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.”

Bhakti Yoga, Karma Yoga, Decolonizing Yoga

Bhakti Yoga, Karma Yoga, Decolonizing Yoga

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. 

Simple Prenatal Yoga Sequence for Home Practice

Simple Prenatal Yoga Sequence for Home Practice

Simple Prenatal Yoga Sequence for Home Practice


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

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

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

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

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

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

The Practice

(Dedicated to my dear BFF Liv in New Zealand)

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

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

1. Get centered in Badha Konasana

(Bound Angle Pose)

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


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

4 good reasons for this pelvic position:

(try it when you drive or sit to type, not just in yoga practice!!)

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

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

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

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

2. Hands and Knees explorations:

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

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

~Hip circles, Figure 8s, Tail Wagging

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

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

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

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

First, cross…

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

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

a. Kneeling, right leg out, lunge back and forth, sitting deep into the right sitting bone as you track the knee towards the middle toe. The right leg externally rotates, heel beyond knee, heavy heel. Rock balk and forth…

b. Parigasana/ The Gate Pose, variation:

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

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

d. Arms down, and with the support of the ground……side lunge again, with


Ahhhh into the stretch

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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





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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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



Once you get the feel of it on the chair, try it at the wall, with the sacrum and upper back and head resting on the wall and the heels and knees about a foot away from the wall: same work, but even more stabilizing. You can also do shoulder openers, or work the upper body as in parsvakonasana during the chair supported version. This pose is fabulous for sacral stability. As the sacrum draws forward, the SI joints are supported my the muscular work in the thighs to close. I experienced terrible sciatica (pain caused by compression to the sciatic nerve) and SI joint pain during pregnancy, due to the relaxin opening and destabilizing what was already loose to begin with. This pose helped immediately and immensely to resolve my pain. It also builds the strength required for active labor. 7. Prasarita Padotonasana: Expanded Legs Forward Bend: To practice this pose, the feet are parallel, heels separated about as wide as the wrists when the arms are extended out the side. The sitting bones lift and broaden, the pelvis rotates forward around the thigh bones, so the front spine can extend. Keep the heels heavy, reaching the tailbone back behind the heels, as you lengthen forward through the spine, crown of the head, and arms. Take enough height so that the front body is spacious.  As you forward bend on the chair: push chair forward, draw tail back… HEELS HEAVY. You can stretch the mat wider between the feet isolmetraically to broaden the inner pelvis and stretch the pelvic floor, or press the outer legs in medially, as though you would slide the legs towards each other, to help draw the sacrum in, and stabilize. If you are familiar with both actions, do both at once! A good way to use this pose for relieving low back pain, try practicing it on a kitchen counter throughout the day. This can be a great labor pose when leaning the upper body (chest, arms, and head) forward onto a high bed or soft padded counter. As a yoga pose it helps strengthen the legs and increases circulation to the reproductive organs, while also lengthening and releasing the lower back.

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

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

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

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

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

Come out restfully.

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


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