My Busted Knee, My Broken Heart: Welcome to the Burning-ground.

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Welcome to the Burning-ground.

Near the beginning of this year, I was walking up some steps when something inside my left knee crossed awkwardly over something else. I felt a slight tug, a brief suspended sharpness, and then a wet flooding sensation engulfed the entire area. I knew that whatever had just happened was very unfortunate.

In disbelief, I began to write about my torn-up knee while I limped about, waiting for MRI results and looking longingly at my students’ easeful lunges and cross-legged seated poses. Then a week or so later, Anusara Yoga imploded and, reeling, I began to write about my broken heart. In my mind, the first incident became a metaphor for the second. My inner and outer lives were mirroring each other.

I had to have a torn section of my left lateral meniscus cut away—a fairly run-of-the-mill operation. What I learned is that I had what is called a “discoid” meniscus, meaning that the little inner hollow in the crescent of a normal-shaped meniscus was missing. I had an oval instead of a crescent. “You have twice the amount of meniscus as an average person,” my surgeon told me. “You mean I’m special?” I asked him. And just as my knee had torn from just a little too much something, so had my yoga community. Too much expansion, too much hyper-extension, too much shifting stealthily and unhealthily below the surface, causing a chafing, a fraying, and a seam that was waiting for its moment to tear completely open.

Arthroscopy – My Left Knee with Torn Meniscus

I soon found myself confined to my couch in far more Post-Op discomfort then I had expected, my throbbing bandaged knee connected to an ice machine. My creativity was effectively channeled into an obsessive focus on what this meant for me as a yoga teacher and I became fairly lost in the labyrinthine intricacies of my physical discomfort.

In the midst of this extended stint on my couch, a two-day flurry of phone conversations and emails ensued between several of my friends and fellow Anusara Yoga teachers who, like me, had chosen to resign their Certifications yet remained committed to community and to collaboration. This two-day brainstorm resulted in the birth of a grass-roots organization that we named the Yoga Coalition. In the midst of an interesting phase of dissolution in my life, things shifted and reformed, as they inevitably do. An organization had coalesced that hadn’t even been a notion just a couple of weeks earlier. Life, like nature, stands still for no one.

Yoga Coalition graphic design by Sue Elkind

I currently find myself inhabiting that place where dissolution and creation meet in a very vivid way. This is not simply a philosophical observation – this is playing out on the stage of my life: the burning down of things I loved and my adjusting to the spaciousness of the new landscape.

There is quiet relief in the ashes as well as a sooty and devastating sadness, and a hope for things to rise.

During this rebuilding time, however, I find it important to remind myself that the burning down may not be finished. A few years ago I went through a nine-month phase in which I lost six people whom I cared about. Every time I began to recover from a loss, I found myself right back in the flames. I’ve learned a lot of different things from that time, but one big take-away is not ever assuming that it’s over.

All month I’ve been teaching about the Five Acts of Shiva. I began with Dissolution, then Creation, moved through Maintenance, and am currently teaching about Concealment and Revelation together since they are so beautiful that way and so exactly like life. I teach while sitting on the floor, my left knee propped up and stretched out to the side, explaining that this cycle is never not happening. It’s happening right now in every part of your body. It’s happening in personal relationships and societies, in organizations and governments. It’s occurring in every corner of nature. Every aspect of this cycle is always present, like an unending song with millions of overlapping choruses.

Rudra Homa, Chidambaram, Dec 2010, photo Frank Andolino

In the fullness of this current cycle, what most moves me, what feels deeply meaningful to me right now is Dissolution. I can’t stop thinking about it—it is like a magnetic field toward which I am irresistibly drawn. If you ever have the chance to attend a Homa, as I’ve previously written about, watch what is thrown into the fire – things that are beautiful like sari silk, sweet-smelling such as ghee and sandalwood, and practical such as seeds and grains.

As you watch the flames consume the offerings, you churn through all of the Rasas, the various flavors or tones of experience. Your personal processing is fast-forwarded by the Homa like a time-elapse film. There are moments when you are peaceful and moments when you want to cry. You shift from amusement to boredom and then fury, holding anxiety and joy in the same breath. As the flames consume the offerings, you witness this cycle inside yourself, and if you’re lucky, you fall a little bit in love with the burning. It’s in your best interest to do so, because what the Homa is showing you is the truth of your own experience.

I found this small song to Shiva that I keep murmuring to myself. Every time I read or recite it I am reminded of the beauty of the Burning-ground again. I hope that you are too.

“Because You love the Burning-ground,

I have made a Burning-ground of my heart—

That You, Dark One, hunter of the Burning-ground,

May dance Your eternal dance.”

Shiva Nataraja

(Thanks to Frank Andolino for the ongoing use of his exquisite photos of our South India trip and to Sue Elkind for her brilliant graphic design skills on top of being an amazing yoga teacher and a serious sister)



Editor: Kate Bartolotta

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Susanna Harwood Rubin

Susanna is passionately committed to finding beauty in everyday life. She is a yoga teacher-writer-visual artist, which means that she rarely stops moving except to meditate. She is ERYT-500, has been teaching for over 12 years, and travels regularly to South India to delve into the traditions of Rajanaka Yoga that inspire her work. Her spiritual home is the great Nataraja Temple of Chidambaram. She teaches internationally, but is based in New York. Find her weekly classes at Twisted Trunk Yoga and Abhaya Yoga .

Susanna’s artwork is represented in collections such as the UCLA Hammer Museum, the Berkeley Museum, and the Addison Gallery of American Art. She lectured and wrote for MoMA for years, including co-writing the book “Looking at Matisse and Picasso,” and she will still happily talk about Picasso for hours if you ask her.

Susanna currently writes on yoga, writing, art, and life for a number of publications, including The Huffington Post , Mantra Yoga+Health , Rebelle Society , and YOGANONYMOUS . She gives talks on yoga, Hindu myth, and philosophy, and created the popular Writing Your Practice workshops and telecourses for yogis, applying yoga philosophy and myth to the practice of writing.
Overall, she is amazed at the richness of her life.
Find her on Twitter , Facebook , &

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anonymous Dec 17, 2012 1:51pm

[…] change, an idiom that means vast transformation. I began my year with what felt like a storm surge inside my knee resulting in surgery and an immediate reconfiguring of my asana practice—no small thing for a yoga […]

anonymous Apr 5, 2012 2:36am


anonymous Apr 3, 2012 10:03am

Just posted to "Popular Lately" on the Elephant Spirituality Homepage.

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    anonymous Apr 3, 2012 10:31am

    Thank you again, Valerie!!!

anonymous Apr 3, 2012 5:53am

Lovely, as usual, Susanna. I can so relate. 2012 appears to be all dissolution all the time so far. Thanks for this gorgeous reminder of the homa.

    anonymous Apr 3, 2012 10:30am

    Thank you BB – means so much from someone who seriously knows…

anonymous Apr 3, 2012 12:01am

Just posted to "Featured Today" on the Elephant Yoga homepage.

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anonymous Apr 2, 2012 5:20pm

Hey Sus, your knee, my back. around the same time…'s turned into the greatest teacher.

    anonymous Apr 2, 2012 8:14pm

    yes – learning a lot for sure! It's been interesting how much more verbally precise I've had to be in my teaching, finding those little moments when I often just say, "like this!" & demo instead of using words. All of the time on my couch has had me noticing some more obscure upper body alignment as well. I was really obsessed with triceps last week & taught about the upper body in ways that previously hadn't occurred to me, so that was interesting too.
    Even more, doing the off the mat work – oh yeah. THAT is something to learn from…

anonymous Apr 2, 2012 1:25pm

Thank you so much, Valerie!

anonymous Apr 2, 2012 11:44am

What a beautiful story, of pain, dissolution and evolution on the burning-ground. Blessings for a brilliant recovery. xo

Just posted to "Featured Today" on the Elephant Spirituality Homepage.

Valerie Carruthers
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anonymous Apr 2, 2012 11:33am

Adrienea! Wow, girl – you too? You have a LOT going on & have been wondering about how you & your family are doing. "We learn so much in this place of flames…" Yep. Well said. Tell me about it…another life lesson – really? sigh… Grosses bises a toi aussi!

anonymous Apr 2, 2012 9:14am

Love you, Susanna. Right with you on the burning ground, in the midst of the dissolution, parted from my practice and direct contact with the kula thanks to this dang disc herniated in two places. Yes it hurts and we learn so much in this place of flames, hands open, letting everything go to see what arises whensoever it’s time… Big love to you for your inspiration, always. Grosses bises d’une des sœurs. XXX