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. 


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

heartstrings flier 2014 image

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 to make an appointment.

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


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.

Femur Grounding: Understanding More About This Key to Stability.

Organizing the femur in the hip socket is foundational to nearly every other action we explore in our yoga practice. Similar to “quieting the mind,” femur grounding is not an action we do, and then it is done, rather it is like a search for a holy grail in that it is a

normal_hipmoment to moment awareness, a sense that develops over time, and that is key to shifting other patterns in the body, nervous system, and mind. The term and concept of “grounding the femur” was taught to me by my primary teacher, Kim Schwartz, who learned it from Ramanand Patel, a student of BKS Iyengar.

I hope you develop awareness of this experiment in hip stability and take it into you day, when you drive, stand in line at the bank, and sit at your workspace.  As you play with getting grounded as you move through your life, you will shift away from the habitual/ familiar and into a more free, deliberate, healthy and capable way of being in your body. The ability to experience the following list of actions and releases depend on the femur being grounded.  Finding this action alone will not create all the results on this list, such as inner body length, but it is an essential component for these experiences to be successfully explored.

Some Benefits of “Grounding the Femur”

-Ability to relax the inner organs. When the inner organs hold habitual tension, the breath is inhibited and circulation through the vital systems decrease. As the visceral body relaxes both circulation and breath become more full, healthy, and effective. 

-The illio psoas can lengthen, which is key to releasing the kidney area and finding balance in the nervous system. If the psoas is tight, this can “pull” on the kidney area, creating restriction and over-stimulating the adrenal glands. 

-The neutral curves of the spine are supported. 

-The angle of the pelvis allows sacrum to sit in a stable position.

-The ligaments in the groin area are protected from being over stretched. 

-The femoral artery, which delivers blood to the lower body, has space; this artery is compressed when the femurs push forward, hardening the groins. Because of this, restless leg syndrome, and issues with numbness and circulation can be assisted by femur grounding.

 -The sciatic nerve has healthy support and is not compressed. If the femurs are pushed forward, the sacrum is often destabilized,  so the periformis tends to grip up in compensation, compressing the sciatic nerve, (one cause of sciatica) which can be painful. 

 –The knees are protected from hyperextension, if the knees tend towards this pattern which is damaging for the knee joint over time. 

-The bones of the legs transfer weight to the earth effectively, minimizing strain on the joints of the lower body. Femur grounding also helps allow the bones, which are constantly regenerating and reforming themselves, to develop in a healthy, thick, strong form.

-Healthy weight distribution in the feet become possible, allowing the heels to bear the weight of the body so that the metatarsals in the feet can broaden and the toes can spread wide, helping avoid or diminish bunions and other issues in the feet. 

-The lower body is stable so that the spine, shoulders, and neck, and head position can also become grounded, spacious, and at ease. 

-Inner body length is possible, which creates groin length, decompresses the intervertebral discs, and allows for subtler yogic techniques to be performed effectively, such as the 3 bandhas (energy locks, or valves) and pranayama (regulation of the breath)

-Access to good organization, pelvic floor strength, and the lift out of gravity required for active inversions like sarvangasnana (“no limbs pose,” or shoulder stand) and sirasasana (headstand) and more complex asanas, such as large backbends like urdva danurasansa (upward bow pose).

-We feel supported and centered in the body, which allows us to be more focused, aware, calm, grounded, and available, emotionally and psychologically. 

(This list reflects my personal experience and learning, and is not intended as medical advice or treatment. Yoga can be a wonderful compliment to allopathic treatment but if you suffer from a medical condition please consult your doctor.)

   Helpful Definitions &Terms:

 Femur: The thigh bone. Femur Grounding: The action of drawing the inner head of the femur into the center back of the hip socket. To find an example of this feeling in your own body, stand in tadasana, and hold a yoga block between the upper thighs. Make sure the joints of the legs are parallel. Pull the block back between the thighs, like you are trying to push it back towards the wall behind you. Notice if the knees are trying to do this action,

BKS Iyengar's tadasana
BKS Iyengar’s tadasana

and resist the calves forward into the shins as you move the inner head of the femur back. This will deepen the groins, align the leg bones over the center of the heels, and increase lumbar lordosis. Now for the other half of the equation: without pushing the block forward, SQUEEZE the block, like you are trying to crush it. This action should engage the upper thighs, bottom buttocks, and the space between the sitting bones, the lateral pelvic floor. Notice how these combined actions create a strong base from which the spine can rise up out of, particularly in the kidney area. Use this as a reference point for the action in the legs in tadasana, as well as many other poses. 

Ligaments: Strong, fibrous connective tissues that connect bone to bone. Unlike muscles that engage and release, ligaments should not be stretched out, since they will not “go back.”  The ligaments that connect to the head of the femur include the iliofemoral ligaments, which limit hyperextension and lateral/ external rotation, the pubofemoral Joints-and-Ligaments5ligament which limits extension and abduction, and the ischiofemoral ligament which limits extension and medial/ internal rotation. The deeper we can organize the femur on the socket, the more these ligaments can do their job of holding this deeply stable joint in place while supporting healthy range of motion. If the organization is compromised, for instance when flexibility without alignment is forced upon the body, these ligaments become over-lengthened, which strains them and makes their job harder, resulting in various individualized patterns of muscular tightening throughout the hips, including sometimes, in the muscles of the pelvic floor, which can alter the symmetry and stability of the pelvic girdle. We want to protect the ligaments from getting stretched so that they can do their job of binding the inner head of the femur into that perfectly formed acetabulum, or, inner surface of the hip socket. When they are safe, healthy muscular and joint mobility will increase in a more healthy, effective manner.

Groin Depth: Occurs from the femur moving back in the hip socket. Untucking the sitting bones or bringing the pelvis into an anterior tilt doesn’t on it’s own create groin depth, but it is the first step in creating space for groin depth to happen.

Emily assisting me in a very grounding version of supta hasta padangustasana. Notice how the femur is becoming more grounded in 2 dimensions, both from the belt creating groin length, and our combined work (her pressing down and my leg bones extending up) is creating groin depth.

Groin Length: Occurs because of inner body length. Whereas groin depth is more in the plane of front-to-back, groin length refers to length along the vertical axis. We want both groin length and groin depth, though depth precedes length. Sometimes this action can be sensed as vertical “spaciousness” in the hip joint, where the head of the femur is no longer grinding against the top of the acetabulum. This action is important, when we consider that often when a hip replacement takes place the head of the femur as well as the top frontal region of the acetabulum have to be rebuilt. This inner body length includes length in the kidney area and the lift of the inner walls of the rib cage and sternum. Groin length relates to udyiana, or the 2nd bandha, which translates as “flying up.”

Lateral Femur Grounding: Once groin depth and length have been established, then containing the outer head of the femur, or greater trochanter, in medially (towards the midline) is an important dimension to explore. Especially if you stand with one hip pushed out the the side, possibly with a toddler sitting on top, you may be able to get a sense of the strain this can put on the hip joint. In standing poses, watch for the front leg, does the hip want to “lean out” beyond where the ankle and knee are? Strong thighs and bottom buttocks help to create containment here, so that the tension of compensating muscles groups can release, supporting healthy range of motion and stability.

Adduction: Moves the leg medially, in towards the midline of the body.

Abduction: Moves the leg away from the body. The leg can abduct or adduct either in neutral, external, or internal rotation.

Flexion: In the spine, flexion means the back of the spine is longer than the front, as in a forward bend. In hip flexion, imagine a tiny spine in the front of your hip joint: the front of the hip joint is very deeply folded. During poses with deep hip flexion, inner body length/ groin length is important.

Extension: In the spine, this means the front spine is longer or more open than the back spine, like in a backbend. When we say hip extension, the groin area is lengthening and opening wide. In poses which require this action femur grounding is very important to support the length of the spine.

Neutral Spine: The spine is healthiest and has the most length when it has a curvaceous shape. There are 4 parts of the spine: The cervical (neck), thoracic (where the ribs connect), lumbar (lower spine) and the sacral (5 or so fused vertebrae which comprise the sacrum, and the coccyx at the very bottom). The cervical and lumbar regions curvespine_anatomy inward, in extension, and the thoracic and sacral areas curve outwards, or in flexion. So, the intervertebral discs have the most space when they are in their curved shape. The amount of curve depends on everyones unique spine. Ideally, we want to cultivate the deepest lumber extension at the base of the L4 L5, (NOT the kidney area which is more common for most folks) and the deepest thoracic flexion at the mid thoracic region, around T6. The curve of the lumbar echos the curve of the cervical: we want T1 deep, and L5 deep. When one is out, the other most likely is compromised. For many bodies, checking to see if L4/L5 area is in is a good sign that the femurs are back in the hip sockets.

2608_Kidney_Position_in_AbdomenKidney Area: Describes the physical and energetic area around the T12-L1 juncture, where the fist-sized kidneys are located, tucked up under the back of the lower ribs. Energetically, this area corresponds to manipura chakra, which mean “city of jewels,” and relates to fire, passion, and willpower, and when tight, can create feelings of force, anger, or aggression, leading to fatigue. Kidney gripping relates to over stimulated adrenal glands, as the adrenals are located as thought “sitting” on top of the kidneys.

Asana: A stable, comfortable posture.

Ayurvedic terms: Dosha: in Ayurvedic medicine, one of the three biological humors or energies (kapha, pitta, vata) which combine in various proportions to determine individual constitution and mental and physical disorders. We can look at many things in terms of the 3 doshas: Body types, weather, areas on the planet, foods, types of yoga practice. In sanskrit: “fault, disease.” Vata: Relates to air/ ether, movement, change. People with high vata are irregular and erratic, with appetite and sexual desire varying between extremes. They sleep lightly, are easily disturbed and prone to insomnia. Their speech and movement is usually fast, and they are talkative and enjoy all forms of communication. Their pulse is fast, weak and irregular. They dislike cold, windy or dry environments and feel chilled quickly or shiver easily. Extremities (hands and feet) are often cold, or become cold easily.  Mentally and emotionally they are rapid. They gather information or display emotions quickly, or determine swiftly whether they like or dislike something. While they learn quickly and are usually intellectual, their retention is poor. Money is spent quickly and impulsively. They demonstrate high creativity, innovation and sensitivity. In excess, vata can show up as anxiety, feeling scattered, overwhelmed, spread too thin, indecision, rushing around while exhausted, accidents due to multitasking, exhaustion, constipation… ultimately feeling ungrounded. Poses and practices which ground the femur are very effective for quieting vata, physically, emotionally, and psychologically. I regularly teach an afternoon worlshop on femur grounding. Please see my current listings under the classes and workshops section to view my upcoming classes.

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.


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.


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

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

Yoga for Self Love…?

P1020670This weekend’s workshop, Self Love Through Yoga, may seem like a nice thought… but what will this look like in terms of practice, and experience?

When we perceive our thoughts, feelings and actions to be “good,” it’s easy to “love” ourselves, or at least feel capable of receiving  love, appreciation, acceptance, or attention. These feelings build up a healthy form of ego, an ability to appreciate oneself independently of any comparison of competition with an external frame of reference. (In a cosmic sense, the ego, that perspective of separation of the self from all that is “other,” can be a hinderance to our realization of wholeness; however for the purposes of this discussion, in the context of our human existence, having a healthy sense of self, so that we can be capable and responsible, keeps us balanced and available to connect outside ourselves, rather than swinging into the extremes of self obsession, either by placing ourselves way below or way above other people.)

However, when we only feel deserving of love when we judge ourselves as “good,” then anytime we feel our “goodness” is challenged either by others, or our own self, this conditional form of self love diminishes. Because the human mind often generates discontentment, and tends to focus on what needs work, what is “wrong”… we can get stuck in ruts where on some deep, hidden level, we believe we don’t deserve love and appreciation unless we are “good,” perfect… and this self criticism loop tends to bind our attention to ourselves, so we have less attention for the people we love, our projects, our work, our dreams.

When we can learn to appreciate ourselves, even when we are face to face with a challenge: a mistake we have made, an unpleasant emotion, a situation that points to our lack of intelligence, sensitivity, or skill, THEN, we are building our ability to love ourselves. When we are challenged is often when we most need love. This moment of compassion can create the shift we need (often by diminishing our resistance to experiencing what is there) and the external world shifts too: we discover a step we can take to make things right, have insight towards a solution, or have some more space emotionally to breathe through what is there.

In our yoga practice, we can change the nervous system’s patterns in terms of  how we react internally to challenge. If a pose is physically, emotionally, or psychologically challenging, we can either go into self criticism, or pause, breathe, back up, and observe, working through the re-patterning with awareness, creating a new way, breath by breath. This process is more accessible when we are not rushed, and if we feel safe to be in our process. This is one reason why the goal of organization, rather than range of motion, in our asana practice serves us greatly.

Asana can affect our ability to sense, release resistance to, and even appreciate, where we are at in our journey. Through practice over time, and even in just one session of asana practice, we can gain a palpable sense of how much more stable and grounded we feel through organizing the bones -the inner scaffolding- so that the soft tissues can release, the organs can cleanse though increased circulation, the breath becomes more available, creating a sense of lightness, and wellbeing, etc. By aligning our physical form, the way prana moves through us is altered, allowing us to shift out of old patterns and into more neutral perspectives.  These practices also affect our mind’s dialog of self assessment partly by interrupting the inner critic, and also by quieting the nervous system and releasing tension patterns associated with emotional stress and feelings of failure, anxiety, or regret.

In my workshop this Saturday, I am excited to explore with students, first creating a safe internal space. Restorative forward bends, warmth, darkness, and an embryonic begining will establish a home base in the nervous system. From there we will gradually branch out into stability work, to support us in lengthening versions of backbends, which not only have an energizing, joyful affect, but also can be a bit scary and confrontational, so that in a slow and safe manner we can explore loving ourselves through the challenge of opening.


Another way to look at this sense of appreciation is through the niyama santosha, contentment. Through growing and changing, moving through feelings, challenges, highs, and lows, this healthy form of self love helps us have compassion for ourselves as we change and grow, and therefore compassion for others. Our relationships with others echo the ways we relate to ourselves. As we cultivate and strengthen our ability to accept and love ourselves through the ups and downs, we can more fully love and give attention to our lovers, partners, family, and community.

Yoga as Survival

Our human life expects so much of us. All these tender layers of self, moving through a vast, complex world. And especially now, when we have had little time to evolve to cope with the pace, technological stimulation, societal structures, expectations, and chemical environment of our modern world; when so much has changed in the last 100 years, and yet we are born into life with the same skill set as centuries prior…. how do flourish, how do we survive?

One of our main survival techniques as humans (soft, fleshy, humans…) is our ability to adapt. We can shift and change to be able to function when confronted by a plethora of different challenges. Adaptability has its problems, of course, when we give up our center to allow something else to affect our energy, our experience.  Yet claiming this ability to shift and bend to meet the challenges of our world is a dynamic skill.

The practice of yoga gives us the opportunity to adapt in ways so that we do not have to lose our essential aspects of humaness. Our tenderness,  our subtle intelligence, our ability to heal and integrate, and to really love… these are crucial aspects of our ability to be fully awake and alive. The asana we practice, which re-calibrates the nervous system, cleanses and revitalizes the organs and blood, quiets the sympathetic response and habituated tension patterns, stabilizes the structure of our bodies and matrix of our minds… this practice truly allows us to relate and thrive in this wild, contemporary world. We can be engaged in our lives, fully, and through our practice replenish our inner reservoirs again and again. Staying connected to our center, our place of power, through the many changes and challenges we face.

Of course, we stray, we have moments and even chunks of time when the storms are passing through us, the screen time and caffeine and competition takes its toll, our emotions run amuck, our vrritis become tsunamis of fluctuation… and then we come back. We re-establish what the boundaries are, the containers, for ourselves in this world. We fine tune our alignment, and reprogram the pathways of prana. We take time to feel what is really there. And through the practice of yoga, breath by breath, day by day, we rekindle that balance of being engaged in the world, and centered within ourselves. P1020429


Pincha Mayurasana Thoughts: Motivations for Stability

As we dive into the new year, I have been enjoying a return to the structure and routine of daily life, and the psychological stability that gives. Around the time of solstice my practice became more restorative, introspective, and a way to assimilate the flurry of holiday experiences. While I like to keep a thread of restoration throughout the winter months, the tide of “fresh start” feelings generated in our cultures psyche around New Years has awaked in my body a desire to work muscularly; create stability physically as well as in my mind.


Today I loved practicing some variations of pincha mayurasana (peacock feather pose: a forearm stand inversion) which has profoundly stabilizing affects on the shoulder girdle. When the humerus are grounded, serratus anterior and rhomboid muscles supporting lateral expansion through the chest, and skeletal alignement sound, this pose creates strong foundation for sirsasana, and a lasting after effect of width and lift through the shoulder girdle and upper chest. The mental and emotional mirrors of stability in the shoulders reveal feeling confident, bright, capable, and calm.

I often practice this pose holding on to the base of a folding chair, but today explored stretching my palms wide rather than gripping the chair with the hands. (A fellow student in Kim Schwartz’s delicious Tuesday morning level 2 class had the idea, and we all tried it out after some exploration…)  The outstretched palms of the hands, still held against the chair, faced each other in this version. (They faced each other rather than down, as in the full pose. This allowed for less challenge to the external rotation in the upper arms and thus thus the opening in the chest and upper lungs, than if the lower arms were in complete internal rotation, as in the full pose.) This set up felt more challenging psychologically, but created the shoulders to become much more stable, and allowed my chest to open more than when hands, and thus chest, were gripping. Because of this alignment in the shoulders, the foundation of the pose was stable enough that I could articulate pelvic floor strength to lengthen the kidney area and traction the spine upwards, reaching through the inner heels. To find the subtle key awakenings of alignment in the body, (and therefore all the unseen realms, as well) allows so many other components of our work and experience to integrate. The expansion, and freedom, becomes possible through stability. After working in pincha mayurasana for a while, we practiced chakrasana, a pose I find quite challenging. But from awakening the stability in my arms and shoulders, this experience was accessible  and the effects permeated into all the levels of my being, sending the waves of shift and transformation deep within. The unknown comes into the known. Breath by breath, anything is possible.

home circling

(avery at high desert yoga, new mexico, november 2012)

in the space we create internally, there is that silent neutral, beyond temporality and our ((mis))identification with it, a place of home in the equilibrium resonating inside. how do we taste this silent center? what practices bring us into the space where we can simultaneously ascend//descend into ourselves? how do we experience that threshold, where is that tender edge, where we loose touch, and how long do we go in the haze of karmic pattern, the prana rivers flooding deeper into those familiar canyons, before we realize we have been swept away in the momentum? calling ourselves back, again and again, back to the breath, THIS breath,  back to this moment, back to the work at hand, the lover gazing into our eyes, the sink of dishes, the curve of the road ahead, the crying child needing attention, the interface of our body and the pose… at home in the moment, we have all we need to do what needs to be done.

Pranic Alignment

Recently, I had the pleasure co-teaching a workshop with Judy Mortellaro exploring entry points to experience prana and creating our physical asana based on this energetic alignment.

When we practice yoga, many times the main focus is on the outer layer of our being: our physical bodies. However, the shift we feel in the subtler layers (or koshas) –our energy levels, our emotions, our thoughts, and our connection to center– reveal how interconnected and dynamic the effects of yoga are to our whole being. How do we access understanding to these subtler realms? What IS the connection between the body and the mind? When we begin to explore prana, from an experiential level, we can gain insight into the dynamic relationship between the body (ana maya kosha) and these subtler layers. As we learn to feel/navigate the inner map of how energy flows, we can create our poses, and our movement through the world, from an inner listening to how the energy moves, and what combination awareness, action, and release guides the prana into a balanced flow.

Prana is the current of life. “Pra” mean consistency, “na” means life force. Prana flows through all that is alive, and is what’s missing from the body when we die. Prana is the electromagnetic field that animates and coordinates the tides of consciousness, the subatomic dance of particles and waves, the cells, the body, the systems of life on earth, and the greater universal movements and rhythms. It is what moves the breath in and out of our bodies. The circulation of fluids and the body, the currents of response echoing throughout the nervous system, the patterns of thoughts and feelings we experience, all are facets of these different layers of our being, all of which reflect how prana is moving –or not moving– through us.
Just as a river carves the earth, and creates the pathway for the movement of its waters, our habitual ways of breathing, moving, thinking, and feeling carve the path within us that guides where the prana will flow. As we develop a felt sense of these pathways of energy moving through the body, we can learn to sense where and how to open the flood gates, and where we need to contain that flow, to create balance. A crucial element to this work is, of course, the pelvic floor. As we open to cultivate apana vayu, the downward grounding  flow of prana, of energy, creating a container for our energy, sending it upward through prana vayu, becomes exciting and empowering work. Through exploring these patterns to learn what biases exist, and using yoga practice to re-organize our multi dimensional selves, we can align our bodies, minds and spirits with the greater rhythms of pranic movement, creating vital harmony within, and in the world around us.