Undoing Whiteness on the Cover of the Seattle Times

Photo by Dean Rutz
Photo by Dean Rutz

I want to thank Marcus Harrison Green for his time, patience, dedication and beautiful writing. I was grateful to sit and share some of my story with him, and I was both honored and humbled to be on the front page of the Seattle Times last week. You can read the article here

A dear friend asked me the day the story published how I would talk about this 10 years from now, and I immediately dropped into one of my current commitments: courageous vulnerability. 

It was difficult to talk to the media for the first time since the backlash 4 years ago referenced in the article. During my interview with Marcus, I dissociated a lot, asking Marcus to take breaks so I could get back into my body. I am forever grateful for the way Marcus handled this story and held my vulnerability with compassion.

Before the story published I went on a hike and in the cold rain surrounded by trees I asked, “How can I navigate this with grace, ease and as a tool for liberation?” What I heard was: community, impermanence and lovingkindness. 

Community. I was held deeply in community this past week. Friends checked in. I talked to mentors who offered guidance and support. I could not, did not, and never would want to do this on my own. I am grateful for the people who monitored Facebook, who kept me company while I read emails filled with love, rage, gratitude and hate, who listened to my voicemails and opened letters that came to my home. Thank you in particular to Reagan, Genevieve, RW, Stacey, Jovi, Leticia, Shelly, Christina, Shannon, Becka, Laura, Dylan, Fleur, Judy, Kristen, Russ, Marc, Ruby, and so many others. 

Impermanence. This moment of discomfort for me is impermanent, while white supremacy and racism are not going away anytime soon. I received praise and blame and both would come and go quickly. It was an interesting experience to watch my nervous system respond to an email that calls me a “hero” right after another email that calls me a “fucking bitch.” The Buddha says, “Praise and blame, gain and loss, pleasure and sorrow come and go like the wind. To be happy, rest like a giant tree in the midst of them all.” I felt the discomfort in my body and desire to wiggle away from both the praise and the blame. My practice is the tree that helps me stay in the midst of it all. 

Lovingkindness. After a few days, I asked the question again. “How can I navigate this with grace, ease and as a tool of liberation?” In my meditation I heard, “stop making fun of trolls.” I was trolling trolls in my own head. Making fun of trolls was a coping strategy for me to wade through these waters, and it was also a form of dehumanization. This is not how I want to show up in the world. I want to practice being radically honest about how I feel (scared, angry, confused, averse and contracted are some of the ways I react to trolling) rather than pushing feelings away with humor and degradation, even if that was coming in my direction. 

In service of liberation and lovingkindness for all: May the many people of color doing this work longer and better than I ever could be uplifted and celebrated for their work, resilience and strength. May all white people see the ways white supremacy are dehumanizing our relationships, our world and ourselves.

May all beings be liberated, free and whole.

With love and solidarity,
Laura

Why Undoing Whiteness?

Last month I posted the monthly Undoing Whiteness classes on social media and received a lot of questions and feedback. As I continue to process and integrate the feedback I want to address some of the questions that arose. I will continue to write and share my own questions, grappling and process around the work of justice and equity, and I hope you will too. 

What is an affinity space?

Affinity space, or sometimes called caucus space, is when people who are assigned the same social membership get together to work towards justice and equity. Caucusing can happen with a variety of social memberships (i.e. people of color, white, queer, straight, etc.). Caucus space has been used for decades in racial and social justice movements, and Rainier Beach Yoga is committed to both caucusing and multiracial work.

Why “undoing” whiteness?

There has been a call for white people to name our whiteness for decades now, and this is an opportunity for white folks to face our socialization under white supremacy and how it shows up in the body, mind, emotions, relationships and all social systems. Facing whiteness is about being in process with the implicit and explicit norms that maintain white supremacy, and this exploration is to discover and bring awareness to how those norms operate within and around us. Interrogating whiteness means that we no longer hide from the conditioning of whiteness, and we name and take responsibility for the ways white supremacy advantages and dehumanizes us.

Who am I accountable to?

I am accountable to my mentors of color and white anti-racist guides. My approach is informed and inspired by bell hooks, adrienne maree brown, Ijeoma Oluo, Robin DiAngelo and personal friends and colleagues (both white and people of color). I also work directly with Reverned angel Kyodo williams, Leticia Nieto and Shelly Tochluk. I will continue to learn for the rest of my life. At times I work with people of color and other times I respond to the mandate to address white supremacy with other white people.

Is this a safe space for white people?

This is not a safe space or a brave space. This is a bold space, and a space to be challenged and to find your edges. I can not and do not guarantee comfort.

Why are you reading a white author’s book?

I am deeply committed to bringing in a variety of voices, and there is always something in each session that comes directly from lessons from mentors of color. The book we are reading at this time is written by a white cis woman. Our work is to learn from her journey and also to critically examine that work for how it may still be perpetuating white supremacy. We are committed to listening to both POC and white voices.

Can people of color attend?

Everyone is welcome.

How can a Yoga class work with undoing whiteness?

This is not a class of physical yoga postures. The word yoga means union and wholeness. White supremacy gets in the way of finding union (both within ourselves and with each other). My awareness practices, including yoga, have deeply impacted my own interrogation of whiteness, and I offer the things that have helped me. I am forever a guest to Yoga and also understand that using a colonized practice to face whiteness is evidence of cultural appropriation. Cultural appropriation is another aspect of white supremacy that I want us to face. We do this through a variety of tools and methods including: awareness practices, theater, embodiment, writing, art and discussion. It is important to continue to examine the ways I use Yoga practices and the impacts this has. I am committed to deepening my understanding of how Yoga has been historically colonized in the West by white people-and how my training is a part of that which I can not get away from it.  

Why are you doing this work in a gentrifying neighborhood?

Gentrification is one of the most destructive ways white supremacy is currently operating. Here is a list of ways white people like me can work towards repair:

  1. Support POC-owned businesses
  2. Get to know people of color in the neighborhood.
  3. Support POC teachers
  4. Support POC caucus space
  5. Do not interrupt or question the need for POC caucus space
  6. Learn about the impacts of gentrification
  7. Offer reparations
  8. Offer free or low rent
  9. Hire people of color and pay a living wage

Rainier Beach Yoga is committed to these actions. It is clear these actions will not end gentrification as this is a systemic issue that needs to be addressed systemically.

How do you come home?

Soaking in the wisdom of the Sequoias.

Since Lama Rod Owens came to town last month (Save the date he will be back March 27-29, 2020!) I have been teaching the Yoga for Resilience classes through his “7 Homecomings,” which he talked about as a remix of the Three Jewels of Buddhism. He shared he needed more than the Buddha (the teacher), the Dharma (the teachings) and the Sangha (spiritual community) to come home.

What does coming home mean?  For me, coming home is coming to a place, either with myself or in the company of others, where I am whole and fully held as I am. Sometimes home is a place of comfort, retreat and rest. Other times home is a place to challenge and grow my edges. Sometimes home is where I go to fall apart, grieve and mourn. Other times home brings me new awareness, insight and capacity to meet what life brings. What does coming home mean to you?

Here are Lama Rod’s Seven Homecomings:
1. Guides. 
2. Texts.
3. Community.
4. Ancestors.
5. Earth.
6. Silence.
7. Myself.

Guides. When thinking of my guides I bring to mind my teachers and mentors who are further along the path than I am. They are my teachers of yoga, racial and social justice, compassion, resilience and liberation. They are my role models who I aspire to be like when I grow up. My guides include Leticia, Rev. angel, Lama Rod, Shelly and Kavitha. My guides bring me home in encouraging my growth and supporting me know the possibility of doing something that feel impossible. They can witness a fuller perspective of myself than I can at times, and I am so grateful.

Texts. Texts can be any media that brings us home. These can be spiritual texts, and can also be social media memes, albums or songs, movies, books, magazines, TV shows, etc. All of my guides are authors, and their books have supported me coming home to myself in countless ways. I also come home to the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali every morning before meditation when I read a sutra to ground myself. This morning I read Sutra 2.1, learning and re-learning about the necessity for work, study and surrender to the Divine. One of my other favorite texts is the Golden Girls. The Golden Girls are where I go to when I need comfort and tenderness, two important aspects of home for me. Watching Sophia, Blanche, Rose and Dorothy be home with each other helps me find home within myself.

Community. My guides are part of my community, but they are not the people I am with in my day to day. My community is my family of choice and those relationships I have cultivated where I am moving side by side through the world not so alone. My partner of 15 years and our dog are two of my homecoming rocks. I am so grateful to come home to both of them each day. Fun fact: my partner and my in laws actually built Rainier Beach Yoga and Satmato Yoga Therapy from the ground up. My businesses were literally built by community. I also am grateful for the community of friends and co-conspirators who love me unconditionally, are radically honest with me and who I can be my full messy self with.

Ancestors. Part of whiteness for many white people, me included, is disconnection from ancestors, and this last year I have connected to the grief of this disconnection while also re-connecting to my ancestors with the support of Rain Crowe. My work with Rain as well as a magical letter I was instructed to write by Christina Orbe support me learn how to come home to a part of myself that I have lost in exchange for the benefits of whiteness. This work has also helped me to hold my ancestors in their fullness, not just as oppressors who caused harm. They also instilled compassion, love of reading and education, determination, stubbornness, love of nature and animals, and creativity in me. I am heading to Germany in May, which will be the first time I will be in the land of my ancestors, and I am looking forward to connecting to the land and people there. More on that later, and my ancestors are the newest form of homecoming to me.

Earth. My dad instilled in me a deep love and respect for nature, and nature has become more and more of a homecoming for me. The picture above is a magical moment connecting with a sequoia tree last month. Nature, trees and water in particular, help me connect to a more spacious viewpoint, impermanence, grounding and steadiness. My daily morning walks at Seward Park are one of the ways I come home to nature every day, and I am grateful for this amazing place in the city that brings me home.

Silence. I remember my first silent meditation retreat and how nervous I was about being silent. After 24 hours I was in love with the silence. All the social niceties that take me away from myself fell away. I did not have to entertain people or to talk to make anyone, including myself, comfortable. I could come home to everything that was occurring within myself, which was sometimes terribly uncomfortable, other times boring and other times beautifully magnificent. I now crave silence and look forward to those times I can disconnect from the outside world to reconnect to the inside world. I find this momentary disconnection from the external helps me reengage with the world from a more integrated, whole place.

Myself. How do I welcome myself home? All of these other homecomings help me welcome myself more fully to myself. When I am supported by all of these homecomings I can more easily show up as the whole human I am: messy, beautiful, in process, making mistakes, refining my actions, cranky, present, loving, angry, hopeful, hopeless and everything in between. I can embrace myself fully as the imperfectly perfect human I am with love and kindness.

What helps you come home? Who or what are your homecomings? Movement is another homecoming for myself, and I love that my body will show me how to process experiences that my mind will sometimes not be able to. Maybe some of these homecomings resonate with you, and maybe others do not. Maybe you have other ways you come home to yourself. If so, I’d love to hear!

Love,
Laura

When Love is Used as a Weapon

Love is grasped fiercely in white, spiritual circles, and many white women, myself included, use love as a soothing balm when racial discomfort arises. I sense an urge inside myself to divert conversations on racism to a topic I am more comfortable with: love. When I engage in diversion I am not loving though, I am tone policing, silencing and losing an opportunity to unpack ways racial stress and whiteness live inside me by using love as a weapon of white supremacy.

What is love? “Love does not lead to an end of difficulties, it provides us with a means to cope with our difficulties in ways that enhance our growth,” bell hooks says in All About Love. When I use love to move away from difficulty and growth I am spiritual bypassing. Spiritual bypass, a term created by John Welwood, is a tendency to use spiritual ideas and practices to sidestep or avoid facing unresolved emotional issues, psychological wounds, and unfinished developmental tasks. The conditioning of white supremacy and other forms of supremacy (i.e. male, able-bodied, Christian, cisgender, etc) are unresolved emotional issues and psychological wounds that impact bodies, minds and hearts. Love for the sake of maintaining comfort and privilege will not heal those wounds. “Dreaming that love will save us, solve our problems or provide a steady state of bliss or security only keeps us stuck in wishful fantasy, undermining the real power of love-which is to transform us,” Welwood shares.

I, along with many other white women, have been conditioned through internalized sexism to be conflict avoidant. I am also conditioned to expect to be comfortable most of the time due to internalized racial superiority. Conflict avoidance and an inability to tolerate discomfort can turn love into a weapon. These ways of enacting conditioning assure white women do not have to feel uncomfortable while at the same time feeling superior. In times of racial stress I feel the desire to use love to shut conflict down, and when I use love instead of anger I feel an internal pat on the back for “keeping the peace.” This “peace” upholds white supremacy and my complicity in it.

Conflict, like love, can be transformative and generative. Conflict is a necessary part of true and radically honest love, and conflict does not mean violence. When a person of color sets clear and direct boundaries with me that is an act of love. Saying no can be an act of love. “To be loving we willingly hear each other’s truth, and most important, we affirm the value of truth telling,” bell hooks continues. My white conditioning has taught me that discomfort and conflict feels unsafe and learning to tolerate these can increase my capacity to hold myself and others with a truer and broader sense of love. When I can stay with my own and someone else’s discomfort and pain I can potentially do the loving act of holding and honoring the pain instead of causing more harm though the weaponizing of love.

“Getting in touch with the lovelessness within and letting that lovelessness speak its pain is one way to begin again on love’s journey,” bell hooks continues. In the largely white yoga and spiritual communities I am a part of I feel the collective desire to not focus on things that are perceived as negative, which can include anger, oppression, aversion, hate and lovelessness. For a long time I would say, “I don’t hate anyone. I love everyone.” This is not true or honest as lovelessness, racism, othering and hate live inside of me. How can we as white women use love to transform the conditioning we have inherited? The first step can be awareness. When ways I am loveless are pointed out I attempt to share gratitude for the gift being offered to help me show up in the world in a more humane way. Instead of denying lovelessness what if I turned towards that pain in order to transform it rather than push it away and onto another human being? This is my spiritual work, to deepen what love means and to connect to a radical way of loving.

Radical love is deeply honest, courageously vulnerable and willing to go into the depths with myself and others in order to move toward transformation. Radical love does not need to be sugar coated, tone policed, silenced or have a veneer of niceness. Radical love does not deflect discomfort but moves towards it and it knows the difference between violence and discomfort. Radical love is open to conflict as a useful source of change and growth, and it celebrates boundaries, directness and truth. What if my fellow white women and myself can connect not only with the beautiful and blissful aspects of love but also the uncomfortable, conflict generating love that will not only challenge us to grow but transform us?

When the Past Returns to the Present

The Journey
By Mary Oliver

One day you finally knew 
what you had to do, and began, 
though the voices around you 
kept shouting 
 their bad advice–

though the whole house 
began to tremble 
and you felt the old tug 
at your ankles. 
“Mend my life!” 
each voice cried.

But you didn’t stop. 
You knew what you had to do, 
though the wind pried 
with its stiff fingers 
at the very foundations, 
though their melancholy 
was terrible.

It was already late 
enough, and a wild night, 
and the road full of fallen 
branches and stones.

But little by little, 
as you left their voices behind, 
the stars began to burn 
through the sheets of clouds,

and there was a new voice 
which you slowly 
recognized as your own, 
that kept you company 
as you strode deeper and deeper 
into the world,

determined to do 
the only thing you could do– 
determined to save 
the only life you could save. 

Rest in Power Mary Oliver, a womxn whose writing touched my heart, inspired my mind, connected me to myself, others and the natural world around me. I am grateful for your words being in the world and in my world. Dear community, 

In high school I thought I knew what I wanted to do with my life…write for Rolling Stone. I was a huge music fan and editor in chief of the school newspaper. I loved writing, I loved being a journalist, and I decided to major in Journalism in college.

In high school I thought I knew what I wanted to do with my life…write for Rolling Stone. I was a huge music fan and editor in chief of the school newspaper. I loved writing, I loved being a journalist, and I decided to major in Journalism in college.

By junior year of college I realized I had not written anything for publication in 3 years. I was still writing for myself, but not for anyone else. I also realized the classes I enjoyed most were Psychology. I declared myself a double major and thought I would probably never put that journalism degree to use. 

Fast forward almost 20 years to my first article in print coming out in Yoga Therapy Today! I wrote a piece called, Yoga Therapy Beyond the Koshas: Examining Unearned Privilege and Oppression.  

Writing has always been a healing process for me. I love writing these newsletters to you each month. I love sharing parts of myself with others with the hope that it will offer some support and/or connection. My writing can feel personal and vulnerable at times, and through my writing I understand myself more deeply. It is a big step for me in the beginning of this year for my words have a further reach. That in itself feels vulnerable and humbling, and I am grateful for the opportunity. 

This past year I also received my first rejection to an on-line magazine as well as to a writing residency. I took myself on my own writing retreat and was not sure I had anything to write. I ended that retreat with over 10,000 words written and 15 hours of writing.

Many times it is difficult for me to envision how life will unfold or intersect with other parts of my life. I made the assumption that writing was something in my past. In reclaiming writing it feels a bit like a homecoming to part of myself I didn’t know wanted to exist anymore, and I am grateful for some wonderful people and painful life circumstances that put writing at the forefront of my life again. I was challenged to write when I didn’t want to, and in that challenge I reconnected to the love of it. 

In 2019 there may be more writing, and I am also not setting goals for myself. I am going to approach writing with pleasure and inspiration rather than the old ways of deadlines and getting space filled, which is probably a couple of the reasons I stopped writing all those years ago. I am currently shopping a piece around to different publications and would love to hear the publications YOU like to read. There are so many amazing authors and publications around I am unaware of!

In closing I want to acknowledge and thank some of my favorite writers: Reagan Jackson, adrienne maree brown, Father Gregory Boyle, Cheri Huber, Ijeoma Oluo, Brene Brown, bell hooks, Audre Lorde, Desmond Tutu, Nischala Joy Devi, Shelly Tochluk, Kavitha Chinnaiyan and Eli Claire. 

With love and gratitude,
Laura

We can’t do it alone

“Without inner change, there can be no outer change, without outer change, no change matters,” –Reverend angel Kyodo williams

As I hold the last month and the last day in my head and heart I acknowledge both the victories and tragedies. The first Native American women elected to Congress and attacks on trans rights, the first Muslim women elected to Congress and the terrorism at a synagogue in Pittsburgh and a grocery store in Louisville, the first Black woman elected to Congress from Massachusetts and the increasing militarization to prevent refugees and migrants from coming onto this stolen land and police will get de-escalation training in WA and there will not be a carbon tax added to protect the environment

As I feel pulls between rage, horror, despair, overwhelm and moments of possibility I also feel a loss for words. When I feel this loss I turn to others who teach and challenge me. Here are some words that have inspired me to show up, take action and allow myself to feel and be with the fullness of my experience as well as others. 

Here are words from Lama Rod:

“Here is what my prayer sounds like right now: I evoke all those beings and sources of refuge who have ever loved me to come sit with me because it is now that I feel most alone. I evoke the Blessed Mother, the Sacred Father, Spirits of Light, the essence of wisdom, my teachers and elders, the communities who have always caught me when I have fallen, the ancestors who have never stopped holding me, the sacred earth who helps me to stand, silence which wraps me in the space to be with my heart, and I call upon my own innate compassion. To all those I have evoked, I offer my grief and what seems like my perpetual mourning in this body. I offer my fear, my numbness, and I offer my inability to dream beyond my shutting down. Most of all, I offer my fatigue. I am tired. Today precious earth let me lie upon you and remind me of my body and my heart. I want many things but I need only one thing now- to give up what I cannot hold to you. I pray that I evolve past my belief that my pain is mine alone to carry. To my sources of refuge whom have been evoked, you have taught me over and over again that this is not the truth. You have taught me over and over again that it is not my pain, but our pain. You remind me that my worship of isolation is not conducive to my liberation. I want to be free and so I offer what I struggle to hold to you right now knowing that you are only here to share this heaviness with and to love me. I am afraid of the world. I am afraid of people. I am afraid of what I must do to survive in the world. Even these fears, I offer to my sources of refuge. Today my precious sources of refuge, in your love, offer me rest. In your love, never abandon me. In your love, haunt all others who feel lonely and tired. Please continue to haunt me in this life, in death, and into all my lives to come until one day I become a source of refuge for other beings. Yet it is also my prayer to become a source of refuge for beings right now in this life. Please continue to take care of me so I may take care of others. May I and all others in this realm and beyond be blessed forever. These are my prayers right now.

And from Nikkita Oliver:

Yes, vote, if you can.
But also… 
get involved in your community;
show up to city council meetings;
volunteer;
cop watch;
protest;
be involved in local schools;
support home schools and alternative educational opportunities for children and youth not served by mainstream schools;
share food and resources with your neighbors;
be willing to protect your neighbors from ICE;
intervene when you see racist, sexist, classist, homophobic, xenophobic stuff happening;
spend your money at small businesses, Black owned businesses, Native owned businesses, POC businesses;
pay rent to the Duwamish (or whomever the Native nations are where you live; especially if you are the descendent of settlor colonials);
have knowledge of gentrification, how it works, and when you can push back;
if you work for a company that is doing harm to communities, speak up, challenge practices, protest at work, whistleblow, quit if you have to;
support rank and file led unions;
make art about the world we want to see;
know your neighbors;
donate to healthy community based alternatives to prisons, courts, and police;
talk to people on the street… etc.

Voting is important mitigation, but I know firsthand how hard it is to run for office. I know that my ballot had a lot of unopposed judges and it isn’t because there aren’t qualified people. It is because running for office is hard and costly. It is because even if you win the seat the system is still white supremacist, capitalist, and patriarchal.

So yes, vote, if you can.
But don’t let that be all that you do.
Revolution and transformation requires more than your vote. To be honest, voting is just mitigation until we bring the revolution and transformational change we most need.

And if you don’t want to vote because you don’t feel like it does anything or you’ve been hurt by the system or you’re tired of trying or you’re tired of not having anyone to vote for… I understand. However, do something. I gave you a list. DO SOMETHING. This isn’t just about you. It is about US.”

The inner changes I commit to are my daily meditation practice and writing. The outer changes I commit to beyond voting are cop watching and joining the Seattle People’s Party. What are the inner changes you are committed to? What outer changes?

Let’s inspire each other. We can’t do it alone.

Love,
Laura

#Metoo Seattle Yoga: The Stories

We want to start by acknowledging and honoring every single person who shares, doesn’t share, speaks, doesn’t speak, reports and doesn’t report. There is no right way to go through the trauma of sexual harassment and violence, and each person gets to choose the way they process, heal and move forward with their lives. You are not alone, we believe you and we are with you in solidarity and love wherever you find yourself in the process.

This google form opened in July offering a space where people in the Seattle yoga community could report #metoo Seattle yoga stories, and we want to acknowledge that not everyone will report. There may be people who did not see this form because they have left the yoga world completely, others may not be ready to share their story publicly knowing the Seattle yoga community is small and the risk is high, others may only want to tell close friends and loved ones, and others may not be ready to share at all. The form was also inherently flawed in that it only gave one way to share, through a form and through writing.

With the stories we are publishing we went through a process of redacting information to make the stories as anonymous as possible. We had to make judgement calls with editing, and we had lawyers read them as well in order to protect the people sharing as much as possible.

We received 16 responses and we are publishing the 6 responses that reported saying yes to experiencing sexual harassment and/or violence in the Seattle Yoga community. Of the 10 responses reporting no sexual harassment and/or violence there was a theme of reporting instructors yelling at students, being hurt by a “very rough adjustment,” and the instructor saying the adjustment was supposed to be that way. There may be a need for a broader forum that addresses all the ways that violence appears in the Seattle Yoga community.

Trigger warning: Here are the stories of people who reported sexual harassment and/or violence (exact quotes with identifying information removed):

_______________________________________________________________________________
At [studio] in [neighborhood] a man who was [a student teacher], approached me from behind in down dog, grabbed me around the front of my legs, and pulled me toward his pelvis. I dropped to my knees and sat on my heels, but didn’t feel it appropriate to discuss or confront as it was in the middle of the class. I also let it slide after class and in hindsight would have had a discussion with both him and his teachers about physical assisting. I find that tradition [lineage] very hands on in an inappropriate and potentially injurious way. ALWAYS ask permission for touch, do not ever do this adjustment!
________________________________________________________________________________

________________________________________________________________________________
I used to go to [lineage] studio. While I definitely benefitted from the exercise an dloved the heat I felt the instructors- both men an dwomen – used demeaning language to people consistently and also often exhorted people to go past their saf elimits. One particularly loud yelling day I left the class. I did leave a phone message regarding my beliefs abotu over-the -top yelling. My voicemail was responded to with an explanation that this was the way [lineage-leader] taught and it was appropriate. I never went back.
________________________________________________________________________________

________________________________________________________________________________
I was asked to write about this topic by one of the founders of this project and so here I am. I acknowledge the privilege I carry as a strong able bodied cis gendered man, and I am still victim of harassment of a sexual nature.

As a young black man teaching yoga in Seattle I have found myself in several situations where sexual harassment/abuse have taken place. The forms albeit subtle when mixed with racism can cut a bit deeper than they might say for my white male bodied counter parts, from a studio owner eyeing me up and down and then publicly speaking about their level of attraction to me on one end of the spectrum to a woman saying “I see why black guys wear baggy pants” while looking at the dick print in my yoga pants. as a pretty cis hetero dude it could have been laughed away and even joked about as I’m privileged in my sex/gender and orientation however being a black man spoken to by a white women, surrounded by white people in a white institution this was quite uncomfortable.

For me I’m more frustrated by the mental pathology I have to check because my blackness is sexualized and eroticized, this tends to leave me battling within my head is it ok assist my students, to use terms of endearment, to give them hugs after class etc.
________________________________________________________________________________

________________________________________________________________________________
I was working with a private client and we were checking in before starting our session. I remember wearing a new Lululemon shirt that I really liked. I asked the client how his body was doing today, and instead of answering he asked me how my body was. He then said, “you have a great body.” I made a joke back to him and said our session was about his body, not mine and laughed. We started our session and I noticed that he continued to look at my breasts throughout the session. I felt uncomfortable, nervous and disgusted. I never wore a Lululemon shirt in session with him again, and I eventually stopped wearing shirts that showed any cleavage at all when teaching or working with private clients.
________________________________________________________________________________

________________________________________________________________________________
I took an [particular style] yoga class last night and there was an older man who attended and made me feel very uncomfortable–he sat or stood too close and didn’t seem to actually be doing any yoga. Rather, he was just watching everybody else (mostly women) and walking around the room. I struggled with whether to say anything, because he wasn’t actually doing anything “wrong” and it was my first time at that studio whereas it seemed like he was a regular. In the end, I kept my mouth shut, but it definitely colored my experience. I would think twice about going back to that particular studio.
________________________________________________________________________________

Our Process and Next Steps

Stories included both teacher to student and student to teacher harm. Even though there were no student to student stories reported we hypothesize that type of harm also occurs in the community.

We received next steps from 8 of the participants who responded, and we are choosing to center the voices of people who have been directly impacted by sexual harassment and/or violence. Here are their suggestions for next steps:

5 people suggested Trainings for teachers around misuse/abuse of power

4 people suggested Trainings for male-identified folks on toxic masculinity and Consent trainings

2 people suggested Trainings on the intersection of racism and sexism for the Seattle Yoga Community

Other ideas included:

Trainings re saying no in yoga, in life

Restorative justice opportunities

Our next steps include deleting the google form and ending the formal process of collecting stories. We also feel a responsibility to keep the email open and available for anyone who wants to share. The email address metooseatlteyoga@gmail.com will remain open indefinitely, and if another forum needs to happen we are committed to that.

Other Resources

We want to honor a local teacher, Jubilee Cooke, who shared her experience of sexual abuse from Pattabhi Jois. With her permission, we are including her story here: http://www.decolonizingyoga.com/why-didnt-somebody-warn-me-a-pattabhi-jois-metoo-story-jubilee-cooke/

There is a #metoo Healers Circle scheduled for November 17. Go here to read more and register: http://www.michelledesmondcounseling.com/workshops.html

Theresa Elliot also wrote a piece about How to Spot a Yoga Predator, which can be found here:
https://seattleyoganews.com/how-to-spot-a-yoga-predator/

In the original blog post we named Rachel Brathen’s blog post that inspired our action, and since then she has also shared a Part Two of stories that continued to come in reporting abuse in the national and international yoga world. You can read part one and part two here:
https://www.yogagirl.com/read/healing/79U5el93c486UGKscEWEcG
https://www.yogagirl.com/read/healing/6YBNzG2kzSKgW0cMK6gA4w

Thank yous

We want to thank several studios who were able to get the word out about this forum. We could not do it alone, and we are grateful for your commitment to transparency and healing.

Three Moon Collective: https://threemooncollective.com/
Seattle Yoga Arts: http://www.seattleyogaarts.com/
Om Culture: https://www.facebook.com/groups/omculture
Eka Studio: http://ekayogaandayurveda.com/
Be Yoga Burien: http://www.beyogaburien.com/
Sweatbox: http://sweatboxyoga.com/
Yoga Tree: http://www.yogatree.com/
Seattle Yoga News: https://seattleyoganews.com/
Hopelandic Yoga: https://hopelandicyoga.com/
Yoga Behind Bars: https://yogabehindbars.org/
Ritual House: http://ritualhouseseattle.com/

With love and solidarity,
Laura Humpf, Maggie Karshner, Katie Spataro, Michelle Desmond and Emma Shandy Anway

 

#metoo Seattle Yoga. Do you have a story to share?

• Collecting #metoo Seattle Yoga stories.
• Bringing Transparency to the Seattle Yoga Community.
• Supporting Survivors.

Sexual Violence Happens in the Yoga Community

Yoga has been a healing journey for many and for others yoga has been abusive, painful and violent. Most lineages of yoga have sexual abuse allegations including: Patthabhi Jois of Ashtanga Yoga, John Friend of Anusara Yoga, Bikram Choudry of Bikram Yoga, Kausthub Desikachar of Viniyoga and Swami Rama of the Himalyan Institute. The #metoo movement, started in NY by Tarana Burke, has inspired many people to come forward, to speak, and to refuse to be silenced. Jessamyn Stanely posted on Facebook, “Me, too. And the fact that I don’t enjoy admitting it probably says way more than anything else. Solidarity is powerful—I feel less alone today.” Rachel Brathen offered a space nationally for people to share their stories of sexual harassment and violence in the yoga community a few months back. You can read her post here. Stories have involved harassment or violence between teacher to student, student to teacher or student to student.

Collecting #MeTooSeattleYoga Stories

Stories of sexual violence have surfaced in the Seattle yoga community through the years, and we want to offer an intentional and collective space where people can speak and be heard, especially for those silenced. With this in mind we are offering a space for people in the local community who would like to share their stories. We are offering an opportunity to share your #metooseattleyoga story if you feel called to. Feel free to answer as few or as many of the questions as you prefer. Stories may involve harassment or violence between teacher to student, student to teacher or student to student.

Go here to share your story.

Why We are Doing This

We feel a deep commitment to the Seattle yoga world, and simultaneously a deep commitment to justice, transparency, honesty and bringing to awareness what has been silenced.
We specifically want to bring this transparency to the community we live and practice in because we want everyone to be able to practice yoga in spaces that are free of sexual violence and harm. Transparency about what is happening in the community can be a step towards change, justice, accountability and hopefully, healing.

What Will Happen with This Information

This form will be open from July 15-September 27, and all the stories will be published anonymously in a Rainier Beach Yoga blog post by the end of September.

Next Steps

Based on the information we get from survivors we will propose next steps for the community to engage with. Possibilities that we see are: in person processing circle community wide, trainings for teachers around misuse/abuse of power, trainings for male-identified folks on toxic masculinity, consent trainings, restorative justice opportunities, trainings on the intersection of racism and sexism for the Seattle Yoga Community, nothing, or other idea(s) proposed by survivors in the community.

Go here to share your story.

With love and solidarity,
Laura Humpf, Michelle Desmond, Katie Spataro, Maggie Karshner and Emma Shandy Anway

Grassroots Fundraising Gave me Hope

This Fall I had the opportunity to be a part of this amazing group of folks who came together to be a part of a Giving Project for Social Justice Fund. Here is a description of who this group is: 
The 2017-2018 Immigration Justice Giving Project brings together 23 activists, cultural workers, students, mothers, musicians, nonprofit administrators, plant lovers, counselors, and more. Many of us are immigrants. Among our loved ones are refugees, green card holders, DACA recipients, US citizens, and people without US documents. We have ties to hundreds of places, including India, Chicago, Texas, China, Michoacan, Bellevue, Laos, the DRC, Boston, Ecuador, and the Philippines. We’ve come together to move resources to the folks who are building grassroots power and leading the struggle for migrant justice.

In about 6 months we raised over $247,000 for incredible organizations in the Northwest doing grassroots organizing around immigration justice.

When I first heard our fundraising goal of $225,000 I thought it was impossible, and we actually increased our goal from $125,000 because our team captains thought we could do it!

As the news highlights injustice day in and day out against immigrants to be a part of something that was supporting immigrants know their rights, learn to start their own businesses, obtain emergency housing, leave domestic violence situations, change the dynamics of restaurants where immigrants and people of color are primarily in the back of the house, sue the Montana State Patrol for discrimination, and so much more was a deep experience.

As a citizen from a family settled in the U.S. for at least 4 generations my immigration story is mostly lost. My ancestors’ migration stories were not talked about when I was young, and we traded in our German-ness for whiteness. To reconnect to the grief and longing to what I lost as I attempted to uncover some of my history was important work for myself, and a needed aspect of looking at the ways whiteness has hurt my family and myself.

Each of us in the Giving Project asked our friends and families about giving, immigration and migration. We shared why we chose to spend our time doing this work, and we asked our friends and family to support this work. We all made our own meaningful gift, and I gave the largest gift I’ve ever given.

We read grants and had painful, honest, real and difficult conversations about which organizations to site visit and which to cut. 

We spent our weekends going to OR or MO or different organizations in Seattle to meet the leaders and members as well as witness the impact of their work. The grants many times did not come close to seeing how profound the work was. I had the privilege to visit Mujeres Luchadoras Progresistas. I would highly recommend following them, and buying a wreath from them during their holiday wreath drive. Many immigrant women lose income near the end of the year and this program is a way to develop entrepreneurial skills as well as supplement lost income. Mujeres also has house parties to share information about women’s health and knowing your rights, which makes it more accessible for folks fearful of driving due to racial profiling.

I started this journey after Trump’s election when I decided I wanted to do something, I wanted to connect to the resistance that has always been there. I heard about previous Giving Projects that were transformative and I decided after a bout of hopelessness this was somewhere I could focus my energy. I found the Giving Project gave me hope, I learned a ton about the immigration system, I learned a ton about myself and I learned more about the power of people and the power of community. I learned that impossible endeavors can be possible. 

If you feel drawn to a Giving Project sign up! It will offer you opportunities to grow, to learn, to look at your relationship with giving and money, and to support some bad ass organizers all over the Pacific Northwest. Go here to learn more about Social Justice Fund.

Spring buds, beginnings and birthdays

Spring is here, the tulips are blooming, and Rainier Beach Yoga is coming up her 3rd birthday! Tulips remind me of the beginning of Rainier Beach Yoga because they are some of my favorite flowers, I regularly visit the Tulip Festival each year (picture from the daffodil fields!), and I have a beautiful scarf a friend made me for RBY’s opening 3 years ago called Tulips and Concrete. This time of year is a reflective time to look at where RBY has been in the last 3 years, and looking forward to the next 3 years. 

In the last three years, we have met hundreds of community members, offered classes outdoors, in agencies working with youth impacted by violence and the criminal justice system, women impacted by domestic violence, hospice workers and staff on the front lines of racial justice committed to their resiliency and sustainability. We offered workshops on trauma, depression, anxiety, racial justice and equanimity. Wow!

In the next three years RBY is continuing its commitment to resiliency, racial and social justice and yoga therapy. What is your hope for RBY in the next 3 years? Let us know!

With the buds and the new beginnings there are a few changes and a birthday special coming in May.

First, your special…I am bringing back the Bring a Friend Ticket for $49 for the May Yoga for Resilience series! This is my thank you to you for showing up and a way for you to share the gift of yoga (and accountability) with a buddy. 

Second, class changes…I am dropping my group class schedule down to 2 classes/week in May. I will teach Tuesdays at 6:30pm and Thursdays at 10:30am. These series will alternate between Yoga for Resilience: Building Capacity and Yoga for Resilience: Taking Action. Check out the current schedule here, and the next series begin May 1 and 3. 

The buds coming into bloom at Rainier Beach Yoga are monthly Undoing Whiteness explorations and a Yoga Therapy for Mental Health Therapists workshop.  

What are you bringing to fruition this spring? What buds are blossoming in your mind and heart?