IYNAUS Student Spotlight Interview

IYNAUS Student Spotlight Interview

IYNAUS Student Spotlight Interview


OCTOBER 2, 2019

Dear friends, I recently had the honor and privilege of being interviewed by Anne Marie Schultz for the IYNAUS (Iyengar Yoga National Association of the US) Newsletter ‘Student Spotlight’ section. I enjoyed working on these questions during my annual week of study with Patricia Walden this summer. The interview eventually went through an editing process, so I thought I’d share the unedited and unabridged version here, rambling metaphors and all! We explored a lot… yoga and social justice, some personal stories… Thanks and hope you enjoy…

Demoing using the column for Urdhva Mukha Paschimottanasana I (Upward Facing Intense West Stretch Pose) with Patricia Walden’s guidance – and help from her feet! -At her 2019 Colorado Retreat.

  1. Tell us a little bit about yourself.    

I have a major crush on life! I am a white, queer, non binary feminist, full time Iyengar Yoga teacher, a healing justice advocate, a devotional artist and rad mom. I’m pretty magical, a bit chaotic, full of heart. I live in Albuquerque, NM, in the beautiful high desert with big big sky, on the unceeded territory of the Tewa people, and Sandia and Isleta Pueblos. 

2. What do you do when you aren’t doing yoga? 

I have two kids, a 2 year old daughter and a 13 year old son. This tender teenager + tenacious toddler combination keeps me pretty busy and at my edge of growing and learning. Coordinating, finding balance, and sharing support amongst a large but close knit local non-nuclear family that involves coparents, grandparents, little kids, and my precious partner is a dynamic deeply woven with how I move through life. 

I’m also involved with various forms of local community organizing: queer antiracism study groups and activism, supporting immigrant justice, co-producing a monthly queer trans yoga group are a few examples. 

My life blooms at a vivacious rate, and brings opportunities for forays into occasional performance art/ dance, illustration projects, camping, organic gardening…I love to feed healthy delicious things to the folks I love and my kitchen is well used and often full of delicious aromas. The days are usually packed, which makes the quiet deep dive of daily asana and pranayama especially crucial. I’m grateful my life is so rich, embodied, connected, meaningful. 

3. What lead you to start Iyengar Yoga?   How long have you been practicing? 

My entrance into Iyengar Yoga was gradual; peripheral to the core. I studied deeply for 15 years with Kim Schwartz, a wonderful teacher and student of Ramanand Patel and Francois Raoult; I’ve taken many workshops with them as well. I’ve been practicing yoga for 20 years, working with ‘Iyengar inspired’ and Iyengar teachers who left the system, since 2003, and about 10 years ago became a bit obsessed with what is the actual Iyengar method, something I’m of course continuing to discover, excavate, expand into, and explore. 

4.  Describe your path toward establishing a home practice.

As a teenager, I was very interested in the terrain of consciousness, and though the philosophy books my mom had brought back from travels to India were a bit too obtuse for me to get into, I developed a sort of made-up meditation practice. I didn’t know about asana. I attended my first yoga class in my freshman year of art school (my best friend took me, both of us balanced on my bike, which had pegs on the back wheels, all the way through downtown Baltimore to get there) and I fell in love with it right away. I noticed a palpable difference in how I felt, and was intrigued by this thing that was so challenging, yet felt like home. That summer I visited my cousin Melina for a month in big bad NYC. I met a friend of hers named Sigaleet – a magnetic, gleeful very energetic Isreli woman, who practiced 108 sun salutations every day (!). Needless to say I was inspired! My cousin and I would start each day on the roof with 10 surya namaskar, and from then I just kept with it, adding in things as a learned. 

5. Has there been a particular moment or memory when you realized the personal significance of practice?

There have been many. One memorable moment was half way though my second retreat with Patricia Walden. I was driving away from the day of practice, and in a stormy New Mexican twilight became overwhelmed with a sense of joy that burst to the surface in powerful tears, so strong I had to pull off the road and just cry, messy loud, sobbing tears, like that of a newborn who has found their lungs. 

In those years I had some repressed trauma and emotions, so crying was very rare for me. These were euphoric, happy tears though and I had a clear sense that finally, I had found the work, for me – this path of Iyengar yoga – that had such scope, meaning, depth, potential, that it was worth committing my life to. 

I grew up with homesteader hippie parents, in rural WV: lots of art, nature, leftist politics, and modern dance instead of TV and mainstream culture so I had a lot of creative talents and will to serve, but had struggled to pin down what to really do with my life, what is MY work, my way to serve. This was a poignant moment that seemed to clear the way. Interestingly committing to this Iyengar yoga path has opened doors for much of the these “divergent” interests such as art and healing justice work to blossom.

5. How does your yoga practice relate to your family (furry and otherwise) life?

Yoga sadhana is essential for me to show up fully for my family. My motherhood makes much of what yoga philosophy teaches, real. 

But practice it often feels at odds with my responsibilities; both pull at me and time with one means less with the other. Family time and time inside my practice create a tension that is somewhat positive; each one makes me hungry for and very appreciative of the other. 

I am inspired by Abhijata, how she is being both, mother, practitioner-teacher. In her own way, finding an ever changing balance. I’m very glad to have a supportive partner who also loves yoga, in their own way, and understands it is a big and worthwhile part of my life.

6.  If you are a teacher, what brought you to teach in this lineage?

I felt pulled towards teaching yoga from a young age, and always took it as a serious endeavor. The more experiences I had in both practice and teaching, the Iyengar system consistently emerged as the most relevant, direct, clear, bright way forward into yoga. Once I found access to the Iyengar system, other possible trajectories faded away pretty quickly. I had to work through many barriers (mostly of my own creation) to feel deserving, that I too could be part of all this. 

7. What do you love most about  Iyengar yoga?

“Most” is tricky! A Gemini answer: Top 5!

I love that it is lineage based: that there is accountability, mentorship, responsibility, practical ways to progress into an embodied, somatic experience of spiritual evolution that affects all aspects of life and self, here and now, in such exquisite ways. 

That in teaching I can serve directly at a root level. Students can come out of pain, or change their relationship to pain, that healing is possible and accessible, and that this opens the gateway to the deeper potentials of practice: a miracle every time.

I love that it is a vast endeavor, humbling, that the subject will only ever be barely touched, even after a lifetime of practice. 

I love that to practice Iyengar Yoga is to step into a river of Devotion, that it brings me to total trust and terrifying levels of surrender, that it requests all I can give and more, so I know my capacity for focus, for strength, for patience, for love, is much greater than my mind tells me.

I love that what I’m exploring in asana practice are the exact skills I need to navigate work in the external world: to awaken to and challenge my own internalized oppressions, to disrupt the harm I inevitably create, to stay present during the discomfort of working towards change, of directing attention to what I’ve been socialized to ignore, of compassion and clarity amidst fracture and conflict. I love that there is space within Iyengar Yoga community for culture shift to grow and that conversations around inequity, privilege, race, class, gender, etc are becoming more and more a part of the space. 

I love that Iyengar yoga brings me in, to really experience what is beyond, what is  God, what is real. To sense the hum of the earth’s living soul, the awake vital pulse of the universe. 

8. Any particular asanas you are currently focusing on?

Mostly: Actions WITHIN asanas! How do the combined actions of socketizing the femur and work in the buttocks elongate the lumbar and pacify my adrenal glands, especially in back extensions? How do I verticalize, centralize, and sense the relationship of my joints in inversions? How does the space behind my sternum directly relate to states of mind, emotions? How to feel many areas in my body at once, in such a way that they harmonize, rather than compete? How do I work with my discouragement? 

Currently excited about a lot: Adho mukha vrksasana, pincha mayurasana, sirsasana 2, vipariti dandasana, working patiently towards kapotasana. Also seated twists in general. And supported versions of Halasana. Viloma 3. Also having a recent love affair with parivrrta trikonasana, WHO KNEW?!

9. What are your thoughts about the relation of yoga philosophy to questions of inclusivity and/or or questions of social justice?  

I love this question! 

In an asana, if there is an intense injury or imbalance in the body, we must first address that, triage what puts someone in danger. Similarly, addressing and disrupting the harm of injustice and inequity is very important, foundational, if we value compassion and healing.

I see Iyengar yoga as an invaluable practice to help humanity evolve and survive, and the necessity of centering a justice framework key the survival of Iyengar yoga for future generations. 


Society in the US has been constructed on a foundation of imbalance, and these systemic oppressions permeate our world, and live inside us, too. They spoil it for everyone. Although our culture is obsessed with individualism, what happens in the collective, social, political affects our connection to our hearts, our embodied aliveness, each other  – and vis versa. I see yoga and social justice to be deeply intwined, inseparable, even. 

Although yoga in the US has been deliberately whitewashed, divorced from it’s source, and rebranded as a “feel good” luxury lifestyle for the privileged few (I blame consumer capitalism, white supremacy, patriarchy, to name a few) we know that it was never meant for escapism or erasure, or to sell fancy yoga clothes. Yoga is about awakening, liberation, healing – and the ways oppression and imbalance in our outer world live inside us ARE the very things that yoga seeks to address: the kleshas, the illusion of isolation, the unchecked repetition of the ways we perpetuate harm without realizing. Arjuna was called to action, after all, to fight injustice.

It’s very important we address these uncomfortable realities, squarely and honestly. For instance, in the US the attempted genocide and colonization of Indigenous people and forced importation of African people for slavery laid the foundation for our country and its cultural values. In far reaching ways white supremacy has been baked in to our culture at a systemic, institutional level, and it affects all aspects of our life, including our yoga classes. 

As a white person, I benefit from these systems which privilege my life and liberty over black and brown folks. White people have been socialized not to see these dynamics, even as we contribute to them. We’ve been socialized to believe all sorts of dangerous beliefs around who deserves power, protection, respect, and who doesn’t, based on gender, class, body size, ability, citizenship status, and how well others perform rules around gender expression and heteronormativity. This is avidya. This conditioning keeps us blindfolded, and entrenched in suffering. 

From a place of privilege, how do we lift these veils of ignorance, face our fragility, overcome our defensiveness, our wanting to skip to good “spiritual” feelings? From the places where we are marginalized, how do we reclaim our dignity, ease, authenticity, shed the internalized bondage of society’s sickness? How do we truly anchor ourselves in bhavana, in tender humanity? How do we support each other in this work? Even now, how are you feeling as you read this: are you shutting down, intellectualizing, assuming it’s not about you? While you and I did not choose these systems of oppression, I do feel a responsibility to understand and dismantle them, especially in my beloved yoga communities, and I hope we can keep exploring together what this means. 

Where are the transgender, black, brown, queer, fat, poor, undocumented folks in our classes, workshops, trainings? In what ways do marginalized students and teachers of Iyengar yoga have to code switch, shut down, hide, or armor themselves in order to show up? In what ways do our actions, assumptions, etc perpetuate this imbalance? 

“Inclusivity and diversity” is a hot topic in yoga in the west but we need to use both paksa and pratipaksa to address the harm in our yoga spaces. Yes, being welcoming and kind is great but we need to seek out the root cause, understand these systemic problems and how they affect us, so that we can create something different. In his commentary on sutra II.33 Guruji writes, “Instead of trying to cultivate the opposite condition, he should go deep into the cause of the anger or violence. This is paksabhava. One should also study the opposite forces with calmness and patience. Then one develops equipoise.” 

This inner work and outer action is a powerful combination. It is not enough to be kind. It’s not OK expect diverse folks to assimilate into our yoga culture, so that we don’t have to change, or tokenize, or expect people from marginalized groups to be a representative or spokesperson. What needs to transform within our selves, our studios? As Sonali Fiske says “You cannot be inclusive without examining your exclusivity.” Healing justice opens doors to deep svadhyaya, deep ahimsa. And deep liberation, not only for others, but for us, too. These systems of inequity hurt everyone. We are all in this together. 

I trust that as we explore this aspect of practice, our ‘on the mat’ work can become even more rich. I envision an Iyengar community strengthened, uplifted and beautifully expanded by the vulnerability, courage, and growth that healing justice work involves. Positive change takes many forms, and we each hold a piece of the equation. 

10.  How might we as a community come together to uphold each other in practice? 

I really appreciate space for vulnerability, for real listening, curiosity, unpacking conditioning, opening to new possibilities, with others. It’s wonderful to practice with Iyengar friends, to study together, have group projects that keep me accountable. I’m excited about an NEW collaborative blog exploring Iyengar Yoga and Social Justice: Ahimsa in Action which will be a hub for local and national organizing and inspiration. The more we have the courage to bring our whole selves to the yoga space, the more integration is possible.

11. How have you worked to build up community in your area? How it might be a model for other communities?

Community constantly reminds me how interdependent we all are, how nourished and upheld by others I am. It is a source of true wealth and resilience. Showing up for other people’s causes, bringing my full attention to interactions, having clear boundaries around what I can really offer, reorienting to what is true vs convenient, working to diminish ego in interactions, and staying heart centered in conflict rather than running away, having a birds eye view, long term vision  – these are ways I’m striving to show up for community now. 

I’ve learned a lot by bringing yoga classes out of the studio, into trans, queer, and community spaces, to local Native reservations, to women transiting out of incarceration, etc. I think we need to be willing to make mistakes, and learn from them, and not give up because it’s not “perfect.” There are things I can offer, and things I can’t. It’s an ongoing process to explore how to be a conduit, how Iyengar yoga practice can meet people where they are at, how to work with others in collaboration, how to step back, listen, share power and build trust. 

At my studio I’ve helped start a teacher meet up group to explore the inner work around critical whiteness, privilege of all sorts, we have readings, help from a local trainer who specializes in this work, it’s been incredibly beautiful to see how this has fostered more connection amongst the group, shifts in the space. 

What does an Iyengar yoga environment look like, feel like, where many different types of people can bring their whole selves into the practice, where no particular way of being is dominant? What needs to change, evolve, open, so that the purity and spirit of Iyengar yoga can continue to grow? When we define Iyengar yoga in the US, what are the essential roots of the practice, and what are dry husks ready to fall away? I don’t have answers, but I’m grateful we will all keep learning, together.

“Yoga has a beginning but no end…” -Geetaji. 

Riding the Wave: Adidas, Assessment, Mexico, the Iyengar Centenary Intensive, and Geetaji.

Riding the Wave: Adidas, Assessment, Mexico, the Iyengar Centenary Intensive, and Geetaji.

Riding the Wave: Adidas, Assessment, Mexico, the Iyengar Centenary Intensive, and Geetaji.


NOVEMBER 12, 2018

“Yoga should not be taken lightly, as if it were a hobby. It should be approached with faith, enthusiasm, determination, keenness, courage, will, and dedication.” -Geeta S. Iyengar

Nothing but Divine hands could have sculpted the incredible unfolding of my life the last few months. Leaps of faith, clarity, fear and the going beyond fear has led me to experience four big life events in such a short period of time, and way they relate feels so meaningful and in retrospect, perfect.

As I wrote much of this on the airplane flying towards home last December, a 40 hour haul, I could feel my heart drawing closer to my sweet kids, and iven who I missed intensely. It felt so good to be homeward bound, and now, home at last! But this journey was essential for me, as Geeta would say, ‘and that is a fact.’ It’s as though a candle I’ve been building inside my heart, preparing for years through practice, discovery and study, was lit by Geetaji’s presence and teachings. The wick caught right away. I burns clear and bright inside me. This one chance, an ignition, and an unexpected farewell as well. In her presence my world shifted, and as she flew free from her body, my world shifted again. What a thing, to travel so far, to receive so much, and then say goodbye forever, in one massive celestial feel swoop.

From the surprise and cosmic encouragement of an Adidas yoga modeling gig in LA, to the initiation of my first Iyengar Assessment a few weeks later, to the magical week teaching, playing, and returning to wholeness in Mexico with Zoreh at our Troncones Yoga Retreat, to this irreversibly profound trip to Pune, India for the Iyengar Centenary Intensive, these events all opened my mind and heart in deep ways. To have them all strung together, pearls on a relatively short linear time string, feels meaningful too. Guruji said, ‘God is like the back, you cannot see God, but you can feel God.’ I’m definitely feeling divine forces, at work, and whatever the purpose is at play, I have total trust in it.

Really each of these could have been it’s own post, but the pace of life is a fast current these days. So here it is, all together. It’s a lot… but in case you’re curious, here it is.


The morning of December 16th, while I was sleeping, just a few blocks away, beloved Geeta S. Iyengar peacefully passed out of this life. I heard she was in a yoga pose to help her breathing, surrounded by family, and like that, the last breath left. (I admit, I can’t help but wonder, what was the pose? Which props supported her…) The previous two weeks, I had been in that massive group of 1,300 students from all over the world -56 countries- gathered for the Centenary Intensive in Pune, India to celebrate and honor the life and legacy of Geetaji’s father, Yogacharya BKS Iyengar, AKA Guruji. He would have turned 100 on Dec.14th. (More on that below!)

It’s as though all these years I was building a candle inside my heart, and brought it unknowing, and through Geetaji’s teachings, it’s been lit. The wick caught right away. It burns clear and bright. My world shifted. Then Geetaji died, her work here done, no abhinivesha – and my world shifted again.

Who am I, to have placed a final kiss at her feet, wrapped in pure white? To travel so far, to receive so much and then say goodbye forever, all in one massive celestial fell swoop?

Last summer, I was kiiiiind of contemplating going to this Centenary Intensive in Pune but it felt like a fantastical dream, totally beyond my grasp financially and logistically. Still, I couldn’t let it go. At Patricia Walden’s retreat in CO, Brian said, ‘It might be your last chance to study with Geeta…’
I’ve admittedly struggled with regret about not making it happen to study directly with Guruji while he was alive. Little kids, little money, so much has played out. I know my life has unfolded perfectly, though, and in fact over time my regret has been replaced by a deep gratitude and different connection, that is both intimate and real. There’s so, so much to work with. But I knew I didn’t want to miss being in Geeta’s presence. I knew she wasn’t teaching much, and that I wanted to receive that teaching.

Months passed. I pretended to let go the idea to go to India, so many practical reasons. I began to plan a local 100 days of yoga and Centenary event. But then an incredible opportunity came my way. I had been doing some prosperity work, prayers, tithes. Adidas contacted me with an out of the blue gig. They flew me out to LA in early October for a week and I was caught up in a glamorous swirl of modeling yoga clothes, bringing queer yoga essence, and connecting with some other amazing women who are doing yoga projects in their communities: bringing yoga to black, brown, poor, queer, HIV+ folx, you know, the people not represented in glossy yoga magazines and who often are missing from the average yoga class. It was an affirming and eye opening trip. Not only was it meaningful and fun, but it paid a nice little chunk of cash that I realized I could use for India. OMG.


A bit on that week in LA, which left me spinning, glowing, exhausted but awake to new potentials: The Adidas Wanderlust photo shoot. I’m going to be one of the featured models for their 2019 spring yoga clothing line ads. They invited 5 women; I absolutely loved getting to connect with the wise, witty, inspiring Ali, Abby, Sinikiwe, and Tie. We get to be featured on The Stance podcast, an award-winning arts, culture and current affairs podcast exploring diverse global perspectives. Stance creators Chrystal Genesis and Heta Fell, and Jackson are amazing and I loved getting to connect.

I’ve never been part of such a big production, a mass of directors, crew, glam team, stylists, lighting etc swirling around… abundant project budget and resources. Top secret outfits! (The actual shoot photos will be released this spring.) Gorgeous catering but no time to sit and eat. I was centered in the reality that in moments when the external whirlwind is strong, it demands and requires me to go inward, so that I can bring clarity of purpose out to the world. To serve in ways I’m still learning to see. I want to be a conduit for resources to flow into my community, for the teachings of Iyengar Yoga to flow out into the world to those who need it most. It did feel good to be a ‘real’ queer yoga body in a picture. Everyone worked so hard. The whole team was amazing. It left me excited about funding, expanding networks of support, and a broader vision of what it means to serve the struggle for healing and transformative justice, equity, activism through yoga. That there are initiatives out there to help make “yoga for everyone.” 

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Naturally even in a project that seeks to uplift queer // women of color, the residues of imbalance and privilege still wove their way through…I was left mulling over, what does sponsorship do to struggle, and who bears the cost, and how…? I’m very curious (um, anxious!) what will be sliced diced and used out of all the content collected. How does commercial work like this fit into the bigger picture of real healing and change? There’s so many people, black brown indigenous poor queer trans disabled and otherwise invisible-ized marginalized people at a grassroots level making something potent and important out of nothing or very little. I think about how a little money can go such a long way in grassroots organizing… how to be a bridge for support to flow in. 


A couple weeks later I flew out to CA again for Intro 1+2 Iyengar Assessment. After several years of wanting and preparing to go up, finally the weekend arrived. After many steps, much study, I made my imperfect offering, and to be honest, all though it was freaky to observe my nervous system on its wild trajectory throughout the process, my heart delighted in rising to the occasion. It felt like I was there to show I deeply I care about this subject/ practice and that I’m a worthy student. A worthy teacher, well that is another matter!

It’s good for humans, I think, to have something terrifying and deeply meaningful that requires perseverance, faith, and that we bring our very truest essence and heart to it. Something worthy of pouring everything into it. That requires it. To overcome fear and doubt, to walk through fire and emerge welcomed and victorious. This process could look many ways, and I’m so glad I’ve found it on this path of yoga sadhana (spiritual practice) in the brilliant, resplendent and arduous lineage of Iyengar Yoga. I’m really grateful for the structure of assessment, and the support it provides in helping students/teachers of Iyengar yoga grow within a system of progression, accountability, and depth. The intense process of preparation and the high standard of the Iyengar method is brilliant, I’m so grateful it’s here for me, for us, to help us grow, awaken!

I had a dream in the fall of 2017 that I was in an assessment teaching utthita trikonasana, and Guruji was my assessor! I was teaching a point Abhijata taught at the 2016 convention, and I glanced over to see what he thought and he looked at me and said ‘don’t think about yourself, put your attention on the students!’ I woke up with a clarity, like, 2018 I’m going up, I’m going to make it happen. I signed up for Craig and Leslie’s teacher training in Denver that day.

I came to this path circuitously over many years of practice, periphery to the core. Wonderful teachers gradually brought me to know what is yoga, and clues revealing the Iyengar legacy. Initially I studied with teachers that had left the system, they eluded to certified Iyengar teachers and I thought of CIYTs as some faraway superstars; the process remained shrouded in mystery, elusive, seemed not meant for me, especially since there was no one local to ask or work with. There has been so much taking a step into the unknown without knowing where my foot would land. It was 2014 that I decided I wanted to become a CIYT but there were many stages within to go through, journeys inside and out in the world to take. Many times I needed to get out of my own way.

Needless to say, it all went well. I’m so glad to have Leslie, Craig, Patricia, Bobbie – teachers who can clearly show the ways to understand, refine and go beyond what’s familiar. I yearn to serve more effectively.

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Through the discussion sessions at the Centenary Intensive it sounds like how teacher trainings and assessments are run differs greatly in different countries, and finding a way forward that develops depth of practice, maturity and sensitivity rather than mechanical rigidity, that is workable and fair, is a large discussion. Even though the system is imperfect, I think that teacher trainings and having diverse forms of mentorship are extremely valuable, and I hope they can continue to meet the wide variety of candidates. Needless to say, though the immense nervousness and stress involved was a lot to experience, it was an incredibly meaningful and affirming initiation. A bit like a wedding — in a good way! Like, after years of commitment, a ceremony that makes it official. Except, instead of a party, a giant weekend of intense testing. Ha. And now, here I am at the beginning, again.


As soon as I landed home, the pull of life’s river swept me into her rapids; parents in town, remodeling, teaching too much and generally I didn’t have time to catch my breath. In anticipation of being gone, I savored with a palpable bittersweetness the precious time with my kids, Io (13) and Kota (22 months). I’ve never been away from them so long. Before I knew it my partner iven and I were up at 4, driving through the cold dark night to the airport to board flights to Mexico. Landing into the gorgeous natural abundance of the land and ocean in Troncones was like a healing balm to my frazzled spirit. Much needed spacious connection with iven and days that unfolded in a slow, vibrant perfection washed away months of stressful hustle. (Well, despite as Zoreh later called it, the ‘blood sacrifice of 3 kisses from God,’ three stitches for iven’s sweet head from a beach mishap on day 1 that meant an adventure into a Zihuatanejo hospital…!)

If you’ve never been to Troncones, it’s an incredibly magical place. Really – you should come with us next next year! Zoreh had the vision 20 years ago to build a Yoga Retreat center near this vibrant and off-the-beaten-path fishing village, and by now she has the rhythm of retreating down to a smooth, graceful glide. We had a blast. I kept finding myself amazed at the sweet moments that unfolded: the surrender of the ocean with it’s perfect clear blue green waters, iguanas and birds, kayaking, releasing (warm!) newborn baby turtles into the twilit waves, ecstatic snorkeling with a myriad of prismatic new tiny fish friends, exploring the mountains, such cool people, the freshest food, cruiser bikes and balmy warmth, stars and rest, uninterrupted time for shared pleasures and presence with my partner, and of course lots of yoga practice.

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Early dawn lit walks on the beach to the yoga hall for practice were followed by spacious wonderful sessions of teaching. Then, play time then more yoga. And more play. The group was dynamic, and truly everyone who came bloomed in various forms of transformation. Although nearly all of our wonderful students had challenges they were working with, Zoreh and I were able to work proactively through asana, pranayama, and philosophy to bring therapeutic benefit and accessibility in ways that inspired me. Zoreh brings devotional joy in such a special ways. I love her, loved co-teaching and adventuring with such a cool group of students, what a miracle to witness and hold space for.

I’m grateful for the community of Troncones as well. We met so many incredibly lovely local folks. When I visit Mexico my heart opens to her people, and thus it feels even more heartbreaking and infuriating that asylum seeking immigrants from across Central America are being faced with such unjust cruelty at the US boarder, especially when destructive, greedy neoliberal US policies over the last few decades has directly created the problems these people are trying to survive. Not to mention to ridiculous business of a physical or technological border wall. If you feel moved to check out a local grassroots organization doing wonderful work for immigration justice, please check out the NM Faith Coalition for Immigrant Justice (and send money! Money is useful). 

Looking back, this retreat was such a needed pause before heading to India. It’s unspeakably nourishing to reset in such a deep way, so I was more fully able to show up for all that transpired in India.

With sand between in our toes after one more jump in the ocean, iven and I flew to Mexico city, had an unexpected overnight layover and in the darkness before dawn a final kiss goodbye. It feels so very long ago. It took long days to get to India. Mexico City, Houston, Amsterdam, Mumbai, Pune. Each layover I’d roll out my little yoga mat. Asana can be such crucial medicine. Thank goodness for that.


Flying is so interesting. It’s heartbreaking to see how much of the world is covered in a thick layer of smog. (Not that me flying in airplanes is helping:(. Over Mexico City, and my god, India. When I landed in Paris, I realized hadn’t seen the sun in weeks, as it rose bright and clear. It hasn’t been rainy at all in Pune, but the sun is distant, diffused in the thick grey-brown. Some people live their whole life never ever seeing a clear sunny day, since everyday the sun is buried under a dense blanket of smog, stinky and toxic. Especially in places where people of color live. So much pollutive industry driven by Western capitalism is kept away from the US, where consumption is king but the fall out well hidden. Clean air is a luxury lifestyle we so take for granted in the US. (That said, the first clear crisp breaths of New Mexico air were incredible. I think I’ve become a breath connoisseur.)

At the airports, it’s always the airplanes from these countries of brown people that get parked out at the periphery of the airports, shuttle bussed in. Advertisements in India and Mexico, always feature light skinned people, and all the soaps and face creams in India are “lightening.” The fancy ads in Paris and Amsterdam seem to sell the idea of whiteness more than any particular product. All these subtle racisms weave into our reality often unchecked, and perhaps somehow make the larger more striking and systemic injustices possible by permeating our minds with a pervasive subconscious message: devaluing, dehumanizing. As uncomfortable and disorienting as it is, the incredible privilege of international travel can sure shake loose the grip of dullness and complacency.

As soon as I arrived in Pune I jumped in and felt an immediate connection amongst the 1300 students gathered from 56 countries who had come to connect and learn, and celebrate Guruji’s life. The event was so impressive, the stadium adorned with massive glowing pictures and quotes of BKS Iyengar, his presence palpable. Abhijata, Prashantji, and Geetaji along with an incredible crew of volunteers and special guests pulled of something massive and wonderful. I can’t even begin to convey the powerful teachings and connections that unfolded. Although the group was so huge – so many different languages flowing all around – there was a true sense of intimacy, camaraderie, and connection amongst everyone there, from legendary senior teachers to newbies to the Iyengar family who were held in sacred reverence and at the same time, were just right there, playing with the kids, part of it all.

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(Nearly all the beautiful photos of the Centenary Intensive were taken by Shael Sharma, thank you Shael!! See more on the Iyengar Yoga FB page.)

There was a tribute show for Guruji being organized, and I knew I wanted to be part of that, so despite intense jetleg, the first full day I was there I journeyed down into town to get art supplies. The tiny art shop I found was so jam packed and small I couldn’t even stand up in the upper story where the paints were, but there were sweet helpers who new just where everything was tucked away amidst the intricate stacks and shelves that filled every nook and cranny (who were much shorter than me) and I got the art supplies! India… There’s just no words for the intensity, density of sensation, and within it, something that wins me over again and again. A spirit of vital essence, endurance. Something indescribable. I loaded my backpack full of paints and brushes, ordered a large board to paint on for delivery the following morning, and felt ready for the show the next day. The board was several hours late being delivered, however, and when the show was about to start (classical Indian and Chinese dancers in sparkling costumed finery, bustling around nervously) I still didn’t have anything to paint on. I was at a loss. I gave it over to God to decide if it was meant to be, it was out of my hands, I’d done all I could. I let it go.

And THEN this young sweet new yoga friend named Prashant who was helping with the event and also an artist learned about the fix I was in. He had saved some salvaged materials from a previous event (perfect, I was wishing I could re-purpose something laying around!) and brought out a huge stretched “canvas,” just in time for the show to begin! We later joked Saraswati was at work.

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I painted furiously, busting through a block I’ve had for the last few years around painting. With 1000 folks witnessing, I painted Guruji in Natarajasna at the base of the stage while the other performers danced, puppeteered, read poetry, and busted out capoeira. I had no time for thought, for self consciousness. It was all bhakti. All love. It was a treat to make such an offering. The painting became a conduit for many simple moments of friendship with many folks from many countries. Towards the end of the Intensive, a special surprise – I was brought back to a small room with Abhi and Zubin, and we held it up; Geeta was pleased with the painting and signed it, ‘All the the best wishes, Geeta S. Iyengar.’ I thought for a moment of keeping it but it felt right to let it live on as a gift to the Iyengars. So, it will have it’s own continued adventure at a new Iyengar center in Mumbai.

The teachings were of course, profound.

Prashant taught the first 5 days, Geetaji the second. Asana and Pranayama lessons, rich with mind inverting philosophy, filled the mornings. After lunch (fresh coconuts, anyone?) afternoons of moving talks by Abhi, Geetaji (on her birthday!) or Prashantji or lively interactive sessions exploring the future of mentorship, assessment, and how global Iyengar Yoga culture. These afternoon sessions stirred my heart. I am not a person who cries often, but tears were often close to the surface, I was so moved. Over and over. Layers and layers of tender meaning emerged over these full, rich days.

One morning, they brought in a mass of children, (here is one instance where the floodgates opened; missing my own kids, I had tears rolling down my cheeks for most of this class) and we all practiced children’s yoga: wild jumpings, up, down! We learned the proper way to bow in prostration. Another day, after a long sirsasana (headstand) one of Guruji’s dear friends from Mumbai, a student of many decades who is now 101 years old, came and with assistance whipped up into his own long held supported headstand, and then came down after a time to share a beautiful message. The feeling of family was woven in so many ways throughout the event.

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The Iyengar family on Guruji’s birthday

Geetaji said of the buttocks in virabhadrasana 2 to pull it in close, like it’s your baby. Even if you are tired you must still tend to that baby, ‘don’t leave it out of the family photo!’ Prashantji taught how we are a child of the breath, and yet the breath is our child, too… and like a child who needs not only food, water, but love and delight, to be played with, our breath too needs to be delighted in, played with. He shared how when they were young children they would jump on and climb around on their father, as children do, and Guruji would do his poses (setu bandhasana, urdhva dhanurasana!!) with the kids balancing on top. He didn’t send hem away, he would incorporate them and explore, play.

Geetaji spoke of her mother Ramamani, who was also one of her Gurus and taught her so much about the path of yoga, and how to practice as a woman. Guruji would be busy with his students and so didn’t give special attention or teachings to his children, but her mother would advocate for Geeta as she learned asana.

Just as people often have a very different relationship with their kids than they do with their grandchildren, it’s moving how Guruji took Abhijata under his wing, so lovingly, sharing so much. Abhi is so smart, hard working, devoted, humble, and — has such a good sense of humor! She can see reality clearly. Can’t WAIT to study with her at the 2019 USA Iyengar Convention in Dallas!) I loved hearing stories of how Abhi’s dad would bring in her baby to the practice hall while she was practicing, and Guruji would take the baby and absolutely delight in putting the little one into various yoga shapes. The ways the Iyengar family expresses their very human, very real devotion and love of Guruji is so inspiring. I shared a small speech at one of the afternoon sessions, how Guruji’s light is so bright like the sun, and that like New Mexican moonlight on a clear night, that light continues to shine, spread all over, through his direct disciples and the myriad of practitioners. Afterwards, one of his daughters greeted me, happy with the metaphor. This element of family was moving to me, and made the part of me that is a mother feel included and valued. Sometimes parenting and serious yoga practice feel in conflict with eachother. Moving beyond that duality is a continual part of my journey.

The asana and pranayama classes were a vibrational transmission of tremendous resonance.

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As much as Prashantji drove us to dive into what Iyengar did within himself, beyond what he did out in the world – Iyengar’s yoga, rather than Iyengar Yoga – there was a strong emphasis on inclusion. Just as different people digest food differently, or have a different experience based on their longitude/latitude, there are many different takes on Guruji’s teachings and they’re all valid, if truly ‘Iyengar yoga is for everyone.’ His journeys into the subtle opened up vast inner terrain. When we look at the stars, we look with awe. Nothing to fix, to own. Can we look inside like that, in awe? Practice with an explorers mind, not a conqueror’s mind?

Then Geetaji, a force of nature, vibrant and fierce. Going beyond where I’ve ever gone before in asana practice, I was one tiny person in the crowd, but like so many, I felt she was teaching exactly for me. She was brilliant: intense generosity and generous intensity! She required us to repeatedly go beyond the limitations of our dullness, fear complex, mind, ego. To understand, ‘where have I been conditioned?’

In a 20 minute sirsasana she drove us not to come down, to persevere, ‘you think you will die?! It’s not so easy to die!’ Every instruction penetrated through multiple layers: were the physical actions a metaphor for breaking down klehsas, or was purifying accumulated klesha layers a metaphor for physically going deeper? Lift, lift, LIIIIFT! All metaphor disappeared; all was live, real, electric, awake. I was in total reverence, love. (Even though she said to put our love into the sutras, not her)… Surrender. A deep dose. A profound awakening. A devotion in motion. 

There’s SO much more I could write, but then this already too long poast will never be shared, and already the river of time has pulled us around the bend of these events.

The night before Geeta passed away I attended an incredibly lavish birthday dinner for Garth, a magical senior teacher. There were such inspiring legendary teachers from many countries in attendance, I felt alive in every cell. Willamarie, your are an angel! So many amazing, honest, beautiful connections. I stayed near the Institute that night, and when I heard the news the next morning was shocked, my heart stilled. The small balcony at Hotel Chatuk was just big enough for a yoga mat, I practiced, and ah it felt so crisp, clear, different. I packed up my things with a chocked, silent mind. Went to buy a flower, and walked to RIMYI where seemingly a thousand shoes were left at the gate.

Who am I to have been swept in, to this beloved circle? To be gently ushered in, hands on my back, sweet sad faces that have become familiar and so dear. Stepping into receive the prasad, the presence, my kiss to her feet wrapped in pure white, hot tears rolling, heart wings beating inside my ribcage. Profound gratitude. Timeless time. Flowing out of the house, carried by an unseen river. Deposited into the gathered crowd, beautiful and with wet eyes, tender presence, all grateful for the tremendous life and rich teachings of this noble, fierce, devoted and brilliant woman. All of us carefully squeezed into that small patio outside the Iyengar family’s house. Prayers and incense, chanting and tears, flower petals, rice. I moved further and further back, absorbing it all in. After the men of the family carried her out, I walked back, and went to the airport to fly home. How could have known I would travel around the world to receive Geetaji’s teachings, and be there somehow to attend her passing?

Practice since feels different. A much greater responsibility, ripe potential, and joy – all simultaneously pressing.

My heart feels the pulse of a deeper rhythm, a deeper meaning. The finality of death. In Mexico, Zoreh taught one day, how in Iranian culture they say always keep the bird of death sitting on your shoulder, a reminder we don’t have unlimited time here; how cultures that avoid reckoning with death that keep it tucked away, become shallow. I feel the urgency that death brings, to live fully. The preciousness of life and the drive to practice. To make best use of the time here, embodied. To take the steps the earth needs from me, the work of justice and accessibility within my yoga world. My children, growing so fast, demanding so much. My unspeakably wonderful partner…so much to balance in life – So fleeting. And Yoga, so magnificent an opportunity. Geetaji was clear that her path was for yoga. How can I practice in a way that is worthy of her teachings? What an incredible honor to have been here. To have made this precious contact.

Writing this out is settling, helps me realize it’s really happening. A life I dreamt of, and have worked for, for so long. It’s amazing thing to have my heart dreams materialize, manifest. To be a certified Iyengar teacher, teaching in diverse settings and communities, traveling to India to study, with a beautiful partner, and wonderful children. Still, there’s so much barely straggling along in my life, the press of my many failures and the mundane, and I wonder in a world so full of sorrow, injustice, tragic changes, unprecedented destruction, is there space for celebrating my small experiences of real magic? We are here to live, to love and serve. I’m beyond grateful for how it’s all unfolding, and that you are part of it with me.

Sequence from Yoga for Neck and Shoulders Workshop

Sequence from Yoga for Neck and Shoulders Workshop

Sequence from Yoga for Neck and Shoulders Workshop


I was amazed -shocked even- to see one of my students, who has come to class regularly with me for years, after Sunday’s Neck and Shoulder workshop. She has a very bright and loving spirit, and also like many elders, has a deep thoracic kyphosis, meaning her upper back and shoulders round forward, so she is quite stooped, and her back neck has to fold sharply so she can look up. When this student was saying goodbye after the workshop, her body and stature was noticeably completely transformed, her spine was long and tall, her chest open, her shoulders broad and in line with her pelvis and feet, and her head balanced atop an extended neck. She was inches taller and literally glowed. I didn’t realize such a stance was possible for her, yet there she was. Another real miracle of Iyengar Yoga!

I’m so grateful to be able to explore this healing, transformational work with my community. After all, it’s difficult to journey inward, skin to soul, with stiff, shoulders, a dull spine, and a pain in your neck!

Here is the sequence from the workshop I taught: Yoga for Neck and Shoulders. I’m posting this as a favor to my students who were in attendance. The notes are brief but hopefully this will give you some inspiration for your practice! There were so many poses I wanted to include, and could have included. All credit for any of the good things that happened at the workshop should go to the Iyengar family.

Here is what we practiced.

Neck and Shoulder Yoga Sequence

Svastikasana: spine alignment, internalizing: release relax the eyes, brain, evacuate mind, arrive. Ode to Patanjali.

Salamaba Savasana: ‘heart bench’ with two blocks, one lowest, one mid height, trifold blanket for head and cervical curve support. Relaxation, exhale to dissolve jaw, throat, base of skull etc.

Adho Mukha (Prone) Savasana: bolster under front body + blocks with folded blankets, fold facing in, on top for each shoulder: broaden shoulder blades, release trapezius, shoulders into back body. Breath in back body: pacify.

Anatomy lecture while sitting with “belt jacket,” pin shoulders back, broaden collar bones

Urdhva Hastasana while sitting, with shoulder width belt loop around hands: Arms forward, socketize, turn upper arm, try to break belt, maintain when lifting arms upwards

Supta Urdhva Hastasana sacrum, chest on 2 thin blocks, head support, find humeral action, extend up, plug humerus back, turn upper arm

Supta Urdhva Hastasana, folded blanket underneath as in a very mild Setubandha Sarvangasana; palms down thumbs out on either side of block, elbows in, extend, weight on forearms (blanket and sandbag)

Tadasana foot, leg action for spine

Urdhva Hastasana classic pose

Tadasana with arms laterally extended, explore rotation and expansion from the core of the arms/ space behind sternum

Ardha Parsva Hastasana arm at wall, turn shoulder, fingers back then maintain turn of upper arm, inner elbow up as hand/ forearm rotate up

Gomukhasana arms while standing, focus on stability and organization

Gomukhasana in a wide Uttanasana use the upper arm to pull; work with exhalation

Wide hands belt pull: shoulder opener, up and down

Uttansana head on block, shoulders active, for the neck

Utthita Trikonasana, classic pose, focus on the legs; foundation

Trikonasana, chair and belt, for broadening, turning chest, lateral shoulder action, scapula down, stretch pectoralis

Trikonasana, chair support for head, neck release, turn gently from thoracic, trapezius skin down the back

Adho Mukha Virasana lift spread inner armpit, extend upper spine, release T1 in

Adho Mukha Svanasana – classic pose, lift broaden shoulders, T1/ dorsal in

Adho Mukha Svanasana, with 2 belts and partner

Tadasana with belt shoulder harness: pull down and forward without low ribs pushing forward; trapezius skin down, lift sternum, collarbones broaden, long neck

Adho Mukha Svanasna in ropes, knee bent, push chair away, then hold chiar while partner pushes chair away to traction and broadens inner upper arms; head on block support

Supine neck stability work on block to build healthy extension curve, explore connection lumbar arch, cervical arch

Shalabasana with belt shoulder harness, then without

Ardha Pincha Mayurasana: stability of back body/ elbows belted, press forearms, hands taught on either side of chair legs

Sarvangasana preparation in upsidedown chair

Bharadvajasana  sitting backwards though chait with neck turning opposite, tuck scapula in, then gently add neck

Lateral neck release

Setubandha Sarvangasana, restorative version, chair under low legs, neck traction


(Illustrations below:)

Here is the handout from the workshop:

shoulder neck WS handout 2018

Queerness, Identity Politics, and Patanjali’s Four Fold Remedy

Queerness, Identity Politics, and Patanjali’s Four Fold Remedy

Queerness, Identity Politics, and Patanjali’s Four Fold Remedy


June 2018. Pride Month, which as usual delivered deeply nutritious community connection, witnessing, and remembrance of the roots of gay liberation and vitalization for the work ahead, as well as reminded me of the uncomfortable edges where capitalist commodification of Pride has stolen meaning and purpose and replaced it with beer ads, and consumable plastic rainbow gear. This month has also brought the chaos and devastation of asylum seeking families being separated and imprisoned, bringing massive attention to the traumatic injustice and struggle of immigrant people, who often are fleeing violence caused by decades of toxic US policy and intervention. I wrote this essay a couple months ago for IYTT, and share it now with these things fresh and tender in my heart– It is a long piece; thanks for reading! Thoughts? Comment below ?

Sutra 1.33 maitri karuna mudita upeksanam sukha duhkha punyaapunya visayanam bhavanatah cittaprasadanam

Both queerness and the path of yoga can create a deep illumination of what is often hidden in the dark. I’ve have been thinking lately about how queer theory and yoga philosophy complement each other in the way they conceptualize identity. Identity is important in our world; sometimes it is chosen and sometimes it is placed upon us; it can guarantee or exclude people from rights, safety, opportunity and acceptance, and it also relates deeply to our experience, perception, and ability to journey inward towards the Self. Making peace with identity can be a process of both reclamation, and letting go. I seek guidance and relevance to current affairs from the path of yoga laid out in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, and BKS Iyengar’s teachings.

This piece looks specifically at Patanjali’s Four Fold Remedy of maitri: courageous friendliness, karuna: compassion with action, mudhita joy in other’s success, and upeksa: equanimity with accountability. I’ll explore theses qualities as essential not only for overcoming the kleshas and obstacles to the inward journey towards truth and wholeness (laid out in sutra 1.30), but also as powerful practices for interacting with the world, and understanding identity. Internal and external liberation are inseparable and connected, and finding clues towards this end has inspired this piece. The exploration of this writing also serves as an act of personal compassion and integration, as I seek to make sense of my own fragmented self that is journeying towards wholeness, towards pure being-ness.

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I’m not an academic, but I am interested in ideas that open up new internal space, and therefore new potentials for action. Although queer theory has many definitions, and indeed by definition resists definition, most arguments agree on a stance in opposition to identity being a ‘fixed’ thing. (‘Queer, A Graphic History’ is a really great, illustrated accessible book if you want to dig deeper on queer theory.) Yoga also shows identity to be impermanent. In Light on Life BKS Iyengar writes:

Savasana uses techniques of relaxation to cut the threads. The result of this is not, as in meditation, but a loss of identity. I do not say of false identity because in the world in which we function, these identities are real. Yet taking the long view, they are unreal. Even the fact of being male or female is an identity that can be put down. To relax is to cut tension. To cut tension is to bind the threads that bind us to identity.”

This idea that identity, can shift, evolve, and change, is valuable to explore in a society where fundamental rights and privileges are based on identity. In no way, however, am I diminishing the importance and power of ethnic and cultural identity, tradition, and heritage. Nor do I want to imply a singular best approach to exploring identity or social change. Rather, I hope to open up space for fresh ideas, reflection, intersectionality, and even conversation. Identity should be contemplated within the contextual fact that rights/benefits such as safety, acceptance, and access to power and money are withheld or granted based on identity.

Identity politics is the idea of fighting for/ giving rights on the basis of a fixed identity, such as essential gender or sexuality. The framing of these identities is so often a false duality (male/ female, heterosexual/homo, white/POC) that problematically centers one identity as ‘normal’ and more valuable and the other as, well, “other” which could mean invisible, exploitable, expendable, even illegal. Working for gain within this paradigm often prioritizes the agenda of those with the most privilege, and also retains false binaries. One example of this is how the gay rights movement has historically prioritized the needs of white cis men. On identity, queer author Meg-John Barker writes,

Not sure who to credit for this this illustration, but I think it’s pretty great.

“Queer theorists… might argue that it’s always a problem to ‘fix’ yourself – or others – as a certain kind of person, even if rights are gained on that basis. Fixing can lead to people feeling inflexible and unable to change, or being seen as only a part of themselves and not all that they are.”

If yoga is a process of integration, a journey from fragmentization towards wholeness, then fixed identities are indeed problematic. Patanjali also describes the danger of identification with what is ever changing, throughout the sutras, for example in 1.3 and 1.4. Iyengar’s commentary (with gender neutral pronouns):

When the waves of consciousness are still and silenced, they can no longer distort the true expression of the soul. Revealed in (their) own nature, the radiant seer abides in (their) own grandeur. …” “When the seer identifies with consciousness or with the objects seen, the seer unites with them and forgets (their) grandeur. The natural tendency of consciousness is to become involved with the object seen, draw the seer towards it, and move the seer to identify it with it… and makes the seer forget (their) own radiant awareness…”

So, identifying with the ever-changing (prakriti) , rather than the never changing (purushra) creates a dangerous form of avidya (ignorance). This ignorance is reflected in the English language, and how we describe emotions: in English we say, ‘I am angry’; in some Asian languages they would say, ‘I have anger.’

Understanding and making peace with identity, not just in the mind but in an integrated, embodied way, is a step towards freedom, both in the spiritual sense, and the social-political sense. One could visualize the way modern society is set up like two concentric circles: ‘normal’ and ‘other.’ On the center circle are things culturally rewarded and valued as “normal:” traditional gender roles, the nuclear family, thin able bodies, white culture and privilege, consumer capitalism, heterosexuality, masculinity, monogamy, essentialist idea of gender (biological sex = gender), Christianity, etc. On the outer circle, in the margin, are the marginalized identities: atypical gender roles, alternative models of family and romantic relationships such as intergenerational love, and polyamory: people with various sized bodies, disabilities/ different abilities, mixed race experience, indigenous peoples and POC identities, immigrants and undocumented peoples, a huge variety of sexualities, non binary gender and transgender, Muslim faith, etc.

Centered and Marginalized: what would you add to this circle?

While the inner circle is accepted and normal, the outer circle is often silenced, villainized, criminalized and at the same time exoticized, and mined for culture. The idea that marginalized folks should assimilate, change, or fix their identity in order to gain what the inner circle has not only fails to disrupt the problematic unequal power dynamic of current social order, but it also ignores the beautiful, evolutionary fact that those ways of being have unique and inherit value, wisdom, insight, and purpose, and in fact can shed precious new light, potentials and ways of being for humanity, including those within the inner circle. My experience of queer activism is that it asserts rights and privileges should be secured for people (and for that matter all living beings) irrespective of what aspects of the inner or outer circle they embody, and in fact, often brings to the forefront protections for the most marginalized. Perhaps this is because much of queer theory can be traced back to having roots in Black feminism, (thank you to Audre Lorde and bell hooks, and so many other black queer women) which were/are at the forefront of showing the problems of focus on a singular or fixed identity, and how people are identified, controlled, and policed based on essentialist prejudice.

This image created on Instagram by Emmanuel Garcia, Queer Latinx artist/organizer.

Queerness holds space for the liminal, that unknown, the in between.

Queer thought often listens for what voices have been silenced, looks to see what is unseen, critiques what is popularly accepted, seeks to discover what discourse is revealed in opposition to an idea that arises, challenges dualities, and reaches beyond the range of the familiar, assumed, and what has corporate sponsorship.

Ancient classical art form India shows communities of yogis and yoginis also living on the margins, on the fringes, out in the forrest in camps, away from the villages and towns. They lived outside the rules and regulations of caste, class, and interestingly, gender roles as well. These fierce, devoted aesthetics were feared, respected, and highly revered by both lay people and kings and queens, who would come out with offerings of support to get council and guidance from the wise yogis and yoginis, who through their practices were in touch with insight, wisdom, and grace. Senior Iyengar teacher Swati Chanchani gives wonderful slideshows displaying and describing these scenes in centuries old paintings.

Mughals Visit an Encampment of “Sadhus,” India, Mughal dynasty, ca. 1635

Although many differences could be cited as well, I see a correlation between the ancient yogis and the edge of queer thought. I also know both yoga and queerness to invite courageous exploration of the unknown, which requires us to shed the known, such as past and obsolete definitions of identity, like snake skins, over and over. In Light on Life, while again discussing savasana, Guruji writes:

Savasana is about shedding, in the same way that…the snake sloughing off its skin to emerge glossy and resplendent in its renewed colors. We have many skins, sheaths, thoughts, prejudices, preconceptions, ideas, memories, and projects for the future. Savasana is a shedding of all these skins, to see how glossy and gorgeous, serene and aware is the beautiful rainbow-colored snake who lies within.”

 This shedding and revealing, critiquing and re-centering is all well and good, but it can be a difficult, even a terrifying experience of letting go of the familiar, especially when certain aspects of a person are rewarded for sticking to the status quo, while other aspects are cause for denial, trauma, and disdain. This fragmentization is one reason asana is a powerful place to start: asana practice gives us a concrete way to begin a process of real integration between the discordant parts of our being, starting with feeling our feet on the floor, from the periphery to the core. As Guruji writes,”Yoga allows you to rediscover a sense of wholeness in your life, where you do not feel you are constantly trying to fit the broken pieces together.”

In response to struggles with identity, being neutral -not this or that- is a stance some people take in both yoga and in queer communities. But trying to be totally ‘identity neutral’ is tricky: we cannot be objective, and easily tend to define neutral as ‘normal’ based on the dominant aspect. For instance, as Julia Serano writes about eloquently, because we live in a misogynist culture that centers male-ness, one could perceive things associated with masculinity to be natural, the baseline, the norm, and things associated with femininity like colorful dress and makeup are invented, performative, or artificial, when in fact, these are all simply qualities of gender identity.  Even in queer communities, femme identity is often devalued, and pushed to the margins. Judith Butler suggests all gender is performed. The goal for me with identity isn’t to be void of it, but rather allow the forms of the human, worldly self, with all it’s rich historical context and complexity, to ebb and flow with a radical acceptance of what is vibrant and true in the now, with neither attachment (raga) or aversion (dvesha). A popular saying relates, ‘The only way out is through.” I am often reminded that others will experience, cherish, toil and find meaning in their own identities in ways that I may not understand, and that that is OK. Prashantji says of ego, “Don’t try to banish the ‘I’ instead, make the ‘I’ magnanimous.”

On top of all this, our contemporary culture in the form of (social) media, political power, etc uses acceptance by others as a powerful driving force. Combined with consumer capitalism, which thrives on the idea that we are all flawed and lacking, and therefore need to buy endless products, diet, work out, indulge, etc. to make ourselves ‘normal,’ along with emphasis on the individual (giving rise to neo-liberalism, which sources problems and solutions in individual responsibility rather than systems or collective action) we are often engaged in an intensely self-critical scrutiny.

Historically, those in power have benefited from people’s incongruence, attachment to identity, and need for externalized approval; people’s striving to maintain an acceptable identity as defined by the status quo creates a self regulation more powerful than any amount of external government surveillance could provide. Queer theorist Michel Foucalt criticized this deliberate system self-surveillance, and used the idea of a panopticon to describe modern society. 18th Century philosopher Jeremy Bentham designed the panopticon around the idea that “power should be visible and unverifiable,” a circular prison with a guard station at the center, looking at cells arranged all around the edge. Because the guard could be looking, the prisoners begin to watch themselves, self regulating there behavior.

We too self regulate through fear of ridicule and disapproval. Meg-John Barker writes, “This self monitoring results in a highly docile population with a strong commitment to conformity, which benefits the economy. …However we also get high levels of mental health problems, general unhappiness, and alienation.”

Trying to be ‘normal’ for approval also creates a sticky attachment to our individual identity. As I cited in my previous post on saucha, Tema Okun lists individualism as one of the main characteristics prevalent in white supremacy culture. She describes how individualism compromises peer accountability, fosters competition, leads to isolation, and creates a sense that people must solve problems all on their own. Ultimately, pathological individualism is the manifestation of the illusion of separation. It creates a vulnerability, rather than the comfort and connection we are so often seeking. Prashantji says ‘Not only evacuate but also flush out the individuality.”

As we clear out the false sense of self, in part by making peace with our human sense of self, the radiance and resilience of the Self can begin to illuminate our being. In sutra 1.30 and 1.31, Patanjali describes nine main obstacles to peace, ease, connection, and ultimately Self-realization that we humans have all probably experienced in various forms of intensity and duration. The obstacles are: disease, inertia, doubt, indecision, heedlessness, sluggishness, laziness, indiscipline, erroneous views, lack of perseverance, and backsliding, as well as sorrow, despair, and unsteadiness in the body and irregularity of the breath. These obstacles, along with the five koshas, or afflictions (challenging forms of ignorance which run even deeper within our very being) make the path of yoga -and the path of life- a tricky voyage, full of struggles, disappointments, and pitfalls.

The work of undoing our attachment to identity directly stirs up these obstacles.

Avery in badhakonasana, shirt by Green Box Shop

What we cannot see, we cannot respond to, so naming these obstacles is of great help. Thank goodness Patanjali also gifts us with sutra 1.33 which presents four qualities to help navigate through the obstacles: the ‘Four Fold Remedy.’ Guruji translates Sutra 1.33: ‘Through cultivation of friendliness, compassion, joy, and indifference to pleasure and pain, virtue and vice respectively, the consciousness becomes favorably disposed, serene and benevolent.’ 

In Core of Yoga Sutras he describes these four qualities to correlate to the four chambers of the heart. He says Patanjali has dealt with the “four biological chambers of the heart as four facets of emotional intelligence.” He also references sutra 1.17 as describing the four lobes of the brain, which when in balance and co-ordinated, “there arises right synthesis, leading to correct judgement. From this …one experiences a state of bliss, nullifying the divisions of the brain and the feeling of “I.” As the feeling of “I” fades, a pure state of just ‘beingness’ is felt without any expression. He says of Sutras 1.17 and 1.33, that those two sutras opened his thoughts, “enabling me to understand the necessity for balance, harmony, and concord between the intellect of the head and the intelligence of the heart.”

This self-acceptance, harmony, balance, and concord – and congruently the state of undefinable “beingness” – is challenged not only by the obstacles described in 1.30 and 1.31, but by various aspects that manipulate those obstacles discussed earlier of the current cultural environment, and attachment to fixed identity. When awareness identifies with a false sense of self, it becomes enmeshed in the ever changing, prakriti, and looses the state of beingness. 

Just as with many aspects of yoga such as yama and niyama, the four fold remedy can be applied both the internally and the externally. We can most easily share with others that which we have integrated within ourselves, and so these qualities can be powerful aid to our inner being as we strive for freedom from the weight of fixed identity, the need for externalized approval, and false sense of self. They can become both powerful practices of self love, and a strengthening tonic for community building.

Maitri – friendliness,  and karuna – compassion directed towards the self can be an antidote for toxic judgment and self criticism, which usually serves not to improve, but to fix our identification with those qualities we resist. Constant self improvement can have an addictive quality, and is exploited in the modern yoga-fitness marketing industry. Heavy self judgment inevitably leaks onto those around us. Santosha, contentment, plays a role in this compassion and friendliness towards the self. It is possible and perhaps even necessary on the path of yoga to be strict, disciplined, and devoted in practice and at the same time, accepting and compassionate towards one’s efforts.

Importantly, however, Iyengar says “maitri is not nearly friendliness, but a feeling of oneness,” such as what a mother feels with her child. That type of friendliness “turns enemies into friends.” Compassion is also like a soothing balm to heal the frustration of having to choose between external acceptance, and internal integrity, a common struggle for anyone with marginalized identity. Directed outwards, karuna can become a potent form of activism. Guruji says, “karuna is not merely showing pity or compassion and shedding ears of despair at the misery (duhkha) of others. It is compassion coupled with devoted action to relieve the misery of the afflicted. The yogi uses all his resources – physical, mental, economic or moral to alleviate the pain and suffering of others…He denies the maxim of survival of the fittest, but makes the weak strong enough to survive. He becomes a shelter to one and all.” I find this passage a very powerful explanation of compassion, especially in considering the ways I have privilege.  This denial of competition and action based compassion runs against much of the individualistic and classist ideas US culture is built on. Iyengar writes in Light on Life, “Life itself seeks fulfillment as plants seek sunlight. The Universe did not create Life in the hope that the failure of the majority would underline the success of the few.”

Mudita, which is joy or delight in the good work of others, and someone else’s  success, is another aspect of the four fold remedy. This is another way yoga helps weed out competition, individualism, and envy from our being. Competition is a core value of patriarchy, and therefore is baked into how we learn, work, play, and even practice yoga. Competition is a dangerous distraction in yoga whether we place ourselves above or below; it builds a sticky web of ego, and directly feeds the obstacles to awareness, freedom and the inward journey. Competition amongst peers such as other yoga teachers is tricky as well, it can be hard to see someone else take flight as I struggle to get off the ground, although I’ve had plenty of times where I’m the one taking off, and that perspective has its own pitfalls. Guruji says, “Through mudita, the yogi saves himself from much heart-burning by not showing anger, hatred or jealousy for another who has reached the desired goal which he himself has failed to achieve.” This wisdom is a good reminder for anyone scrolling through yoga pictures on Instagram. Another beautiful reminder, Geeta says,

“Knowledge is always something that is universal. It is not meant for one person. It is not individual, but every individual contributes. When knowledge goes in the right direction and ignorance is removed it takes all of us in the same direction.”

I like the feeling that I am a small but valuable part of a great global community carrying the torch of Iyengar Yoga into the future, that each of us involved is doing our piece, practice by practice, including me.

Transforming frustration into inspiration is a skill, an aspect of tapas, burning zeal. I appreciate that joy and gladness are given as qualities we can cultivate, things that can be practiced. A similar concept called compersion exists in polyamory, which means a feeling of happiness about ones partner having fun with a different lover or lovers. We often get more approval for expressing suffering, so it can be a bold thing to express joy, in the face of all the suffering. When we allow ourselves to receive, to unfold, to feel joy, we allow those around us to feel their joy, too. 

When people are in a place of privilege, that often means being in the limelight of approval and adoration. When in the limelight, it’s easy to imagine it’s deserved, and not about privilege. When those stuck in the bottom have a moment to shine, there can be a backlash that is rooted in ignorance; an ugly grasping (aparigraha) that can take violent forms of blame, jealousy, and ultimately, violence. Part of dismantling privilege is uplifting marginalized voices into the limelight, making space, dissolving competition.

Abhjata, BKS Iyengar’s granddaughter, teaching at the 2016 Iyengar Yoga Convention.. I’m in that crowd somewhere…! ?

Gladness is form of gratitude, the opposite of entitlement. Mudita is an antidote for jealousy.

Finally, upeksha, indifference to pleasure and pain, to virtue or vice, is a form of equanimity, and one that requires good boundaries. If we get wrapped up in someone’s judgement or reaction to our identity, and we think it’s about us rather than their own fears projected onto us, it can create much internal disturbance. We can even internalize those judgements, and often at a louder volume. Having clear boundaries to protect the integrity and tender growing process within is part of cultivating resilience. Standing poses can help to create a sense of inner stability which assists in sensing and communicating boundaries. Pleasure and pain are often connected to identity and approval, so remaining grounded in a sense of self beyond how we identify in the moment can help us weather the waves of prakriti. We can begin to associate with the ocean, not only the waves. Iyengar writes of upeksa “It is not merely a feeling of disdain or contempt for the person who has fallen into vice (apunya) or one of indifference or superiority towards him. It is a searching self-examination to see how how far one is responsible for the state into which the unfortunate one has fallen and the attempt thereafter for put him on the right path.”

This clearing of superiority is important when interacting with people who have different identities than our own, and especially if those have been marginalized or scapegoated identities. Here is a practice that turns blame and judgement into social responsibility. Guruji says of sutra 1.33, “This mental adjustment builds social as well as individual health…This approach to life keeps the mind of the sadhaka serene and pure.”

Painting by Avery Kalapa, 2012

Coming back to the circle of centered vs marginalized, I stand with one foot planted in each area. Most of us have intersecting parts of our being, some privileged, unconscious, and approved of, and some saddled with internalized shame, disapproval, and the burdens of oppression. Aspects of my identity has shifted over the years as I’ve lived across various regions of the gender spectrum, struggled through two hard earned coming out processes to assert a gay identity, only to partner with a trans masculine love who many people assume is a cis male; we often are read as a straight couple, despite our relationship and lived experience being rich with queer, feminist experience. This challenges me and also, keeps my mind fresh. Identity changes. There is also learning to see and decontructing whiteness, the motherhood process, and of course, aging. I keep evolving, and through it all yoga practice has been a true source of clarity, nurturing, and strength.

As I surrender to the process of changing and becoming, over and over, I’m exploring being settled despite identity not being a fixed unchanging thing, which allows the dance of head and heart to find moments of balance, and the being-ness to surface. Identity is important: to feel at home and at peace in our own skin is a step towards the inward journey, skin to soul. To have a queer/ yogic sense of identity, as something fluid, changing, intersectional and dynamic, allows us to relate to others and ourselves from a framework of wholeness in the following ways. We can see and honor our own or someone else’s struggle, but not define them or imprison them in that struggle. We can connect directly with a person without discounting, erasing, and/or only seeing a person as their identity and obscuring their whole beingness; for example, “I don’t see race,” or “he’s cool, except sometimes he says things that are really gay.” While identity is an important aspect of our lived human experience, to know it to be part of the ‘ever changing’ — prakriti and not the ‘never changing’ purusha can thankfully help us explore, connect, relate, and fully live across continuums of how we are defined, who we are, and how we move through the world. A final Guruji quote:

“Yoga releases the creative potential of life…The light that yoga sheds on life is something special. It is transformative. It does not just change the way we see things; it transforms the person who sees.”

Who knows what yet unimagined potentials await.

Saucha: Purifying Our Minds of Systemic Oppression

Saucha: Purifying Our Minds of Systemic Oppression

Saucha: Purifying Our Minds of Systemic Oppression


The first niyama Patanjali gives, which could be viewed as foundational the other niyamas, is saucha which means purity or cleanliness. Where the first limb of Patanjali’s eight limb system, yama, directs the sadhaka in universal moral principles to interact harmoniously with the external world, niyama relates to the ethics of how we relate to ourselves. In Core of the Yoga Sutras Guruji translates sutra II.32 as:

“Practice with a searching mind is meant to purify the body and the mind, bringing satisfaction and contentment. After acquiring purity, one must proceed towards dedicated and devoted practice and study (tapas and svadhyaya). This guides practitioners to the higher and nobler aspects of life so that they resign to God.”

Painting by Avery Kalapa 2010

So, even within the niyamas there is a sequential logic that leads from the periphery to the core. If the basis of contentment (santosha) burning zeal, focus, and self discipline (tapas), self study (savadhyaya), and absorbtion/ surrender to the divine (Isvara pranidhana) rely on purity, what is it we need to purify in order to practice the niyamas and upper limbs? In a culture highly focussed on the material, and what can be commodified for capital gain, it’s easy to interpret saucha as direction for physical cleanliness. BKS Iyengar and Geeta both write about the importance of a clean space for asana practice, free of insects and mess, bathing, and about a healthy, moderate intake of nutritious foods. But the greater import is given to cleansing and purifying the subtler koshas, or layers of our being. Geeta writes:

“This… exchange between the body and mind corrects the process of breathing and opens the channel for prana to move freely within. The prana floats and swims in the body, reaching nooks and corners of the body along with the mainstream or main path where it finds extension, expansion, breadth and width. This leads the inner body to bathe in prana. The body is vitalized the pranika energy. It is an internal bath.”

And in Light on Yoga, Guruji shares,

“While good habits like bathing purify the body externally, asana and pranayama
cleanse it internally. The practice of asanas tones the entire body and removes toxins and impurities caused by overindulgence. Pranayama cleanses and aerates the lungs, oxygenates the blood and purifies the nerves. But more important than the physical cleansing of the body is the cleansing of the mind and it’s disturbing emotions like hatred, passion, anger, lust, greed, delusion, and pride. Still more important is the cleansing of the intellect (buddhi) of impure thoughts. The impurities of the mind are washed in the waters of Bhakti (adoration).The impurities of the intellect or reason are burned off in the fire of svadhyaya. This internal cleansing brings radiance and joy.”

This internal cleansing of the mind and intellect is of great interest to me, because within these subtler layers is where the disturbing emotions listed above are at play, haunting us by affecting our relationships and how we interact with and create in the external world. We move through a world out of balance, which inevitably tints our awareness and experiences with detrimental unconsciouss inherited beliefs.

As a white person, for instance, even if I personally don’t deliberately act racist, I still am part of -and benefit from- the tragic greater systemic racism and settler colonialism that the US is built on. This affects me and others in countless ways that I am only beginning to comprehend, causing intergenerational trauma, struggle, vast inequity, and internal fragmentation. Similarly, simply being raised female in a patriarchal culture has ensured my mind is full of beliefs such as my worth being connected to male-gaze defined sex appeal, self criticism based on a plethora bodily flaws invented by product marketing, doubt about my ability and authority, shame around sexuality and self expression, and fears about sexual, domestic, and other gender-based forms of violence. Just as a fish can’t separate itself from the water in which it lives, we cannot neatly separate ourselves from the systems of imbalance we live in.

Deep twists such as this version of Bharadvajasana on a chair can be deeply cleansing for the organs and nervous system. But even more important than cleansing the physical body, is the purification of the mind.

Albert Einstein illustrated one reason purification of the mind and intellect is essential when he said, “a problem can never be solved by the same level of consciousness that created it.” Although it’s not my fault I’ve inherited internalized sexism and racism, I am accountable to understand, disarm, and change these patterns, and work to avoid passing them on to my children, which is exactly what could happen if such patterns aren’t confronted. I am accountable to purify my own mind, since ultimately no one else but me has access to that work. Working to change external systems, and working to purify our minds are both key to meaningful change. For even as we are all working to survive in society, we all are actively co-creating what comes next. While the inherited systems of oppression and inequity are the problem, our individual (and collective) awakening and accountability are important pieces for healing and transformation. This awakening is also an aspect of resilience. Guruji wrote in Light on Life:

“If we have cleanliness and serenity inside, we can harmonize with the immediate environment. We’re in balance and clean, so changes, disturbances, and events in our daily life do not throw us off balance. We can adapt to them. We’re sensitive to them, we’re flexible, we survive without trauma.”

A focus on ourselves as individuals can, however, be problematic. When I first began studying Patanjali’s eight limbs about 15 years ago, I misunderstood saucha to be about physical cleanliness, such as tidying up and drinking green juice. I thought, I bathe, I eat kale, saucha, check. Particularly when we are focussed on ourselves as individuals, we have a tendency to get caught up in trying to feel and be seen as “good” rather than actually questioning, going to the root cause of avidya (ignorance) and evolving. Tema Okun lists individualism as one of the main characteristics prevalent in white supremacy culture. She describes how individualism compromises peer accountability, fosters competition, leads to isolation, and creates a sense that people must solve problems within an organization on their own. Ultimately, pathological individualism is the manifestation of the illusion of separation.

In Guruji’s comentary of sutra 11.33, he writes about a two part method for addressing the principles that run contrary to practicing yama and niyama. One way to address obstacles is called pratipaksabhavana, which means think and do the opposite of the negative behavior. But also important is paksabhava, “…instead of trying the cultivate the opposite condition, one should go deep into the cause.” Recognizing that saucha isn’t about identity, ego, and “being good,” but rather about a deeper potential of purification that addresses the root causes of ignorance makes way for the subtler, sublime goals of yoga to become possible.

I’ll close by sharing one last beautiful section Guruji wrote in Light on Life:

“It is by facing up to adversity and suffering, and accepting it as a necessary means, that our anxieties are resolved and disappear. If we are loyal to the path we are on, our lives will get better, and the light of distant perfection will come to illuminate our journeys.”