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

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