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. 


Yoga and Your Pelvic Floor

PELVIC FLOOR PART ONE fall '14 imageLast summer, I attended Leslie Howard’s amazing Yoga for the Pelvic Floor Teacher Training, and though I knew it would be inspiring, I didn’t realize how the training would completely change the way I think about the pelvic floor and it’s context, the greater body and self. Most current cultural beliefs on pelvic floor –and even the attitude of many yoga teachers and practitioners–  are based along some level of assumption that this area is weak, and needs more tone.

The “pelvic floor” (although truly, it is more of a “dome” than a floor; only cadavers have hammock shaped pelvic floors…!) refers to the dynamic layers of muscle which span the inner pelvis. Pop culture would have most women believe that ladies are too “loose,” and need more tone in the pelvic floor, but that’s not true. This patriarchal belief system would also would have men think it’s better not to relate to -much less discuss and learn to sense- the pelvic floor, unless they have learned about Mula Bhanda, which is often misunderstood as “squeeze everything down below,” which for many folks means tightening an already gripped up area. (Mula Bandha (“root lock”) is an ancient, powerful, esoteric yogic technique aimed at containing and lifting kundalini energy through the central channel, or sushumna nadi. For most people, if this were actually to occur it would probably result in a psychological breakdown. In some modern yoga classes Mula Bhanda is taught casually and interchangeable with lifting the pelvic floor muscles.) But I digress. We want to have healthy tone, of course, but in the context of healthy skeletal support, through functional posture and position in the pelvis, where the pelvic floor muscles can relax, receive good circulation, and when needed, contract effectively.

While some people have hypotonic pelvic floor muscles, where lack of tone and postural misalignment cause issues, many people (even postpartum moms!) have too much tone in the pelvic floor muscles, and because of that tightness, the pelvic muscles are weak. When this area is not able to be both strong and relaxed, serious health issues can develop. 

What about Kegels?  Leslie says, kegels are “urethra-sphincter-centric, 60 years old, and named after a guy.” When people try to do Kegels they are usually indiscriminately gripping, often focussed on the action of “stopping pee,” constricting the urethra. Pelvic floor yoga is focussed more on learning to sense the 3 layers of muscle that make up the pelvic floor, create functional alignment in our structure to support this area, and then using specific actions, poses, and breath work to release and/or tone those muscles so that they can function optimally, with good circulation, strength, and the ability to be very strong AND relax fully as appropriate.

We can practice yoga for the pelvic floor in nearly every pose…

But wait, which poses are the right ones for you? If Leslie’s hypertonicity/ hypotonicity approach rings true to you, as you may have guessed, if you are on the tighter side, or looser side, (and this may change depending on which layer of muscle you are focussing on) your work will be quite different depending on what you need, since you have a specific goal, in any given pose. When we practice specifically for our body’s needs to address the challenges and asymmetries that have developed, then our yoga practice can truly become transformative and healing.

The first step to pelvic floor yoga is to deepen you relationship with your own pelvis and pelvic floor muscles. Being able to sense the area is key. So let’s take a quick look at anatomy.

pelvis-e1375218459750Imagine the pelvic floor as a diamond shape. Feeling down to the sitting bones, also called the ischial tuberosities, will give you a sense of the sides of your diamond. The bottom tip of the tailbone in back (the coccyx) and the public bone in front (the pubic syphisis) create the back and front of your diamond.

The first (outermost, or bottom) layer of the pelvic floor muscles are called the bulbospongiosus muscle in men, and the bulbocavernosis muscle in women, although both terms have been used in the past for either gender. This beautiful figure-eight shaped muscle attaches to the pubic symphisis in front, loops around the front opening where the genitals are, connects to the perineum, and then loops around the anal sphincter in back where it attaches to the coccyx. The perineum acts as an anchoring point to all three layers of muscle.from

 The second layer the transverse perineal muscles. These 2 muscles span the lateral dimension left and right, attaching to the perineum (or “central tendon,” located right in the middle of the diamond) to the sitting bones on either side.

pelvic floorThe third, inner most layer is called the levator ani, which is made up of different bundles, woven together to create a broad sheet, or “parachute” shape which, when healthy, moves with the breath between a mild concave and convex position, mirroring the dome of the diaphragm below the lungs, and the soft the palette in the back of the throat.  The levator ani attaches at the front, inside the pubic symphisis, then by the obturator faschia, it connects to the inner surface of the spine of the ishium, or, the surface of the inner circle of the pelvis, and in back, it connects to the bottom two “segments” (remember, the coccyx is fused into one bone) of the tailbone.

Feeling down to the pelvic floor with your awareness and your hands is a good way to start. (At the bottom of this post is instruction for self massage.) In my pelvic floor workshop, we spend a lot of time learning how to sense the 3 layers and get a feel for where these muscles are on the hypotonic-hypertonic continuum. Just like in the the rest of the body, many folks have a combination of gripping and laxity.

HYPERTONICITY: Too much gripping. If you have urge incontinence (where you feel like you have to pee all the time but not much comes out), pelvic pain in men (pain may stem from tight pelvic floor muscles as well as issues in the prostate) and women — vulvadinia (external pain) or vaginal pain, vaginismus (where the first 2 layers of the pelvic floor get so tight penetration is impossible), lichen sclerosus (an autoimmune disease that creates scar tissue around the genitals in men and women), irritable bowel syndrome, or interstitial cystitis, you most likely tend towards some hypertonicity. Although there have been no studies I know of on the subject, there may even be a link between gripping in the pelvic floor and prostate cancer.

HYPOTONICITY: Not enough tone. If you have stress incontinence (where pee leaks out when you don’t have a full bladder and need to pee, such as on a trampoline or when you cough… this can also happen with poo…), or prolapsed organs (where the pelvic organs, most commonly the uterus, press down and sometimes fall through the vagina or anus) this means you need more strength. Many women who have had babies experience issues from underactive pelvic floor muscles. Learning how to sense and strengthen these muscles, and have a healthy anterior tilt (not tucking the tail under) in the pelvis is key to avoid these issues becoming exacerbated later in life.

Here is an example of two different ways of working with one pose; the first version for releasing, softening, and inviting breath through the inner pelvis, the other is for increasing tone. Consider studying with Leslie or me if you are want more hands on experience… this is just the tip of the iceberg.

 As an example, lets explore Bound Angle Pose.
Avery in Supta Badha Konasana with 3 blankets, a bolster, and 2 sandbags.

For Relaxing: Supta Badha Konasana: With a bolster to support the spine and head, pillow under the head, rolled blanket to support each leg, sandbag on each upper thigh.

Important Cues: Take time to allow yourself to settle, spread out completely, and shift away from thought, and in to feel the body from the inside. Watch how easily the mind becomes distracted, critical, or analytical, and keep returning to the breath, and the feeling of it’s nurturing, effortless rhythm. Soften the root of the tongue, so that it becomes more fluid and passive, allow the throat to become round, relaxed, spacious, and release the soft pallet. This will assist the lower belly and inner pelvis to relax and receive the breath, so that the inhalations can descend, broadening and expanding, down through the lower belly, and down into the inner pelvis, all the way in to the layers of the pelvic floor. Exhaling, allow everything to relax in towards the naval center. Over time, allow the pelvic floor to become more and more receptive to the effortless, smooth, easy movement of the inner breath. Fully receive the cleansing, gentle inner massage of the breath, the irrigation of fresh circulation flooding the vital organs. Keep exploring what else can let go. 

How it helps: Softening the throat and the soft pallet helps release the visceral body, the tongue particularly relates to the lower belly and pelvic organs. Feeling down into the pelvis to invite softening and receptivity can help this area relax and increase awareness of what is happening in the pelvic floor. One of the specific gifts of this pose, when we use props to fully support the yielding of the body,  is the increase of breath and movement to the abdominal and pelvic region. Restorative poses are important for  establishing relaxation in the nervous system, which gives us a doorway inward to sense the subtler layers of our being.  As BKS Iyengar says, “We can rise above our own limitations, only once we recognize them.”

For Toning: Badha Konasana: Sitting at a wall, use a rolled blanket support wedged firmly behind the sacrum. As needed, give support to the outer legs with blankets, wedges, or blocks.

 FullSizeRender  Important cues: Strongly press the heels together. As the inner thighs extend outward, from the pubic symphysis towards the inner knees, draw the out thighs in towards the out hips, creating a conveyer belt effect of muscular external rotation. Bring the awareness down to the inner pelvis, sensing the 4 corners of the “diamond:” the pelvic floor attaches to the sitting bones on the side, the pubic bone on front, and the coccyx in back…and the perineum serves as an anchor for all the layers of pelvic floor muscle at the center of the diamond. Explore receiving the breath into the pelvic floor on the inhalations, and then as you exhale, draw the sides of the diamond, the sitting bones, muscularly IN towards the perineum. Imagine the line between the sitting bones becoming thicker and shorter. Repeat for several breaths, releasing on the inhales, engaging on the exhales. Then try the 2nd layer: Draw the front and back of the diamond in towards the center. After several cycles, try all 4 corners at once. Where they meet in the middle lift upwards, as though you could lift along a central channel that extends up through the body, all the way through the crown of the head. Lastly, if this is going well, explore a few rounds holding this tone through an inhalation and exhalation, releasing in between rounds to let any habitual tension. Especially watch for the belly, keep it relaxed! It will try to ump on board to hep, but that will only create compression and tuck the pelvis.  Explore lifting the pelvic floor while keeping the jaw and inner organs soft. The anal sphincter may come along for the ride, but specify the origin of the action in the muscles and perineum. 

How it helps: Using the blanket supports the untucked position of the pelvis, the stability of the sacrum, and gives feedback if the pelvis is tucking instead of the pelvic floor muscles engaging, which is common amongst beginners; if the pelvic floor is engaging students may be able to sense the sacrum pulling into the body, not pushing towards the wall. Pressing the heels awakens strength and stability, while exploring these incremental pelvic floor exercises builds tone, as well as awareness in layers one and two of the pelvic floor. This pose increases circulation to the pelvic organs and pelvic floor, and the action of externally rotating the legs predisposes the strength in the pelvic floor.

I hope you these poses give some insight to your practice. If you have any questions, answers, revelations, let me know! I love learning about how yoga practice can nourish us.

Pelvic Floor Self Massage

Massage is a great way to gain awareness, and relax pelvic floor muscles. Here are some tips.

Make sure you are warm, can relax, and won’t be disturbed. Lube or oil may help increase comfort, especially if you are exploring inside the anus. Where ever you are going to massage, it’s a good idea to gently touch around the external body first, to warm up your hands, hone your awareness, and relax the pelvic area. External massage for the inner sitting bones can be a nice place to start. Relax the jaw, tongue, throat, to help release down below. Remember you are receiving a massage: shift into receptivity, relaxation.

Find the perineum, and explore it’s soft texture, before increasing pressure. Establish an attitude of reverent curiosity, rather than trying to push towards some end result. Remain receptive to your body’s feedback.

If you are massaging inside the anus, massage the anal sphincter to help it relax, and once it softens, entrance will be much easier. If it feels tight or painful, don’t force it, but massage more externally, while softening and relaxing the body with your exhalations. Once the anal sphincter releases enter slowly. Press the finger around the inner curve, feeling the flu 360 degree area. There is much you can feel through the soft, thin wall of the anus.

If you are massaging inside a vagina, use your thumb to find layer one, since the fingers can get lost in the many different areas and textures.

Feel the inner perineum, then see if you can locate layer one, the figure 8 loop, and layer two, the transverse perineal muscles, on either side. See if they feel tight, or soft. Compare left and right. Pressing into the muscle and releasing, move from the center out to the sides, and back in. Notice if working on one side for a minute effects it compared to the other side. See if you can feel the inner shape of the pelvis, and the ischial tuberosities from the inside. Feel towards the back of the inner anal sphincter, and along the labia, or around the base of the penis. Look at anatomy drawings to help you visualize the layers of muscle. Fingers can reach deeper into either opening. Explore circular motions, to sense the different areas. Notice which parts feel restricted or resistant, and which areas feel soft. Make a note of how this changes day to day, week to week. Mull over what activities and life experiences are affecting your pelvic floor muscles.

At the end of your exploration, take some time to hold your hands softly over this area and let that warmth of your hands help you to emanate gratitude and healing to the inner pelvis: organs, muscles, genitals. Thank yourself for taking time for this important self care.

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


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.

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



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!

P1070613 P1070622 P1070646 P1070627 P1070637

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.

PRENATAL partner yoga flier 2:14

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 Hot Sex // Relaxation for Pleasure and Orgasm

Join me for 2 special mini-workshops at Self Serve Sexuality Resource Center!


Wed Oct 30, 2013: YOGA FOR HOT SEX


Both classes are 7:30-9pm at the Self Serve Store in Nob Hill, Albuquerque. Preregister HERE or call 505-265-5815.

avery blissed....

Yoga practice can create access to your ability to feel what is happening in the body, strengthen your confidence in your body/ mind ability, balance hormones, build awareness, tone, and ability to relax the pelvic floor muscles and pelvic & abdominal organs, increase circulation and oxygen to various vital systems, including the endocrine and sexual/ reproductive systems, neutralize the nervous system, which enables increase of both mental/ physical/ emotional relaxation (parasympathetic nervous system response) and simultaneously, sexual excitement/ tension (sympathetic nervous system response), build emotional stability, give insight to what and where are your “edges,” increase feelings of vitality, vigor, and enthusiasm to experience new things, and help support feelings of gratitude, selflove, compassion, and connection, and creativity.

Guiding Principles

Relaxation opens the gateway to pleasure and orgasm.

Mental Distraction takes us away from our bodily awareness, out of the present moment, and dilutes the intensity and availability of feeling turned on/ pleasure, and challenges out ability to connect with intuition, and our partner(s). The mind habitually will wander; Focus/ Awareness takes practice. Be compassionate with yourself and, as possible, be entertained by the mind, rather than get critical/ frustrated with it.

Sound (especially when long and low toned) helps release the throat/pelvic floor, lengthens exhalation and therefore quiets the nervous system, channels focus/ energy, intensifies pleasure sensations, helps release endorphins, and can assist orgasmic release. Also great for claiming space and giving positive feedback to partners!

Playful Curiosity is a great way to deepen into sexual discovery. Don’t confuse Sincerity with Seriousness. Let what feels good and fun guide you. Keep shifting back into the body’s feedback loop and away from the narrative of the mind.

Stability and Freedom are 2 sides of 1 coin. The more we feel stable, safe, organized, and grounded, the more we can truly let go, get vulnerable, expand, and get ecstatic.

~Stabilize with:

~ Presence building practices, Yoga practice, and physical support (inside: strength, body awareness. outside: props, pillows, walls…)

~ Pelvic Floor Work: healthy tone, awareness and strength

~ Femur grounding to support gentle release of the psoas, pelvic organs, and pelvic floor muscles.

~ Alignment (in our bodies, as well as with our partners)

~ Slowing down to feel what is there.

~ Good, Clear Boundaries and Agreements

Ahisma: Non violence Santosha: Contentment

Bramacharya: Respectful, Healthy Utilization of Sexual Energy

Svadyaya: Self Study (internal learning) Samadhi: Total Freedom/ Bliss/ Self Realization

(from Yamas & Niyamas, the foundations of yoga: in our minds, bodies, and with others)

Exploring embodied sexuality may bring up fears or triggers, yet the very techniques of presence, breath, and feeling through what is there, can be effective ways to release layers of tension, trauma, heavy emotionality, or resistance.

photo (1)
Here is a drawing I created for the class. Enjoy!
#yogaforhotsex #yoga #queeryoga #averykalapa

Fall News: Partner Yoga and Some New Classes!

Emily and I will be teaching a fun, playful, yummy Partner Yoga Workshop Saturday, Oct 19th 2-5pm at High Desert Yoga. P1060399_3What could be a better way to spend an afternoon than with nourishing, grounding, playful, delicious assisted poses? Practicing with a partner is one of the most effective ways to experience the aim and meaning of yoga – union – union of mind and body, of self and others, and with the eternal Self that resides in each of us.

In this playful workshop, partners will learn to assist each other in going more deeply into a variety of asana, including standing postures, forward folds, backbends, and twists. The practice will be at turns invigorating, playful, and restorative. Find a partner at the workshop or bring your friend, lover, or yoga buddy. Expect to challenge your limits, connect with your inner self, and connect with the people around you as we continue together on the path to unity.

A partner’s touch can provide strength, awaken insight, invite release, or simply bring a deeper awareness of the present moment – awareness of breath, body, and mind; awareness of habitual patterns, attitudes, and emotions. You and your partner will help each other expand beyond the limits of habit, challenge assumptions, and perhaps move into postures that might otherwise seem inaccessible. Working together, we will cultivate compassionate trust in ourselves and each other. All levels and body types welcome, queer friendly, beginner friendly. Ages 12 to 102!

Price options: Pre-registered: $35 per person, $65 for two. Day of: $40 per person, $75 for two.  Preregister in person at the studio, call 505 232 9642 or at


Check out the flier with all the info here: partner yoga flier 


HDY UNM:CNM flier 2013_2Also, I am teaching a NEW CLASS!! … Starting next week, I will be teaching an ALIGNMENT based VINYASA class at High Desert Yoga 10$, one hour. Rich, deep, muscular, lots of pelvic floor work! Plus a nourishing, full savasana. Thursdays 5:30-6:30pm. AND! North Valley students please note: My 5:30-6:30 Wed Level One class at Dragonfly Yoga will be shifting to be on Mondays. Two great evening classes… hope to see you soon!!

Slowing Down

When we slow down we can focus on alignment not only anatomically but energetically: moving prana in a different  way from our habit patterns. In this comes real freedom and transformation, in the body but also emotionally, psychologically, we experience ourselves and the world differently, more harmoniously. As the goal becomes not performing poses, but rather stability, organization, and intensity of presence and awareness, strength and flexibility are pleasant side effects, while the true depth and potential of yoga become our reality. Meanwhile, the body is safe, and trust, healing, and the development in self-trust begin to unfold.P1060116