Changemaker Interview: A Yoga Studio Takes On Peace, Justice and Sustainability

Kate Sanderson Holly

This week we are excited to share one of our Changemaker Interviews with Veronica Hotton and Kate Sanderson Holly, who recently co-organized NWEI’s Seeing Systems: Peace, Justice and Sustainability discussion course at the Yoga Refuge yoga studio in Portland, Oregon. They wrapped up the course last month and we had a chance to connect with both of them to hear about their experience. Veronica is an Adjunct Assistant Professor at Portland State University. Kate, a mom of two young children, is a theater artist and is also the owner and director of Yoga Refuge.

We asked them to reflect on their discussion course experience and the changes underway as a result. Kate shared that her biggest take-away from the discussion group was remembering that “I can still make small changes in my own life to live in accordance with my values and in a way that is more sustainable for the world.”

1. What drew you to participate in the Seeing Systems discussion group? Why was this important to you now?

Members of the Yoga Refuge Seeing Systems course celebrate during the final session

Veronica: While being a Fellow for NWEI in 2016, one of my goals was to coordinate a Discussion Circle in the community, and after being a regular participant at Yoga Refuge, I thought Kate would be interested in hosting a series.

Kate:  I love teaching yoga and being the director of my own studio, but I have often wished for a more direct way to support social justice, progressive activism and culture change through my work. After the 2016 presidential election I decided to be more intentional in this mission.

I think we have a cultural epidemic of short-term thinking, so learning to see systems is more important than ever. When Veronica proposed that we do a Seeing Systems learning group at the studio I was thrilled to have the opportunity to host it, and the NWEI book and discussion guidelines made it easy and effective to have meaningful conversations.

2. If you had to identify one or two key take-aways from having participated in the course, what would those be? Or, share any new perspectives you may have gained.

Kate: I graduated from The Evergreen State College in 2002, and during that time of my life I lived in a very conscious way. I rode my bike everywhere, I washed all my plastic bags to re-use them, I was a vegetarian and a proud dumpster diver (doing the good work of liberating food waste!). In the last few years I bought a house in a neighborhood many miles from the center of my city, I had two children and I opened a business. The increase in stress and personal responsibility along with managing the logistics of my life have caused me to compromise many of the lifestyle values I used to be committed to.

My biggest take-away from the discussion group was remembering that these things are still important to me and that I can still make small changes in my own life to live in accordance with my values and in a way that is more sustainable for the world.

Veronica: I have participated in a few Discussion Courses, but in those situations it was with people I already knew or knew pretty well. What I enjoyed about this series was that I was able to have discussions with people I did not know, or know well.

3. Did the course connect with your practice of yoga? If so, how?

Veronica Hotton

Veronica: Kate guided the group through an opening/closing sequence of yoga that connected to the weekly readings, which worked in a similar way as an opener within the discussion course model. I think this helped the group be more present during the conversation and be ready to discuss peace, justice and sustainability. This included guided breathing, thought, and a few poses/movements.

Kate:  It was my job (as the resident yoga instructor of the group) to provide some guidance on the connection between yoga and the discussions we were having, and that was a natural fit for me. The most important aspect of this is remembering that what is in the macrocosm is in the microcosm also, so if we want to live and practice non-violence we must also learn to be non-violent with ourselves.

If we want to understand the deeper, holistic systems of the world around us we must also learn about our own inter-connected systems of body, mind and spirit. We tend to take care of ourselves in a short-term thinking way, but tending to the sustainability of the ecosystem of Self is as vital as tending to the ecosystem of the world.

Also, learning to relax and be present with what is happening is a vital skill for staying engaged and active in issues that are very difficult to face in the world.

4. Are there any actions you plan on taking as follow up? For example, new groups you will join, organizations you will support or specific action steps you will take?

Kate:  I plan to host more discussion courses with the NWEI work books in the future at my yoga studio. I would also like to integrate the Seeing Systems book into my yoga teacher training program, which focuses on social justice in the context of yoga.

Overall, the course helped to renew my commitment to the values I have held all along, and reminded me how important it is to live those values and speak openly about them.

Veronica: I hope to keep coordinating Discussion Courses at Yoga Refuge in collaboration with Kate!

Thanks to Veronica and Kate for inviting others to connect, reflect and act – and for engaging in a deeper dive into systems thinking and connecting issues of peace, justice and sustainability to daily life and practices. For more info on NWEI’s Seeing Systems discussion course book, click here

Summer Is Here! Reconnecting with Earth

Happy first day of summer! As author Gary Zukav says, “Each solstice is a domain of experience unto itself. At the Summer Solstice, all is green and growing, potential coming into being, the miracle of manifestation painted large…”

We invite you to join us in manifesting new potentials – spending more time outdoors, reconnecting with local, seasonal foods and taking action on what matters most in your life. Are there trails you’ve been wanting to explore? Work to do in your own garden or a community garden? A project you’ve been wanting to undertake?

Whatever you choose, take a pause to celebrate the season. As inspiration, we share the following question for reflection and accompanying activities, excerpted from our Reconnecting With Earth discussion course book. Wishing you a wonderful start to the summer season!


Rachel Carson, author of Silent Spring, believes that we need the beauty and mysteries of the natural world for our spiritual and emotional development. Does that ring true for you? What are the implications for a culture that spends most of its time indoors?

After reflecting on the above question, choose at least one of the following activities to reconnect with nature this summer: 

  1. Set aside time to nurture your connection with the natural world: daily walks, gardening, whatever renews your bond with Earth.
  2. Find a special place in nature where you can keep the built environs and other people out of view. Spend five or ten minutes being aware of what you experience with all your senses. Notice color, motion, touch, sound, temperature, form, and smell. Write down your impressions.
  3. Find at least one new hike or scenic view that you can visit in your local bioregion each month. Keep going back to your favorite ones.
  4. Establish a new ritual honoring your place in the web of life. It can be as simple as thinking about all the natural elements and beings that were involved in producing the food for your meal and then expressing gratitude.
  5. Think about your role in the political system, educational system, and economy. Take one action that enhances the human-Earth relationship.

Happy summer! For more ideas, activities and food for thought, learn more about NWEI’s Reconnecting With Earth course book by clicking here. 






New Mexico A Different Way Course Participants Reflect on Change

Since the launch of our newest discussion course book, A Different Way: Living Simply in a Complex World, over 600 people have organized discussion courses and come together to learn about and commit to living in simpler, more authentic ways. This new course book shares insights on how simple living is a way to make our own paths in life – paths that allow for investing our time in the things that matter most to us, making choices that create less waste and more good, using (or not using) technology intentionally, and critically examining the messages that tell us what to believe, what to value, and who to be.

In May, the Pajarito Environmental Education Center in Los Alamos, New Mexico offered the A Different Way course with 13 people participating. Just last week, the group hosted their final celebration and NWEI had the chance to connect with course organizer and Pajarito Environmental Education Center volunteer Sue Barns. Sue shared, “It was quite an experience, for all of us. Everyone truly dug into their thoughts and feelings about a huge range of topics over the six weeks, from recycling to media use to politics to climate change, and beyond. Overall, folks really loved the opportunity to come together and talk about these issues and have the support of others in implementing changes.”

During the final meeting of the course, participants shared what the course meant to them. “Folks talked about changes they made in their lives, everything from building compost bins, to completely decluttering their homes, to not shopping as much anymore,” shared Sue. Participants also cited having conversations at work about the topics covered in the discussion course. One participant shared that the course made them “think about what I can do to help with activities in my community that support these ideas explored in the course.” Sue also shared that participants cited the importance of examining their media consumption. “One participant even decided to change jobs in order to have time for the things they value – like serving on our County Utilities Board. . . By the end of the evening, we were discussing how to get our County to sign onto the Paris Climate Agreement. Pretty amazing.”

Other participants shared reflections on changes underway. “I’ve implemented 10 changes in my life, in service to the health of our planet. I’ve been doing them for 6 weeks now. They’ve become habit,” reflected one participant. “No more plastic throw-away containers, I joined a local food co-op, started buying in bulk, began composting, cut way back on electronics, and am buying only from sustainable sources.”

The Parajito Environmental Education Center won’t stop here. They’ll be running the Change is our Choice: Creating Climate Solutions discussion course in July and the 7-week Choices for Sustainable Living course in the Fall.

We can indeed find a different way during these complex times – and invite you to join the NWEI community in connecting our individual values and actions to the larger picture, finding power to make real change in our lives, communities, and in the world at large. For more information on A Different Way, click here.

A Different Way Discussion Course participants celebrate with a final session and potluck in Los Alamos, New Mexico

Intern with NWEI! Two Internships Kick Off in August & September

Later this summer, NWEI is looking for two motivated, enthusiastic, sustainability-minded interns! As we head into our 25th year, we’re gearing up for another inspiring EcoChallenge this October – and we’re also developing new content and delivery models for NWEI’s discussion courses! Interns have long supported NWEI’s EcoChallenge and Discussion Course offerings – and this year interns have the opportunity to work remotely with us, joining us from anywhere in the United States.

The EcoChallenge and Engagement Intern will support participation in both EcoChallenge and Discussion Course programs with a special focus on our 2017 October EcoChallenge event. The Curriculum and Research Intern will support the development of NWEI’s newest program for 2018, conducting research for new program content as well as researching new potential partnering organizations.

To learn more about both positions, click here.

NWEI Staff and Board at the 2016 Planning Retreat

On Leaving the Paris Climate Agreement

Photo courtesy of Business Insider

Yesterday, President Trump exited the Paris Climate Agreement, a 2015 pact that was intended to bring the world community together to respond to climate change. With 195 nations having signed, and with the US as the world’s second largest polluter, this comes to many of us as a huge blow.

At NWEI, we have been considering how to respond to such devastating news. We’re acknowledging the hard emotions. There is disappointment, anger, confusion and disbelief. Some of us turn to feelings of fear, doubt, indifference or powerlessness. But we are also remembering our core belief that each person has the power to create positive action. Since our inception nearly 25 years ago, we’ve always advocated that change happens as a result of individuals impacting their spheres of influence. At this time, it may be easy to wonder what difference our work actually makes, given the current reality. Now more than ever, our efforts to protect the planet are being put to the test.

And yet, individuals and institutions are immediately stepping up in response to the White House decision. Just hours after the announcement was made, American civic leaders, governors, mayors, business leaders, the clean energy sector and investors prepared to step up to the climate challenge. Just as the Mayor’s National Climate Action Agenda reminds us, “The world cannot wait – and neither will we.” 83 US mayors have already adopted the Paris Climate Accord, and 29 cities are moving towards 100% clean energy in response to the federal decision. Furthermore, representatives from many other cities, states, college campuses and businesses are submitting a plan to the United Nations, pledging to meet the US greenhouse gas emission targets laid out in the Paris Accord. With over 80 universities already on board, and more than 100 companies, these individuals and organizations are a reminder that we can stay engaged and active, despite federal decisions.

As Bill McKibben says, “As the federal government reneges on its commitments, the rest of us will double down on ours.” Beyond “resisting,” there is another way. We can continue to strengthen our local communities and our connection with others. We can focus on what is working, and put our energy there. We can keep cultivating positive and workable alternatives. We can encourage our workplaces, schools and communities to continue progress towards a cleaner energy future. Indeed, we as individuals can – and will – pick up where where our leaders leave off.


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