All posts by katie

Bendala Yoga and Altaer Unite

Deep breathe. We’ve finished up our summer/fall retreats, and want to give a big shout out to our most recent sponsor, Bendala Yoga Mats (

After spending four days in the backcountry of the Uncompahgre Mountains in Southwest Colorado for our annual Altaer Retreat, one things for sure: Bendala makes yoga mats suited for centered adventure in Mother Nature.

The mission of Altaer Education is to create sacred spaces in Nature where participants spend time, out of the system, connecting to a deeper silence of the wilderness and discovering the wildness of their inner souls. In essence, we create, honor, and celebrate the natural altars of Mother Nature and our own bodies using meditation, yoga, wilderness education, trekking, and dance.

When Bendala agreed to sponsor the “Awakening the Spirit” retreat, we received a heap of their handmade cotton mats (made in India!) for our clients. Doing pranayama at dawn, the mats soaked up the moisture from dewy ground and never got slippery when we stood for sun salutations. They were perfect blankets for our talk circles in the aspen groves, and served as picnic platforms during our day hikes.

We often stopped along a rocky rivers edge to sit and hear the waters sing; many of our clients draped them atop the boulders to meditate. Extra long and spacious, they acted as ideal cushions for our acro-yoga session in the community tent.
Because of their organic cotton, Bendala mats make practicing outdoors feel more natural than ever. No synthetic fibers, no slippery slopes—Bendala provides a platform where muddy feet, sunbaked backs, and sweaty hands can practice with ease.

Modern Primitive


When the fallen hero Chris McCandless of Jon Krakauer’s bestseller Into the Wild was found dead inside an abandoned bus in Alaska, readers were heartbroken – but not shocked.

No preparation? No previous experience? What was he expecting?

The story of McCandless, who tried to survive entirely off the wilderness, illuminated the schism between modern day society and a more ancient, primitive way of relating to life. In this fast-paced world where technology teaches us more than, say, a hunting spear, it’s rare to find anyone who lives entirely off the mercy of Mother Nature.

Maybe McCandless was hoping to turn out more like Doug Simons.

Simons, 51, also wandered into the wilderness 30 years ago. But instead of tragedy, he has not only lived to tell the tale but also teach the lessons learned from his experience.

“Simons truly walks his talk,” herbalist Michael Murphy says, “He didn’t read a book to learn the edible and medicinal plants of the Southwest – he lived his questions by surrendering his life to the wilderness.”

Intrigued by plants from an early age, Simons grew up with a gift for plant identification and communication. He spent more than 30 years (off-and-on) wandering around the Gila and Sonora deserts with nothing to eat other than what he found along the way. When he needed fire, he used a bow drill; shelter, a canvas tarp. He didn’t have a back-up plan, either – when he was in the wild, his survival depended completely on his acquired physical skills and a deeper spiritual alignment with the rhythms of nature.

“Living off wild foods doesn’t give you the benefit of, say, a supermarket, where you can plan your meals in advance,” Simons says. “A lot of times I lived from meal to meal, and it tested me a lot. When I was hungry and tired, I had the choice of living from faith or letting the fear overcome me. It was more productive when I trusted that the land would provide.”

For Simons, survival and spirituality are inseparable. He exemplifies a shamanistic path. Defined as “one who walks in both worlds,” shamans are credited with the ability to translate between the spirit and material realms.

“The truth is, we can talk to plants, but we were never taught that in this culture,” Simons said. “It takes a while to remove the layers that block us from believing that.”

Just as we learn the codes and etiquette for communicating with people, Simon believes we can learn the codes to help us connect with plants.

In a world of weed eaters and pesticides, the concept of communicating with plants may sound inconceivable. But Simons reminds us that most native peoples facilitated the relationship between plant, human and spirit.

From a young age, Simons has studied and participated in rituals with such tribes as the Lakota, Tarahumara and Navajo. “Sacred rituals remove mental blocks and help us move into a place where we hear more clearly,” he said. “It’s also about developing our voices to speak back to them, have our questions answered, and be prepared for the answers they give us.”

After 10 years of wandering, Simons felt a calling to teach. Deb Buck, a Durango herbalist and friend of Simons, began encouraging him to teach after they met three years ago. Buck remembers giving Simons his first car ride in 10 years.

“When I met Doug, he was just transitioning from living in the desert. I immediately saw the gifts as a healer he had to share with people,” she recalls.

The two began monthly seminars around the Southwest. Combining ceremony with well-researched field facts makes his workshops special, Buck says. “He is incredibly well-read and researched. But he relates to everyone and tells great stories,” she says.

His students often refer to him as a humble presence with an incredible talent for turning his workshops into creative learning environments.

“It’s not an intellectual wisdom. Mother Nature has really tested his survival skills. Because of this, he has a reverence and down-to-earth perspective,” Murphy says.

When Simons teaches, he shows people that the plants come first. “We have to relate with the plants as living people with the same kind of respect that we have for other humans,” he says.

Feeling awkward about sweet-talking your sunflower? No matter, says Simons.

“Humans are here to learn to be better relatives to all living beings. The more we are willing to reveal all of ourselves to them, the better off we will be. It’s a joke to suggest that the plants don’t already know what’s going on in your mind.”

In addition to learning how to “speak” with the plants, Simons also teaches thorough plant identification, medicinal harvesting and edible preparation. He teaches slowly, thoroughly, and specifically about each plant. After all, we don’t want to end up like McCandless and poison ourselves with mysterious berries.

Simons grew up in Colorado, so coming to Durango is a sort of homecoming. He is particularly excited to see his “relatives” – the elderberry, valerian root, monkshood, spruce, willows and yarrow. August is a high-time for mushrooms, too, which excites Simons. “I’m very taken by the people of Durango … many people here carry their own enthusiasm; they take responsibility for their happiness. Also, the outdoor enthusiasm lifts up the energy of the whole town.”

Simons teaches all over the Southwest and sees some reoccurring ailments, such as over-stressed kidney and adrenals. Simons works with specific herbs to replenish and hydrate.

Buck, who co-facilitates his workshops, notices that more and more people from all walks of life are looking for a deeper connection to themselves through plant communication.

“When it comes down to it, Simons facilitates that connection and teaches life-ways so you can live outside and have fun,” Buck says.

If you feel called to meet the wilderness (or just your back yard) with a bit more finesse, you can meet Doug in person this week. He’ll give a free workshop at Durango Natural Foods on Thurs., Aug 11, 6-8 p.m. He will also be giving a three-day intensive workshop in the mountains near Durango from Aug. 12-14. In addition to plant identification and harvesting, Simons will instruct in basket weaving and run a sweat lodge. For more information, email or visit Simon’s website,




To be published for The Telluride Daily Planet:

With all of us buzzing in Samadhi (that’s enlightenment for all you spiritual simpletons) after last weekend’s Compassion Festival, yogis will continue the party into the next week with Telluride’s 4th Annual Yoga Festival.

“Where else can you ride a gondola to commute from one world class workshop to another?” Says Bill Carver, a longtime attendee of the festival.

Yogis will travel from all over the country and far corners of the globe.  Its not all meditation and chanting, either.  This crowd is physically fierce and loves to have a good time.

Sign up for the three-day festival study under some of America’s most respected teachers such as David Swenson, Beryl Bender Birch, Mark Whitwell, Chandra Easton, and Noah Maze.  Three of the Festival’s instructors—Scott Blossom, Easton, and Alanna Kaivalya—were even recognized in Yoga Journal Magazine’s list of “Top 21 Yoga Instructors under 40.”

It’s an all-star teaching line-up, but you don’t have to be a pro to join in.  Sample one or many of the styles offered, like Jivamukti, Ashtanga, Anusara, Power, Forrest, among others.

New this year is the offering of both 2-hour and 3-hour classes, so you can go for the variety, or go for the deeper experience with one instructor.

“This will give time to really unpack and explore the refinements of the teachings and the poses themselves,” says Carver. There is even the 6- hour all day intensive on Thursday so can go much deeper and not have to stop just when you are getting warmed up.

Becoming bendy has never been so environmentally friendly, either; the festival’s founder, Aubrey Hackman, strives to make the festival sustainable and community oriented.  Presenters only bring recyclable materials, and 25% of the proceeds will benefit New Community Coalition, a non-profit that promotes local sustainability.  Vendors will represent the hand-knit cotton Bendala Yoga Mats, Random Apps of Kindness, and the Juli Shoe Company.

Low on cash but craving some good vibes?  Hit up the free classes and Yoga marketplace offered on Friday and Saturday up in the Telluride Mountain Village. Learn about Baptist or Partner yoga with Rachel Nelson or relax with a Nidra session with Karen Soltes. After a day of sweating, unwind with live music from Sean Johnson and the Lotus Band.

This weekend will be just another reason to believe the T-shirt that says, “My life is better than your vacation!”  We’ll meet you on the mat.

Visit for registration, schedules, and more information about community events.

Stop Looking, Start Living

An interview with Mark Whitwell

It’s hard to admit: Lately I’ve fallen into a funk with my yoga practice.  Body stressed, my biceps are bulging from the million chaturangas I do per class. Mind anxious, my brain is overwhelmed by the micro-adjustments (I do what with my upper-inner thigh and pinkie toe?!).  Heart unmelodious, my voice sounds like a far-off stranger when I chant.

All this searching for enlightenment has finally exhausted me. I just want—silence.

Or maybe, as Mark Whitwell explains it, I just want a deeper connection to the practice I know and normally love.

Gearing up for the Telluride Yoga Festival (, I took a break from my masochism on the mat to talk with Whitwell, one of the festival’s featured teachers and author of Yoga of Heart (2005).

I’ve heard Whitwell described as unconventional and pure in the same sentence, an irony that inspired me to do the interview. After talking with him about intimacy, spiritual gymnastics, and his guru Tirumalai Krishnamacharya, I realized that Whitwell is both traditional and revolutionary to our modern practice. It’s not that his style is “out of the box”; rather, it’s a way to shake up, perhaps rearrange the contents that are already inside without loosing a drop of integrity.

Katie Clancy: I’m excited to practice with you in July.  What keeps you coming back to the Telluride Yoga Festival?

Mark Whitwell: Well, it’s not easy to get to those mountains, and I’m touched to see people travel long distances to gather with such a sincere intention.  It’s a courageous group of people who are courageously seeking what they need in terms of yoga education.

KC: Doesn’t that happen all over the country, though?

MW: Maybe, but I find here more conducive to yoga education than some other places with the more flashy downtown hotels, commercial merchandising, products, and brands. It’s relieving to have a break from that.

KC: I’ve heard you refer yoga in America as physical gymnastics.  You mean there is less of that here at the festival?

MW: Yes.  As yoga has become popularized in the past 30 years with styles derived from Iyengar and Pataabi Joise, some vital principals have been left out.  Instead of trying to adapt the individual to fit a specific ideal or form, I’m trying to remind people that yoga must be adapted to the individual.

KC: What principals have been left out?

MW: The teachings of my guru [who also trained B.K.S Iyengar] Tirumalai Krishnamacharya.

KC: It’s true: as a westerner, I feel like the traditional eastern approach to yoga is pretty foreign to me.  What was Krishnamacharya like?

MW:  I met him for the first time in 1973 in India and continued a relationship with him until his death in ’89.  He was a paradoxical man.  On one hand, he was a stern male Brahman with all the habits of the authoritative misogynist deeply embedded into his character.   On the other hand, he went against the cultural grain when he pioneered efforts to bring women into yoga and prove from a scholarly view that women were involved in yoga during ancient times.  As time went on, I watched his controlling male nature actually soften and fall away.  He became more honest, liberal, and vulnerable towards the end of his life, which was very beautiful to witness.”

KC:  Sounds like he connected more deeply to his feminine nature towards the end of his life.

MW:  I think he realized that when you try and control nature, you end up destroying it.  Luckily, yoga restores us to our natural state and we can unattach from the imbalances that the over-masculinized mind creates.  We balance, and begin to receive the feminine power that lives in us all.

KC:  Is that what you mean when you talk about intimacy in your new book “The Promise [to be released summer 2012 and has the same publishers as the mega-hit “The Secret]?”

MW:  I want people to understand that intimacy, the direct communion with Life itself, is easily available right now to everybody.  We’ve been educated to believe that intimacy—with ourselves, with sex, with our relationships—isn’t acceptable. The system demonizes intimacy and sensuality, so we settle for less, we settle for alcohol and thought and commerce.

KC:  So it’s time we remember Hatha’s tantric roots.

MW:  Yes.  It’s not enlightenment we need; it’s intimacy.

KC:  Okay, but how does intimacy help us stop suffering?

MW:  Intimacy creates positive thinking.  Yoga helps us find this connection and receive the innate intimacy of our current reality.  My teacher U.G Krishnamurti explained it best when he said: “trying to be something that you are not is the cause of human suffering.”  When I’m trying to get somewhere, trying to become something other than who I am, I am denying what I already am, which is the Extreme Intelligence and Wonder of Creation.

KC:  It’s like that quote: “Stop looking, Start living.”

MW:  Exactly.  Yoga shouldn’t be done with the intention to get anywhere.  It is really the direct co-creation of the wonderful mystery of life.

KC:  You have a non-profit organization called “The Middle-East Peace Project (TMEPP).” This seems like the project that puts yoga to the ultimate test.

MW: TMEPP funds yoga education and trains yoga teachers in troubled areas in the world.   Our goal is to have a trained yoga teacher in every conflicted, war-torn area in the world.

I’m astounded at how transformative the project has been so far. I’ve talked with Arab women and Jewish men who tell me yoga has enabled them to go deeper into their Islamic and Jewish faith.  By practicing this yoga, their religion becomes a deeply enjoyable, intimate communication with God.

KC:  You are really making yoga accessible to the whole world regardless of culture/race/age/health!

MW: I teach each person how to do their own daily practice in a way that is healthy for them and allows them to understand so they can take it home and live it.  When you apply the principals of Krishnamacharya, you’ll watch your practice become more efficient, powerful, and safe.

KC:  Do you incorporate meditation into your teaching?

MW: Trying to meditate without asana or pranayama is like trying to go to sleep without lying down and turning off the lights.  You cannot sleep willfully; it happens without effort when the conditions are right.  Meditation is similar. When you find harmony between your asana and your pranayama, clarity of mind arises naturally.  The yoga is the meditation; it is the direct participation with reality itself.

KC: I dig.  I’m ready for this turbo boost to my practice.

MW:  You’re ready for new inspiration.  The world inhale literally means Inspire.  We become inspired and inhale to the force of life, and exhale into the strength of ourselves.  Learning how to receive in this way is truly therapeutic.


East Coast, Baby!

We are gearing up for transformation in the Rocky Mountains, but for those of you who can’t make the trek, come play with us in Southern Vermont for the Equinox!  See our UPCOMING RETREATS page for all the juicy details.  Delicious in every way!! yummmmm

No to HidroAysen! Yes to Pristine, Pure Patagonia!

Yes, we know.  There are billions of  vital environmental causes to support these days. Endangered rivers. Distraught forests.  Flooded neighborhoods.  But down here in Chile, home to Patagonia, one of the most virgin and untouched lands on the planet, we are rallying and need YOUR Vote:

The hydro-electric energy plant Hidro-Aysen, supported by the Spanish corporation Endesa, is fighting to support a mega-dam project in Patagonia.  Based on a (false) premise that Chile is in desperate need of large amounts of new energy, the project would build five large dams along the Baker and Pasqua rivers.  Then, absurd as it sounds, they would build a pipeline all the way to Santiago de Chile (never-before-attemped), destroying thousands of acres of native forests along the way.

This is not only a national issue; if approved, the consequences will affect the entire globe.  If you’ve ever been to Patagonia or seen photos, you know the vitality we are talking about saving.  The fact that the actual plans of the project are full of missing information, spotty projections, and assumptions is just another sign to OPPOSE it completely.  Click here to read more: NY TIMES HIDROAYSEN EDITORIAL.

As an American citizen, I’m reaching out to my global family to support.  Tomorrow, May 21st, President Pinera will give a speech about “energy awareness” while hundreds of us storm the plazas to protest.  What can you do?

Here is a list of Chilean government officials who you can write to:  Write to the Chilean Officials.  It’s okay if you don’t speak Spanish; an English rant might be even more powerful!

Visit: to get the lowdown (bring a friend who speaks spanish to help translate) and start talking!  Spread the word via Facebook, Twitter, Myspace, on the block, to your granny, in school!

The more people we have meditating on maintaining the purity of this land, the better chance we have of dissolving the project…

Origines of Movement: The Organ System and Yoga

Have you ever tapped into the “brains” of your body’s organ system?  Here’s what Body Mind Centering’s Guru Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen has to say in Sensing, Feeling, and Action:

“As the primary habitants of our emotions, aspirations, and memories of our past experiences, the organs imbue our movement with personal involvement and meaning.  Through experiencing the mind of the organs, universal symbols and myths are recognized.  It is through this recognition that empathy is established, that universal feelings are recognized within the context of one’s own life, and that we understand and know.”

How can we experience the mind of the organs? Let’s use Yoga as our example. In Yoga, injuries usually occur when the skeleton is moved through space beyond the range of the internal organ movement. Therefore, we can engage the organs to increases the range and strength of the postures effortlessly.

How to “tap” into the organs’ mind using yoga:

*In any posture, first located the keystone organs, the area that bears most of the weight or where the other body parts depend on (usually closest to the floor).  In Dhanurasana (Bow Pose), it will be the intestines and liver:  in Trikonasana (Standing Triangle), it’s the lower intestines/colon (that live inside the hips); Mayurasana (Peacock arm balance), the keystone organs are heart or the lungs.

Now, breathe from the keystone organ.  Imagine the breathe begins and ends from that organ.  You can even imagine a slight contraction in the organ when you exhale.  When you transition to another asana, move in and out of each asana from the organs.

Because our emotions are tightly knitted into our organs, observe the specific emotions that arise.  Here is a list of Cohen’s connections, but I urge you to find your own:

Brain:  perceptual activity;  Heart: warmth, open heartedness; Lungs: lightness buoyancy; Upper Digestive Tract: nurturing, gregariousness; Lower Digestive Tract: earthiness, groundedness, resiliency; Liver: powerful, stability, endurance.


Altaer in Bolivia!


We have been invited to give a week-long workshop in La Paz, Bolivia this June, hosted by the fabulous contemporary dance center Kinesfera.  Nikola and Katie will be teaching Yoga/AcroYoga, fly-low (floor work) technique, contact improvisation, and Butoh.

For more info, or to spread the word to your South-American allies, please check the facebook page:

How do you clean your house?

By house, I mean your body, your holy Altar that contains the brain, the bone structure, the dream sequences, the heart-strings.  How do we wash the red clay walls of our wombs? How do we learn to hold the memories of our past as if they were delicate patchwork quilts (ripped corners, mismatched fabric, smooth cotton) and fold them into neat bundles at the edge of our beds?  How do we file the clutter of our brains, color code our emotions into boxes?

It’s no surprise that before “enlightenment” comes the quotidian: cooking. cleaning. driving.  Our spiritual paths act as alchemy: they help us understand our relations so we can transform the ordinary into the extraordinary.  Beyond the material bookshelf, we also have to make sure to devote time and solitude to our interior spaces.

When I find my interior home dusty and cluttered, in need of serious fumigation, I try these tools:

Clearing emotions mentally: A long-time friend and Jungian dream-therapist taught me that when I am overcome by an emotion, go to the journal.  Use writing to make the emotion conscience.  Begin with the emotion, and then flow with images, memories, scenarios.  Meloncholy is driving, lost, on a giant highway in Santiago de Chile, where big industrial chimneys pump toxic smoke into a grey, humid sky.  Anger is sitting in a bus filled with teenage actors who shriek about farts and sing loud television jingles. The important thing is to keep coming back to the emotion.  Go deeper than you feel like.  Don’t worry about finding clarity with the excercise, just focus on free-flowing with the images.  See where they take you without judgement.

Clearing emotions physically:  After a particularly rough break-up, my cousin came to me with a lot of grief and sorrow.  “Where do you feel the emotion in your body?”  I asked her.  This practice helps us calm the mind and enter into the physical areas that need air, attention, incense.  Find a quiet space where you can sit or lay down comfortably, and begin by asking yourself “How am I?”  If a particular emotion arises, use your breath to find the exact spot in the body where it lives. Dread in the gut, deep down on left side of my stomach. Observe the feeling on a physical level; use your breath like a magnifying glass to enter closer and closer to the source of the emotion. Spend quality time getting to know the sensation, color, intensity.  Eventually, with care, it will transform, dissolve, or disappear.  Practice this as you move through your day, too.  When a strong wave comes, bring it to the body, see where it lives, and give it space to unravel.