gone wild” — a reflection of the internal fluctuations of consciousness — is part of what we are aiming to find freedom from, which is what yoga is all about. (See Patanjali’s sutra I.2) This post by Susanna Barkataki is a good read for more on decolonizing yoga. I want to make clear this isn’t about policing who can do yoga, or shame for where someone is in their process. It is an invitation for svadyaya, self-study.

Certainly being deeply connected within can aid the work required to move towards visceral learning, acknowledgment, cultural healing and change, towards a more satvic society. To be present with what is, as it is, fosters an ability to analyze, for instance, why so many yoga studios are dominantly white spaces, inviting for some, but not for many, and what we can do to ensure accessibility, and safeguard the potency and incredible potentials of (Iyengar) yoga practice against becoming written off as a luxury for the privileged. To be silently complicit with centering whiteness, which causes immediate harm is problematic, especially considering a foundational yama in Patanjali’s 8 limb system is ahimsa. This analysis and accessibility work is an act of ahimsa, nonviolence. 

This is, of course, the tip of an iceberg to many more conversations: what are the many specific ways dedicated yoga spaces can be made accessible, (not just affordable but truly welcoming) with sensitivity to not compromise the depth of tradition and lineage? What is in the way of yoga being taken into non-studio spaces that center POC, queer-trans folks, etc? How can yoga teachers earn and living wage for their work, so that they can commit their life to that path if they choose without a second job, while still making classes, retreats, and teacher trainings affordable to low income people? How can those established in yoga communities be more supportive and make space for POC, indigenous, trans* etc yoga teachers? Decolonizing Yoga and Still in Sirsasana are two  wonderful resources I’ve appreciated in thinking about these conversations. What resources do you draw from? How are these conversations unfolding in your circles?

To spread the light of awareness into the difficult and often invisible dynamics at play in my day to day life is akin to the sensitive, persistent inner penetration I strive to explore in my asana and pranayama practice. James Baldwin said “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed unless it is faced.” These are examples of the yoga of action, and of the yoga of devotion.

There are many other ways that yoga sadhana (practice) contributes to, and is nourished by, the work to foster healing, protection, and justice within community. Here I’ve explored a few ways I relate to the definitions of yoga Guruji describes. Integration of these inner and outer practices provides a framework for further exploration both on and off the mat, for me, and, I hope, you as well! Feel free to share any thoughts below. 

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Simple Prenatal Yoga Sequence for Home Practice

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My cousin took this picture of me just a few days before I gave birth.

When I was pregnant with my son, my daily yoga and seated meditation practice changed dramatically. I allowed my practice to become increasingly informed by preparing my body and mind for birth, with sound and movement becoming important elements. I researched what was appropriate, in both books and media, as well as my own body. My birth experience was both ecstatic and deeply empowering, in part because of factors beyond my influence, but also because I had a firm foundation in how to consciously relax and create feeling safe, how to channel and move through intensity rather than resist it, how to observe sensation rather than react, and how to trust my body: it’s movements, positions, and ultimately, it’s animalistic wisdom.

In over a decade of teaching and learning about prenatal yoga since, I have continued to deepen my appreciation of how yoga practice can nourish, stabilize, and calm pregnant moms, while at the same time familiarize the inner systems of the body-mind complex for birth, bonding, and postpartum radiance. Prenatal yoga also helps establish optimal birth position, (‘occiput anterior’ or head down, back forward) a key factor in avoiding interventions during birth. Pregnancy is a great time to deepen our relationship with the pelvic floor, our breath, our boundaries, and awaken dormant power. Truly, I see the journey of motherhood as a nobel path, one of spiritual growth.

Here is a simple sequence for home practice. This is a sequence I put together for my friend Camella, an instructor at an advanced doula training, based on poses I often teach in my prenatal classes. It can be adapted as needed. (Email me if you are befuddled, at averyasana@gmail.com.) This type of practice is also great for fertility. Be sure you have enough padding under the knees. These poses offer various reliving and stabilizing qualities, and also translate well into labor poses. You can ad in your own favorite poses to the mix, as you desire. Good poses to add in include Upavishta Konasana (seated with the legs wide) and external rotation standing poses such as triangle and warrior 2. Avoid any yoga poses that compress or put pressure on the uterus, such as deep forward bends and deep abdominal twists, and especially avoid abdominal toning, as the can cause diastisis. Also avoid intense stretches, since your body has relaxin and it’s easy to create injury without realizing.

I’ve written this up to share with my students, and for the use of the greater community of pregnant moms. If you wish to use my text or pictures in any other context I request in good faith that you please ask permission first.

A little home practice in the morning, before plunging in to the responsibilities of the external world, or before bed, to assist healthy circulation and better sleep, can be really effective self care.

The Practice

(Dedicated to my dear BFF Liv in New Zealand)

Begin with breath. Keep returning to the breath. Keep exploring, what can I let go of, what can soften and relax, so that the breath can more easily move though me, and I can more effortlessly and completely receive the healing nourishment of the breath…?

Rolling up a blanket for supporting the sacrum in badha konasana. The blanket should be firmly wedged between the wall and your upper sacrum/L5 area.

1. Get centered in Badha Konasana 

(Bound Angle Pose)

You’ll need a bit of open wall space and a few blankets to practice this version.
First, have a thin rolled blanket. If your hips are tight (knees higher than pelvic rim when in the pose) take a second blanket under the sitting bones.
An option to make the pose more passive: support under each leg with a blanket.

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If you need to release and stretch the pelvic floor, try this set up with rolled blankets under the knees. To increase lateral space in the pelvis and lengthen the inner thighs, add a block between the feet.

Press your heels together, draw the sitting bones wide and back with your hands, as you reach the tailbone under the blanket, then press blanket down behind sacrum. If the blanket goes easily to the floor, start again, so the blankets is wedged quite firmly behind the sacrum (back of the pelvis/ base of the spine). This will give a healthy anterior tilt, with the sitting bones heavy at the front.
4 good reasons for this pelvic position:

(try it when you drive or sit to type, not just in yoga practice!!)
1. Sacrum is most stable when at an angle, it fits down into the pelvis, which closes/stabalizes the SI joints, which can be good for reliving SI joint pain and sciatica.
2. Pubic bone draw under, giving bony support for pelvic floor muscles and pelvic organs, so they can relax and avoid compression/ tension patterns.
3. Supports healthy space in intervertebral discs, relives low back strain. If the back is flat, there is compression in the spine. The back has the most length when it expresses it’s natural curves; the neutral lower lumber region should curve in, as though in a mild backbend.
4. Supports OBP by showing baby the space is in the front body, not the back.
First, just relax: soften eyes, jaw, tongue…notice your breath, move from mind to body, external to internal. Practice coming very gently back to the breath, even though the mind will distract. Over and over, you come back to the breath, back inside to the present moment, just breathing through the sensations, whether they are mild or intense. Especially allow the throat to release. (Low long sound is very useful for relaxing the throat; try a long Ahhhhhhh sound.) The throat and birth canal area affect each other; if the throat and jaw are soft, you’ll soften down below, too.

Take a moment to connect with your baby: feel how they are held safe inside, every cell in their strong healthy body glowing with vitality, their heartbeat steady. Feel the psychological, emotional connection between you and your baby, which is growing stronger day by day, and remains strong long after the physical chord is cut. Sense that you are your baby are working together, each doing your own special work to prepare for birth and beyond.

Then, perhaps explore some pelvic floor awareness. Feel the inner pelvis, use imagination… watch for self criticism… come back to feeling, breathing. Sense the large round opening of the inner pelvis… feel the bony attachment point of the lower 2 levels of pelvic floor: sitting bones on sides, tailbone in back, pubic bone in front. They make a diamond… Inhaling, receive the natural downward expansion of the breath, pressure releasing down, blossoming, broadening. Then exhaling, on the natural cycle of inter abdominal pressure lifting, draw the 4 corners in, towards perinuem, lift… then relax, receive… several rounds with the breath. Soft tongue, soft eyes, soft breath.

332. Hands and Knees explorations:

Hands and Knees is a great labor pose too, in fact one study showed it to be the #1 position for giving birth in a group of moms who were not told what position to birth in. The baby had lots of room, the inner pelvis can rest, the bones of the pelvis can all expand, unlike when you are laying in a bed.

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You can support yourself in labor by resting the head, arms, and chest forward on a soft sturdy support, such as a bed. When the hands are on the floor, be sure to keep the base of the tigers heavy, wrists light. This is also a wonderful pose for encouraging optimal birth position.

~Hip circles, Figure 8s, Tail Wagging

~Cat/ Cow: Notice how in flexion, as you open the back body and tuck the tail, the upper pelvis opens, and the bottom closes, then when you extend in the backbend, the bottom of the pelvis opens wide.

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These movements are great for helping the sacrum move so that baby’s head can pass through in labor.

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First, cross…

~Twist: Explore this pose with an audible exhale into the twist, repeat 2-4 times each side.

Remember, lengthening the exhale helps the nervous system/ mind to relax! Ahhhhh. This is a nice safe way to rotate the spine within compressing baby’s space.

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…then rotate, extending our through the core of the arms.

3. Side Lunge Series: This is a whole sequence of nourishing movements that link together….

a. Kneeling, right leg out, lunge back and forth, sitting deep into the right sitting bone as you track the knee towards the middle toe. The right leg externally rotates, heel beyond knee, heavy heel. Rock balk and forth…26
This action opens the right side inner pelvis, and can be 27done on a birth ball, with the upper body and head resting on a bed, or high couch, for a more supported version in labor.

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b. Parigasana/ The Gate Pose, variation:

24Elbow to knee: stay in your lunge, reach left arm over at a diagonal, stretch.
This help open lateral spine and increase ease of side body breath, making more room for the digestive organs and growing baby.

c. Circle the extended arm, slow… reach fully through shoulder, through the fingers; increase circulation to mammary glands.

d. Arms down, and with the support of the ground…23

22…side lunge again, with SOUND:

Ahhhh into the stretch

Sound: Looooong and Low:
-Helps open throat and therefore opens birth canal
-Releases pleasureful endorphins, some which are the same as released in orgasm
-Extends the exhalation, which quiets the nervous system, relaxes the mind
-Gives the mind something to focus on

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1 (1)e. Pelvic Floor Stretch: A gem from Leslie Howard! Bring your right heel outside wrist, and keep that inner heel heavy, as you circle the sitting bone out and around, as if you have a spoon attached to the sits bones and you are stirring a big bowl of cookie dough behind you.

Or, in you favorite color, paint some huge bold circles on the floor, walk, and ceiling with you sitting bone paintbrush!

This is a fabulous stretch for the transverse perineal muscles, the layer of the pelvic floor that connect the perineum to the sits bones.

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f. High lunge: Bring your heel onto your mat, directly under knee, and extend the back leg as you internally rotate that femur, or thigh bone, lifting through the inner groin. Let the outer thighs and buttocks draw in towards the midline, containing. Lift the right toes as you anchor the center heel down to awaken strength and tone the arch. Hold this high lunge 30+ seconds: breathe through the work, practice soft throat, soft eyes…

g. Anjenayasana/ Low lunge: Keep your front heel on the floor. The back leg points, strong, press the top of the foot down as you lengthen and open the groin. Don’t let the knee lean out; bring whole leg

19out to side to make room for that lovely belly.

h. Lateral Release: Swing leg back to the right side, flex foot, walk hands out to left, wrist beyond shoulder, open right hip over left, right shoulder over, drape and extend arm… open side body.

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Back to HANDS AND KNEES, hip circle, observe if hips feel better, then take a down dog, or rest in child’s pose.

Then REPEAT on the LEFT side>>>> yummy!

4. Adho Mukha Svanasana, Downward Facing Dog Pose, 17with bent knees, or Adho Mukha Virasana, Downward Facing Hero Pose.

After the asymmetrical work in the luge series, it’s helpful to take several breaths in one of these poses, to lengthen the spine, integrate the work from the lunges, and come back to center. I usually opt for the knees bent downward dog version for pregnant moms, because if the backs of the legs are tight (and often they are!) the pelvis will tuck, the low back will flatten and compress, and the inner pelvis will get jammed. Focus on the lift and broadening of the sitting bones, and the length of the spine as you equally and deliberately extend the arms, and press down the ball mounds of the index fingers (the inner upper corner of the palm of each hand). If this pose is too taxing or you want to avoid it for any other reason, you can do the same good work with the knees down.

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5. Squat— explore different variations: take height under heels if the lower legs are tight and/or the feet pronate (where the inner ankles collapse in). Try squatting while leaning against a wall, or resting the head and stacked hands on support in front of you, such as a padded chair, or a birth ball.

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Squatting is a great way to amplify the downward pressure and effectiveness of contractions during labor; you can squat with support, such as on a toilet seat, a small birth ball, or leaning forward resting the chest, arms, and head on a soft chair or bed.

If you are 32 weeks or beyond, and baby is NOT in the optimal birth position (back forward, head down) better to spend time in hands and knees instead; squatting brings the baby down low into the pelvis, where it’s harder for them to turn around.

136. Utkata Konasana: Goddess/ AKA Horse pose on chair: Make sure the knees are open about 90 degrees. See that the joints of the legs line up, hip-knee-ankle-toes all pointing in the same direction; watch for feet that want to turn out more than the hips and knees.

Let your sitting bones become at the front, feel the anterior tilt: your sacrum will draw into the body as your lower back comes into a healthy arch. Careful to not push the ribcage forward as you arch; let the lowest lumbar vertebrae be the deepest part of the curve, not your upper lumbar. Then, powerfully externally rotate the thighs: extend the inner thighs from the pubis out through the knees, as you draw the outer thighs in towards the buttocks. Spiral and thighs open as you press strongly down through the heel bones, and draw inner thighs away from back of chair121011

Once you get the feel of it on the chair, try it at the wall, with the sacrum and upper back and head resting on the wall and the heels and knees about a foot away from the wall: same work, but even more stabilizing.
You can also do shoulder openers, or work the upper body as in parsvakonasana during the chair supported version.
This pose is fabulous for sacral stability. As the sacrum draws forward, the SI joints are supported my the muscular work in the thighs to close. I experienced terrible sciatica (pain caused by compression to the sciatic nerve) and SI joint pain during pregnancy, due to the relaxin opening and destabilizing what was already loose to begin with. This pose helped immediately and immensely to resolve my pain. It also builds the strength required for active labor.

87. Prasarita Padotonasana: Expanded Legs Forward Bend: To practice this pose, the feet are parallel, heels separated about as wide as the wrists when the arms are extended out the side. The sitting bones lift and broaden, the pelvis rotates forward around the thigh bones, so the front spine can extend. Keep the heels heavy, reaching the tailbone back behind the heels, as you lengthen forward through the spine, crown of the head, and arms. Take enough height so that the front body is spacious.  As you forward bend on the chair: push chair forward, draw tail back… HEELS HEAVY. You can stretch the mat wider between the feet isolmetraically to broaden the inner pelvis and stretch the pelvic floor, or press the outer legs in medially, as though you would slide the legs towards each other, to help draw the sacrum in, and stabilize. If you are familiar with both actions, do both at once!

A good way to use this pose for relieving low back pain, try practicing it on a kitchen counter throughout the day.

This can be a great labor pose when leaning the upper body (chest, arms, and head) forward onto a high bed or soft padded counter. As a yoga pose it helps strengthen the legs and increases circulation to the reproductive organs, while also lengthening and releasing the lower back.

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8. Balasana, or lovingly known as Child’s Pose:

This is a great pose to do before bedtime, or whenever you need a restful moment, as it helps increase circulation to the adrenal glands, which helps shift the nervous system away from the fight-flight stress mode, and into the replenishing parasympathetic mode. It is a wonderful release for the low back, and, with enough support, can be a great labor pose. For most moms, 2 bolsters stacked are a lot better than one! Make sure the head and chest are supported, while the belly is free to rest in the open space between the thighs. If sitting on the heels is not comfortable, fill in the space with folded blankets, and or have a block between the ankles as in virsana. Let the back body open and relieve the breath as you inhale, while the exhalations resolve the weight of the head down.

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9. Savasana. A very important pose, don’t skip it! Use a 10 minute timer if you have trouble staying for more than a couple minutes.

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Savasana (corpse pose or final resting pose), is an important time to integrate the benefits of the more active poses. The nervous system can digest the goodness. This is a great time to do a guided relaxation, a chance to train the mind to be present with the feeling of letting go, consciously, rather than reacting blindly to, or resisting, sensation. The more the nervous system experiences relaxation, the stronger and more familiar the neuroreceptor connections are that create that experience. So practice establishes calm and relaxation, makes it more accessible for the future. Relaxation and feeling safe are key factors in the healthy release of hormones and endorphins in labor, and helps mom stay present, centered, and not overwhelmed by the intensity of contractions.

As you rest, notice how easily the mind wanders, and how gently you can come back to the feeling of the exhalations and letting go… The mind may criticize “you,” or itself when wandering, but just come back to the feeling of softening, melting… feeling over time how all the layers of the body become more fluid, heavy, spreading out into the safe embrace of the earth. The bones rest very deep. Trust gravity to hold you. Especially the head becomes heavy. All the layers of the neck release, the inner jaw softening, the eyes resting inwards, as the all the layers of the brain melt down very heavy into that support. Every breath, letting go, letting go.

Come out restfully.

You can close your session with a meditation, sitting in any comfy seated pose, breathing love down to the baby, which my teacher’s guru, Sri Goswami Kriyananda says plants seeds of happiness in the babies consciousness that blossom later throughout the babies life. Place the left hand on the heart, right hand on the belly. Inhaling, expand you heart with pure love; exhaling, send that loving energy down through the warmth of your right hand, to you rewet baby, who has come at just the right time, choose just the right mother, the right family for there unique journey. Bathe your baby in pure loving attention, compassion, affection, and appreciation. Perhaps sense that as you help your baby grow, this baby is helping you grow: deeper into your strength, your wisdom, your power and beauty… you capacity for joy. You can then let this love surround your whole self, too…in a cloak of protection and peace.

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For Albuquerque Pregnant Moms, here is a great coupon for Prenatal Yoga at High Desert Yoga; my class is on Thursdays, perhaps I’ll see you there!

prenatal yoga coupon 2015

Farewell, BKS Iyengar, with Gratitude

It’s a mellow day, gray overhead in an Oakland sky, where I am visiting to attend an incredibly rich and deep 5-day yoga training on the pelvic floor. For many, another typical day, but for the greater Iyengar yoga community, a heartfelt day of parting to the venerable Mr. BKS Iyengar. Although I never got to travel to Pune to study with BKS and family directly, I am one of many thousands whose life has been touched by the ardent, all enduring practice, and as a side affect, teaching, of this man. My ability to access health and heal my body, to gain relief from the turbulence of the mind, to experience compassion, understanding, to know my place in the universe… all stems back to the life and work of BKS. 

His website says, ‘I always tell people, “live happily, die majestically.”‘

I feel deeply inspired by what this person has accomplished in one life. 

He delved so deep into this vast subject of Yoga. He has carved a path that we can follow. 

I feel for the vast global community of teachers and students who have lost their Guruji. This powerful anchor to all this beautiful work and practice, which lives on through his teachings, through all the yoga teachers and students touched by his light… is now passed into the great beyond. He has given so much — so much depth, insight, richness, which we will continue to explore and grow with.

I continue to move though the mundane world today, beautiful in it’s hidden translucence, the nature of the universe carefully obscured in sense and texture. Yet inside I am aware of a light, dispursing. As though in death, some essence spreads out and expands infinitely, and I like a child, reach out in vain to catch hold of a fleeting spark. May the spark always live on in me, and every yoga practitioner connected to BKS Iyengar. For a man I’ve only known through his students, who are my teachers, I say farewell with overwhelming gratitude. 

Summer Schedule

As a favor to my students who attend class with me regularly, here is that list I promised! Please continue to come practice, and enjoy these wonderful teachers while I am traveling and teaching elsewhere this summer.

Monday June 16 Level 2 10:30-12 SUPRITI
Wed June 18 Level 1 9:30-11 ZOREH
Thurs June 19 Prenatal 10-11:30 KATJA
Thurs June 19 Vinyasa 5:30-6:30 MAGGIE
Sunday June 22 Restorative 11:30-1 MAGGIE

Monday June 23 Level 2 10:30-12 MAGGIE
Wed June 25 Level 1 9:30-11 EMILY
Thurs June 26 Prenatal 10-11:30 EMILY
Thurs June 26 Vinyasa 5:30-6:30 EMILY

Sunday July 20 Restorative 11:30-1 ZHENYA
Monday July 21 Level 2 10:30-12 MAGGIE
Wed July 23 Level 1 9:30-11 ZOREH
Thurs July 24 Prenatal 10-11:30 EMILY
Thurs July 24 Vinyasa 5:30-6:30 EMILY

Thurs Aug 7 Prenatal 10-11:30 KATJA
Thurs Aug 7 Vinyasa 5:30-6:30 KIM

Deepening Alignment: Yoga Workshop with Avery Kalapa in West Virginia!

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Most yoga students know alignment is important, but what IS “good alignment,” and how can you use this awareness to get the most out of your practice? In this fun, experiential afternoon workshop, we will explore what is “neutral:” the archetype of key asanas (poses), through the lens of their functional anatomical architecture as well as how they move prana (life energy). As we learn to move towards neutral, our habit patterns become clear, and we can begin to free ourselves from these often destructive habits and move into greater vitality and freedom, not only in our bodies, but also our minds.

Private Sessions with Avery will also be available. Please contact her at yoga@averykalapa.com to make an appointment.

for more information on the workshop, and to sign up visit

heartstringsacademy.com 

435.232.2860

151 Feamster Road, Lewisburg WV

 

Six Things I Love About the Pelvic Floor.

In preparing for my upcoming workshop, “Yoga and the Pelvic Floor: Anatomy, Asana, and Energetics,” I am once again in a place of digging deeper, and becoming amazed at our incredible, vital, tender, strong pelvic floors… how without certain care, our bodies do become problematic in numerous ways as a result of collapse, aging, repetitive stress, and the nature of temporal existence… but that with small, committed, simple practices, with understanding, compassion, and appreciation of our bodies, we can maintain a foundation of vibrant health. Not only do we want healthy enduring function, but we want to be able to sense, enjoy, and explore all the possibilities of this special area. What is your relationship to your pelvic floor? What comes up when you think about it? How might getting in touch and loving your body help you be more in touch and loving with others aspects of your life and world?

Here are 6 things I love about the pelvic floor, in no particular order. (What would you put on your list?)

1.  The perineum! It’s so especially soft to touch, yet SO STRONG! The center of the perineum, or central tendon, is an anchoring point for all the surrounding musculature. It is a powerful epicenter of connective tissue where the following muscles insert: the deep transverse muscles of the perineum, the bulbospongiosus muscle, the levator ani, and  the anal sphincter. perineum

2.  GOOD SEX. The more awareness, ability to relax, and ability to contract our pelvic floor muscles we have, the more we can control, feel, and enjoy when we reach orgasm during sex. In healthy women, as this study shows, the stronger the PC muscles are, the more powerful orgasms are. In 1952, Dr. Kegel published a report in which he claimed that the women doing his exercises were becoming more easily, more frequently and more intensely orgasmic. However, it is key to not just practice”kegeling” but having a healthy relationship to your pelvic floor, again that important mind-body piece. The combination of healthy tone, flexibility, AND hormonal release (read: ability to relax, feel safe, dip into the parasympathetic nervous system…) is what I come up with when I saw this study that shows PC muscle exercises alone don’t improve satisfaction. In the instance of pelvic pain, for men and women, releasing and relaxing is key. For folks with male genitals, more tone can lead to avoiding premature ejaculation, and delaying and building more orgasmic power. Yoga practices that are carried out with mindfulness, and include toning and releasing pelvic floor muscles are a very good way to care for your pelvic floor and your healthy sexual expression.

3. Psoas support. A healthy pelvic floor helps enable the psoas to be long and lush, which helps to enable grounded femurs, reduce lower lumber compression, release the kidney area, inhibit habituated fear response, allow healthy space for breath and the vital irrigation and function of the vital organs.psoas

4. Avoiding/ Diminishing Prolapse and Incontinence. In both men and women, especially mamas who have given birth, toning the pelvic floor muscles is key for avoiding prolapse and incontinence. If you’ve ever jumped on a trampoline and peed your pants, you know what this story is about.  It is very important that the median muscles of the levator ani (the puborectalis bundle) have good tone in order to actively support the bladder, and in ladies, the uterus. Weakness of this muscle is almost always the cause of prolapse or incontinence. As our bodies age, this becomes much more a potential issue. Rather than going down the road of shame and frustration, what if we practice appreciating the amazing job our pelvic floor is doing? After all, it is relatively new in our evolutionary history that we have been walking around with the spine in a vertical axis, and all the weight of our inner organs resting on the pelvic floor. This clever drawing from Eric Frankin’s book Pelvic Power illustrates this major shift. With care, we can strengthen this foundation, our true core, and support our vital organs, inner body length, radiant movement, and energetic resonance. pelvisevolutionMuladhara_Chakra_by_JewelOfSong

5. Muladhara Chakra. The pelvic floor energetically relates to our base chakra, Muladhara, the ROOT chakra. Symbolized by the four petals, it makes a square shape which corresponds to the anatomy of the perineum. Energetically: earth, survival, stability/ freedom organization, boundaries, safety, being grounded.  When there is balance and vitality here, we feel safe to take up space in the world, we feel at home in ourselves, able to know what our boundaries are, in relationships, in how much energy we can give… in how much we can receive.

6. Mula Bandha. Bandhas are techniques used in yoga to guide the flow of prana, vital life energy, through our being. There are 3 bandhas, and this Mula Bandha, meaning “Root Lock” can be felt as an energetic seal, valve, or lock, that allows the energy pouring down, “apana vaya,” to be contained and sent upwards. This feeds inner body length, an important element for the 2nd bandha, Uddiyana bandha, to be practiced. The multidimensional physical-energetic action of mula bandha is key to creating subtler relationships of freedom and equilibrium in our asana practice.  This work can then radiate into our life, nurturing an ability to be deliberate with the way we use our creative energy, with how we live and connectP1020497.

Centeredness can be a deep form of self love, acceptance, protection. This work can foster a sense of knowing your own center, your own power.

 

If you are interested in experiencing some of these yogic explorations in embodied awareness, and you are in or near Albuquerque NM, join me this Sunday May 4th 2-5 pm for the workshop at High Desert Yoga. Be sure to preregister online, on the phone, or in person. Or, let me know what you think, here, or on my facebook page. I love to learn about this topic and am curious what insights you have.

Benefits of Prenatal Partner Yoga and a Special Opportunity to Explore It!

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Prenatal Yoga is one of the most effective, safe, and enjoyable ways to increase comfort during pregnancy and prepare for an empowered birth. Partner Yoga offers a uniquely nurturing way to experience deeper awareness, strength, stability, and release. These two practices combine gracefully and can help to ease discomfort during pregnancy and prepare both mom and partner for birth.

Some Benefits of Partner Yoga as Birth Preparation:

~Increase body awareness, and the ability to breathe through the moment.

~Helps increase confidence in birth partners and their ability to support the birthing Mom.

~Partner assists allow for deeper release and organization in yoga poses, allowing for more effective relief from common issues that arise in the pregnant body, such as back pain, sciatica, leg cramps, leg swelling, acid reflux, exhaustion, stiff muscles, and/or insomnia.

~Explores touch as a gateway for the focus to move away from the mind (where fear resides) and into embodied presence.

~Releases Oxytocin, which assists in shifting out of fight/flight mode and into the parasympathetic mode, thus increasing feelings of safety, relaxation, pleasure, and connection. This shift is essential for labor hormones to be released and allow for the deepening intensity of contractions to build. Oxytocin is released in large amounts after distension of the cervix and uterus during labor, facilitating birthmaternal bonding, and, after birth, stimulation of the nipples, and lactation.

~Brings awareness to multiple areas of the body at once, helping to diffuse mental tension and refresh the nervous system.

~Allows for increased attention, insight, compassion, and gentle encouragement from the helping partner, which often allows the person performing the asana to feel safe to go deeper, gain new understanding on their alignment, or be able to experience subtle but key actions in the pose.

~Creates a fun, expressive experience of unity and trust between partners, and creates a nurturing time and space to connect with your new baby!

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Want to learn more? Join Emily and Avery for an upcoming Prenatal Partner Yoga Workshop Sunday, Feb 23, 2-5 pm at High Desert Yoga in Nob Hill, Albuquerque NM.  Both mom and partner will experience all poses, so that both can benefit from -and enjoy- dynamic active poses followed by gentle restorative poses. The workshop will include guided partner relaxation, focused connection with each other and your sweet baby, and experiential education about anatomy, the breath, and techniques you can use together to ease labor. Experience the healing, relaxing power of touch. Open to moms and any birth partner – husbands, dads, doulas, midwives, sisters, wives, etc. A great way to honor your journey together! Also open to birth professionals, yoga teachers, and yoga teacher trainees, who are looking for more hands on experience with safe techniques and assisted poses from pregnant moms. 

Register at High Desert Yoga.

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Koshas, Pratyahara, and Restorative Yoga for Detoxicification

In preparation for my upcoming workshop, “Body-Mind Detox with Restorative Yoga,” I am having a fun time exploring how to make some of the more traditional cleansing poses, such as marichayasana II, (pictured below) accessible to folks who don’t have the hip organization that would allow these deep forward bends and twists, which utilize tonifying pressure to release the vital organs. I am excited to explore these adaptions with my students: creative uses of props and self massage to mimic what my heel is doing here to bring deep release, and circulation to visceral body.

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In this workshop, however, we will be focusing on more than just physical cleansing. Vedic philosophy discusses 5 koshas, which are sheaths, or “layers”of our subjective being, and our yoga practice can affect all of the koshas. In this afternoon workshop, we will experientially explore, through the lens of the 5 koshas, supported, long held yoga poses combined with guided relaxation, journalling exercises, and breath work as a way to help release toxins, nourish, and heal. We will use guided pratyahara, or “sense withdrawal,” to bring the awareness deep within, honing our ability to sense subtlety. From here we will restore and cleanse. Physically let’s replenish the vital organs, nervous system, hormonal balance, and circulation. Emotionally, energetically, mentally, let’s let go of imbalanced patterns and destructive beliefs.

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Then from a centered space, we can create new reference points for being present, non-reactive, and vibrantly alive. Wonderful on its own, or as a supplement to your New Year’s cleansing/ health program, this workshop will leave you feeling deeply relaxed and freed up from burdens of the past.

This workshop will be appropriate for every body. Please wear warm, non-restrictive clothing, and if possible bring a glass/cup you like and a journal. Purified water with organic lemon, chloroxygen water, and blood purifying herbal tea will be available throughout the workshop.

Experience it! Saturday, Feb.1st 2‐5pm

Cost: $40 pre-registered, $45 at the door. (Plus tax)

Register at our studio in Albuquerque NM, call 505.232.9642, or sign up at highdesertyoga.com

Avery Kalapa relaxing in Setu Bandha Sarvangasnana
Avery Kalapa relaxing in Setu Bandha Sarvangasnana