K A R E N
K I R K N E S S
My yoga journey started with Ashtanga in the late 90’s when I landed on the mat for the first time in college at the University of Central Florida. Between then and 2017, I undertook 7 trips to India to study with the Jois family and other senior Ashtanga teachers. I had the good fortune of meeting Karyn Stillwell as an early inspiration, then David Keil, and later Sarah Hatcher and Dena Kingsberg. My privilege has included all the usual trappings of a white girl from the suburbs inspired to travel extensively despite being totally broke and bereft of any real plan.
Over the decades, I was also a voracious endurance cyclist and used yoga to heal from injuries resulting from what I now think of as an addiction to intensity. Somehow, I emerged from the fire only slightly scathed, and it is thanks to yoga I was able to transition into more sustainable physicality. Yoga and an unquenchable curiosity about the nature of tissue led me to continue my studies as a postgraduate in biomedical sciences. I now find inspiration from the natural world and its interconnected structural patterns in the body and beyond.
Years after moving to Scotland to get my MFA, I studied classical Human Anatomy at Edinburgh University for my second Master’s degree, an MSc in Human Anatomy. The experience of studying classical anatomy as a mature postgraduate student in the dissection lab was spiritual, academic, and deeply humbling. I was constantly struggling to keep up with my cohort of 20-something med students. Hopelessly sub-par, my only salvation was making models, drawing, and working twice as hard as everyone else (it seemed) to pass my exams.
Along the way, I have professionalised as a yoga teacher and community maker. I founded Meadowlark Yoga based on my work as a freelance yoga teacher in Edinburgh since 2003. My personal practice has evolved into a daily meditation on healing and discovery, and I share this journey with others in my teachings.
My favourite ways to explore anatomy are through movement, body painting, making models, and getting hands-on with kinaesthetic learning techniques. My first book for Handspring Publishing is in production for launch in Spring of 2021. I’m working part-time on my PhD in Medical Sciences at Hull York Medical School. I see biological tissues now through the lens of the biotensegrity interest group, B.I.G. The BIG protagonists have become mentors, including my co-author and friend, Joanne Avison.
My continuing study of anatomy brings me a grasp of what it means to have a body in terms of gross and subtle anatomy. Inspired by the Sāṃkhya philosophy of yoga, my understanding of gross anatomy fits in the framework of cosmology and I see the body as nothing separate from the rest of the Universe. I was first inspired to learn the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali in Mysore with M.A. Jayashree, and now consider sounding, functional breath-movement, and pranayama to be my main personal practice.
My teaching practice is about facilitation and empowerment. I seek connection with each student to help them discover how to joyfully progress in their practice while minimising risk. I love giving (and receiving) yoga adjustments crafted through personal experience, research, and creative play. I deliver my Avid Yogi Ashtanga-based teacher training courses with my colleagues Amy Hughes and Nadine Watton with a focus around pedagogy informed by critical dialogue, consent, defined scope of practice, and healthy working relationships.
In this new era of COVID, I am (like everyone else) embracing the tools available to offer yoga via Zoom. I’m currently working with my team to ensure that our yoga room is a safe place to be, both in-studio and in our online space. My most unique offering in these times is a series of Virtual Dissections, using the Visible Body 3D software to teach anatomy with fellow movement teachers.
As a movement teacher, I see the body as a nonlinear matrix of spirals and my work is centred on the spiral as a natural motif. My contribution to the yoga anatomy conversation is in the form of what I call the Five Filaments, a fascia-aware system for codifying biomotion into practical terms. I work with functional movement themes in rotation seated in the spectrum of soft tissues as informed by my extensive study of the body in research and practice.
Like many creative women who happen to be mothers making a living, I often struggle with having time for all my projects. My husband, Simon, enjoys pointing this out. Without him, none of what I do would be possible and together we have two toddlers that keep us laughing out loud.
The challenge of parenting is one of the greatest and most rewarding of my life. As such, themes of pregnancy and postpartum restoration now colour my offering as a yoga teacher. I relish the recovery process and enjoy helping other women find their way back into their bodies as part of rebalancing after birth and beyond.