40th birthday and a gift for you.

Butterfly on my yearly backpacking trip.

I turn 40 today. My 30’s were hard and great and transformative, and I am ready to lean into the next decade.

For the past several months, I have been reflecting on 40 important people, places, things and memories from my life so far. It has been a rich experience to look back at the first 4 decades of my life and to consider those who have been there since the beginning (I love you Mom, Dad, Grandma and Max,) those who have come and gone with deep impacts, both incredibly healing and traumatic, (I see you Kitty, Butch, Joe, Bobby and Mike,) the places I have lived, loved and grown (shout out to Burr Ridge, Bloomington, 2843 and my current home,) the way yoga entered my life and saved my ass (thank you Beginning Yoga and The Samarya Center,) my beloved partner of 16 years (hi love,) and the birth of my two babies (Satmato Yoga Therapy and Rainier Beach Yoga.) 

I also spent time reflecting on my next 40 years, and inspired by Stacey Abrams’ visit to Seattle, I made an Excel spreadsheet of 40 things I want to accomplish in the rest of my years in this body. Some of these dreams include writing a book, speaking with courageous vulnerability, collaborating with some of my mentors, becoming the elder I wish I had in my life as a younger person and dying fearlessly and peacefully. 

As I reflect on the past and ponder the future, I am also reminded of the gift of this moment and want to offer you a gift for my birthday. This is a practice, Centering in Presence, I learned from Reverend angel Kyodo williams and I offer this to you as a way to connect to our inherent dignity, interdependence, history, future and center. You can find the practice here.

Love,
Laura 

If you don’t do your work you become work for other people

Lama Rod teaching in Seattle.

“If you don’t do your work you become work for other people,” Lama Rod Owens shared earlier this month in his Seattle visit.  

As soon as he said it I was aware how true it felt in my body. It landed with clarity, discomfort, a resounding yes in my chest with some fear in my belly. When I avoid my struggles they do not go away. They not only increase for myself but also for those around me. 

Lama Rod later asked, “Who are the people being oppressed by my bullshit?”

What is your work? Today? Yesterday? Last year? Who are the people who you become work for if you don’t do it? Who are the people that help you do your work? What are the things that support you continue your work? 

I am currently being challenged to dismantle the way self-will shows up within me. I am being encouraged to “surrender.” Several years ago I would have said I was pretty good at surrendering. I was good at going with the flow. I tended to not get too upset about much of anything. Looking back I realize this was not truly surrendering. I was dissociating from my actual feelings because dissociation felt better and easier than feeling. Now I am a feeling more than I ever have, and it is uncomfortable. The discomfort also comes with liberation because it feels like I am coming home to myself.

Through bypassing my feelings they became work for others. People could not connect to me as easily. I was unwilling to have conflict. I avoided discomfort in myself, my relationships and the world. I sheltered myself with ignorance. 

Through feeling more I awakened a sense of powerlessness that I did not like. Bypassing became less of an option, but powerlessness felt a step too far. So I went to work. I went to work fixing and doing and controlling. In many ways my working, doing and controlling are other forms of dissociation. I am bypassing my powerlessness to feel like I have some control.

My self-will also becomes work for others. My will has increased my judgment and harshness of myself, others and the world. Simply being with others can be a challenge because there is “so much to do.” My state of urgency can create disconnection.

Lama Rod spoke of the apocalypse. He called the apocalypse an “unveiling” and a “revealing.” He shared when this unveiling happens we have a choice to be adaptive or not, and when we “choose to fight truth we enact more violence.” 

Surrendering self-will into the truth of powerlessness is my current apocalypse, and the more I do my work the more is revealed to me. Sometimes work can look like doing, and other times that work can look like being. This is an opportunity to be adaptive, to allow the truth to be unveiled and to do my work so I don’t become work for others. 

Disarm. Deconstruct. Disrupt.

This past weekend I had the privilege to sit in the presence and wisdom of Rev. angel Kyodo williams. They mentioned this weekend encounter will most likely continue to unfold for days, weeks, months or maybe even a year after our time together. Sitting with them last year I know this is true for me. I spoke about something that came from last year’s experience just three days before I sat with them again.

This year held many powerful, challenging and illuminating words, questions and practices that will continue to unfold in me in ways I do not know yet. There were a few things that hit me hard immediately.  They shared these steps towards dismantling white supremacy:

Disarm. Deconstruct. Disrupt. 

The first step is to disarm. Not get more information, not school anyone, not learn more, not read more, not go to more marches. Disarm. The first yama in the Yoga Sutras is non-harming. The first precept in Buddhism is non-violence. Disarming the tools of white supremacy within is an act of non-harming and non-violence. They mentioned that anything can be weaponized (including the Yoga Sutras and the Buddhist precepts), and some of the biggest work is disarming ourselves. They asked us to become astute observers of the ways we dominate. 

I notice many ways I arm myself. I have used the Yoga Sutras as a weapon, love as a weapon, my meditation as a weapon. I notice a desire to express my dominance over my sweet pup by moving him along when he would prefer to stay and smell the trees longer than I have patience for. I notice my dominance arises when I want to call other white people in (see: control, stop, change their behavior, etc.) on the ways they are dominating. Rev. angel encouraged us to deepen our practice of disarming.

The image and sensation of exposing my soft belly comes to mind when I think of disarming. I know when I am triggered or in a situation when I witness white supremacy (within myself or others) my body moves into a defensive position. I feel the energy move away from my feet into my chest and head. My shoulders tighten. I feel myself get a little more contracted everywhere. My thoughts begin to race. My jaw clenches. My nervous system is gathering all the defenses it may need (through words, exit strategies, proving how right I am, explaining how terrible I am, etc.) What would happen if I moved into a difficult situation with a soft belly? What would happen if I stayed with myself until I could disarm before engaging with another? Rev. angel said when engaging with another being, “If I am not serving liberation I don’t say anything.”

I commit to diving deeply into the practice of disarming. I am going to practice exposing my soft belly more and to being more courageously vulnerable. I commit to asking the question whether my actions or words serve liberation, and if they come from dominance and/or defensiveness I will commit to staying with myself until I can disarm because deconstructing and disrupting from an armored place continues to perpetuate dominance and harm within myself and my relationships. 

How do you disarm yourself? How do you notice dominance arising in you?  

Practice:
Remember a time when something was triggering for you. Notice how your body responds to the trigger. How does it defend? What sensations do you notice? What happens in your breath? What happens in your mind? As you recall this situation try bringing your hands to your belly. As you inhale say to yourself, “soft.” As you exhale, say to yourself, “belly.” Try this for 10 breaths or so. Now think of that time again. Is your body as armored? Has it disarmed? How might you approach that situation with a soft belly? 

Riding the Waves of Shame

A couple weeks ago I did something out of alignment with who I want to be in the world and afterwards I spiraled into a deep well of shame. 

Shame is not uncommon experience, but this spiral lasted longer than usual. Since it was here I used it as an opportunity to look at it as a teacher.

In yoga therapy I often ask clients how something is attempting to help (even when that something, whether a behavior, thought or sensation, is simultaneously hurting). I asked shame how it was trying to help me, and I got a clear answer. Shame told me if I was punished enough for what I did I would not do it again (thank you Catholic school!). Shame was attempting to teach me a lesson so I would be the person I want to be in the world. I took a moment to say thank you to shame for trying its best to help. 

I then shared with shame the way it was hurting me. My stomach hurt, I felt nauseous, I lied to friends about why I was in a shame spiral, I pushed other friends away, and I became more and more disconnected. 

Then I just watched it. Sometimes it felt heavy and swirly. At first it felt deep in my bones, and the more I watched it the more shallow it became. When it was started to fade my mind brought back the memory of being out of alignment and another cascade started at my head and moved down my body. “Remember, I’m trying to help you show up differently in the world,” shame would say.

The second sutra in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali reads, “yogas chitta vritti nirodhah,” and one translation of this is “yoga is the stopping of the mind fluctuations.” I think of these “fluctuations” as the waves our mind rides. Sometimes our minds are riding shame waves, sometimes joy waves, sometimes pain waves. So how is yoga the stopping of these waves? The awareness that is watching these waves is not simultaneously riding. As I spiraled I also had awareness on the shore witnessing as big waves rolled in, then smaller ones, then another big one. Awareness can be an anchor that can support riding of the waves instead of fighting them, and when I am more rooted in that anchor of awareness I can meet pain with a sense of curiosity rather than judgement, fear, panic and a need for something to change. When I am patient I know there will be change, and I can witness the impermanent process unfold inside this body. 

Shame happens. It happens to most of us, and it is a sign we are hurting. Underneath shame was the pain of grief. When the shame subsided I was able to grieve that I didn’t show up the way I wanted. I grieved that my body is conditioned to freeze when I want it to act. I grieved that I am imperfect and I cause harm. The wave of grief felt different than shame. It was more gentle, like rolling waves rather than violent waves. It felt like a catch in my chest and I could not quite take as deep of a breath.

When shame arises for you how is it trying to help? How is it hurting? What, if anything, is under the shame? How does that feel the same or different than the shame? These questions can help me get a bit of distance from the intensity of shame to get to the shore and to hold space and witness the waves as they come and go. 

With gratitude for the waves and the shore,
Laura

#MeToo Seattle Yoga. Self care and Community Care.

Last month a group of healers, yoga teachers and students launched a campaign to bring awareness and transparency to sexual harassment and violence in the Seattle Yoga world.  You can read more and fill out the form here.

Please share this with your yoga studios, yoga teachers and networks as we want as many people to have access to this form as possible. 

I was also honored to be interviewed by #AfterWeSpoke, an organization that was born in response to the #MeToo movement for people who have spoken up and are now in need of connection and guidance. I talk about being a yoga therapist and working with survivors of sexual violence through yoga therapy. You can read the interview here

Finally, I want to share an article written by amazing outreach worker, RBY intern and all around fantastic human being, Troy Landrum, as he shares his experience with resiliency training and self-care. Check out Troy’s piece here.

Troy ends his article with 5 ways he takes care of himself throughout his week, and as I am committed to both being sustainable in this work as well as witnessing trauma and challenging systems that perpetuate trauma I want to end with 5 ways that help me stay in work that is challenging, beautiful, painful, incredible, and that I love so deeply as well as 5 ways I practice community care.

Self-care:
1. Reading. I just finished Trauma Stewardship and am now diving into Yoni Shakti.
2. Walking in Seward Park every morning.
3. Swimming.
4. Meditating each morning (anywhere from 5-60 minutes).
5. Snuggling Bud, my sweet old puggle.

Community-care:
1. Picking up litter when I walk around the park.
2. Practicing radical honesty and compassion in my relationships.
3. Donating money to organizations I believe in.
4. Intentionally shopping at POC-owned businesses.
5. Writing love letters.

How do you take care of yourself? How do you take care of community? It can be hard to take care of myself when there is so much to do, and when I remember to do these small things I find I am more capable, competent and able to move towards actions I want to see in myself and the world. I am a fan of 5 minute care. What can you do in 5 minutes or less to nourish your soul and/or care for your sweet self? What can you do in 5 minutes or less to nourish the soul and sweet self of someone else? It is amazing what 5 minutes can do!

With gratitude and solidarity,
Laura

(Re)Treat Yourself

“Your attention is the most precious thing you have. The purpose of the retreat is to cultivate attention. This time is precious and rare,” Reverend angel Kyodo williams.

6 years ago I went on my first silent meditation retreat. It was a powerful weekend focused on lovingkindness, which prompted me to commit to a year of daily lovingkindness practice. It was a transformative experience, and since that retreat I go on at least one silent retreat a year.

This year I took myself (and Buddy, my dog) on retreat and spent 3 days in an Air BnB doing my practice, listening to the wisdom of Reverend angel Kyodo williams and Lama Rod Owens and nourishing myself with food, spiritual texts and writing. (Side note save the dates! Rev. angel Kyodo williams is coming to Seattle December 14-16, 2018 and Lama Rod is coming March 1-3, 2019!)

I want to share what a self-guided retreat can look like if you are interested in trying it out. You can do this at home, which can make a retreat more accessible, and when possible I appreciate the opportunity to get away from all my to do lists and daily routines in order to immerse myself in being. The idea of retreat means I offer myself the space to leave the daily grind in order to restore, practice, deepen into myself and recommit to where and how I want to move in the world. It is a time for devotion, tuning out of the external to tune into the internal and to grieve and process some of the things stored in my body I am unconscious of. 

Here is a possible schedule for a one-day retreat. You can cut this in half for a 1/2 day retreat or you can extend it into a 2 or 3 day retreat. This is just one option inspired by retreats I taught and attended through the years, and definitely not the only option. Listen to your intuition and see where it guides you, but also beware of distraction and noticing when that is pulling you out of retreat-mode. I find structure gives me something I can surrender into, which is why I created this before I left, but I it also changed as my intuition guided me. 

5am: Wake up
5:30-7: Sitting, lying or standing meditation
6-7: Yoga
7-8:30: Breakfast (I used this recipe)
8:30-9:30: Dharma Talk (here is one on Prayer, Grief and Activism from Lama Rod Owens)
8:30-9:30: Sitting, lying or standing meditation
9:30-10: Walking meditation
10-10:30: Sitting, lying or standing meditation
10:30-11: Walking meditation
11-11:30: Sitting, lying or standing meditation
11:30-1:30: Lunch and rest (kitchari recipe I used) 
1:30-2:30: Dharma Talk (here is one Love and Rage from Lama Rod Owens)
2:30-3:30: Sitting, lying or standing meditation
3:30-4: Mindful movement 
4-4:30: Sitting, lying or standing meditation
4:30-5: Walking meditation
5-5:30: Sitting, lying or standing meditation
5:30-7: Dinner
7-8: Dharma Talk (here is one on Home, Love and the Idea of Ancestry with Lama Rod Owens)
8-8:30: Meditation
9: Sleep

In one of the talks, Lama Rod asked, “What are you doing to liberate yourself in this moment?” He went on to share showing up completely can be a liberatory practice. Going on retreat and getting real with myself helps me to show up more completely in my daily life. When I speed through life I canbypass my completeness and wholeness in order to get things done. Slowing down and retreating disrupts my tendencies and helps me go back to my daily life just a little bit shifted, a little more present and a little more whole. 

What does retreat do for you?

Love,
Laura

Surrender and Self-agency

When I arrived in India last month I noticed a feeling of surrender. It was unanticipated feeling because I was nervous before leaving the States, but as soon as I got to Delhi and found Hari Om, my driver for the next 3 days, I settled into my back body. 

It wasn’t an intentional surrendering, it just happened. I felt slower (even in the fast paced city of New Delhi) and open to whatever came my way. My first 3 days were a whirlwind tourist adventure of Delhi, Agra and Jaipur, and then off to a yoga and meditation immersion with a teacher whose books I love but never studied with personally.

When I arrived to campus it was different than the first 3 days. I heard birds instead of car horns, I saw bluer sky instead of hazy smog, and I felt space around me instead of crowds. 

I tried to move with my back body throughout the time on retreat, which felt slower, more intentional, had more peripheral vision and less goals to achieve. This came easily on my daily walks to gaze at birds, cows, nilgais, goats and monkeys, when I drank my morning chai before and after meditation, walking to and from the guesthouse saying hello to the spotted owls, and eating dinner watching those same owls hunt. Nature was an important spiritual teacher for me during this retreat.

Human beings were more challenging, and I had some intense front body moments.

Yoga has a long history of sexual abuse, and the lineage I was studying with is not immune. To be honest none of the lineages I have studied with are immune from sexual abuse. Yet, I was taken aback to see the picture of Swami Rama, a teacher accused of sexual abuse, hanging in the temple and 4 hours of his videos on the schedule. He was not the teacher I went to study with, and he died over 20 years ago. Questions started to flood in. Why were we watching these videos? Why is his picture in the shrine? Why aren’t we learning from the living teacher instead of this man’s videos? Then my questions turned to the institution. How did this organization navigate this trauma? What happened to the women? What did justice look like? What did forgiveness look like? How did and do they reconcile what this teacher offered the community with the traumas he also caused? My front body took over for a couple days while I wondered, pondered, created stories and hoped this organization may have created or used a model for restorative justice.

I asked 2 of the teachers about addressing Swami Rama’s abuse of power, and I got a clear message this is not something talked about. Silencing is one of the tools of abuse, and it seemed fully in tact. 

I decided to approach another senior faculty member about how the organization navigated and continue to navigate these traumas. In our brief conversation she told me I needed to look at a bigger reality and asked me if I felt better. I said no, and I wanted to continue our conversation. This never happened. 

Although none of the answers I received were satisfying, they did help me get clear. This was not a community that felt safe or open to me, and this was not a teacher I wanted to invest my energy into.

When I got clear I could surrender again. I utilized my time to focus on my personal meditation practice, connect with the land, the animals, and my new dear friend who happened to be my roommate. I contemplated leaving but chose to stay to practice sitting in my clarity as well as the complexity. 

The ability to surrender into the clarity and complexity felt like a new gift. I find that when complexity arises I want to find a definitive answer that clears up the complexity, instead of allowing the complexity to become clear. I had moments of clarity and complexity that I could hold with spaciousness even when parts of me and parts of the experience felt at odds with each other.

A week after I returned from India I listened to a webinar with Reverend angel Kyodo williams, Jasmine Syedullah and Lama Rod Owens on #metoo and radical dharma. I felt myself settle back into my back body with teachers who can hold complexity, refrain from using spiritual language to bypass power dynamics and violence, see the humanity of both survivor and perpetrator, ask hard questions and be asked hard questions with hearts wide open. 

Reverend angel talked about self-agency and surrender and asked us how we know the difference. I felt surrender when I arrived in India, and when something did not feel right my self-agency poked me in the stomach like a dagger. My self-agency would not and could not rest until I said something, and when I was unsatisfied with the responses I was able to surrender again. I was able to surrender into what I wanted to bring with me from this experience and what I wanted to leave behind, which felt new. I tend to be all in or all out and being able to accept and hold the complexity without pushing any of it away felt like an opportunity for spiritual growth. 

My intention moving forward is to use my back body to support holding clarity and complexity, surrender and self-agency, love and fierceness.

Choice and conditioning

These past few days some beloved friends asked me some hard questions, questions I did not like the answers to, questions I could not answer yet, and questions with rapidly changing answers.

As I sat with one particular question i shared with my friend I did not like the answer I heard, and I really wanted a different answer. My body revolted against the answer I wanted. I could feel my body move away energetically, shrink and and tighten. When I answered the question truthfully I felt tight as well, resistance, but also a moving forward energy and my body grow taller. 

I thought I had the answer even though I did not like it, but there was more. This was not the end of the story.

I went to bed and had dreams that were in alignment with the answer I wanted. I sat down to meditate in the morning and listened to the moving away, shrinking and tightening energy in my body. It was fear. Fear pushed me towards the answer that was more comfortable, predictable and certain. 

Once fear was identified my experience was different when I asked myself the question again. As I thought of the answer I wanted fear was still there, but there was also an opening, an newer honesty, and I felt more alignment with what my body and mind ultimately want. 

As I keep going back to the list of questions ignited in me during our time Reverend angel Kyodo williams last month I am confronted with the question, when am I in choice and when am I in conditioning? 

Conditioning (of whiteness, capitalism, gender, sexuality, etc.) would tell me to stay safe. Choice, at least as I am interpreting it in this moment, is telling me to find alignment even when there is discomfort and fear. Many times I will not know whether I am in choice or conditioning, and I imagine most times it will be a combination of both. I do not think this is an either/or question for myself, and if there is a continuum of pure conditioning on one side and pure choice on the other how can I keep moving along the continuum towards more choice?

This is where my yoga and meditation practice can be so useful as it teaches me to stay with the inquiry, to stay with the discomfort to see what comes next. What is underneath the first answer, the second, third, fourth or fifth? I do not necessarily feel resolved in my current answer and I look forward to continuing to inquire how I can be in choice around the ways I want to show up in the world even if those ways are outside of my comfort zone.

How do you know the difference between choice and conditioning? What gives you that information? How do you move towards choice?

We are Hiring!

With a fairly full private practice and a yoga therapy school in the works I need help. At this time I am hiring for a small 4 hour/week position with potential to grow. 

Skills/needs looking for:
-phone calls to local businesses (must be comfortable making cold calls)
-car in order to make supply runs
-marketing
-Microsoft Word/Excel/Google Docs experience and knowledge
-Canva experience and knowledge
-Wordpress knowledge and website maintenance
-commitment of a minimum 1 year
-independent worker
-editing 
-Mail Chimp experience and knowledge
-Social media knowledge
-occasional need for last minute editing projects

In exchange:
-$17/hour
-all yoga classes at Rainier Beach Yoga
-mileage reimbursement

I will be accepting resumes and cover letters until December 31 and doing interviews the first week of January. Please send cover letters and resumes to laura@satmato.com. People of color and trans folks especially encouraged to apply.

#metoo

I want to start this newsletter by saying, #metoo. I also want to start by naming the Black woman, Tarana Burke, who started this movement more than a decade ago even as it gains momentum now with so many survivor’s stories being heard. 

I have noticed a lot happening inside me as I hear and witness stories of sexual violence.

I notice I am excited. I am excited people are talking and people are listening. I am excited people are heard and silence is broken. This excitement leads to grief and anger. I grieve for myself and everyone who has experienced violence. I am enraged as I remember feeling powerless and seeing how patriarchal power continues to try to shut voices down. I grieve the times that I was not heard and the times I did not hear. I grieve for all who are not being heard right now and who may never be heard. I am angry that virtually every woman I know has a #metoo story.

As memories come back I am reminded of the layers of grief and anger that can lie dormant in my body.  When we are exposed to other people’s traumas it can bring our own back to the surface. Speaking our traumas can be both liberating, powerful and healing as well as re-traumatizing, painful and triggering.

If you have also experienced sexual violence and are feeling a lot right now please know.
1. Your feelings are normal.
2. Rage is normal.
3. Grief is normal.
4. Confusion is normal.
5. Heartbreak is normal.
6. Excitement that silence is being broken is normal.
7. You can take breaks from the media.
8. You can keep yourself immersed in media.
9. You can talk to friends you trust or a therapist about what is coming up for you.
10. You can not talk to anyone about what is coming up for you.

I am finding connection to my body powerful right now as well. I notice nauseous, numbness or waves of heat when I listen to or read accounts of sexual violence. I have started to try to move with those feelings. This does not mean trying to move through or move those feelings out of me, but allowing the nausea, the numbness or the rage to move me. I am attempting to allow my body to express what it is still holding onto. 

If you have all the support you need right now I am so grateful for that. For those of you reading this wanting more you can go here to sign up for a free 20 minute yoga therapy phone consultation. We can’t heal on our own and sometimes we all need a little or a lot of extra support on our healing journeys.

May you be free from danger now and always.
May you befriend and honor all your emotions.
May your body be healthy, healed and whole.
May you be at peace.

May all beings be free from danger now and always.
May all beings befriend and honor all their emotions.
May all bodies be healthy, healed and whole.
May all beings be at peace.