'Tis the Season for Giving... Give the Gift of Leadership!

Dear Off the Mat Family and Friends,

This holiday season, we invite you to support the work we are doing at Off the Mat, Into the World.  We are so proud of the leaders that have come through our trainings, and our renewed mission is to make all of our trainings more accessible.  At OTM, we recognize that having leaders in all kinds of communities is a vital part of creating a movement for positive social and environmental change.  We are committed to offering relevant trainings and mentoring opportunities to as many people as we can.

This is where you come in.  Affordability is an important part of accessibility.  A 5-day Leadership Intensive, facilitated by our founders Seane Corn, Hala Khouri and Suzanne Sterling, costs an average of $650. This is incredibly low, given that it's led by 3 world class facilitators. The actual cost of this training should be $2000.  It is through the support of our community that we are able to keep our costs down and offer 10 scholarships per training.  Currently, all of our online trainings are offered on a sliding scale.

Keeping trainings affordable is only possible with the help of our community!

If you have been touched by one of our trainings, please pay it forward by making a generous donation that will help spread this work to others.  If you know of our work and are sparked by it, share your spark by contributing.

We appreciate you!

Anyone who donates during the month of December will be entered into a raffle to win a spot in Off The Mat's life-changing Yoga, Purpose & Action Leadership Intensive*


$10 - $149
1 raffle ticket

$150 - $249
2 raffle tickets

$250 - $499
3 raffle tickets

$500 - $999
4 raffle tickets + $50 off any intensive or online training

$1,000 - $1,499
4 raffle tickets + $100 off any intensive or online training + OTM gift basket**

$5,000 - $9,999
              4 raffle tickets + one spot at an intensive for you or a person of your choice                   + OTM gift basket**

$10,000 - $19,999
bring a team of up to 4 people to an intensive + OTM gift basket**
(great leadership training for non-profit staff or project collaborators)

$20,000 - $34,999
bring a team of up to 8 people to an intensive + OTM gift basket**
(great leadership training for non-profit staff or project collaborators)

$35,000 - $49,999
            have Seane, Hala and Suzanne teach a 3-day training for you and your group                  + OTM gift basket**

             have Seane, Hala and Suzanne teach a 5-day training for you and your group                 + OTM gift basket**


*$650 value - see website for schedule & locations; transportation and lodging not included

**OTM gift baskets include a YogiToes eco-conscious yoga mat towel from Manduka, an assortment of superfood supplements and snacks from Essential Living Foods, yoga and music DVDs by OTM founders Seane, Hala and Suzanne, a t-shirt and other goodies from OTM affiliated organizations including The LoveMore Movement and Embody Love Movement.
Gift baskets will be sent out to all donors by January 15

Our 2015 Commitments:


Our 5-day Leadership Intensive has changed many lives and inspired hundreds of people to go back to their communities and engage in a conscious, effective and powerful way.  In 2015, you will see a series of online trainings on Social Justice, Cultural Competency, Trauma and Facilitation.  We have a faculty of trainers offering specialized workshops on addiction & recovery, body image, social justice, youth, trauma and activating your purpose.



We are actively working towards training, engaging and learning from yogis from a wide variety of communities. We have leaders of color, leaders who are part of the LGBTQ community, leaders with disabilities and leaders from the corporate world who inform our vision. On our scholarship applications, we actively recruit people who are not usually considered part of the mainstream yoga community. We want to see everyone in the room during our trainings. 


The Next Chapter of Off The Mat...

Hello OFF THE MAT Family!!

Exciting things are happening at OTM!  After seven years of bridging yoga and activism, we are taking it to the next level by  elevating our commitment to our mission of training the people that make change possible. At OTM, we believe that vital to the practice of service and social change is mind-body connection, inside out transformation and sustainable action.  To reflect our next phase of development we are  launching a brand NEW WEBSITE!!

Also this year we evolved our trainings to be more potent, more accessible and more diverse. Our new training institute is addressing issues of social justice, sustainability, personal transformation and accountability. We are privileged to expand our faculty to include change-makers like Nikki MyersDr. Melody MooreMarianne ElliottTerri Cooper and Teo Drake. By investing in our leadership training offerings in this way we are increasing accessibility, affordably, diversity, and increased skill building.

We believe that transformed leaders are the key to transforming the world. Therefore, we're focusing our efforts on leadership development and designing a next-generation institute of body, mind and soul.

We are reinvigorated in our purpose and excited to share these new offerings and website with you!

Internalized Oppression's Long Shadow


My wife, Robin, and I have lived together for over 21 years and have adopted the typically similar mannerisms peculiar to long-term couples. These days, it seems obvious to most strangers who see us together that we are a couple; only occasionally does someone assume we are sisters or “best friends.” The frequency of situations where I must decide whether to intentionally “out” myself or let the erroneous assumption slide has diminished considerably over the years, but once in a while I am still confronted with the choice. I am comfortable outing myself when I have the luxury of doing so indirectly, waiting for an opportune time to refer to “my wife” naturally, in the context of conversation. That works well; it is a low-key, organic conveyance of by-the-way information. But it’s a whole different ball game when “the question” is asked of me and I must decide how to answer. I’m not comfortable with that. I still get nervous. I still feel challenged and trapped, doomed to disdain, judgement, ridicule or the cast stones (both figurative and literal) that I often weathered in the past. It takes a concerted effort to answer confidently and truthfully, and I don’t always succeed. The times have changed much more than I have, since I first came out over 30 years ago. It’s about time I caught up, so I am thankful for a recent opportunity to confront my archaic and habitual fears around self-disclosure.

In the past few months, Robin and I have become increasingly friendly with a woman (I will call her “Mary”) who works at a coffee shop we sometimes visit. We have reached the point where we share bits of personal information: Mary has mentioned her husband, and I know how old she is and what kind of music she likes. One day when I was at the coffee shop alone, Mary commented that Robin and I seemed to be good friends and she asked how long we had known each other. My defensiveness kicked in; I defaulted to my “safe” response. I told her that Robin and I are very good friends and we’ve known each other for over 20 years. As the words were leaving my mouth, I already regretted them. While true in fact, my response was, in spirit, a lie. I vowed to correct it the next time I had a chance.

A few days later, Mary asked if Robin and I were roommates. I said “Yup,” not looking at her, instead staring down at my computer, typing frantically on my keyboard. I could see her peripherally; she was looking at me, apparently waiting for elaboration. I felt my face getting hot, my stomach knotting up, my whole being immersed in fear. I wished like nothing else that Robin were there, because she is so much braver than I am. She would have simply said “We’re married,” with no drama, no fear, no shame, and only minimal concern for how the information was received. I hated myself in that moment, and wished I’d never invited any familiar conversation with Mary; I hated lying and I hated betraying both myself and my beloved wife. I had committed to the truth but I disappointed myself. Mary broke the uncomfortable silence. She changed the subject and we chatted for a few more minutes, but I felt disconnected and dishonest. My only solace was weak and questionable: I knew that sooner or later, Robin would clean up my mess by sharing the truth with Mary.

Several days later, Robin came home, having gone to coffee with a friend. She told me she had seen Mary, and said, teasing me, “So. I hear we’re roommates?” Again, I felt ashamed. I told her that yes, I had let Mary believe that, and I felt bad about it. I launched into a string of justifications, all centered around my assumptions as to why Mary would not respond favorably to the truth. I felt a need to explain, to defend my response, to make it reasonable and logical. I was angry enough at myself for both of us, but Robin wasn’t upset. She was focused instead on what she had to tell me. She ignored my barrage of excuses and, in her typically understated manner, said, “Mary is transgender. Oh, and she asked me to ask you to ‘friend’ her on Facebook.”

I did not see that coming. It would not have been possible to be much further off in my assumptions about Mary. I saw her as a traditional, slightly trapped-in-the-past, straight-and-narrow kind of woman, but that description was much more appropriate for me than for her. Feeling like a spineless jerk, I was relieved by Mary’s request that I connect with her on Facebook; I saw that as an indication that she was not angry at me for lying to her. Even so, Mary and Robin had been truthful and trusting with each other, courageous in a way that I always intend to be, but achieve only slightly more often than not. I felt left out, morally inferior, desperate to redeem myself, wishing I could somehow rewind and fix the mistake I’d made – or at least find a less assumptive justification for it.

My first attempt at a new rationalization for my lies was to recall how long ago it was that I first came out, where I lived at the time (Arizona), and how hostile the environment was. There was a very real danger of physical violence, denial of adequate medical care, expulsion from school, loss of home, employment or membership in all variety of organizations, ostracization by family and friends, and on and on the list goes.... I comforted myself with the defense that the horrible past made it reasonable that I would still be overly cautious in a way that many younger people wouldn’t understand. But I had to stop myself when I acknowledged how that justification was inherently transphobic. It ignored the fact that gender-variant people currently endure oppression that is at least as bad, if not worse than, anything I ever faced in the past. By coming out as transgender to cisgender Robin – especially in the middle of her workplace – Mary was probably more courageous than Robin or I have ever had to be.# She came out to Robin as soon as Robin came out to her; that suggested to me that she was looking for connection with others who would welcome her as her true self. She was testing the waters, and I, in my old-school assessment, misread both her perspective and her intention. I unintentionally sent Mary the message that I was either unwilling to, or incapable of, establishing a safe and open connection where the sharing of our truths would be welcome. I could have broadened, however incrementally, the sphere of relative safety available to both myself and this young person just beginning to make her way in the world, saddled with arguably the most virulent and hateful brand of oppression that exists in this country today. Instead, out of cowardly habit, I frayed that new and tenuous connection. I was inclusive of neither myself nor Mary. I was not open or honest, and consequently deprived Mary of the invitation to safely be open and honest in my presence.

The tired-but-true cliché about the necessity of loving oneself before loving others could appropriately be adapted to this topic: if I do not – from a place of openness and authenticity – engage in chaotic, messy, unpredictable, sometimes painful, sometimes joyful sphere of human interdependence, I can’t possibly contribute to making that sphere safe and inclusive for anyone else. In the complicated LGBTQIA alphabet-soup community (a melting-pot of non-normative combinations of physical birth gender, gender identity and sexual orientation) there is a hierarchy of privilege and power that is a fractal-esque version of the broader, heteronormitave dominant cultural structure. As a white, cis, gay± woman, I am very close to the top of this sub-hierarchy, which affords me the privilege of being truthful about who I am at a lesser risk than for those lower down the ladder. It is my responsibility, then, to leverage that privilege. I can use it to help dismantle not just our shared oppression, but also the more toxic and complex oppression that Mary knows intimately, but which I have the privilege of knowing only from a safe distance. As a self-described compassionate and (relatively) aware human, passionate about promoting social justice, I owe it to those at greater risk than me to speak out for all of us whenever possible, if only to announce unapologetically that we are here, rightfully so, and deserving of the same dignity and respect as everyone else. I failed Mary in that respect. By avoiding a small risk, I passed the buck to her. She then had to choose to take a much greater risk than I would have had to, in order to transform our casual connection to one based on trust and acceptance. I failed myself, because I hid in fear instead of speaking my truth. I failed Robin because I evaded speaking the truth of our relationship and her significance to me.

Recognizing how my lack of honest self-disclosure affected others, I knew it was time to honestly confront my tendency to sacrifice the truth for the sake of (perceived) safety. I had to be brutally honest with myself; I have a reactive habit of abdicating my responsibility for taking every possible opportunity to snip another thread in the culturally-sanctioned shroud of silence around LGBTQIA identification and experience. But after I gained some perspective on my intentions, the motivation for my dishonesty and my resulting disconnection, something unexpected happened: the shame subsided. My disappointment with myself, my assumptive ruminations about Mary’s thoughts and attitudes about our exchange, and my frustration and powerlessness dissipated. Despite her young age, despite her lesser privilege, Mary was stronger, braver and ultimately, more empathic than I had been. It was obvious that my work in this situation was to be humble and learn by her example. So by taking responsibility for the ripple effect of my decisions on the world outside myself, and using Mary’s and Robin’s interaction as an example, I was able to extract myself from the quagmire of my own tired patterns, step back and objectively observe my habitual process. The broader view of my influence in the communal environment provided me with the motivation to own my mistake and seek growth that would make me less likely to repeat it.

I realized that I am not doomed to failure; I don’t have to continue reacting to my fear – it is a habit that I can unlearn, and there is a clear path towards reparation, towards how I want to be in the world and what I want to do. I want to be of service, and to shift my focus away from my own isolating fears (without denying or evading them). I want to contribute, in a real-world, practical way, to morphing this oppressive and dysfunctional society into one where nobody need feel afraid to be open and truthful about who they are. That vision feels so much more hopeful, constructive, strong and friendly than does self-absorbed fear. There is empowerment and possibility in the commitment to growth; I can fix my mistakes and re-forge broken connections, making them – and myself – more resilient and honest in the process.

But intention is not enough; true change requires action. So I apologized to Mary. She seemed perplexed at the beginning of our chat, saying that she understood my need to protect myself, and told me that she sometimes does that too. In spite of her gracious response – or maybe because of it – the conversation was uncomfortably scary for me; it required that I explain why I felt an apology was necessary by fully disclosing my process. I took a risk and moved into territory that was unfamiliar to me, accepting that I might dig myself in even deeper. I thought very deliberately about how to frame my words, hoping to convey that I wanted to pay a debt (to myself, to Mary, to the world at large) by directing my focus to the task of chipping away at the self-protective patterns and replacing them – as slowly and deliberately as necessary – with the willingness to be vulnerable, open and empathically present for communal life. I believe I made the right choice in apologizing; Mary subsequently shared with me more personal experience around the hostility she deals with on a frequent basis. I felt humbled and honored that she trusted me with this information, and happy that I could be a supportive witness to her constant struggle to be treated with dignity and respect.

This experience exposed some of my darker corners to the light. Throughout my life, I have sporadically worked on a variety of social justice causes, motivated mostly by anger at my own victimization. I desperately clung to unrealistic expectations of immediate societal change, but with no awareness that change might be required on my part. I would not have believed it to be true at the time, but most of the effort I put forth to “change the world for the better,” was primarily a self-serving struggle to bend the world to my will. My “empathy” for others ended at the same point as my ability to project my own feelings of victimization onto them. I invested heavily in the misguided perspective that a fair and just world would be one where everyone believed and valued the same things I did, I would never feel judged or shamed or be treated unfairly, and I would never be afraid to be myself. This unrealistic and resentment-fueled approach burned me out and left me disillusioned and cynical. I gave up, deciding change was hopeless, believing that the “bad guys” would always win and the rest of us would always be victims.

Over the years, therapy, yoga and Buddhist Vipassana practice have helped me change many of the habitual patterns and limiting beliefs that have insulated me from fear and vulnerability. These beliefs and patterns had a purpose long ago, but in my adult life have served only to cut me off from most of humanity, while simultaneously prompting me to feel abandoned, resentful and perplexed by my isolation. Buoyed up by my shifting awareness, I have begun to cautiously reconsider my cynically defeated attitude towards progressive efforts, and thought about re-committing myself to a variety of causes. I have painstakingly labored to bolster my confidence and sense of purpose so that I can re-enter the world of social justice work without feeling overwhelmed into silence and paralysis. I have newly dedicated myself to living my life from a perspective that honors empathic compassion, interdependent connections, a willingness to learn from others and change, and the courage to be vulnerable, own my mistakes and offer reparation when appropriate. I am just beginning to translate this new perspective into real-life responsiveness.

The process I went through in my interactions with Mary distressed me at first, but ultimately showed me that my work is paying off. I made mistakes; I reacted out of old patterns, closed myself off, and felt ashamed. But I eventually found my way. I finally got that it is neither necessary nor realistic to wait until I think I can do it all perfectly; that day will never come. I can step out into the world – not feeling ready, but at least willing – and accept that it will be messy sometimes. In spite of the risk, engagement is preferable to isolation and the ubiquitous shame and hopelessness that come from trying to protect myself from the inevitable challenges of life.
What I learned from this experience is nothing I didn’t know before. Rather, I became acutely aware of one of the critically important places where my emotional vulnerabilities and defenses still rule, and my instinct has not caught up with my practical knowledge. Mary and Robin gave me this gift, showing me where I still have considerable work to do. I am profoundly thankful for that.

I can’t promote change without being willing to be changed. To “be the change I want to see in the world,” I must constantly confront my own demons as they make themselves known. I can’t afford to cower in the hovels of ancient self-protective strategies that I built to hide from the very injustices I want to end. Internalized oppression thrives in the heart of my shadow and causes me to unintentionally oppress others. I have done a considerable amount of shadow work already, but it is never done. There will always be challenges accompanied by fear, frustration, discomfort and sometimes even pain or loss. But the payoff for accepting the challenge is liberation, and the ability to engage in what is, for me, a labor of love: a commitment to the practices of reaching out and engaging in partnership, and participating to the best of my ability in the collaborative endeavors that will make this world more equitable, safe, healthy and inclusive for everyone.

#  For those unfamiliar with the LGBTQIA+ community, it is important to know that gender-variant members of the community face considerable discrimination from gender-normative members. I am not aware of any supporting statistics, but it is my perception that, as a group, cisgender members of the LGBTQIA+ community are no less transphobic than cisgender heterosexuals.

±  My personal labeling preference is not the common one. For my self-identification, I prefer the term “gay” to “lesbian” for two reasons: 1) “Lesbian” is conspicuously Eurocentric, and therefore inclusive only of women of European descent. 2) “Lesbian” is most often used as a noun, whereas “gay” is most often used     as an adjective. Nouns define, adjectives describe. My sexual orientation is an attribute of my identity, not a definition of it.


Laura Sharkey began practicing yoga and Vipassana meditation about five years ago. Shortly after beginning her practice she was diagnosed with a debilitating chronic illness and has relied on her practice to help her manage the pain, fatigue and other challenges associated with her illness.

She recently completed a 200-hr yoga teacher training and plans to teach meditation and gentle movement to physically challenged students interested in the physical, emotional and cultural healing potential of dedicated asana and meditation practices. In addition to her standard yoga teacher training, she has attended classes focusing on yoga and social justice, and yoga from a trauma-informed perspective.

Much of Laura’s new awareness and motivation – reflected in “Internalized Oppression's Long Shadow“ – was gained through her participation in Off the Mat’s recent “Beyond Duality: Yoga and Social Justice” tele-course; she found the training to be transformational. Laura is passionate about serving the community by participating in social justice work and offering an opportunity to learn healing practices to students in underserved communities; she is committed to making contemplative practices accessible and welcoming to all, regardless of body size, physical ability, mental/emotional health, age, gender identity, sexual orientation, ethnicity and socioeconomic status.

She currently teaches a weekly meditation class at Heal One World, a non-profit dedicated to providing free/low-cost alternative treatment modalities and training in preventative self-care practices.

Five Not-so-easy Steps Toward Transformation from the Inside Out

Posted by Hala Khouri

I’ve wanted to change the world since I was ten years old.

It’s Christmas Eve, 1983, I have convinced my younger sister and two cousins that we must go on a hunger strike to protest the fact that we were discriminated against by the adults by having to sit at a kid’s table. We are all hiding in the downstairs playroom while three-year-old Nicole is instructed to sneak into the kitchen to bring us some cookies because we might just starve to death making a stand for equality and justice.

The story above is an illustration of my drive to make a stand against what I perceived to be wrong, unjust or unfair. That drive continued through my high school and college years and beyond. I loved a good fight. My causes ranged from women’s rights, animal cruelty, and racism, to education, sweatshops, and food production. My passion for my cause du jour was unparalleled. I fought a hard fight, and preached mercilessly at anyone who didn’t hold my same worldview. I was determined to make a difference; but often my fire burned me and those around me.

Although I did manage to do some good in those years, looking back I see that I probably repelled more people than I inspired; I probably burned more bridges than I built. The arrogant idea that I knew what was best for the world, was actually a defense against my own feelings of helpessness and anger. Of course I wanted to protect the voiceless and the powerless, because that was how I felt inside. Instead of confronting my own anger, I projected my anger onto the injustices of the world. My desire to “save the world” was really a cry to save myself.

Inequality, racism, environmental destruction, and corporate greed are very real. But if I am blinded by how those issues mirror my own issues, I will be ineffective at inspiring positive change.  Until we confront, deeply, our own wounds that are mirrored in the suffering around us, we will be immobilized or overreactive in our efforts to make a difference. Sometimes we will even do harm.

I am still committed to making the world a better place. I know my personal issues and I try to let them inspire and inform me rather than limit me. I am understanding more and more that there is no “us” and “them.” That divisiveness simply perpetuates pain and suffering. As I get more integrated within myself, as I accept my own shadow and my light, I am more able to see the world for what it is and show up with more compassion and humility. This is an ongoing process that will never end. We look inward, we look outward, then we look inward again…

Here’s what the process might look like

  1. Identify something about the state of the world that really bothers you.
  2. Notice how it feels in your body. Where is there tension, lack of feeling, emotions or images? Track the sensations and emotions for a few minutes. Stay with this, even if it’s uncomfortable.
  3. Do any memories arise as you stay with the sensations or emotions? How old do you feel? Allow the answers to come from your body. Write down whatever comes to you.
  4. Notice if the situation “out there” is a mirror for something going on inside of you—a past trauma or hurt.
  5. Here’s the not-so-easy step—deal with your stuff! Get some therapy, join the Program, start to journal and meditate. Do what it takes to tend to your wounds so that your work in the world is not an unconscious defense against acknowledging your own pain.

Now go back and do Step 1 again. This is a lifelong process, enjoy!



Is voting an important part of being a yogi?

Posted by Hala Khouri


Is voting an important part of being a yogi? It depends on how you define yoga, and why you practice yoga.

If you do yoga to try to get away from your problems, the daily grind and the world’s suffering, then you might argue against politics intruding in on your spiritual sanctuary. For many, the yoga mat offers solace from a world filled with chaos. It is a safe space away from the unpredictability and complexities of life.

I think that everyone who practices yoga gains from this aspect- the part of the practice that gives us pause and perspective; that teaches us to be still and quiet the stirrings of the mind. In fact, it is because yoga allows us to separate from our daily life so that we are able to heal and rejuvenate ourselves.

This, however, is only the first stage of the evolutionary journey of growth that yoga can provide. The second is the use of the resource of the breath and the body for introspection, self-observation and working through our tension and pain both emotionally and psychologically. As we move through our traumas and neurosis, we come out with better tools for navigating life. This includes our relationships and how we show up in them. These relationships include our family and friends, and extends out into our community, country, and world.

To only get away from the things that confront us, without actually processing those emotions and moving through them, is dissociation. To enjoy the sanctuary of the yoga practice without acknowledging the world around us, is denial.

If you do yoga, I ask you this question: why do you want to have a healthy body? Why do you want to calm your mind and be able to be more in touch with yourself? So you can sit on a mountaintop on your hemp meditation cushion holding mala beads? No, silly! So you can participate in your life more fully, right? So you can be present in your relationships, creative in your work, expressive with your words.

If your yoga practice is working, then you are getting more in touch with yourself, and are able to be present more of the time rather than obsessing about the future or the past. When we get more present, we cannot help but notice the web of life that we are a part of. We cannot help but become aware of the fact that we live in a society that is shaped and influenced by many things, one of them being political forces. If our yoga practice is helping us be more present and authentically engaged, then a natural extension of that is political awareness and participation.

If yogis aren’t supposed to be engaged politically, then who is? Who better to be involved with politics than people who have a personal practice that holds them accountable for themselves? Who better to engage in shaping policy than people cultivating a sense of connection and unity with everything. Who better, than you?


How yoga can make childbirth and other hard things easier

Posted by Hala Khouri


“There is no coming into consciousness without pain.  People will do anything, no matter how absurd, in order to avoid facing their own soul.  One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious.” ~ CG Jung

I’ve always been a happy person.  People always commented on how optimistic and bright I was.  All that was true, well, mostly.  Iwas happy, I was optimistic; yet my positivity was slightly manufactured.   I was positive because I refused to feel the negative stuff. You see, I believed that “everything happens for a reason”, there is nothing “bad” because those things help us grow, and that I can create my own reality.  I was positive because I had learned to bypass the negative, and that comes with at a price.

My senior year of collage I went through a difficult breakup.  He had been my high school sweetheart.  We broke up sitting in a park in downtown Manhattan.  As I boarded the subway back uptown, I was in tears.  Heartbroken.  By the time I got to my stop at 116th street the tears were gone, and I had decided this happened for a reason and it was for the best.  When my roommate asked me what happened, I told her that Al and I had broken up, but that I was fine because it was I had learned so much from the relationship and had grown from it.  I didn’t shed one tear nor feel any sadness.


Over- understanding

I did this with most difficult thins in my life- I like to call it “over-understanding.”  I would try to figure out the lesson in something so that I wouldn’t have to feel the pain.

Five years later, I found myself sitting in a doctor’s office being told that I had cancer cells on my cervix. My mother burst into tears. Me, I looked at her and told her that this happened to teach me a lesson about my second chakra, and I was going to embrace it. Again, not one tear or acknowledgment of fear. I knew there was a lesson and I was going to be a good student and learn it so that I wouldn’t have to face this again.  Yeah, right.

The price we pay

So what’s the price we pay for manufactured positivity?  Well, if we refuse to feel the pain, fear, grief, heartbreak, anger or rage, those emotions are held hostage in the body and make our mind and emotions unstable.  The shadow, as Jung called it, gets gagged and tied and put into a closet somewhere. And the less we acknowledge the scary stuff, the louder it bangs on the door of our psyche. If we don’t express ourselves and feel the feelings we can end up sick, disconnected, unable to have true intimacy, etc.


For me, yoga is a practice of sitting with discomfort and breathing through it.  On the other side of sitting with this, is more freedom.  Don’t get me wrong, I spent years doing yoga without sitting with my discomfort- I was simply focused on getting the poses exactly right. One day a teacher was inviting us to try to lift our supporting hand off the floor in half moon pose.  He walked over to me and said, “try it, you won’t hurt yourself if you fall.”  I realized that I wasn’t afraid to fall, I wasn’t trying it because I was afraid of doing it imperfectly. My perfectionism was keeping me from taking risks; it was also keeping me from having to be present because all I focused on was how I could make the pose better. My habits on my mat revealed to me my habits off my mat.

As my practice matured, it got simpler, and I got more present in my body and in the moment.  As I learned to tolerate discomfort (and imperfection), I got present to the ways in which I’m limiting myself by needing to always seem so happy, perky and put together.  I began to feel my anger, rage, sadness, sensuality and fabulousness.  (The shadow is not all bad stuff by the way- it’s anything we’re afraid to acknowledge).

I’ve gotten way better at sitting with discomfort.  As a therapist, it’s one of the most important things I can do for my clients- bear witness to their pain without rushing to take it away.  As a parent, I’ve found that if I can sit with my kids’ discomfort for a moment or two they will more quickly pass through tantrums and upsets because I’m not rushing them out of their experience or trying to tell them that they shouldn’t have it.


During the birth of my second son, I watched my old habits come back at the point where things got very intense.  Here’s a somewhat graphic synopsis:

I’m squatting in my living room starting to push. Since I had done this before, I was overconfident.  My first birth was “easy” as far as births go, so I assumed that number two would be even easier.  I wasn’t anticipating that he would be a pound-and-a-half bigger- that makes a difference, let me assure you.  As I’m doing the final pushes and feeling like I’m going to be ripped in half, I start to get scared.  Maybe I can’t do this, I think to myself.  To cope with the pain, I start to imagine the tranquil women giving birth in a water birth video, and I imagine holding my baby in my arms, I start to breath deeply….  But each time I do that, I feel the baby slip back up the birth canal.

My midwife catches it, “No more deep breathing Hala,“ she says, “ you have to bear down and push as hard as you can, and I need you to go here, “ she points to the part of me that feels like it’s literally on fire.  This was the part I was trying to avoid with my daydreams.

Shit, I think to myself.  I know that if I don’t go there, to the most painful place in my body, I will not be able to get my baby out.  I remember all that I’ve learned in my life about bypass, and knew I was at a crossroads.  If I didn’t go directly to the place that scared me the most, I would have complications and have to go to the hospital.  I knew that going right into the fear would be the quickest way to get my baby.  So I shut down the old survival mechanism, bore down, and in three pushes had my precious baby.

The Lesson

Whenever we are birthing anything, we face death: death of who we were, death of old belief systems, death of old habits.  It’s never easy, but when we avoid the pain, we avoid the joy and bliss as well.  Embracing our shadow is about embracing life, vitality, joy and happiness.

I think that many of us suffer because of the habits we have that keep us from feeling our deepest discomforts.  Habits like drinking, drugs, over-eating, numbing out with TV, co-dependent relationships, etc.  Trying to avoid pain is at the root of all addiction.  Yet the addiction has all these terrible side effects.  Even the side effects seem to be more tolerable that the thing we’re avoiding; yet the more we avoid that monster all bound up in our closet, the bigger it becomes.  Or so we think.

What I’ve learned through decades of personal work and years of being a counselor is that the thing that we’re avoiding is usually not going to destroy us.  But our addictions might. Allowing ourselves to feel our sadness, grief, anger or rage can liberate us from the prison of avoidance.  When we’re no longer trying to avoid ourselves, then we are truly free!

*If you or someone you care about is pregnant, check out my new pre natal yoga DVD- Radiant Pregnancy.  Purchase here

*if you want some tools for working with unexpressed feelings please check out my Yoga for Stress Reduction DVD. Purchase here

If You Are a Yoga Teacher, Admit it: You are Co-dependent & Needy.

Posted by Hala Khouri


My name is Hala. I am a yoga teacher. I am co-dependent and needy.

I had to admit this to myself in order to grow as a teacher and step into an authentic leadership role.

If you are a teacher of any kind, you have to do this too.

You see, I wasn’t a cool kid. I had frizzy hair, a strange name (no “Hala” is not a spiritual name I picked up in my 20’s—it’s a Lebanese name that I dreamed of changing, to Julianna or Irene, for most of my adolescence) and I never fit in.

When I started teaching, it was the first time I felt really accepted by a large group of people. For a long time, I unconsciously got my need to feel accepted and liked met by my students. When I realized that my inner 12 year old was (partially) motivating me to teach, I had to examine it, unpack it and tend to the part of me that was in a lot of pain.

It is a particular type of person who wants to become a yoga teacher; not everyone is interested in standing up in front of a group of strangers and telling them what to do with their bodies and their breath. Not everyone is interested in being a teacher or a healer.

Yet, for many of us who teach, we can’t imagine anything more fulfilling.

I’ve been training yoga teachers for over a decade now and I have seen that many of us have similar life experiences and issues that motivate us to teach.


Here are some of the common themes I have noticed in people interested in being yoga teachers—see if any of them relate to you (or your yoga teacher):

1. We had a parent that suffered from depression or mental illness; as a result we can be extremely empathetic and attuned to others, sometimes to a fault.

A child with an unavailable or unpredictable parent had to learn to tune into their parent in order to assess if their environment was safe or if their needs were going to be met.

As a result of that, we develop a keen sense of tuning into the mood and state of others, often at the expense of being tuned into ourselves. As teachers, our students often feel that we are speaking directly to them in a group class, or that we are intuitive about what others are going through.

It comes naturally to us to empathize and want to meet the needs of others. It does not, however, come naturally for us to ask for what we need.

2. Felt like they didn’t belong as children or adolescents and have a need to feel seen by others in a positive light.

Yoga teachers get to be the popular kid. Our students listen to us, like us, and often idealize us. This feeds the part of us that didn’t get that type of mirroring in our youth.

We are good at getting others to like us, but if our teaching is motivated by our need to be liked, we might limit some important lessons that our students need which may make them uncomfortable.

3. We can have a hard time setting boundaries and get overly invested in wanting to help others.

This is probably due to #1.

You see, if my inner child didn’t have her needs met by mommy or daddy, I’m going to seek out people who have similar limitations/dysfunctions and try to fix them so that I can feel in control. Since I’m so good at tuning into someone’s pain, those people feel comfortable opening up to me because they feel seen by me.

I feel good because I’m they respond to me and listen to me (unlike my parent).

4. We need validation from others and will go to great lengths to ensure that others like us and even idealize us.

For those of us who really didn’t get much positive regard from our parents, we might become they type of teacher that thrives on the attention and adoration of our students.

We will also do whatever we can to make sure that no one questions us or sees our shadow side. We’ve all seen these folks—they’re charismatic, charming and often totally narcissistic.

They may claim to be above everyone, and somehow have transcended normal human challenges, they may subtly shame students in order to maintain a sense of power over them, some even claim to possess secret powers and abilities.

You may have other issues other than the one’s above, but in my decades of doing therapy, yoga trainings and transformational work, I have learned one important thing: our wounds are often the source of our gifts, and if we don’t investigate our wounds, they will get in the way.

This is true for any profession, but particularly important for those who hold space for others to be vulnerable. It is our responsibility to do our personal work, otherwise, we can cause harm to those who are trusting us with their bodies, minds and hearts.

We all have a shadow side; no one is exempt from pain or trauma.

I love teaching yoga, and I have spent a lot of time tending to my own wounds so that they don’t get in the way of my teaching. This work is never ending and I’m constantly having to see my own blind spots, biases, limitations and fears.

Each time I courageously face these parts of myself that I’d rather stuff into a closet, I find that my ability to hold space for others gets stronger, and I’m able to see others for who they are without judgment.

If you teach yoga or hold space for others in any way, it is vital that you have a space that someone else is holding for you—a space where you get vulnerable and are seen; a space where you are held accountable and get nurtured in a compassionate way; a space where you can shed the teacher role and receive.

This way you can be empathetic not enmeshed, supportive not diminishing, empowered rather than oppressive and compassionate rather than needy.


Is Your Yoga Really Working?

Posted by Hala Khouri

You know your yoga practice is working when your life gets better, not when your yoga gets better.

You know who I’m talking about.

Maybe this was you; maybe this is you. The mala bead wearing, namaste talkin’, slightly arrogant, super neurotic, I-never-eat-meat-refined-flour-or-non-organic-food, type.

The person who looks down on anyone who doesn’t do yoga, isn’t vegan, has “negative energy” or has a corporate job.

I know this person because this person was me.

When I lived in New York City, I would pause when I walked by a McDonald’s and pray for the people inside. I prayed that they would find enlightenment and stop eating such low quality food made with tortured animals and additives.

Then I would walk off, feeling better than everyone and very satisfied with myself.

You see, yogis don’t overtly judge—we cover it up in spiritual guise.


I practiced yoga religiously, I was a vegetarian, I had mantras memorized, I’d been to India and could get both feet behind my head. Meanwhile, I was stuck in a codependent relationship, addicted to sugar and in a constant battle with a core belief that I wasn’t enough.

For me, yoga is a tool for self-awareness. When we are self-aware, we can cultivate compassion.

Compassion for ourselves is where it starts; if we don’t have that, we’re destined to idealize or demonize others. Yoga teaches me to remain grounded in the moments when I want to be reactive.

My yoga practice has forced me to face my inner critic and start to let go of my perfectionist (who believes that I only deserve love if I’m perfect). If I think that I need to be perfect to be worthy of happiness, then I will subconsciously be thrilled when I see others being imperfect (like the folks eating Mc-y- D’s, or someone doing an improper chatturanga), for this gives my flailing self-esteem a fleeting boost.

Back when I used yoga as a whip with which to beat myself, I was drawn to more punitive teachers who made me feel worthless and want to strive for their approval. I wanted to master the inner spiral, and the rooting of the big toe while doing perfect Ujayi breathing and staring at a drishti.

As I started to get wiser and see that perfectionism is a dead end road, I started making different choices. My practice turned into an opportunity to love and accept myself exactly as I was in that moment (that concept would have made me throw up in my mouth previously).

Today I know this: the purpose of discipline is to create more freedom. If your discipline just leads to more discipline, it ain’t workin’ baby! I knew my sugar addiction was cured, not when I stopped eating sugar, but when I could have one or two pieces of chocolate without inhaling the entire bar and then going for another one while drowning in my own shame.

If you are like I was, and you’re imprisoned by a quest to be the perfect yogi, ask yourself this question,”What am I afraid would happen if I let go a little? What am I trying so hard to control?”

I am not suggesting that discipline is bad; in fact, it’s necessary.

As a step towards freedom.

I don’t look back on my years of discipline and think I did the wrong thing; I just see now that I was mistaking the boat for the shore. I know my yoga is working because I’m happier. My relationships are healthy, I don’t have a voice in my head all the time telling me that I’m worthless.

I can’t get my feet behind my head anymore, I don’t do full splits or balance in handstand, and I have a slightly pudgy belly. And I’m happy! Not perfect—I have a lot more to learn and I’m okay with that.

Next time you’re on your mat, ask yourself this question, “Who am I being right now?”

Many years ago I was in a very packed, sweaty, vinyasa flow class filled with overachievers. At one point the teacher said to us, “So you can do all this fancy yoga, but does anyone want to hang out with you?”

Do they?

Are We Ready to Really Live by Our Deepest Values?

 Posted by Hala Khouri

A week ago I moderated a panel discussion on corporate responsibility and yogic values at Yoga Journal LIVE! NYC. The panel included leadership from Lululemon Athletica (including the new CEO Laurent Potdevin) as well as bloggers and yoga teachers who have been critical of the company. This has begun a conversationamong yoga practitioners that I think is very important.

Panelists and audience members at The Practice of Leadership shared their concern that Lululemon does not operate according to yogic values, and thus is not a true reflection of the yoga community. Many expressed their opinion that Lululemon should change its marketing and production practices to be more inclusive and have more integrity.

I want to break down these arguments.

I’ll start by sharing who I am, which inevitably informs my perspective. I am a mother of multi-cultural children, a trauma therapist, co-founder of Off the Mat Into the World, a yoga teacher, a Lebanese immigrant, straight, able-bodied, educated and white (white is an ambiguous term that typically refers to people of European descent, so some would argue that I’m not white, but I pass as white and thus receive benefits from my skin color).

Who are we referring to when we say “yoga community”?

The way I see it,  Lululemon,  Yoga Journal, and most mainstream yoga studios, operate from the belief that the “yoga community” is mostly made up of upper/middle class, white, heterosexual, able-bodied, slim women. This is the audience they appear to cater to.Yet there are lots of other people doing yoga out there who may never walk into a mainstream studio, Lululemon store, or purchase a copy of Yoga Journal. I’m talking about people of color, poor people, people who are incarcerated, veterans, fat people, disabled people, queer and transgender people, old people, etc.  And this is one of the problems with talking about a “yoga community”: There is not just one community of people all connected through their love of yoga.  In fact, I believe that this lack of cohesion is, sadly, a reflection of the larger divide that exists in our society—there is the community of privilege, and then there is everyone else.

If yoga means union, then we should not allow ourselves to be a reflection of the divide that exists in world at large. If we strive for greater consciousness, we should think critically about whom we see as included in our community—and whom we don’t. I know that some yogis are now thinking to themselves, “But everyone is welcome at our studio, no one is turned away!” And I’d say: This is a sweet, yet naive sentiment. Not rejecting people is not the same as actively creating spaces that invite everyone, and where everyone feels included.

This is where corporate responsibility and marketing comes in.

Do companies such as Lululemon and Yoga Journal have a responsibility to market yoga differently?

Lululemon is a multi-million-dollar company, with incredible visibility (254 stores worldwide and growing). Yoga Journal sells more than 300,000 magazines a year and is seen by millions.  Because these companies are so visible, they play a significant role in shaping the cultural image of what yoga is. So when these companies portray yogis as white, able bodied, and slim, they definitely send a message about who yoga is for. This message is so strong that Leslie Booker, and African American yoga and mindfulness teacher, says that in every class she teaches to youth of color, she has to convince them that yoga is not just for white people. I’m always surprised when someone tells me that they couldn’t ever do yoga because they’re not flexible enough, as if that were a prerequisite. We’re scaring away people who could use yoga the most!

What is the consumer’s responsibility here?

Corporations are fed by consumer dollars. We can’t complain about their marketing practices without acknowledging that we’ve been feeding the mouth of the beast that we are now fighting. Profit-driven companies will inevitably respond to consumer demand, so as we ask them to change their ways, we must also change ours. There is a segment of the yoga community (and now I am using the phrase to include the community of everyone who does yoga) that lives by yogic values, and put their dollars where their values are. But there are a large number of people who do yoga who have not yet connected their practice on their mat to the rest of their lives.

This is the challenge we’re tasked with.

If we are to transform the yoga community to a yoga movement, which is what I believe is called for, we have to find a way to engage in a conversation about what yogis value and how we can live those values in all aspects of our life. It’s easy to have this conversation with others with the same values, but how do we engage with those who don’t feel the calling to be part of this movement? How do we engage everyone who loves yoga, our true yoga community, in a way that is respectful to all points of view?

Privilege is real, and must be checked; but the truth is, the average mainstream yogi is swimming in an ocean of unacknowledged privilege. I know because that has been my process. I fit the mainstream yoga ideals in many ways (slim, white skinned, educated, and flexible). I’ve spent the last 15 years of my life unpacking my privilege (as well as the ways in which I don’t have it). Each time I think I’m aware, I find a new blind spot, it can be as small as little as realizing that band aids match my skin but not dark skin, or as big as taking for granted that I’m never going to be judged by my skin color or gender identity.

How it can be different.

My vision is that the face of yoga includes everyone; that yoga does not appear—in advertising, in magazines, in the branding and marketing to a target audience, even in our own assumptions about it—to be an elite practice for a select few. Instead I want to see yoga portrayed and celebrated as something that everyone can benefit from.  In order for this to happen people who do yoga need to actively stand together. We need to use our voices, our purchasing power, our patience, our ability to stay grounded and have difficult conversations, our passion, and our dedication to strive toward letting all aspects of our life reflect our practice.

Carol Horton, who was on the panel, wrote a great piece about the possibility of creating a new paradigm around corporate practices. She offers some compelling solutions having to do with marketing, production, community building, and staff training.

What does this mean for you?

If you do yoga, and want your practice, and all aspects of your life, to reflect your deeper values, consider these questions:

Where in your life are you not making choices that are in alignment with what you value?

What would you need to give up or change in order change this?

Are you willing to sacrifice some of your privileges in order to live with more integrity?

What is one thing you can do right now to move toward this?