Namaste. To say or not to say?

I have stopped saying Namaste in my classes after much internal introspection as well as external conversation.

I think a lot about the ways that I bring yoga into the world, and, in particular, how I sometimes bring the teachings forward without much discernment. Am I teaching something because my teacher taught it, or I read it somewhere, or I heard it in a training? And who am I learning from? To be honest I have not learned yoga from many teachers of color, and even fewer teachers of Indian descent. I’ve started questioning a lot of what many white yoga teachers do or say in classes, including my own.

I recently had a conversation with a person of Indian descent who said she does not like when white yoga teachers say ‘namaste’ because she noticed that white teachers make a grand gesture out of the word, and her experience with the word is more informal. I asked a friend, whose teacher is Indian, how namaste is incorporated or not into their practice. She laughed and told me they have never said namaste to each other.

I took to social media to inquire why so many white yoga teachers say it, where we learned that we should say it at the end of class, and what the general thoughts were about this word.

Here is what one person shared, who is Indian-Canadian: “Some background: In Marathi we say “namaskar”. It’s definitely used as a greeting, but we also use it as something you give/do to someone or something, especially to God.
My parents would say “Go do namaskar to that person before we leave” and I would go and touch their feet and receive their blessings. Or I would do namaskar to a picture or statue of God at home or at a temple, where I’d pray in front of them for a minute.
My parents would say “Bappa la namaskar ker”, which means “Go pray to God”. So, namaskar is also used to denote “pray” or “give respect”.
Personally, I used to think it was dumb when a person said namaste in a yoga class. But, I’ve gotten used to it and think of it as a part of American yoga-culture, like Lululemon. My brain separates the “American yoga Namaste” from the “Namaste” that someone would use in India. It’s almost like 2 different definitions for the same word.
This is the first time I’ve really thought about it. And when I think about it now, it feels wrong to use in a yoga class. It isn’t an authentic use of the word, and the whole point of yoga is to get in touch with who you really are and get your body and mind closer to that (i.e. the divine). In order to do that, you should probably steer clear of inauthenticity as much as possible.”

There were also many teachers who felt strongly connected to the meaning of the word, and how the word was a way of honoring students. The word Namaste means “I bow to you.”

I got to thinking, ‘If I want to bow to the students at Rainier Beach Yoga and I want to honor them (all of them) is Namaste the best way to do that?’ At this point, the answer for me is no.

My current ending ritual with students is an offering. I share my hope that any learnings that resonated with them continue to benefit them as well as ripple out into their relationships, communities, and the world at large. I conclude with ‘thank you’ and a physical bow.

This is what feels right in the moment, and I am committed to continuing to practice internal introspection and external conversation about this as well as all the practices of yoga that I know, do not know, and have a mistaken and/or uninformed knowledge of.

A deep bow to all who help me wake up more fully, challenge me to practice discernment and encourage me to continue refining who I am in the world.

Thank you.

The Survey Says…

As I prepared this newsletter white supremacist violence erupted in Charlottesville. My heart and rage stands with those fighting against it and with Heather Heyer, who was murdered. Here is an article I wrote about yoga, white supremacy and the spiritual bypassing of premature forgiveness. 

I want to share a huge thank you to everyone who took time and energy to fill out the survey I posted a couple months ago, and also a congratulations to Jamee, who won an 8-week series starting in the Fall!

I learned several things from the surveys that I want to share with the whole community.

I hear you want DROP IN CLASSES!
Did you know there is a Saturday, 9am drop in classevery week with Chelsea Alvarez?

Grace Lisbeth is also starting a new drop-in class starting THIS Sunday (August 20) from 10:45-11:45am! To register for class you can email Grace here.

Save the date! Genevieve Hicks will be teaching Wednesday evenings 8-9:15pm starting in mid-September.

Did you also know you can drop into the series classes as well? Drop ins are more than welcome if you can’t join the series. I also hear you want more opportunities for drop-ins and I have my feelers out for social-justice minded yoga teachers who can bring more classes to the studio. Stay tuned!

I hear you want more FINANCIAL ACCESSIBILITY. Did you know there are “Make an Offering” spots available.
These slots are available for those who need additional financial support to practice, while still having the opportunity to make an offering, which can be an important energetic exchange. No one is turned away for lack of funds. If you want to practice and money is a barrier please contact me. I look forward to seeing you in class.

Here are some of the amazing words I got to hear from you as well. Thank you for sharing!

“I appreciate the safe space you create for yoga to occur. Please keep holding the boundaries for safety and social justice!”

“I thought I hated yoga until I attended a class at RBY! It’s so inclusive and feels so centered on the well being of the person rather than their physical image.”

“I appreciate the connection and accountability to community and how that evolves and grows.”

Deep gratitude for this community that helps me grow and challenges me to do better while also lifting me up. I am honored to be in community with you.

Nikkita Oliver for Mayor

For most of my life I have shut politics out of my life and mind. Politics and politicians felt so far from my lived reality, and I thought I had no control anyway–so why bother? Maybe it’s aging, maybe it’s despair, maybe it’s hope, but for the first time in my 14 years in Seattle I am genuinely excited about a local person running for office: Nikkita Oliver.

On the Samarya Center yoga teacher training we focused a lot on the practice of loving ourselves and others, and this has become a beautiful personal practice that I have returned to over and over. For my 38th birthday I had a house party in support of Nikkita’s campaign, and I initiated the evening with 38 things I love about Nikkita. Here is the list, and yes, this is a political endorsement. My hope is that you exercise your right to vote, no matter who you vote for.

1. Nikkita is fierce.
2. She truly is standing for EVERYONE to thrive.
3. She encourages young people to get involved in politics.
4. She is successful at getting young people excited and involved in politics.
5. She is brilliant.
6. She will be the first woman mayor in Seattle in 91 years.
7. She will be the first queer, woman of color mayor in Seattle.
8. She doesn’t take any corporate money.
9. Nikkita did not decide to become a politician, the community asked and encouraged her to run. The community believes in her.
10. She is an incredible poet.
11. She stands for communities that experience marginalization.
12. She fights for communities of color.
13. She fights for women.
14. She fights for the LGBTQ community.
15. She fights for the cash poor.
16. She fights for the indigenous communities.
17. She fights for the differently abled community.
18. She fights for the communities experiencing houselessness.
19. I see her at every protest I go to.
20. She is a lawyer, community organizer, teaching artist, and educator.
21. Her platform is founded on community, not her as an individual.
22. She inspires me to do better.
23. She is young, which I believe brings creativity, an ability to see things from a different perspective, and much needed energy to Seattle politics.
24. She is not about being progressive, she is about being transformative.
25. She believes in transformation for the children in the school to prison pipeline.
26. She believes in police accountability.
27. She believes in transformation of our criminal justice system.
28. She believes in living wages for all.
29. She believes in transformation for those living without shelter.
30. She disrupts injustice.
31. She is determined.
32. She is courageous.
33. She listens to communities rather than assuming what they need.
34. She is a fighter (and also a powerful boxer).
35. She fights from a place a deep love and desire for justice and equity.
36. She is passionate.
37. She is grounded and in service to the community.
38. She is a powerful leader.

Don’t forget your primary ballots are due August 1. Make sure your vote is counted.

“If we want something better and different, we might actually have to do something better and different. We cannot achieve just outcomes by continuing to use the metrics of an unjust system. If we continue to use unjust metrics as our determination of success and/or worthiness knowing that such metrics perpetuate unjust outcomes, one might begin to assume all this injustice is intentional and quite possibly malicious. I would like to think we have the propensity to do better and be better. I know we have the capacity. So, let’s do it.” -Nikkita Oliver

Charleena Lyles #sayhername

Yesterday after I taught class I went to Charleena Lyles’ vigil. If you do not know who Charleena Lyles is, know that she was a mother, about to become a mother again, a sister, a cousin, a neighbor, a friend, a fellow Seattle resident, a human being. Also, know she was a petite black woman who called the Seattle Police Department because of a burgarly. She called for help, and ultimately was shot and killed by police with her children present.

I initially contemplated cancelling class to invite students to go to the vigil and rally with me instead of yoga class, but ultimately decided to teach. It felt important to teach. It felt important to say her name, and share how racism, oppression and white supremacy are all deeply related to yoga.

Charleena’s murder is connected to yoga because oppression, police violence, and racism are impediments to liberation and yoga’s primary goal is liberation. The Yoga Sutras talk about Samadhi as our ultimate goal, and one of the translations of Samadhi is “liberated.” The Bhagavad Gita talks about all paths of yoga lead to moksha, or freedom. Our yoga practice can break us open, and it can also support us in moving towards action. I realized that whiteness and living in a ‘progressive’ city led me to a false narrative that this could not happen in Seattle. When I get lost in my anger, heartbreak, and white guilt I tend to shut down. This is an aspect of whiteness and cab also be a lack of resilience: numbing out to the pain of the world, and the pain  and violence that white supremacy, specifically, causes. When I shut down I can not move towards liberation for myself, nor can I be of service to others who are fighting for their own liberation.

The practice of yoga can teach us resilience. It can guide us to move.  If we are able to channel our inner strength while connected to our pain, we increase our resilience and become more rooted in yoga as liberation (not just yoga as a feel good practice).

If we are all connected, as many yogis say, how do we fight for the liberation of all? What are the actions you are doing to support liberation? If you are wondering about how to move towards action, here are some ideas:

*Donate to the Gofundme page for Charleena and her family: .

*Go to the Black Lives Matter march tomorrow (Thursday).

*Read news sources that have a racial analysis. South Seattle Emerald and The Seattle Globalist are good ones.

If you are white:
*Talk with your friends and family about Charleena.

*Be willing to have uncomfortable conversations.

*Learn more about the history of this country (because you most likely received a white centered education). Google: Red lining, mass incarceration and the school to prison pipeline. Read The New Jim Crow and Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome.

*Read Witnessing Whiteness by Shelly Tochluk. Learn how you are conditioned into white supremacy.

*Support POC businesses and offer reparations.

*Connect with other white folks committed to anti-racist work. CARW and European Dissent are two local groups.

What are you doing to support liberation? I would love to hear so that I can be inspired by your actions and we can support each other to keep fighting for our personal and collective liberation.

Birth and Death. Shedding my skin.

Last weekend I taught my last residential retreat. 10 years ago I finished grad school and took myself on a personal retreat at The Yoga Lodge. I spent my days playing pine comb fetch with Maggie, the Lodge pup pictured above, or sitting with Houdini, the Lodge cat, drooling on me while I pet him. I took several classes from the Lodge owner, Wendy, and restored myself after the grind of my graduate program. I had only been teaching yoga 2 years at that time, and I thought maybe I could offer a retreat. And maybe this would be the perfect place. I booked my first group retreat at the end of that personal retreat.

In the past 10 years of teaching retreats I had amazing opportunities: to work with my partner as he catered my first two retreats, to meet countless participants through the years who have challenged me, supported me and encouraged me to keep growing, to become deeper friends with Maggie and Houdini and to grieve the loss of their friendship when they passed away, to cultivate a delightful friendship with Wendy, the lodge owner, and to simply watch my system get a little more settled every time I arrived onto the island.

The Lodge and Whidbey Island have become special personal spaces for me as well. It is where I learned how much I love birding, where I return to when I need time and space to heal, where I lost my beloved dog for almost 2 days, and where I pick some of my favorite rocks (which now grace the RBY bathroom).

When I arrived to the Lodge for this retreat I saw a garter snake, and as the weekend went on I kept thinking about the snake’s way of shedding their skin as they grow.

I realized how ready I was to shed this particular way of teaching, at least for now. It felt right and my mind felt at ease, but I kept waiting for sadness, regret and bittersweet feelings to come. The mind is a funny thing in that sometimes it can not accept what is even when it is pleasant! I kept waiting for the hard feelings to arise because I believed they should arise. There was a muting of my contentment in preparation for the grief.

When I got home I had a dream of death and birth, and the next thing is all ready in motion. I am looking forward to retreating while in our daily lives, to put our practices to use within our everyday moments, and to do shorter retreats that can be more accessible to more people. The next daylong retreat, focusing on JOY, is Sunday, September 10 with multiple pricing options. Go here to learn more!

I look forward to seeing you on and off the mat.

2 Year Anniversary

April 3rd was the two year anniversary of the opening of Rainier Beach Yoga. These past two years have been a wild ride.

As I sit in the studio and write this newsletter, I reflect on the gratitude I have for the people who have made this dream a reality. Those who believed in me and Rainier Beach Yoga before it was even built, and who contributed to a crowdfund. To my partner and in-laws for literally building the studio from the ground up. To my parents for instilling in me confidence and to dream beyond what my mind thinks is possible. To the neighbors who support this little business, even with an increase of cars on our quiet street. To the clients I have worked with in many locations throughout the city, who have stuck with me through many transitions. To the groups I have had the privilege and pleasure to hold space for, who both take risks and move towards vulnerability while teaching me to do the same.

As I reflect, the trials that Rainier Beach Yoga has gone through also come to mind. I remember sleeping in the studio for a few days after the attacks on POC Yoga to ask the studio for guidance. I remember feeling like I couldn’t abandon her. After the closing of POC Yoga my private practice dwindled significantly. I trusted this shift in my businesses (or my babies as I refer to them), and it gave me time to focus on healing so I could continue to be of service to others.

Now, two years later, I am excited and a little nervous to see where this ride will take me next. Opening a new business has kept me right at my growing edge, which is thrilling and also terrifying sometimes. My next question for myself is, what do I want for the next two years?

More community. More compassion. More transformation.

Community. I will be opening up the space to be rented out by other yoga teachers and there will be even more classes to choose from! Chelsea Alvarez will teach a drop-in class on Saturdays from 9-10:15am (starting this Saturday, April 22) and an 8 week series on Yoga for People with Bodies: An Exploration of Movement and Breath starting Monday, April 24 from 6-7:15am. Interested in signing up? Contact Chelsea directly here.

Compassion. I am committed to fierce compassion in supporting myself and others heal from the wounds of trauma, depression and anxiety while simultaneously being attuned to the systems of power and oppression that feed the wounds of trauma, depression and anxiety. I am committed to dismantling the racism, homophobia, sizeism, ableism and other conditioning of privilege that lives within me, not from a place of shaming or blaming, but from a place of deep compassion and honesty. I am committed to supporting others on this path. While I acknowledge that I will continue to make mistakes, I am committed to compassionately tending to my impact while courageously correcting course and continuing forward on the path of justice and healing.

Transformation. I am committed to holding transformative space for people in 1:1 yoga therapy and in group classes, whether that means transforming our relationship to sexism, trauma, or to loving the body you inhabit. Yoga and meditation have changed me and I want it Rainier Beach Yoga to be a place where these practices can promote a similar experience for others. Here are what a few others have said about their experience  at Rainier Beach Yoga:

“I learned that there’s always some part of my body that’s experiencing the ‘loudest’ sensation, and by opening up to those quieter places I can find refuge in them. I learned that my body can be a source of comfort and joy in times of stress and anxiety.”

This was “a yoga experience that felt healing and holistic instead of just being about physical exercise.”

Have you been to Rainier Beach Yoga? What do you hope for the next 2 years? What would you like to see more of? Less of? How has coming to the studio transformed you? I would love to hear!

To the next 2 years, and beyond,
Laura

The Pendulum Swing

Happy spring!

This weekend I attended a book club where white folks came together to talk about the intersections of racial justice and spirituality. At one point the conversation veered towards hope.

I listened until the facilitator asked me directly what I was thinking. The first words that arose were, “white people don’t need more hope, we need a reality check.”

I don’t actually believe that wholeheartedly, but it was my first response so I stayed with it to explore it more deeply.

The majority of my life has been full of hope, but I do not believe it has been a realistic hope. In the book club the word “dissociative hope” emerged. It was the hope of, “Why can’t we all just get along?” Or, “I love everyone,” Or, “People are just doing the best they can.” Or, “Love trumps hate.” This kind of hope made me shy away from suffering, intentionally and unintentionally turn away from systems of oppression and avoid conflict at all cost.

Now I can not seem to turn my eyes away. I want to see and witness the suffering and pain in the world. I want to see it as fully as I am capable of and to courageously stay open to it. I do not want to dissociate anymore.

But in that desire to not turn away from suffering I have ultimately turned my back on hope.

I spent the majority of my life at one end of the pendulum of unexamined hope and love. Now I have swung to the other end of focusing primarily on pain, suffering and anger. I believe I have to go from one extreme to the other in order to find the middle ground and the place of balance. This, in itself, is a powerful spiritual practice for me as I attempt to not shy away from pain both outside and inside myself. My years of meditation and lovingkindness have fostered compassion and patience for myself as I move through this. When I am impatient with my challenges I do not get to experience the wisdom of that challenge fully. I am grateful for my anger. There is a lot to be angry about, and I am glad to be in touch with it. And I see hope. I see hope in resistance, boundaries, white folks looking at the ways white supremacy hurts them and others, and all the activists who came before this moment and hearing how they maintain hope as well as strength to keep fighting.

If you are navigating the pendulum swing of resistance and hope, struggle and love, embodiment and transcendence join Genevieve Hicks,  a powerful teacher for me of embodied hope,  and I for an on-line book club and group exploration: Moving with Balance Towards Racial Justice: Acting Outward for Justice and Focusing Inward for Spirituality. We start next Thursday, March 30. 

Self-care and Self-critique

This past weekend I taught a class that was on my growing edge as a teacher, and I was nervous as well as excited to be taking this new risk.

The class went well (in my opinion) and we did some deep work around our voices, when to speak and when not to speak. Do we know what we want to say? Do we know what we need to say? What keeps us silent? We laughed and talked during class, and it had a different quality than most of the classes I teach.

I used Audre Lorde’s essay on The Transformation of Silence into Language and Action as the theme for class, and while in class someone tagged me with this article: Appropriating Audre: On the Need to Locate the Oppressor Within Us, which I saw almost immediately after teaching.

I realized I had been appropriating Audre’s words even as I was attempting to be intersectional in my teaching. In hindsight, I saw unexamined whiteness as well as unexamined straight-ness in my teaching. In the second article the author ends with, “And most of all, we need to practice not only self-care, but also radical self-critique.”

As I reflect on teaching at my current edge I am holding myself tenderly in that I challenged myself, and I did new things in class that I have never done before. I am also critiquing myself in that I can do better, and I can take this as an opportunity to keep growing my edge, to keep peeling back the layers of conditioning that I am so deeply entrenched in. This balance of self care and self critique is a powerful practice of loving yourself just as you are and challenging yourself to keep becoming the person you want to be. This concept of self-care and self-critique reminds me of the first and second principles of the 8 limbs of yoga, ahisma and satya. Ahimsa translates literally to non-harming or non-violence. I also like the more liberal translation of compassion. Satya translates to truth, and honesty comes to mind as a practice of truth. The balance of holding ourselves with compassion while also being honest about where we are still growing is a yogic practice, and one that can help us hold ourselves kindly as we challenge ourselves to keep expanding.

How do you practice the balance of self care and self critique?

If you want to hear more about mistakes and messing up, check out my latest article in the South Seattle Emerald: The Yoga of White People F@cking Up.

Shutting down or Self care? What is the difference?

I have been taking time away from social media for the last month, and my mind feels clearer, my jaw feels less tense and I have more time.

Alternately I also feel my time away from social media is a form of shutting down and shutting out what is coming with Donald Trump as president.

As I have taken time away I have been holding the ideas of shutting down vs. self care. What is the difference? How do I know when I am doing one vs. the other? Are the same? Are they always different?

Historically, I have used meditation and yoga to take me away from the world, a form of denial. I remember saying for years that I didn’t watch the news because I knew there was suffering, but I could not handle seeing it. Now I see this as a form of privilege that I can separate myself from the suffering of the world and live in my comfortable bubble.

But is there a time for shutting off and shutting down? I believe there is, and I also believe it can become a problem if that is the primary way of being. I go on yearly meditation retreats where I shut off completely. No talking, no eye contact, no phones, and no internet for a minimum of 3 days. Do you want to try shutting off? Come to the Lovingkindness primarily silent yoga and meditation retreat coming up next month on Whidbey Island. When I come back from removal from the world I feel more energized, sensitive, dedicated and ready to move forward (after a couple days of getting used to stimulus again!).

Yoga is about balance. Finding balance in our bodies, minds, hearts and spirits, and sometimes we have to go out of balance in order to regain balance. Sometimes something knocks us so violently off balance we are catapulted into a new way of being. Balance is not a one time exploration, but a constant navigation.

I love the concept of Kriya Yoga from the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. Kriya Yoga has three different aspects: work, self-study and surrender to something larger than yourself, and according to yoga, balance comes when we have all three of these in our lives. Surrender to the universe, to nature, to God can look like shutting down, but it can also look like self-care. Only surrendering though means we aren’t offering our much-needed work to the world. What actions do you want to do to make the world a better place? To reduce the suffering of the world? To increase justice? Self-study and wisdom from others can help us navigate this fine balance of “I have no control” and “I can make a difference.” Both are true.

How do you practice the balance of work, study and surrender? I would love to hear!

Resources for Post Election Self-care and Community-Care

Isolated. Worn out. Exhausted. Rebellious. Shaky. Confused. Shocked. Furious. Terrified. Grieving.

These are some of the words I have heard from people in the last 2 days since Trump was nominated.

I have been thinking about action and inaction, the balance of doing and being and the practices of self-care and community-care.

In class this week I asked people to say one thing they were feeling in their body or an emotion. I intentionally asked folks to not share thoughts or opinions, as I see a lot of thought and opinion sharing right now. Thoughts are important and necessary. I also think thoughts can keep us frantic, dissociated and swirling. When we can involve all of ourselves (body, mind and spirit) I believe that we can move into action from a grounded and responsive place rather than a reactionary and impulsive place.

I made a list of resources for both doing in the world and taking time to be. This list is not exhaustive at all. Please let me know the resources you are using. I will keep adding to it.

1. Here is a recording of the yoga nidra we did on Wednesday for the post-election fundraiser for Standing Rock. If you have funds to donate for the meditation please consider supporting a Seattlite who is at Standing Rock with her family right now. You can donate here.

2. I have been using a blend of essential oils to soothe my system. It is a combination of bergamot (balancing), cedar (strengthening) and lavender (calming). Tuning into our senses (seeing, hearing, tasting, smelling and feeling) can support calming the nervous system.

3. Notice what you are feeling in your body and see how you can tend to it. Does it want a bath, a cup of tea, food, a hug? Our bodies are processing so much right now and they need attention as they integrate.

4. Lovingkindness meditation towards yourself. Go here for a recording.

5. If and when you feel like sending lovingkindness out into the world here is the full practice. Please note if going out feels triggering I encourage you to stay with yourself  longer.

6.. If meditation is a useful resource for you I have many free guided meditations here.

7. Do something powerful where you feel strong and access a sense of control. This morning I did the hardest work out at Rainier Health and Fitness I have done in years, and it felt great.

8. Connect with loved ones.

9. Cry. Yell. Scream. Chant. Sing. Find ways to use your voice in empowering ways.

10. If the overwhelm feels too much to handle on your own reach out for support. My yoga therapy practice is accepting new clients, and I also have a list of politicized healers who can support you through this process.  Go here to set up a free 20 minute phone consult with me where we can see if yoga therapy would be the best support for you, and I can also offer referrals for additional resources.

11. Start to look into the systems of supremacy and oppression that affect every single one of us. Here are a few organizations to support you engage in this work:
a. Coalition of Ant-Racist Whites
     b. Cultures Connecting
c. European Dissent
     d. The People’s Institute
     e. Social Justice Fund
     f. Social Justice Institute

12. Come to RW Alves and my almost free webinar on White People Waking Up on Wednesday, November 16 or Thursday, December 15.

13. Come to RW Alves and my 10-week on-line series on White People Waking Up starting Wednesday, January 11.

14. Go to Liz Goodwin’s training on Beyond Empowerment Beyond Liberation at 8 Limbs on Friday, December 9.

15. Go to actions in the community that you are passionate about. Here are some I am excited about.
a. CARW is hosting a White Folks and the Election Meeting Friday, November 11 at 6.
b. Free movie screening of Race: The Power of an Illusion on Saturday, November 12.
c. Fundraiser for Standing Rock on Sunday, November 13

16. Here are some books on social justice, racial justice and feminism that I have found helpful. If you have others please let me know.
Witnessing Whiteness by Shelly Tochluk
Living in the Tension by Shelly Tochluk
What does it Mean to be White? by Robin DiAngelo
Radical Dharma by Angel Kyodo Williams
The Way of Tenderness by Zenju Earthlyn Manuel
Sister Outsider by Audre Lorde
At the Root of This Longing by Carol Lee Flinders
A Different Mirror by Ronald Takaki
Beyond Empowerment Beyond Inclusion by Leticia Nieto