Holding onto Practice and Teachers

It feels strange to say this, but when people ask me how I’m doing my honest answer is great. I feel I should whisper it, or downplay it, or even lie. I have thriver’s guilt at times! When Lama Rod Owens came to many of us in our homes at the beginning of quarantine I remember him saying now, in the apocalypse, is the time to hold your practice dearly, and that is exactly what I am doing.  

2 years ago during this auspicious time, Navaratri (or Nine Nights of the Goddess), I met my teacher, Kavitha Chinnaiyan, for the first time. I have been incredibly fortunate to have wonderful teachers throughout my life, but for 6 years I was searching for a teacher I could have a 1:1 relationship with, where she could know me intimately and guide me in my unique (and not so unique!) life circumstances. In that first year I reached out to her in times of despair and turbulence. In her incredibly busy life (she is a fulltime cardiologist, a mother of 2 and a Tantric teacher on top of her own spiritual practice) she responded with guidance and patience. Last year at this time I was in India with her while also beginning a 6-month immersion for women.

The 3 days in the middle of Navaratri (which starts today) are dedicated to Lakshmi, the Goddess of abundance, sustenance, prosperity, and beauty. Gratitude is one of the practices that can be a form of devotion to Lakshmi.

As I reflect on the last 2 years I have studied with Kavithaji I offer my gratitude. You have challenged me like no one ever has and through those challenges I have grown in ways I did not think possible. You have patiently held my hand when I was scared, tantruming, angry, confused, intellectualizing, and overall just not getting it. You have repeated yourself hundreds of times until I got it. You have taught me how to be a student, and I did not even know I needed to learn that! You have taught me to be more present and embodied. You have shown me the areas of my life that are leading me to more ignorance and challenged me to change course. My life has transformed in 2 years, and I lay that all at your feet with humility and love. I can only imagine what the next two years will bring, and I am grateful for every moment I have in your presence.

Here is an offering from my teacher for Navaratri:
May Her rasa drip down to our cells and bones.
May Her beauty become our lens of perception.
May her Siva bhakti become our way of being.
May Her countenance haunt our dreams forever.
Sri Matre Namah!

What practices are you holding dear right now? Who are the teachers you can turn to when you feel lost, angry, confused or despairing? 

If you don’t have a current practice what intrigues you? Is it lovingkindness? Mindfulness? Yoga? Prayer? Singing? As we go into the darker months what is a practice you can commit to? Who can you go to when you get stuck? Teachers can be those people who are formally in a teacher role, but can also be friends, family, therapists, loved ones or pets. 

In practice, connection and gratitude,

Feeling the Feels and Supporting the System

My heart is with you. I am taking time to tend to my body and heart (2 weekends back to back of online retreats with my teachers) as well support the collective (dropping off gloves at Virginia Mason, keeping my social distance and checking in with loved ones). My hope is that this newsletter can bring you some peace and ease in this uncertain time, which is every moment, even though it has been particularly magnified for many right now.

Here are some very common and normal experiences you may be having:
1. Sadness and mourning
2. A sense of free falling
3. Happiness about the opportunity to slow down
4. Guilt
5. Despair
6. Anger
7. More easily frustrated
8. Overwhelm
9. Easily distracted
10. Not able to focus or retain information
11. Tight muscles
12. Gratitude
13. Difficulty sleeping or sleeping more than usual
14. Numbing out
15. Irritability
16. Awe
17. Trouble balancing (physically as well as mentally)
18. Lethargy
19. Rumination
20. Fear

All of these are normal and OK. And, of course, these may not be the only experiences you are having.  Maybe you are experiencing something not on this list. That is OK too. We all have unique nervous systems that process uncertainty and crisis in different ways. The more we can allow our bodies and hearts to go through whatever we are experiencing without “shoulding” on ourselves (i.e. I should feel more clearheaded or I shouldn’t feel happy right now,) the more we can be fully present to ourselves and others. 

Here is a guided practice for you around allowing the arisings of your experience:

Here are some other meditations I have recorded throughout the years that you can use if they are helpful.

Here are some other things I have been doing to support my nervous system as it moves through the waves of emotions, thoughts, feelings and sensations. If they sound like they may be useful to you, try them out:
1. Rocking back and forth. Find a rhythm that feels soothing to your system.
2. Orientation. What do you see? Hear? Smell? Taste? Feel?
3. Hugging trees. 
4. Taking social media and news fasts. I try to take a minimum of 24 hours off social media and news/week. 
5. Put a hand on your heart and breathe into that hand.
6. Put a hand on your belly and breathe into that hand.
7. Lay with your legs up the wall.
8. Put on a favorite song and dance. Yesterday I danced to Whitney Houston and Janelle Monae.
9. Gratitude practice. What are 10 things you are grateful for?
10. Be of service. If you are able, can you support your community through grocery shopping or picking up meds or dog walking?
11. Receive service. Can you ask for the support you need? Who can you reach out to for grocery shopping, med pick ups, dog walking or to simply connect?
12. Feel your feet on the ground. If you struggle to feel your feet, wiggle your toes. If you have tennis balls around the house roll your feet on them.
13. Lovingkindness practice: When inhaling, say: May I be well. When exhaling, say: May you be well.
14. Inhale to a count of 4 and exhale to a count of 4. Make this easy. If it is too long or too short for your breath change the number.
15. Do handstands. 
16. Take a nap. 
17. Watch the clouds and remember the impermanence of every moment.
18. Touch the earth. Put your hands in the grass or on the ground to feel the support beneath you.
19. Connect with your ancestors. Ask them for guidance and support.
20. Journal or draw your feelings.

What are you doing to resource yourself right now? We are all figuring this out as we go, and if you have practices that support you that is wonderful. Keep it up!

With love and community,

Disintegration as a step toward Integration

It feels impossible to put words to the experience I had when I traveled to India last month, but one word keep ringing in my ears: disintegration.

Before I left for this trip, I had questions about where and how I want to focus my energy – personally, professionally, in my relationships and spiritually. I felt a bit lost. Going to India, being in the jungle and studying with an amazing teacher, did not clarify or provide answers. In many ways, the experience brought more questions.

One of the translations for the word “yoga” is “integration.” I believe that one way we can find integration is to disintegrate. Disintegration means “the process of losing cohesion or strength” and “the process of coming to pieces,” according to Oxford Dictionary. Disintegration can feel like falling apart, losing a sense of wholeness or feeling like everything that did make sense doesn’t anymore. Wholeness is yet another translation of yoga. Although disintegration can be incredibly uncomfortable, unstable and confusing (at least for me) I trust it. It many ways it can catapult me into a sense of not knowing and drop me into beginner’s mind. I trust that it will lead to deeper layers and levels of knowing and integration.

I used to be afraid of disintegrating, and even now I am a bit impatient with it at times. I used to think I should have all the answers for myself, for clients, for folks who attend classes. Being with a teacher whose depth of knowledge and practice far exceeds anything I may even come close to in this lifetime, I am awed and inspired by how much I don’t know. I am excited after 17 years of practice (which frankly is still a baby practitioner in yoga) to find a teacher whose well is so deep that I get the opportunity to be a beginner and to disintegrate, integrate and disintegrate again and again with.

Welcome to Seed Yoga Therapy

It is with great excitement and anticipation that I welcome you to Seed Yoga Therapy!

When I started Satmato Yoga Therapy 7 years ago, I named my practice by going through the Sanskrit dictionary until I found a word that resonated with me. “Satmato” means “absorption into essence.” As I look back, this way of naming my business feels like an act of cultural appropriation to take a Sanskrit word cavalierly for my practice and use. Now, I want to take responsibility and accountability for using the Sanskrit language, and the Indian and Hindu spirituality where I am a guest, in a disrespectful way. In an effort to be more in my integrity, Satmato is changing her name to Seed. 

I am committed to continuing to study the fullness of Yoga and Yoga therapy, which includes studying the Sanskrit language in an authentic and honoring way. As I continue the lifelong process of decolonizing my mind and my relationship with a practice I have culturally appropriated, I will continue to refine the way I talk about, offer and practice Yoga. Renaming my practice is one step in my decolonizing work. 

Why Seed? 
In the Chandogya Upanishad, a son asks his father about spiritual wisdom and the father explains the many different ways to connect with Self (which one may call God, universe, nature, Goddess, etc.) To demonstrate, the father asks his son to bring him a fruit from the banyan tree. He instructs the son to open the fruit to reveal the seeds and then open the seed. His father asks, “What is in the seed?” The son replies, “There is nothing in there.” The father patiently explains there is not nothing there; the entire banyan tree lives inside the seed. (Here is my favorite translation by Eknath Easwaran if you are curious about this text.)

Healing into Wholeness
Over the last 12 years of offering yoga therapy, I have seen people’s wisdom, brilliance and wholeness shine in our work. Every single client who has walked through my door has the entire tree of healing inside themselves, even if they can’t comprehend it yet. I see my job as watering that seed and continuing to reflect back the answers that are inside each of them. Each person’s healing looks different, just like every tree looks different. You are the seed and the tree all at once. You have everything you need inside of you. This is the essence of Seed Yoga Therapy. 

With a new name and beautiful new logo (courtesy of Enjoli Izidor) you might wonder what else is changing?

Some minor changes include:

  • New email: laura@seedyogatherapy.com. I will gradually phaseout laura@satmato.com in the next few months.
  • New website: www.seedyogatherapy.com thanks to Blue Lotus Services. www.satmato,com should still work, but you will need to clear your cache if you have visited the website in the last month or so.
  • More trainings for healing practitioners: Are you a practitioner interested in incorporating Yoga therapy and/or anti-oppression work into your practice? Check out Yoga Therapy 101, Transliterate for Healing Practitioners with Dylan Wilder Quinn and Trauma and Resilience in Yoga Therapy with RW Alves and Laura Humpf
  • Hiring: Are you interested in working at Seed Yoga Therapy? I am looking to hire someone 4 hours/week to help with operations of the business. Interested? Send questions and/or your cover letter and resume to laura@seedyogatherapy.com. QTPOC encouraged to apply.

Everything else will remain the same, and I look forward to continuing to support clients do their important healing work while also doing my work to be the best practitioner I can be.  


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.


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?  

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,

#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.

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.

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,

(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?