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

Orlando

I am sitting here feeling overwhelmed and helpless as I attempt to digest the attack on the LGBTQ community in Orlando. I found out on Sunday evening and almost immediately went to sleep. My body and mind felt flooded. I did a yoga nidra from my teacher, Richard Miller, and fell into a fitful sleep.

Monday was full of anger. My anger felt like a rushing of energy out of my body and forward into the world. It came out in Facebook posts and shares, text messages and obsessively reading more and more information.

Tuesday was exhaustion. It was hard to get out of bed. I took a nap in the middle of the day. Instead of working on this newsletter I watched a course with Brene Brown and Kristin Neff, two incredible healing forces in the world. In class we spent time holding space for students to share.

Of course this is a national tragedy, but as a straight, white woman this does not affect me as deeply as it does as the LGBTQ community and communities of color. This was a crime of hate against communities that already experience violence and oppression daily, and as someone who holds power and privilege in regards to sexual orientation and gender this has rocked me, but not in the same way that it has rocked others.

I have spent time intentionally doing more self-care these past few days. This included an energy session with an intuitive and gifted healer, Megan Carroll, getting my hair cut, cancelling a date for a nap, legs up the wall between sessions and giving myself permission to do a bit less.

For those in the area needing someone to talk to, some therapists in the Seattle area are offering pro bono services:

Stacey Nagle is offering pro bono services to those in the LGBTQ community who are affected by the Orlando shooting who cannot afford therapy: www.staceynagle.com

Paulette de Coriolis is offering Pro Bono therapy for members of the LGBTQIA community who need help dealing with the mass shooting in Orlando, but who cannot afford therapy. She is particularly reaching out to trans people of color and trans Muslims. Her office is in Redmond: paulettecounseling.com

Ann Lazaroff is offering Pro Bono therapy for members of the LGBTQ community who need help dealing with the mass shooting in Orlando, but who cannot afford therapy. She is particularly reaching out to LGBTQ people of color, and LGBTQ Muslims. annlazarofftherapy.com

Brooke Stepp is offering pro bono somatic sessions: http://www.haveheartwellness.com/

How are you taking care of yourself as you digest this? How are you holding space for the loved ones who are digesting this? We can support each other by sharing, connecting and bringing our lovingkindness and resilience skills to the forefront. We practice in easy times for the inevitable hard ones.

May all beings be safe. May all beings be happy. May all beings be healthy. May all beings be at peace.

Love,
Laura

Living in the Tension

When I found out Shelly Tochluk was writing a book about the intersections between social justice and spirituality, Living in the Tension: The Quest for a Spiritualized Racial Justice, I could not contain my excitement. As a white yoga practitioner and teacher I have struggled with many of the tensions that Tochluk addresses in this book: transcendence and groundedness, appropriation and belonging, colorblind ideology and the reality that race affects people’s experiences in this country. The both/and approach to the book was a beautiful way to hold the possibility of moving through the world from a centered place as well as from a place of increased consciousness, awareness and action.

Yoga teaches that we are all divine, and my yoga practice challenges me to lean into our inherent sameness more than dig into our uniqueness. As my consciousness of race, white privilege and white supremacy grew I felt betrayed by my spirituality because I felt the sentiment of oneness was an act of denial and ignorance. Living in the Tension: The Quest for a Spiritualized Racial Justice helped me move towards healing this either/or mentality to hold the multiple truths.  In fact, this book deepened my yoga practice by increasing my consciousness of “oneness” as well as diversity and uniqueness.

Looking into my whiteness, and race in general, is a way to bring wholeness to a part of myself that has largely been in the shadows. Living in the Tension: The Quest for a Spiritualized Racial Justice does not just include the analytical and intellectual, but also how to incorporate the spiritual and physical. Tochluk extends the idea of awareness beyond our own bodies and minds into awareness of relationships, society and systems at large. She offers tools to remain present during difficult conversations and offers those interested in racial justice within a spiritual context expanded ways to approach their work. I am grateful for this book, and I hope it will be utilized in both spiritual and activist circles for years to come.

I am also thrilled to announce that Shelly is coming to Seattle Wednesday, June 29! She will be at Tiger Lily Yoga for a book reading/signing and discussion from 7-9pm.

Love,
Laura