Karen Kirkness, MFA, MSc
My professional and personal life revolve around the continued study of yoga as a method of self-transformation.
I work with a team to maintain an Ashtanga yoga practice community based in Edinburgh, Scotland. Meadowlark Yoga is a not-for-profit yoga studio built over the years in service to this practice that has given me so much. The studio gets its name from its location on the edge of the iconic Edinburgh Meadows, on the south side of the city centre.
On this lifelong journey, I thank my teachers for their support and encouragement. Having first studied Yoga with Sri K. Pattabhi Jois in Mysore in 2003, the Ashtanga method is close to my heart and I love being in India as part of a long-term dedication to yoga studentship.
Dena Kingsberg and her family are a source of continuous light and inspiration to both myself and my husband. Simon and I are grateful to our home team teacher and friend, Sarah Hatcher, for introducing us to Dena’s teachings. I have learned so much from both Sarah and Dena, who embody all the grace and strength it takes to raise a yoga family.
My passion for anatomy encompasses the study of biotensegrity to explore the unifying principles of the body in nature. Through the mentorship of Susan Lowell and the work of Dr. Stephen Levin in biotensegrity, I have come to more fully understand how biological tissues are diagrams of force attenuation. Human anatomy is no different, and in our lifespan we can experience firsthand the emerging properties of sacred geometry.
I got most of the Intermediate series from David, and have learned much about anatomy in the gross and subtle aspects from his teachings. I have also studied yoga anatomy with Leslie Kaminoff in his amazing online course and in person. My art teacher Robert Rivers has also been a key mentor. He taught me the importance of learning how to look at reality and value the process of seeing. Life drawing is still a meditation for me.
My art practice and passion for all things anatomical sort of organically developed as I moved to Edinburgh from Florida to complete my first masters degree from the edinburgh college of art. The degree was called “Art, Space and Nature.” At the time, I really had no idea what I would possibly do with myself after obtaining this degree, but pressed on anyway. I pursued an art career for a short time after graduation before finally settling in Edinburgh with some hard-won perspective.
My story has evolved as the threads of art, anatomy, and yoga started to interweave despite certain obstacles. These obstacles were, of course, largely consequences of my own making. Somewhere along the way, through the study of yoga philosophy, I started to see how I was tripping up on my own drama and that it was time to be a little more discerning. My friend and philosophy teacher, Krishna Sreekumar, is a constant source of wisdom.
During the course of building my business in Edinburgh, I learned some tough lessons that reinforced the value of creating a team through empowering others. Through this experience I am constantly co-creating and reinventing my vision of yoga, my community, and myself. The process of adaptation and continual team-development form the basis of my approach to business. Without the support of Jenna Nishimura, Lachlan Fernie, Rachel Boddy, and Elise Hill, I could never have taken the studio to where it is today.
I wanted to create a sustainable working environment for myself, employees and teachers. The Avid Yogi YTT program was my 80% solution to the need for sharing a client base with teachers I knew to be well-trained in the rigours of Ashtanga, philosophy, and anatomy. I ran this YTT as Lead Trainer for 3 years before realising my own truth about Yoga Teacher Training. I’m proud of what we achieved with Avid Yogi, and now enjoy the benefits of working amongst younger teachers that I know personally very well, along with fellow senior teachers.
Some tough questions will arise for yogis when they have to face their injuries, whether yoga-related or not. As a keen cyclist for many years, I am no stranger to injuries and chronic tightness. In my 20s and early 30s, yoga was the panacea for all the ravages of endurance sports and artistic adventuring. For a long time, I was sort of using yoga as first-aid. Slowly, through years of trial and error, I worked out that everything really is connected and that extremes at any point in the system will have extreme consequences somewhere else. I still love being outside communing with nature, but I no longer throw myself down mountains for fun. Consequently, my asana practice is now a lot more consistent and the trips to the emergency room have all but stopped.
One of the most humbling and enriching experiences of my life was the year I spent in the dissection lab learning about human anatomy at the University of Edinburgh as part of my second masters. Using lo-fi model making, drawing, and 3D printing techniques, I am fascinated with building models of natural geometric patterns in the human body.
Through the process of discovering model making, I was lucky enough to meet my mentor in biotensegrity, Susan Lowell. I now attend ISCAA (International Symposium for Clinical and Applied Anatomy) and the Anatomical Society annual meetings. I’m interested in biotensegrity and how its tenets provide a unifying theory of anatomy, especially for yoga practitioners. I am hugely inspired by the work of yoga teacher and author, Joanne Avison.
While at Edinburgh uni, I had the great fortune of meeting Dr Gabrielle Finn, Senior Lecturer in Medical Education at Hull York Medical School. She taught me the basics of using body painting techniques to explore underlying anatomy and I have been expanding on this innovative teaching tool in my yoga anatomy workshops ever since. As a pioneer of body painting as an educational method in medical anatomy education, Dr Finn has contributed extensively in the literature and offers continued support as a mentor as I further develop this approach for non-anatomists such as yogis and medical illustrators. In case you’re into that, post a lot about body painting on my Tumblr.
Travel is now mostly about getting to Boston, Florida, and India with my husband to see family and connect with the yoga community we have cultivated in these places over the years. While at home, I like to make things, hang out with friends and family, and take in the beauty of nature in and around Edinburgh.
As a friend of the Biotensegrity Archive, I am the happy custodian of the biotensegrity Instagram account. On this account, I post about the Extracellular Matrix, geometry, morphology, geodesics, Phi, nature, and of course… anatomy! Here is a handy shortcut to more information about my Cadaveric Anatomy for Yoga course in Edinburgh, Scotland. The rest of my schedule can be found here. For more about my book, Spiral Bound: biotensegrity for yoga, check out this page at Handspring Publishing.