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

How do we use our practice in times of uncertainty, chaos and overwhelm?

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

How Do We Focus?

Last week week we had a small Heart Conversation around Brahmacharya, the 4th Yama (part of the 1st limb of yoga that relates to restraints and ways to be in the world). Brahmacharya is commonly translated to celibacy, but I think that is quite a narrow translation of the word.

The word Brahma translates to God or creation and charya translates as “to follow.” If we look at this from a broader perspective than just our sexual energy it is how we follow God, creation or something higher than ourselves. What gets in the way of that higher purpose? Sex can bring us closer to God and can also take us further away. Sex is just one use of our life force that can drive our heart’s calling or pull us out of alignment with it.

How do we bridge brahmacharya and racial and social justice? We had a fruitful discussion of our use of energy towards our higher purpose and how we use that energy. For many years I chose not to watch the news or be aware of suffering in the larger world, and I primarily focused on individual suffering with people I worked with and friends and family. I intentionally did not direct my energy to systemic suffering because it felt too big and overwhelming.

As I became more involved in social and racial justice I began to increase my consciousness around suffering and pain that I previously chose not to look at. I began to become aware that it was a privilege that allowed me to only look at individual pain and it was an option for me to avoid looking at systemic forms of suffering like racism.

From there I noticed a pendulum swing of energy focus. I went from an energy of denying and avoiding information to feeling the pull to constantly look at systemic forms of suffering and oppression, to learn about racism and my part in racism as a white person. I began to feel more anger and had difficulty letting myself rest or take a break from learning. I was becoming aware of ways that I caused harm, and I was, and still am, in an intense learning period.

Brahmacharya in regards to social and racial justice is looking at where I am in denial and avoidance and where I am overworking, fighting and not allowing time for rest and integration. My word for 2016 is integration, and I believe that sometimes we have to go from one side of the pendulum to the other before we can find the integrated middle path. I am currently still in process with this, and I am grateful for mentors (like my amazing co-facilitator, Carrie Heron) who have swung to both ends of the pendulum and found ways to sustainably move forward with social and racial justice.

How do you focus your energy towards your higher purpose? Which ways of directing your energy work for you? Which cause suffering? How do you bring this energy into activism, if that is one of your higher purposes? I would love to hear!

If you are interested in furthering this discussion of integration I am starting a book club on Shelly Tochluck‘s new book, Living in the Tension: The Quest for a Spiritualized Racial Justice in May to get ready for when she comes to Seattle Wednesday, June 29. Save the date!

Love,
Laura

What is “Enough”?

Earlier this week we had an insightful and engaging Heart Conversation around bringing asteya (non-stealing or generosity) to social and racial justice.

We started our conversation with a discussion of what asteya is, according to BKS Iyengar’s translation of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. His translation reads, “When abstention from stealing is firmly established, precious jewels come.”

During our discussion of being generous to ourselves and others the question came up of holding this yogic idea of abundance while acknowledging the very real lack and poverty that live in the world. How can we say that when we do not steal we will be met with all the jewels of the world when many folks are actively starving, homeless and dying due to lack of resources?

What about the folks who steal to feed and diaper their children? What about the people who steal money so they can afford to put gas in their car to get to work because they do not make a liveable wage? 

I know that as a middle class woman who grew up in a middle class family, I can feel the desire to hold onto my resources because I do not have enough–but I actually do have enough. I have a home, clean water, heat and clothes to wear. Yet there are times that I hold onto my resources tightly because I have credit card debt or a large bill comes in the mail.

If the person stealing to feed their children and to survive just lives in an abundance mentality they may not eat, or they may lose their job, their children or even their life.

If I believe the idea that I am lacking and do not have enough, which the media tells me all the time, I can not access an abundant mind-state.

How can we hold that both of these things may be true? And if I truly do have enough how can I be even more generous without causing harm to myself and while still being honest with myself?

Today I went to visit the Nickelsville encampment at Othello Village, which is about 6 blocks from my home and the studio. I decided that an action I can take from our Heart Conversation is to offer a space for a donation-drive. I asked them what they needed, and several folks asked for hats, gloves, socks, warm clothing and canned food. 

This coming week at RBY I am offering free classes to celebrate the end of the Yoga for Resilience and Yoga for Lovingkindness series that started in January and to get ready for the new series starting in April. I will be gathering donations of these items to deliver on Friday.

Love,
Laura

Truth, Vulnerability, and Bias

Last week Rainier Beach Yoga had our second monthly Heart Conversations, where we focused on Satya (truth, honesty or being with what it) and how it relates to racial and social justice.

The idea of truth sounds so concrete, so matter of fact. Yet the more I learn about this idea I realize that truth can be quite slippery, contradictory and sometimes there can be multiple “truths” at the same time.

A couple weeks ago I was listening to a podcast by a yoga teacher about vulnerability. She shared a story about feeling a “gut reaction” to a person in an elevator and told the hotel front desk. The front desk shared they were looking for a person who was breaking into rooms. 

What about when our “gut reactions” are wrong though? How often do we question our gut reactions?

I know that I have been socialized to have different gut reactions depending on whether I am coming in contact with a white woman, a Black man, an Asian couple, an older man or a child. I know that some of the gut reactions I have are not accurate but are based in socialized and unconscious biases. If you are curious about learning more about unconscious biases I would highly recommend taking an Implicit Bias Test

Part of my yoga practice is about becoming aware of my gut reactions and also peeling back the layers of those reactions. As a woman I have been socialized to question whether I am right or not, but as a white person I am socialized that I know the “truth.” Multiple truths are usually happening all the time, and part of my practice is to be able to hold them all.

I believe that part of discerning the “truth” is to hold as many truths as possible. This makes life more complex, but it also makes it more rich. I recently re-watched this Ted talk by Verna Myers about walking boldly towards our biases in order to overcome them. Can we use our gut reactions to learn about ourselves more deeply rather than thinking we know the truth about something or someone outside of ourselves? I would love to hear your thoughts.

While we are on the topic of truth I also wrote an article for the Globalist sharing my experience in the last few months. You can read it here.

Love,
Laura

The Practice of “Safe-ish”

“Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase,” said Martin Luther King, Jr. 

I hope your new year is starting off peacefully and you are taking faithful steps towards wherever you want to be going even though you cannot see the end result yet.

This month Carrie Heron and I co-facilitated the first of our workshop series Heart Conversations: Nurturing Social Justice Through the Principles of Yoga. We discussed ahimsa, non-harming, and how ahimsa relates to racial and social justice. We talked about where we struggle with this and where we are already putting it into practice.

Carrie usually opens my eyes or my heart in a new way when I am with her. In this Heart Conversation, she shared the idea that being safe and being uncomfortable are two different things. When I enter into dialogue about race there is inevitable discomfort in that conversation for me. But as a white woman I am typically safe. 

I have started to think of safety on a continuum rather than as an either/or option. For example, I have begun using the phrase “safe-ish” or safer to describe the relative safety of a space or a conversation.

To tie this idea back into the concept of ahimsa (non-harming or compassion), learning to distinguish between what is “safe” and “uncomfortable” is a wonderful awareness practice. When I consider whether a situation is making me feel unsafe or just uncomfortable, I can decide whether I can compassionately stay engaged with whatever is causing discomfort or whether I need to protect myself in some way.

If we are not used to having difficult conversations, discomfort can feel unsafe. Here is where our yoga practice can help us. When we are getting into a handstand that may feel uncomfortable or scary, it still may be in the realm of safety. Or we may be getting over a shoulder injury and going upside down would be injurious. This would fall into the unsafe category. We practice navigating the continuum of safe to unsafe, comfort to discomfort, in our physical and mental practices on the mat so we can do the same out in the world.

The Dalai Lama said, “Our prime purpose in this life is to help others. And if you can’t help them, at least don’t hurt them.” Ahimsa asks us to not harm ourselves or others in our words, thoughts or deeds. Sometimes this means staying in an uncomfortable situation or conversation. Sometimes this means we are overwhelmed and we  take a break or leave. Sometimes this means we try something, we mess up and we try again. Faith can help us keep going.

Ahimsa is not about perfection. It is about doing our best and loving ourselves no matter what. Interested in more of these kinds of conversations? Check out guest teachers, RW Alves and Genevieve Hicks, workshop on Svadhyaya: Acknowledging Privilege, Checking Bias and Exploring Identity and the nextHeart Conversations in February.

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

Love,
Laura