Spiritual bypass and the more I learn, the less I know.

Albert Einstein said, “The more I learn, the more I realize how much I don’t know.”

This statement feels appropriate to the way I walk through the world right now. I am reading the book, Spiritual Bypassing, by Robert Augustus Masters (I highly recommend it!) and I am coming to terms with how frequently I attempt to bypass my body and mind using spiritual ideas.

I remember going through a traumatic experience and constantly looking for the lesson in it rather than simply going through the pain of it. I was waiting to see what the experience meant, or what I was going to learn or how going through this trauma was going to make me a better person and teacher. I used my spiritual and meditation practice to move away from the pain to the treasure that awaited after the pain was gone. This bypassed the very real pain I was in though in order to focus on the time after the pain.

I share with students when I teach lovingkindness that I used this practice for years to dissociate from my anger. I could do this meditation practice while angry and repeat the phrases, “May I be safe. May I be happy. May I be healthy. May I be at peace.” Soon enough I was not angry anymore, and for years I believed this was a good thing. I do not believe this anymore because anger can be a force for good, for resistance, for motivation and for creating change. Yes, it can also be destructive, abusive and oppressive, but anger does not have to be those things. 

This weekend I had a wonderful massage, and near the end of our time our conversation turned to Trump. The kind and compassionate therapist shared he believed we needed to love Trump. He shared that Trump was providing us with an opportunity to look into our individual and collective shadows. The commonly heard spiritual message of “Love trumps hate,” feels like a bypass to me. I shared I needed to do the opposite right now. I needed to own and claim my anger because I have used love, compassion and spirituality to move away from it, away from action and away from looking at pain and trauma in my individual life as well as the collective world.

Yoga is about wholeness. The root of the word comes from yoke, and union is another common translation. When we are whole we are not just love and light and healing and happiness. If we are to truly hold all the parts of ourselves it means holding our anger, rage, divisiveness, fear and hatred just as we hold the parts of ourselves that we enjoy and we want to project into the world.

This book is both inspiring and frustrating as it shows me ways I continue to use my practice to leave myself instead of come towards myself more fully. The frustration comes from spiritual bypass itself because I should be above and beyond spiritual bypass. The inspiration comes from the honesty that I can look at myself and see there are more layers to peel back, and there always will be. From that inspiration comes gratitude for the teachers, books, students, friends and family who help me grow my consciousness, awareness and capacity to look with clear seeing (as clearly as I can) at myself. I do not know if this gratitude is another way of wiggling out of discomfort into bypassing, and I will attempt to be open to comes next.

If you are curious about the intersections of spirituality, spiritual bypass and social and racial justice check out the new on-line book club, Moving with Balance Towards Racial Justice, Genevieve Hicks and I are co-facilitating starting Thursday, March 30.

Retreat from the world or into the world?

A couple of weekends ago I had the opportunity to lead 7 souls on a retreat focused on lovingkindness. It was a beautiful weekend of connection and solitude, soothing and challenging ourselves, being immersed in beauty and nourished by amazing food.

One person said, “Thank you for holding this exceptionally enlightening and powerful retreat. You gave me something powerful, and I am so much stronger and healthier emotionally and physically because of it.”

I adore leading retreats, and I have been feeling pulled in another direction. This year is my 10th anniversary for the Embracing Balance Retreat, and it was my very first retreat I led after only 2 years of teaching. I loved retreats so much that at certain points in the last 10 years I wanted to run a retreat center. When I dive into something I dive in all the way!

A couple months ago I reached out to the over 100 people who came on the Embracing Balance Retreat to let them know this was going to be the last year. I felt called to do something else, but I was not sure what. Honestly, I am still not entirely sure, and I am excited to live into what emerges.

After this past lovely and inspiring retreat I am ready to take a complete break from leading residential retreats. The last year and half has been intense, and I am learning to listen to what that intensity to trying to teach me. Right now it is telling me to stay in the world. Work with folks in town, do workshops and retreats that keep us engaged in our daily lives rather than taking us away from our lives.

This is not to discount the power of removing ourselves for our world for a period of time. In fact, the retreats I lead often fund my own personal retreats. So thank you for coming on retreat and supporting my time for restoration, awareness and re-filling my bucket so I can come back even more engaged!
Most likely, I will feel pulled to lead retreats again. I am interested in listening to these internal forces that are talking to me, and to see where they lead me.

For now I am honored and excited to see you for the last residential retreat, Embracing Balance, May 19-21, and I look forward to the first daylong retreat on March 18, focusing on Equanimity.

If you have never been on retreat, I encourage you give yourself this gift (whether residential or daylong). Retreats offer us time to slow down, unplug from the external to tune into the internal, restore and rejuvenate our systems and take the time to tune into how we want to be in the world and where we want to direct our unique gifts.

30-day meditation challenge! Ready, set, go!

Happy Solstice!

6 years ago in December I began a daily meditation practice, and I went strong for 6 years. Until the election. I found myself sleeping in instead of practicing, tuning into the social media instead of practicing, turning on Netflix instead of practicing. The list of things I could do instead of meditating became long.

Meditation has been a refuge for me, and even now when I do sit I find myself grateful for the time to simply be, to see how I am actually feeling, to tend to myself. 

I have sat primarily by myself for the past 6 years, with yearly retreats and occasional group sits. I know the benefit of community because a 30-day challenge got me started meditating daily. This is why I am challenging myself (and you!) to a 30-day meditation challenge, and I am looking forward to being in a community of compassion and accountability with you!

Will you join me January 1?

Ready Option:
1. A private FB group to connect with others around questions, struggles, celebrations and inspiration.
2. Guided meditations for you to use.
3. 2 Q&A calls and group meditations (via on-line platform)
Cost: FREE!

Set, Go! Option:
1. A 30 minute session with me anytime during the month (on-line or in person) to answer questions and get feedback.
2. 4 Q&A calls and group meditation (1x/week)
3. A private FB group to connect with others around questions, struggles, celebrations and inspiration.
4. Guided meditations for you to use
BONUS: The first 5 people to join will get a 50% off ticket ($74 savings!) to the Resilient Heart Yoga: A Daylong Immersion Saturday, January 28 from 10:30-5:30 at Rainier Beach Yoga (a perfect way to end your 30 days)
BONUS: An additional 30-minute session with me for anyone who signs up before 12/26!

Cost: $99

I look forward to supporting you starting or re-starting your meditation practice! I look forward to being in a community of encouragement and growth with you. 

You can go here for more details and registration. 

The Election of Donald Trump: Anger, Divisiveness, Compassion and Healing

Since the election of Donald Trump I vacillate between anger, shut down, action and sadness. 

The day after the election I went in action mode and taught a post-election yoga nidra class that helped me get back into my body. Here is the recording if you would like to check it out. If you feel inclined to donate all proceeds raised go to Standing Rock. Plus for the month of December I will be collecting donations to send to camp. Here are the current needs:
Milk of Magnesia
Wool socks
Wool blankets
Space blankets
Hand warmers
Trauma kits (portable)
Suturing kits
Straw bales
Donations for legal defense

In the last year or so I experienced a lot of anger and divisiveness within my family, friends and community, and the election of Donald Trump magnified some of that divisiveness. I have fought hard for what I believe to be “right,” and my rightness has caused strain in my relationships and vulnerability hangovers within myself.

I sat with one of my teachers, Richard Miller, last week and he asked me to notice where I feel the fight in me. I got the image of my right arm holding a hammer and hitting people over the head with it. It was a violent image.

As I sat with the image my heart started to ache. I have been meeting hatred and injustice with aggression. Yet, I am also learning to allow my anger to be a part of me. In the last year I have come to love my anger. Anger does not equate aggression and violence though, and I am working towards integrating my anger with love and compassion. Sometimes anger and compassion feel at odds, but I believe and have seen them be amazing partners. 

I recently listened to a brilliant woman, Sandra Kim, from Compassionate Activism talk about one of the ways that toxic whiteness hurts white people is by white folks dehumanizing other white people. When I saw that 53% of white women and 63% of white men I was angry at white people. Anger does not fix the problems of white supremacy though, and it does not build bridges. Anger DOES mobilize and impassion people, and it has mobilized and impassioned me. 

Integration and healing are long, complicated and slow processes, and as I continue to commit to waking up, fighting for justice, loving everyone and allowing my anger to push me forward. I am moving towards loving the part of me that wants to aggressively change the challenges of our country because that aggression is driven from love and desire for justice. I also challenge myself to hold that aggression with love, but to act from a place of compassion for myself and for others. I know that I will fail and stumble along this path, and I also challenge myself to hold myself kindly when I act in an aggressive way, when I say something unskillfully and when I do not do it perfectly.

In the Rainier Beach Yoga newletter I created a list of self-care and community-care resources. Feel free to check it out here

The root of anger

Last month I went on my first 10-day silent meditation course. The word I use when people ask me about it is intense.

I am still integrating this experience, which entailed over 10 hours of sitting meditation/day, the cutest baby deer and rabbits, views of Mt. Rainier, losing my appetite for 4 days and so much more.

At the end, one of people whom I drove with asked me, “Did you have any breakthroughs?” In that moment I thought not really, I was just really scared for 4 days straight.

I have experienced several traumas in the last 2 years, and the last 9 months or so I have been angry. This has been a part of my healing process because I am conditioned and socialized to not feel or to ignore anger, and befriending my anger was a part of accessing the wholeness of me. In the mental health world anger is sometimes called a secondary emotion. Here is a description from Conflict Resolution Education: “Anger is often called a secondary emotion because we tend to resort to anger in order to protect ourselves from or cover up other vulnerable feelings. A primary feeling is what is felt immediately before we feel anger. We almost always feel something else first before we get angry.”

When we experience trauma anger can protect us, and I am grateful for my anger. In my time on the course I realized how much fear was underneath the anger. It took 7 days for this fear to emerge, but when it did the intensity was difficult to bear.

When I got home I still felt the fear, and it lives in the left side of my belly. It is still here now, only much quieter. Now, almost a month after being back in my daily life I reflect on that question asked of me, “Did you have any breakthroughs?” Yes, I found my fear under my anger. It was here the whole time, but I did not have conscious access to it until I was quiet and still for 7 days. Now I know it is here, and now I can tend to it. That is a huge breakthrough.

Love,
Laura

How do you accept something when you wish it never happened?

Last week while teaching class on lovingkindness we heard the chickens in the backyard getting louder and louder. When I finally looked out the window I saw a raccoon eating one of the chickens. I yelled and ran out of the room as the students were lying in legs up the wall.

We had spent some time at the beginning of class talking about our feelings about Orlando, and I was teaching to calm the nervous system. We were focusing on breathing in, “May I be well.” Breathing out, “May you be well.”

When I got back inside after corralling the other chickens to safety in their coop I still was holding space for students, but I was obviously rattled. Someone asked if there was anything they could do. I was grateful for the gesture, and I said I would take care of myself at 7:45, when class finished.

When we got to meditation I was able to spend a little time crying, which felt vulnerable and honest. I felt the need to apologize, even though I did not cause what happened. I tried my best to finish leading the movement portion of class, but I was distracted and worried. I was worried about the chickens. I was worried about the students. I was worried about myself. I chanted through tears at the end of class.

As I reflect on this challenge I am grateful for many things. I am grateful for the part of myself that can compartmentalize emotions and experiences so I can stay somewhat present. I am grateful for the incredible students who show up with honesty, resiliency, care and compassion. I am grateful for my anger that can motivate me to move forward and act. I am grateful for my nervous system that can make my muscles act quickly and my fight and flight response that can be put to good use. I appreciate my vulnerability and ability to show my softness and strength. I am grateful for my meditation practice which allows me to feel all my feelings with compassion and empathy.

Trauma is usually unexpected and not a welcomed experience, and it happens to all of us at some point and on some level. Our yoga practice of awareness, compassion and being with what is can help us navigate the traumas that we meet in our lives.

I wish this experience did not happen. I wish the students did not have to witness it. But the experience did happen, and students did witness it. The more I can accept that reality the more I can hold myself and the vulnerability, grief, anger, fear, worry and gratitude that are also realities.

With love and compassion,
Laura

Equanimity

I have been contemplating equanimity lately. I used to think of this idea as a container that can hold all of me. These days I have found that my ability to feel in both pleasant and unpleasant ways is growing, which means my container has to grow as well. As life has felt simultaneously more traumatic, more beautiful, more heart-wrenching and more joyful in the last year, I keep wondering how to hold it all.

Two years ago I probably would have told you that I knew what equanimity was, and I probably would have believed that I had access to it. Maybe I did, but I also think my equanimity was, in part, a form of denial. It was a conditional equanimity that shielded myself from hardship and struggle as much as possible.

Certain experiences happened that brought hardship and struggle that I did not have control over. Other experiences I chose to stay with instead of turning away from. Through these chosen and unchosen moments I am learning a new layer of what equanimity means.

I like to go to the dictionary when there is a word I want to understand better. Equanimity, according to dictionary.com, is “mental or emotional stability or composure, especially under tension or strain; calmness; equilibrium.” Next I went to Facebook and asked friends to offer their words for equanimity. Some words used were: The Force, “so it goes,” standing in the middle of all things, balance, flow, both/and, curiosity and love, and openness. Finally, I went to Sharon Salzburg, one of my favorite teachers on lovingkindness, to listen to her podcast on equanimity and faith. One of the things that stood out to me was when she went to sit with the Dalai Lama after things became much worse in Tibet. When she saw the Dalai Lama he said something to the effect that his mind was full of disturbed thoughts but his heart was steady.

That struck a cord with me as I was able to access equanimity in a somatic, body-based way. When I am overwhelmed or scared I can feel the buzzing in my head, racing thoughts or tension in my jaw and neck. In those moments I am typically out of my heart. When I imagine dropping into my heart I can feel the tightness in my chest, but behind that I also feel a spaciousness that can hold the grieving heart, the wild mind, the contracted body.

I do not think that equanimity means to turn away or avoid. Rather, by not turning away or avoiding, the potential to feel more fully becomes a reality. Equanimity can be the ground we can rest on in times of overwhelm. I also think the practice of lovingkindness can cultivate equanimity, as the practice can infuse our experience with gentleness and friendliness, which can be missing in times of trauma or pain.

How do you experience equanimity? I would love to hear!

Yoga Therapy for Anxiety

I consistently see people in my yoga therapy practice who feel more anxiety by talking about anxiety.

When we give anxiety voice it can go, and go and go and go. It can spin stories and worst case scenarios. It can cause folks to get lost in the details and the what if…scenarios.

I have spent time in this space. I have come up with some impressive worst case scenarios (which usually end up with me dying or losing everything I hold dear). Once the stories start they can grow and grow into an unbearable mountain of panic.

Yoga has taught me to use more than my mind to help when anxiety arises because my mind sometimes cannot get through the anxiety on its own. Last night I was on a plane heading to Florida and realized my mind was spinning some tales. I dropped the stories (which is a hard thing to do once anxiety is in full swing) and felt my feet. I wiggled my toes to bring more sensation and attention to them. For a moment I was not in my anxiety. Once I was out of the anxious thoughts I was able to offer my mind a tool, the phrases of lovingkindness: May I be safe. May my mind be at ease. May my body be healthy. May I be well. Soon enough I fell asleep and woke up a few hours later.

Does talking exacerbate anxiety for you? Does getting into your body help ease the anxious mind? On Friday, May 6 I am looking forward to offering the next monthly 2-hour workshop on yoga therapy for a particular challenge. This month’s focus will beanxiety.

Go here to learn more and register for the Friday, May 6 workshop, and if the workshop does not work for your schedule or you want support for your individual and unique experience contact me for a complimentary 20-minute phone consultation to see if yoga therapy may be a good fit for you.

Yoga Therapy for Trauma

Trauma happens to all of us. It happened to my hip recently when I fell down a few stairs and my body bruised. It happened a few months ago when I received death threats for bringing a yoga class for people of color to Rainier Beach Yoga. Read this article I wrote about it here.

Trauma can be big or small. It can happen to the body or the mind. It can last for a relatively short period of time or for years, but it happens to us all.

Navigating the last few months has been a dive into the inner workings of trauma, and it has included anger, fear, isolation, hypervigilance, paranoia and exhaustion. In the body it included pain in my left shoulder, neck and jaw tension and feeling physically overwhelmed.

As with anything I met this trauma with my yoga and meditation practice. The practice of mindfulness helped me get outside of circular thinking that can keep me trapped. When I was aware I was stuck in thinking that was exacerbating fear I would look around me and see what else was happening. I enjoyed looking at trees and nature as an anchor for myself when I felt I was leaving the moment through thinking about the trauma that was over or the “what if…” questions about the future.

During the acute phase of the trauma I was not practicing the physical poses of yoga, the asanas, but I did receive physical touch through cranial sacral therapy, massage and somatics bodywork. This safe and compassionate touch helped me reground into my body and allowed my body to release some of what it was holding onto. Baths and naps were also important parts of my physical self-care.

Mentally, I relied on guided yoga nidra meditations that focused on calming the nervous system because when I came to my cushion on my own my mind would start spinning. When I listened to a meditation I was able to have more focus, and this was another anchor for me to rely on.

On Friday, March 11 I am looking forward to offering the next monthly 2-hour workshop on yoga therapy for a particular challenge. This month’s focus will be trauma.

If you feel overwhelmed by the effects of trauma, are having a hard time quieting the body or mind or want support with the fear, anger and isolation that can come with healing from trauma go here to learn more and register for the Friday, March 11 workshop (or look ahead at other topics we will cover in the next few months). If the workshop does not work for you or you want support for your individual and unique experience contact me for a complimentary 20-minute phone consultation to see if yoga therapy may be a good fit for you.

With love and compassion,
Laura

Yoga Therapy for Grief

Dear yoga community,

Grief is commonly thought of when we lose someone to death, but death is just one way we can experience it.

Grief can come in any form of loss. We can grieve the loss of a relationship, the loss of an identity, the loss of a home or loss of a dream. Any change can bring loss and grief with it.

I remember when I was training for a marathon several years ago, and I became very attached to the identity of “runner.” I did not realize how attached I became to that identity until I injured my Achilles tendons. When my physical therapist told me I should not run, I fell into despair. At least temporarily my identity of runner and my dream of completing a marathon shifted. I felt depressed, sad and angry. I judged myself for training too much. I judged my body for not being strong enough. I continued to train, but I walked instead of ran. When I saw another person running I felt jealousy.

I had to grieve the experience I thought I was going to have, and that allowed me to create space to have the marathon experience that I was going to have. That year it meant that I was not going to finish a marathon.

Yoga was one of the things that helped me through this. With grief, I believe one of the hardest things to do and one of the most powerful things to do is allow it to be there and unfold in whatever way it needs to happen. When I walked past a runner I allowed myself to feel the sensations of jealousy. Under the jealousy was anger. Under the anger was sadness.

I also know through my yoga and meditation practice that no sensation or feeling will last forever. As I was feeling my grief I was also aware that this was an impermanent state of being, just like the injury to my Achilles. And yet some grief can last for the rest of our lives. The marathon example I shared is one of the smaller griefs I experienced in my life so far. The death of my grandmother happened 24 years ago, and there are still moments of loss I feel, and I believe there always will be. There are times that I am sad that she could not be present for an experience (like crossing the finish line of the marathon a year later), but even that grief has shifted immensely in 24 years. I will always miss my grandmother, and my grief now feels more like a tenderness than a piercing heartache.

bell hooks says, “Accepting death with love means we embrace the reality of the unexpected, of experiences over which we have no control. Love empowers us to surrender.”

My yoga practice teaches me over and over to surrender, and love, compassion and empathy are the tools of yoga that give me the courage and strength to allow myself to surrender.

On February 19 I am looking forward to offering the next monthly 2-hour workshop on yoga therapy for a particular challenge. This month’s focus will be grief.

If you feel the heaviness of grief in your chest and the weight of it is pulling you down consider coming to this workshop utilizing the tools of yoga to work with the body, mind and heart experience of grief. Go here to learn more and register for the Friday, February 19 workshop (or look ahead at other topics we will cover in the next few months). If the workshop does not work for you or you want support for your individual and unique experience contact me for a complimentary 20-minute phone consultation to see if yoga therapy may be a good fit for you.

With love and compassion,
Laura