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Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, United States
Karen is a yogini, writer, student, teacher and meditator. She founded Garden Street School of Yoga in 2000. Karen lives with her husband Chris. They have two amazing sons, Eli and Leo (both of them young men).

Dec 7, 2011


My time at the ashram with Leo was over the top Good.......a strengthening of my roots and  remembrance of what is Real.  And then came Thanksgiving.....also over the top Good with both Eli and Leo home as well as Chris' mother.  As usual, drawing into home and family set my roots more deeply into gratitude for the good fortune of my life.

It seems like this entire Autumn I have been contemplating roots in my life and in my Yoga practices. 
The Yoga tradition offers ways to strengthen both our inward roots into our sadhana (spiritual practice) as well as our outward roots into embodied life.  Retreat is one of those ways.  Being on retreat strengthens a fundamental root in me, one that brings essential nourishment into my practice and life and provides me with a sort of food I can't do without.  Likewise my home practice of daily meditation, pranayama, puja, abiding in the "home field" of Blessing Force, etc.  - all of these strengthen this inward root. 

Inner roots are akin to the antar anga or the inward limbs of Yoga mentioned in Yoga Sutra 2.29. They provide me with sanctuary, remembrance and deep nourishment.

And then there's the outward roots of my life as a Yogin: my work, family, parents, studio business; Garden Street and the bright community of teachers and students there; my gradually increasing ability to stand steady in life and live from what I know; my aim to be ethically aligned in personal and business practices; my aspiration to consistently show up for work and for people who rely on me with my heart available .........these are some of the ways I understand the outer roots of my Yoga life. 

There are also involvements and relationships that are inner roots at times and outer roots at other times. For example, my marriage, writing, study, teaching, chanting, etc. - these seem to hold the place in the middle - available as a doorway to inner practice or to outer life. 

And then there's Asana!

In my view, Asana is an obvious and very available root practice for anyone who has a body and is on the Yoga path. It provides the fundamental physical work of getting strong in legs and pelvic core.....developing stamina and patience and an ability to stay in place in inner and outer life. Being strong in my physical legs supports my ability to stand steady and live from what I know - to set a strong root into the earth and into my embodied life. 

Tantra teaches that the world tells us about the Divine. The way of nature and of the body teaches me the most intelligent sequence of things. Based on this, it is clear that I must cultivate strength in embodied life FIRST, learn how to stand on my own 2 feet, make a living, show up for work, stay in relationship, and be strong in my legs so I can do the heavy lifting of spiritual practice. Sadhana is - literally -  physically demanding Work. Love and the alchemy of transformation is not for weaklings.  

I know that there are many, many physically impaired people who are masters of Love. But my particular karma has given me a body that is unimpaired. With that good fortune - as with any good fortune  - comes incredible responsibility. Part of that responsibility - as I see it - is that I be steady on my feet, cultivate dignity and self-support, stand strong in my life and in my dharma.  Only then do I have a reliable platform on which to sit in meditation, broaden my sadhana, deepen my roots into the Absolute and traverse the great path of remembrance and return.

ALL of the above takes practice....abhyasa....regular practice over a long period of time with devotion. Daily. As Paul Muller Ortega puts it - "random practice, random results". 
Random results just don't cut it. Relying on the results of random practice is like trying to do a long hold of a strong standing pose on weak or poorly aligned legs. Those same legs might be adequate roots if you're just in line at the super market - but not if you want to "stay in place" in ways that matter and not if you want to move forward in a way that means anything.

This contemplation of roots has been reflected in my zealous - "can't-quite-get-done-with-it - enthusiasm for strengthening the legs, hips and lower abdominal core in asana. I mean - I worry that I have almost been torturing people with strength work in the classes lately.

The way I understand it, Tantra insists that both the inward roots and outward roots of our sadhana - our practice - be strengthened and expanded. We ARE the connection between heaven and earth.  Why be only a vague and timid connection with a thin and tenuous root to heaven and a wobbly, weak-legged presence on earth?  Yoga – our participation and true home in that great lineage – presents us with both the invitation (and eventually the demand!) as well as brilliant means, to step up to the enlivening task of being strongly rooted to heaven and to earth. 

As usual, Rilke says it brilliantly - telling us to reach our roots deeper and more strongly to both Heaven and Earth:

“It is not enough to be carried along. Time to take your well-disciplined strengths and stretch them between two opposing poses because inside human beings is where God learns.” ~~Rilke

Thanks for reading!

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