Karen Kirkness

Author, Spiral Bound: biotensegrity for yoga (available 2018)
Ashtanga Yoga practitioner
Meadowlark Yoga founding teacher
Member of the Anatomical Society

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 a family-friendly yoga practice community based in Edinburgh, Scotland. Meadowlark Yoga is a not-for-profit yoga studio that I founded on the back of many years working as a freelance yoga teacher. The studio gets its name from its location on the edge of the iconic Edinburgh Meadows, on the south side of the city centre.

I started doing yoga in the 90s while at the University of Central Florida. For the first time, I felt connected to my body in a compassionate way, and at some stage it dawned on me that yoga had the potential for much more than physical benefits. I first studied yoga seriously in Mysore in 2003, and thus began my yogic life. The Ashtanga yoga method is close to my heart as I continue with  daily practice, now modified in my maternal years. My teachers, Dena Kingsberg and Sarah Hatcher, are a constant source of inspiration as I work through the Yoga Sutras and deeper into asana.

I met my first Anatomy teacher, David Keil, in 2003 at what was then called Centered Yoga Teacher Training in Koh Samui, Thailand. 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 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 through life drawing.

My passion for all things anatomical developed organically as I moved to Scotland 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 my career in art for a short time after graduation in 2005 before finally settling in Edinburgh with some hard-won perspective.

Since then, my story has evolved through the interweaving threads of art, anatomy, and yoga. Like most chronically adventurous people, I have learned a lot in moments of failure while facing up to obstacles. These obstacles range from personal struggles to professional and physical injuries, largely of my own making. 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.

Sutra 2.16

heyaṁ duḥkham-anāgatam

Future suffering is to be avoided!

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 degree in Human Anatomy. Using lo-fi model making, drawing, and 3D printing techniques, I am fascinated with building models of natural geometric patterns in the human body.

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.

My passion for anatomy encompasses the study of geometry to explore the unifying principles of the body in nature. I’m interested in biotensegrity and how its tenets provide a unifying theory of anatomy, especially for yoga practitioners. I teach and practice yoga asana guided by the spiral action of joint systems connected through the Extracellular Matrix. I met my biotensegrity mentor, Susan Lowell, through her fascinating, cross-disciplinary twitter feed all about biotensegrity.

For more about my book, Spiral Bound: biotensegrity for yogacheck out this page at Handspring Publishing.

As a new mum, I have encountered a whole new set of challenges – definitely the most rewarding and humbling so far! As I work to provide the stability of a family home for our son, my daily yoga practice has taken on a heightened importance. Never before have I valued the settling effects of a daily practice like I did during pregnancy. Now that we have our son, Owen, my husband and I balance out the practicalities of parenthood with our commitment to personal practice.