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

Post Traumatic Growth

What is post traumatic growth? According to the Post Traumatic Growth Research Group, “It is positive change experienced as a result of the struggle with a major life crisis or a traumatic event.”

I think of post traumatic growth as a form of scar tissue. It is tougher, denser and stronger protection for the body after it goes through a trauma. I remember as a kid showing off scars with my friends. I have a scar of my knee from a fall in grade school. I have a scar on my thumb from a jet skiing accident with my childhood best friend. When we show off our scars they come with the realization that we survived something, and we are still here.

The healing process and the scarring of the tissue is also a long and vulnerable process. Scar tissue doesn’t happen overnight. When we first experience a trauma our bodies and/or minds are raw, open and in so much pain. This is the time to tend to the wounds, to soothe, to get support and salve. Last year at this time my business was closed and I left my home due to white supremacy and death threats targeted towards myself and POC Yoga. I was surrounded by people taking care of me. I got bodywork every day. Meals were brought, shifts were taken, I was offered places to stay and people held my hand. I saw my therapist, cried a lot, got angry a lot and was paranoid. I could not see the other side of this trauma. I could not see the part where I could show someone the scar and say, “I lived through this.”

Now, a year later there is still rawness. Anniversaries can reopen wounds, but there has been a lot of healing. I am in a different place emotionally and spiritually than I was a year ago, and a big contributor to my emotional and spiritual growth was going through last year. I am not saying I am glad it happened. The pain that it caused was intense, and I am not in any way trying to silver line a terrible experience. Yet, it did happen. I can not take it back, and since I could not make it go away this year has been about meeting myself fully as I went through it.

Have you experienced post traumatic growth? What does your scar look like? It is still forming? Is it healed? What helped you create your scar tissue? How have intense experiences created growth in your physically, emotionally or spiritually?

Are you in the midst of healing from trauma? Are you in the middle of needing the support and salve that goes along with the healing process? Join me for an Intro to Yoga Therapy on Trauma on Saturday, October 22 from 9-11am where you will learn tools that can soothe and support yourself. There are 4 spots left. I would love to see you there wherever you are on the path of healing.

I hate yoga.

For the last 9 months or so I have told many people, “I hate yoga.” Weird coming from a yoga teacher and yoga therapist, huh? It is weird to say it, and yet it has been true.

I have not practiced much asana (the physical practice) in recent months, and I have forced myself to go to one class/month because I thought I “should” go to yoga. I remember one class in particular where I spent most of the practice irritated. I remember even asking my mat, “How can you help with my rage?” Well, lo and behhold, the mat answered. It said, “Bring it. I can handle it.” So I practiced being irritated and angry, and it was helpful. But I still was not compelled to practice.

I hit a turning point last month when I went on a 10-day silent meditation course. On this course you are not allowed to do yoga. I am mostly a rule follower (mostly), but when I am sitting in meditation 10+ hours a day I knew I was going to break this rule. We woke up at 4am and I did a practice before our 4:30am sit. I did a second practice after lunch during our rest period, and I fell in love with yoga again. I fell in love with being in my body, with allowing my body to express itself in shapes and movements, with feeling strong and flexible.

I could have tried to ignore my anger and rage and pretend that everything was fine. But being honest with the fact that I didn’t like practicing felt like practicing yoga, the yoga of truthfulness (satya). Honoring my anger and allowing myself to take a break from the physical practice, for the most part, felt like practicing the yoga of non-harming (ahimsa). Now I sit with the fact that everything is impermanent, that things ebb and flow. These days I do a daily practice, and it feels connecting, grounding, empowering, strong and sweet. It is my time for self-care and quiet, and I am grateful. I do not know how long this will last. In over 14 years of practice my physical practice has ebbed and flowed, and I usually have some judgement about what my practice should or shouldn’t look like. My relationship with yoga has changed significantly this year, and as I look back on where I am now to where I was, my relationship to yoga feels deeper, more integrated, more real than it has ever felt. We went through a dark period, and we are coming out of it.

Love,
Laura

Black Lives Matter

As I started this newsletter I re-read last month’s essay, which was about processing the shooting at Pulse in Orlando. Not even a month later we are in another state of processing the grief and trauma of the police killings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castille as well as the police officers killed in Dallas.

For the first time in my life I felt the beginning of a panic attack. Thursday night I was glued to Facebook reading as much as I could and going into a sharing frenzy of articles, resources, marches and vigils. I barely slept that night.

Friday morning I went to the dentist, and when I got in the chair I felt a surge or anxiety move through my body and my heart racing. I started my tools of lovingkindness and yoga nidra and was able to ease back the panic. I took 14 hours off Facebook, but then dove back in to check in the latest news, updates, articles and events being shared. I slept better that night.

Saturday I spent time with a friend talking about the violence, oppression and white supremacy that is terrorizing our country. When I got home I realized I had to do something more. White supremacy is literally killing Black men and women, and it is my job, as a white person, to dismantle it. I also see it as my job to help support other white people in dismantling it as well, and to get support from white people to help me see where I am still unconscious. White supremacy is not something that is “out there.” Racism does not just affect police officers, it affects all of us. The more I can look deeply into the ways that racism and white supremacy have conditioned me the more I can heal myself and the more I can support a more just world.

I am launching an on-line book club on one of the most powerful books I have read on whiteness so far, Witnessing Whiteness by Shellly Tochluk. At this point I am gathering emails for those of you who are interested. Let me know and I will add you to the list. This will most likey start in August.

Sunday I took the day off Facebook. I went to yoga. I read Active Hope by Joanna Macy. I was honored to be asked to teach a yoga for trauma and resilience class for POC. I finally was able to cry. I cried for several hours, and the panic subsided.

This act of slowing down, taking time away from stimuli and being in my body helped me access the grief that was underneath the fear, rage and panic. When I allow myself to go through all the feelings I can be in a more grounded place to move forward in action. But had I avoided the news and the horrors (as I historically have done) I would not be as moved into action. Here is the balance I am learning to navigate. How much do I stay engaged and how much do I need to take time to just be? Of course, just like a balance pose in yoga there is constant change and movement within balance. When I feel like I am tipping over I move in the other direction. Sometimes I overcompensate and sometimes I can find that sweet spot of balance for a fleeting moment until something else knocks me around. How do you find balance?

Here is a poem from the current book I am reading that is helping me, Active Hope by Joanna Macy:

Active hope is not wishful thinking.

Active hope is not waiting to be rescued

by the Lone Ranger or by some savior.

Active Hope is waking up to the beauty of life

on whose behalf we can act.

We belong to this world.

The web of life is calling us forth at this time.

We’ve come a long way and are here to play our part.

With Active Hope we realize that there are adventures in store,

strengths to discover, and comrades to link arms with.

Active Hope is a readiness to engage.

Active Hope is a readiness to discover strengths

in ourselves and in others;

a readiness to discover the reasons for hope

and the occasions for love.

A readiness to discover the size and strength of our hearts,

our quickness of mind, our steadiness of purpose,

our own authority, our love for life,

the liveliness of our curiosity,

the unsuspected deep well of patience and diligence,

the keenness of our senses, and our capacity to lead.

None of these can be discovered in an armchair or without risk.

 

Black Lives Matter.

Love,
Laura