Archive for the ‘Student Writings’ Category

Yoga Haiku

Thursday, June 7th, 2018

Yoga Haiku

Recently a few members of the community were inspired to share haikus inspired by their practice and their experiences in the teacher training program. If you are interested in writing one yourself, please share it in the comments section below.

Heels root to the earth
Spine long, chest wide, shoulders back
Remember to breathe.
– Gaylien Chun

Concerning Utthita Trikonasana (triangle pose):
Suddenly I find,
In my dream, I’m stuck between
Two panes of glass. Help!
– Gaylien Chun

Scraping the sludge away
Allows me to see through the
Heavy dark my heart
– Kirsten Livingston

Cittavrtti Nirodhah

Monday, March 23rd, 2015

Each year at Karuna a new 200 hour teacher training begins. Students embark on a rigorous journey, employing their bodies, minds and spirits in a deep study of Yoga. The first questions asked for contemplation have a variety of answers, and those answers may change for individuals over the course of their training or throughout years of practice. The following questions are useful to contemplate and revisit for teacher trainees, teachers and student alike. Joanna Caplan, a current teacher trainee, shares her thoughts:


Given the definitions of yoga as “cittavrtti nirodhah” how does the way you do yoga challenge the way you think and feel? How does the way you think and feel challenge the way you do yoga? Discuss and be succinct.


In his translation of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, BKS Iyengar writes “yoga is thus the art and science of mental discipline through which the mind becomes cultured and matured” and yoga is “the control or restraint of the movements of consciousness, leading to their complete cessation” (Iyengar 50). In theory Patanjali’s system is precise, concrete, scientific, complex and accessible. So what does this mean in practice?

.This past month, I have begun to establish a regular home asana, pranayama and meditation practice. My past ten plus years of a semi-regular, on and off again asana practice rarely included a meditation component. In fact, it had been a while since my mind and I had come to greet each other in this way. While meditation is an accessible and concrete practice, I have found it to be challenging and confrontational. The mind is relentless in its chatter and as Maharaj says with such a beautiful bluntness in the collection of his talks entitled I am That, “mind means disturbance; restlessness itself is mind…Examine closely and you will see that the mind is seething with thoughts. It may go blank occasionally, but it does for a time and reverts to its usual restlessness” (Maharaj 126).

.I find the above statement to be radical and liberating. In my experience, there is an adage that through a yoga practice one will find “peace of mind”, however how can this be true if the very nature of the mind is restlessness itself? Furthermore, if we think about peace in this way, as something we can find or acquire then peace becomes yet another sensation, like good and bad, pain and pleasure. In relation to my asana practice, I have in fact found myself getting lost in the sensations of pain and pleasure. By the end of class, I want to feel a certain way, to be more calm, centered and peaceful. Maharaj says, “the peace you claim to have found is brittle – any little thing can crack it. What you call peace is only absence of disturbance…Real peace cannot be disturbed” (Maharaj 127). Therefore, the feeling I get after finishing an asana practice is just that, a feeling. Now I am not discounting my asana practice. Rather, I am beginning to observe my patterns, my habits, my cittavrtti, and in these observations I am beginning to hear and approach an understanding of what Patanjali is articulating.

.So how can yoga “the art and science of mental discipline through which the mind becomes cultured and matured” and “the control or restraint of the movements of consciousness, leading to their complete cessation” if according to Maharaj the mind can never be cultured or matured? I think it is because the mind, in yogic philosophy, is multidimensional and dynamic. It is not one thing. And we are actually not talking about the mind but about citta or consciousness, which contains the mind “consciousness is made up of three factors, mind (manas), intellect (buddhi) and ego (ahamkara)” (Iyengar 49). So this is both a semantic issue (are we talking or writing about the mind or about consciousness) and a practical issue (are we getting wooed by sensations masquerading as “peace of mind”?).

.I do, however, observe moments of connecting to something deeper, to something that goes beyond sensation, feeling and mind, to something completely effortless. It is as though, for a moment, “instead of searching for what you have do not have, you find what it is you have never lost” (Maharaj 128). I think this is what Patanjali, Iyengar, Maharaj are talking about. I think that it can, in fact, be simple and effortless and one can begin to “realize the true peace, the peace you have never lost, that peace will remain with you, for it was never away from you” (Maharaj 128). So the practice becomes a practice of returning to oneself, or rather, realizing that “you are yourself, and no reason is needed” (Maharaj 128).

.I want my practice to be about surrender and release. I want my practice to remind me that I have never left myself, I am right here, deep, deep inside and all I have to do is listen.

letter from a proud mama

Friday, September 19th, 2014

Heidi is the young daughter of one of Karuna’s teacher trainee’s, Anna. She usually accompanies her mom to class and sometimes helps Eileen assist or gives the students eyebags while they settle into savasana. We have posted about her before, including a video of her singing the chant to Patanjali. Recently she helped out at the door for a Krishna Das concert. Anna wrote the studio to tell us this story:

“We were at a family gathering yesterday. In the evening Heidi took a couple of her young cousins and an adult female into another room and taught a yoga class… I didn’t even know she was going to do this … we heard “Ommmm*ing” coming from the other room and then a very serious Heidi voice instructing her ‘students’ … I wanted to go watch but didn’t want to interrupt the class…. so I just listened and giggled with pride at how serious Heidi was taking this class. Afterwards the adult female, Julia, told me that Heidi led the class in complete seriousness, when Julia or the others would giggle or not stay focused Heidi would stand still and give them a deadpan stare until they collected themselves… she walked around them and adjusted their poses all the while. When they would do something without her instruction she would apparently tell them to not go ahead and to await for her instruction :)) At some point she chanted the Chant to Patanjali to them as well, of course 🙂

Proud Momma, Anna”


Saturday, February 15th, 2014
a poem by erin feldman
Bob Marley sang, “Emancipate yourself from mental slavery/none but ourselves
can free our minds”. This here is another song of freedom:
we’re gathering breaths.
we all lookin’ for redemption:
won’t you help me?
it’s an endless
[now]. [now.] [now.]
there you go. [now.]
train your heart [now] to feel [now] in it’s natural [now] habitat [now]
a different [now] than the one before [now]
now. now.
teach your mind [now] to chant [now] the mantra [now] of breath [now]
breathe [now] breathe [now]
surrender [now]
The anxious doer [now] chief denizen [now] of the mind [now]
gazes out [now] of these eyes [now] and sees [now]
obstacles [now] threats [now] side trails [now] veils [now]
ignorance is [now] confusing the self [now]
with the cargo [now] in your mind [now]
surrender [now]
the only suffering [now] we can do anything [now] about [now]
is the suffering [now] which has yet to come [now]
be [now] the seer [now] be [now] the seer [now]
breathe [now] breathe [now] breathe [now] breathe [now] breathe [now]
feel the breath [now] in your nose [now] emancipation [now] in your heart [now]
be the love [now] you ask for [now] breathe [now] breathe [now]
between each [now] hear the birds [now] the cars [now] the beats [now] of your heart [now]
the trail [now] of your thoughts [now]
the blocks [now] you have to [now] but don’t want [now] to fight [now]
and later [now] a cold rain [now] a hot meal [now] Ommmmm
surrender [now]

erin feldman is a recent graduate from Karuna’s 200 Hour Teacher Training Program. She wrote this poem for the training commencement, it was modeled on Laura Lamb Brown-Lavoie’s “Bean Meditation”

Removing the Obstacles

Thursday, December 26th, 2013

Jack Kornfield says “Within us is a secret longing to remember the light, to step out of time in this dancing world. It’s where we began and where we return.”

In our seeking, many of us find yoga- its goal is to deliver a spiritual practice that unites us with ultimate reality.

Through the sutras, we learn that following the fundamental path of yoga requires us to disengage from the material world (Prakriti) because our spirit self (Purusha) has become entangled through the five afflictions (kleshas). These are: ignorance (avidya), egoist pride (asmita), desire (raga), aversion (dvesa) and fear of death (abinivesa) and they lead to suffering of our physical, emotional and spiritual selves. According to Patanjali, we need to disentangle spirit from matter through constant, inner practice to purify body mind and spirit (abhayasa) and renunciation or non-attachment leading to spiritual surrender (vairagya), in order to truly know ourselves. By following the yogic path, we are provided with the means to awaken our authentic selves that lie beyond the order of nature and remain unchanging.

As we began our teacher-training program, Eileen introduced us to a non-negativity diet, one way of taking a moment-by-moment inventory of how the various kleshas may be impacting our lives. By noticing our tendencies to deny truth or our failure to be curious, we chose avidya. Through a competitive spirit, we demonstrate asmita, and through attachment to outcomes, possessions or even particular people, we align ourselves with raga. We demonstrate dvesa when we employ judgment, of ourselves and of others, and abinivesa when we place ourselves before others in an attempt to outwit death.

When we are not experiencing our true selves, we are entangled with the layers of unreality (colorings) of the mind. These are dual- aklistas are thought patterns that hamper us on our path to enlightenment and klistas are patterns that move us forward. To observe the coloring of our thoughts is a useful practice. By noticing and acknowledging to ourselves that they are in fact, just thoughts, we can move to the next level of noticing if they are colored or not, positive or negative, serving us well, or not. According to Patanjali, ignorance creates all the other obstacles. We have it in our power to cultivate concentration and remove these obstacles to enlightenment. We have the choice to end our own suffering through practice and renunciation. As we learn to detach from the outcomes of our work and focus simply, clearly and continuously, on the process, we can teach ourselves to notice without judgment and through these observations, we create the vehicle for change. The Buddhists teach that what we resist persists. When we practice with vairagya, we observe without resistance; we grow. By noticing and contemplating on the kleshas in the form of a daily inventory, we begin the process of eradication.

Because the nature of all, including ourselves, is of Prakriti, we carry all the characteristics of nature (gunas) in various imbalanced ways. Our nature changes from one moment to the next, exposing us to the tendencies of sattva (illumination), rajas (passion) and tamas (inertia). The gunas cause us to perceive the world in unbalanced ways. Hopefully, as we learn to quiet the mind, we will see more clearly with a heart that may be more trustworthy than the fickle distortions of the mind.

In any case, the colorful klista sanskaras, the imbalanced state of the gunas and the kleshic tendencies are part of the human condition and the sutras provide us with a means of comprehending and a vehicle for transcendence.

Kathi Burke is a recent graduate of Karuna’s 200hr Teacher Training Program

The Bhagavad Gita

Wednesday, October 9th, 2013

This past month the yoga teacher trainees at Karuna were assigned to read the Bhagavad Gita. In preparation for the workshop taught by Satyanarayana Dasa at Karuna a few weeks ago, students were asked to answer the following questions:


i. What is Karma?
ii. How is work transformed into worship?
iii. Why does the Gita offer many alternative paths of practice?
iv. What is the Gita’s position on polytheism?
v. What are the obstacles to the recognition of divinity in each of us? What do you suggest as a practice to enable each person to identify the “self” as distinct from the body?

Megan Frazier is a current student in the 200/hr Teacher Training. She also teaches anatomy at Karuna. This is her response.

Before I answer these questions, I feel that I must honestly say how much I have struggled with reading the Bhagavad Gita. Unlike most of what I have been exposed to in this training, I do not feel aligned with much of what I have been reading. I have sought out different translations and tried listening to a recording. I have 5 versions at home right now including “a walk through for westerners,” “annotated and explained,” and even a children’s book. I have not made it all the way through any version except the children’s book and I am finding that I have difficulty getting past the content and hearing the message that lies beneath the parable. It feels wrong to me that the conclusion of the lesson that all of our experiences are an illusion is that Arjuna should go ahead and kill his friends and family members. We are told that he is “Duty-bound” to “protect his honor” and these do not sit with me as God-supported actions but as the samskaras of centuries of patriarchal thinking and acting. Just as the Bible was written by men (not by God), this text also seems to have been written down by men and contains their inherent and cultural biases. I don’t know how to get completely past that skepticism to appreciate the song of God that is presented.

What is Karma?.

Karma is one of those words that seems to be frequently misused. Something bad will happen to someone and they will say “that was bad Karma.” It doesn’t seem correct to me to say that Karma could be good or bad, based on what I read in the Gita. Nor does it seem to be quite as simple as “I have bad Karma and that’s why something bad just happened to me. “ There seems to be more than one definition for Karma within the Gita, but the one that resonated most with me was this: “Whatever we do and whatever we are is the consequence of samskaras deposited in the mental body by our thoughts, words and deeds of past lives. These impressions, carried in latent form into our next life, determine our future temperament and destiny.”1 This is a more nuanced way of saying “you reap what you sow.” What I like about the idea of Karma is that it inserts some personal responsibility into the theology. Without that concept, the ideas in the Gita would overwhelm me. If everything flows back to the divinity, if there is one God responsible for everything I experience, then why should I bother to act? Why would my actions matter? Karma teaches me that my actions do matter, and that although there may be many lifetimes before I reach union with the divinity, I can make choices in this lifetime that will move “me” in that direction (though it seems strange to say “me” when I am talking about union with God!)

.How is work transformed into worship?

This question is harder for me to understand. I believe that the Gita tells us that we need to do our worldly work, we need to persist in action, but that we need to do so without attachment. When I translate that into my own situation, here is my interpretation: I work with very challenged children in very challenged families and social situations. If this is truly my work (which I am still trying to figure out), it is correct for me to do my work (as opposed to staying home and praying and doing yoga or watching TV all day!) But it is incorrect for me to expect or become attached to the outcomes, to changing the children or the families, or to improve or take them out of their situations. The other piece is that if we work “with our heart fixed on the divinity”2 our work can become sacred. This thought is comforting to me, because work can get caught up in so many struggles of the mind – am I paid enough? Am I appreciated enough? Can I get health insurance? Am I passionate about my work every day? Making a shift to fix my heart on the divinity through the work day is a good strategy to escape all these thoughts which, in truth, are NOT my work.

Why does the Gita offer many alternative paths of practice?

Even though I have been working on reading this work since last month, I guess I have not read or understood enough to really take in that this is what the Gita is doing. I was able to learn from searching for more information that three of the paths are considered Karma Yoga (selfless action), Bhakti yoga (devotion) and Jnana yoga (self transcending knowledge) but this is not what I learned from the reading that I did. I imagine that the reason for multiple paths is because there is so much complexity in the relationship between personhood and the divine; each path perhaps provides a unique set of lessons or lens through which to understand the path as well as the destination (which is the same for all three paths).

What is the Gita’s position on polytheism?

I understand the Gita to be saying that there is only one God, that everything is the Godhead. “Whatever form of God people choose to worship in good faith, it is I, the Godhead, who makes their faith steady and unwavering. I do this to help them evolve stage by stage along their spiritual path” (7:21). I interpret this to mean that someone who professes to worship a “different” God is not actually doing so, but instead has not progressed far enough along his or her spiritual path (influenced by his or her Karma) to understand that it is this One God (who is speaking through Krishna) that he or she is worshipping.

What are the obstacles to the recognition of divinity in each of us?

What do you suggest as a practice to enable each person to identify the “self” as distinct from the body? The primary obstacles, I believe, are the samskaras of the individual hand in hand with the conflation of the self with the self’s desires. When we derive our satisfaction/contentment or sense of rightness from the fulfillment of our desires, we are compelled to do whatever it takes to keep getting our desires met. The solution to this is discussed in the Gita as well as in the Sutras: the balance of practice and dispassion, abhyasa and vairagyam, will permit an individual to cultivate detachment from desire while also helping to lessen the hold that our samskaras have over our habits/actions. My image for the samskaras is like an Etch-A-Sketch, and there are some pathways very clearly marked. The purpose of our practice is to create the potential for all the pathways to be available to us equally (all the silvery Etch-a-Sketch coating to be removed) so that we can act based on what is the best choice for our Karma and not simply as dictated by our samskaras.


1. Bhagavad Gita: Annotated and Explained. Translation by Shri Purohit Swami, Annotation by Kendra Crossen Burroughs. Woodstock, VT; Skylight Illuminations;2001. Pages 28-30
2. The Bhagavad Gita: A Walkthrough for Westerners. Hawley, Jack. Novato, CA. New World Library. 2001.

Megan Frazier - Experiental AnatomyMegan Frazier has always loved the exploration of the body, both as a dancer and as an anatomist. She holds an MS in physical therapy as well as an MFA in Dance and a BS in biology. She currently practices physical therapy in both pediatric and geriatric settings, and is an adjunct neuroanatomy instructor at Springfield College. Megan was first introduced to yoga in high school by her modern dance teacher, and finds that yoga practice deeply enhances her anatomical exploration.

Svadhyaya and Motherhood

Friday, September 20th, 2013

On svadhyaya* and motherhood…

I will wear this hood – gratefully –
for a lifetime
…..what i was i still am yet now, somehow, more
born of My womb you were a Tiny Beloved;
…..spark of a deep, abiding, infinite and imperfect Love
……..but Ours you are not
as Gibran eloquently observes
you were (indeed) born of “life’s longing for Itself”
And in your pure reflection, when I choose to witness,
…..i grow and delve into my Self-
………..sometimes darker
recesses of love and fear
… and anger.


I have only begun to touch Source.


You challenge me, you insist – like any good Guru-
……..that i Show Up
…..with complete presence
and find a comfortable seat for the ride
…..for when I don’t (and I often won’t)
you have perfected your effective methods
to call my attention and strengthen my efforts


…….and I will falter
and i will ask your forgiveness,
……….again… and again…
hopeful that the next time not the same missed mark,
…..for perhaps I have learned this time
…..and i will see my own wounds
and i will be given the chance,
…..over and over again
to apply the salve of divine mercy and compassion
…….to my own wounded heart
so that i do not repeat and inflict those deep cuts
…….with anger
……….with words
………….with touch
that have become my sam(scar)as and my (his)stories
for you were born with this One Precious Human Life
with Suffering all your Own,


…..may i ease your load
……..may i add to your joy
…………and may i see the world through your wonder.


* Sutra 2.1

Tapah svadhyayesvara pranidhanani kriya yogah

Accepting pain as help for purification, study of spiritual books, and surrender to the Supreme Being constitute Yoga in practice.

Loren Magruder, 500hr Karuna Advanced Teacher Training Graduate, Mother

Pranayama Reflection

Friday, August 30th, 2013

Sometimes from the depths of my body a great wind comes and lifts my breath with ease, and every cell begins to multiply and hum and I feel as if bloated by the divine that hides within. And just like when you’ve eaten too much, any exacerbated movement throws the whole plot into the compost. It can be such an effortless experience as fragile as the waterford crystal my grandmother collects.
My practice has become like this: my grandmother asks me to dust and clean her precious crystal wares, and so with great love and appreciation I spend the rest of my life completing this task to ensure that I learn to use the right amount of care. Now the challenge has become – with so much work ahead of me, where do I start? I can become so easily overwhelmed, throwing caution to the wind. However, the more I pass through this, the more clear the veil appears. And in due time, thanks to my grandmother’s love, this veil becomes the cloth I use to dry my finished work.
By Chris Hamel

Chris Hamel is a much loved frequent contributor of poetry and prose to the Karuna blog. He is also a great teacher, student and friend within the Karuna community. Hopeful we will continue to hear more of his insights into practice as he embarks on his next journey this fall. Stay tuned!

I React..

Friday, August 9th, 2013
By Kathi Burke
Here I Am
Alone in the World
An Enigma of Thoughts, Feelings, Elations, Depressions,
Promises, Cravings, Judgments, Reactions.
I Grow, I Strain, I Direct my own Fate, I Love,
I Study, I Learn, I Work, I React…
I Seek…Something Big, Something Sure, Something Connected,
Something Wise, Something Great, Something Beautiful,
Something Changeless, Something Pure, Something Aware,
Something Reaction-less.
I Attend Class… I fear, I love, I react, I flee, I return, I strive, I
hurt, I love, I need, I crave, I react. I learn to return, to practice,
to avoid judgment, to honor the wisdom which emerges at times,
within, or without, or sometimes doesn’t. I react.
One day, a new consciousness arrives, however briefly; she
throbs with light and stillness in silence. This consciousness of
the One, my soul body, causes my yoga body to bleed tears of joy
and awe. I react.
I return to class…chasing the illusory she-flame of light and
beauty and love. I fear, I love, I react, I flea, I strive, I hurt, I love,
I need, I crave, I react, even though I don’t want to.
I continue, all the while hoping that the grip of wanting will relax,
knowing that my effort is in the being, not in the gripping, in full
knowledge that in faithfully restraining attachments to results,
my soul body is certain to return in all her glory, as effort relaxes
into the potential that brings effortlessness and reveals the glory
of HER acceptance of the NOW.

Kathi Burke is a current student in Karuna’s 200hr Teacher Training Program

The Contentment in Right Action

Wednesday, July 17th, 2013

The Contentment in Right Action

Yoga is the practice of self-awareness. It’s goals are freedom, Self realization, divine expression. Satya is about living our truth. Finding our truth, both on and off the mat, can be challenging. Svadhyaya (self-study) is the means.

By Kathi Burke

A life story:

Recently, my directors announced that there would be no raises for the fifth consecutive year. We’ve grown too large and our profit margin too small. Despite their request for feedback, I kept my own counsel. My thoughts were most likely controversial ones and I have worked for many years on curbing my often passionate and impulsive flow of words.

After allowing my ideas to percolate, I wrote them. I suggested we increase salaries to a few, should there be a small overage. I advanced the theory that the youngest faculty, who were often repaying loans and prohibitive insurance costs were working for entry-level salaries, thus more negatively impacted by budgetary constraints. I proposed that the best and brightest of these were the agency’s future but also were most likely to be recruited to work elsewhere.  I named a few and took the opportunity to share my pleasure in working with an excellent young teacher for the past two years.

Long story short, I made a mistake. I said something else. In order to dispel the characteristic notion that “no one is hiring”, I shared that I knew that at least one school district had already approached my exemplary colleague with an offer. I pushed SEND. Then, I was flooded with regret.

Satya requires us to take the next “right action” in any given moment. Just because something is truthful, it does not make it right to share. I called my colleague and told on myself only to find out that she and a few others had been given a retroactive increase two days prior from some grant monies. WOW! I was overjoyed! How wonderful!

Not even close.  A day later the raise was retracted. The reason, of course, was my letter. They saw the fact that she hadn’t shared the offer as subversive and offensive. We were shocked! I was guilty of every possible charge I could muster against myself. We engaged in debating the fairness of their decisions for some time; and then it hit me.

Svadhyaya requires letting go of results and complete immersion of oneself in the process.  At the core of self-study is the attitude of non-attachment.  I’ve acknowledged my overly zealous nature. My passion can champion many causes well, but it can also obscure my truth.  I recently read that through santosa we end the war with reality. When we are attached to a particular outcome, we often aren’t able to perceive truth. When invested in our own view, we obscure the views of others. Our curiosity in possibilities is suppressed; as we build our case, we move away from the core of our being.

This problem wasn’t about them, how rational or irrational their decision. It wasn’t even about my colleague. It was about my sharing information that wasn’t mine to share, an old character flaw of impulsive zeal. I stopped participating. I accepted full blame. I apologized. Then I went home and wrote a check. When I put it in the mail the next morning, a sense of calm and freedom returned. This summer, each time I choose not to make an unnecessary purchase, I am reminded to be grateful for the assistance in erasing a samskara, one of attaching myself too passionately to an outcome.

In yogic philosophy,  samskaras cycle through many lives. Only through the awareness of these negative traits through svadhyaya, do we avail ourselves of the opportunity to grow into our divinity and to abandon these patterns. The object of self-study is an emerging awareness of the divinity within. The single most profound illusion is our misguided belief that we are separate from god. It is in birthing the realization that we carry the divine within us that we grow in satya and santosa.

The mat story:

While I’ve had a lifetime to work on the observance of self-study and the restraints of truthfulness, I am in my infancy applying these concepts to the mat. Seneca wrote: “It is not because things are difficult that we do not dare; it is because we do not dare that things are difficult.” Getting caught up in my “story” of injury and poor health distorts my truth on the mat. Recognizing and embracing my improving health will serve me better as I relax into today.

Svadhyaya requires me to put my reactions aside with my “story”.  I can learn to examine my fear, my distrust and my attitudes about specific postures truthfully and with curiosity only when I release my grip and practice non-attachment. I know from life experiences that when I invest in outcomes, I loose my availability for growth and contentment.

I find that when I approach the mat with fear, I am unable to remain still in body and mind, thus becoming unavailable to learn the lessons I require to grow. If I obsess about what I am “unable to do”, I will make that my reality. Letting go of fear will bring greater sensation, awareness and growth.

As with my zealotry in my work life, my fear of physical weakness and strength in balance may be another samskara waiting to be released.

Kathi Burke is the mother of three grown children and lives in Troy, NY with her husband of 40 years and her Jack Russell, Pepper. She finds joy as a speech pathologist working with young children and  in teaching a movement form combining martial, healing and dance arts called NIA.