Judith Hanson Lasater: Trusting the Body's Wisdom to Guide Us Home

Judith Hanson Lasater: Trusting the Body’s Wisdom to Guide Us Home

Judith Hanson Lasater is an American yoga teacher and writer who is recognized as one of the leading yoga teachers in the country and throughout the world. Judith’s resume is nothing short of impressive: Not only has she been teaching yoga for more than 50 years, but she helped found The California Yoga Teachers Association, the Iyengar Yoga Institute in San Francisco, and the Yoga Journal magazine, which is now in its 46th year of print. She’s written 11 books, has taught all over the globe and raised three children. Talk about a super woman!

Judith taught was also one of the three teachers to hold the first retreat at the Feathered Pipe Ranch in 1975, a three-week yoga program, for 28 people, all inclusive for $250. And she’s returned nearly every year since, and now every summer, one week herself and one week with her daughter Lizzie Lasater, an internationally-known Restorative yoga teacher who learned from her mom.

In this conversation, we talk about the right-hand turn that changed her life, her personal understanding of the word ‘spiritual,’ how the body is a storehouse for wisdom, and her favorite memory from the Feathered Pipe Ranch over the years. Judith has been brave enough to allow her intuition to carry her through life, an act that takes vulnerability, which she defines as being fully porous and present to the moment.

She walks us through several micro exercises to explain topics of perspective, the neurological relationships between the tongue and the brain, and the practice of disidentifying with our thoughts.


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Episode Transcript

Andy Vantrease 00:17
Welcome to the Dandelion Effect Podcast, a space for organic conversation about the magic of living a connected life. Just like the natural world around us, we are all linked through an intricate web, a never-ending ripple that spans across the globe. Here we explore the ideas that our guests carry through the world, remember who and what inspired them along the way, and uncover the seeds that helped them blossom into their unique version of this human experience. This podcast is a production of the Feathered Pipe Foundation, whose mission is to help people find their direction through access to programs and experiences that support healing, education, community and empowerment.

Hi everyone, welcome back to another episode of the Dandelion Effect Podcast. I’m your host, Andy Vantrease, and I’m so excited to be back in the interviewer’s chair, kicking off another season of this show. If this is your first time listening, a special welcome to our little corner of the world. It’s been so motivating to hear from you all during our break, listening to how this podcast has moved people, inspired people, led to friendships that otherwise wouldn’t have happened (I’m looking at you Jonathan, Emily and Jim!). And just confirming that the ripple of the Dandelion Effect is alive and well in the real world. I am more certain of that now than ever.

I also want to thank everyone who joined us for the annual Feathered Pipe Lovefest and Fundraiser this weekend, what we called “the hug around the world.” And it really felt like that. It was so great to see familiar faces, hear celebratory songs, and update the community on our plans for 2022 and beyond. If you missed the event, we are of course taking donations at any time online, especially to close out 2021. You can visit featheredpipe.com/gratitude to give and learn more about where your money goes and what projects we are fundraising for.

Today’s guest is Judith Hanson Lasater, an American yoga teacher and writer who is recognized as one of the leading yoga teachers in the country and throughout the world. Judith’s resume is nothing short of impressive: Not only has she been teaching yoga for more than 50 years, but she helped found The California Yoga Teachers Association, the Iyengar Yoga Institute in San Francisco, and the Yoga Journal magazine, which is now in its 46th year of print. She’s written 11 books, has taught all over the globe and raised three children. This is a super woman, if you can’t tell.

Judith taught was also one of the three teachers to hold the first retreat at the Feathered Pipe Ranch in 1975, a three week yoga program, for 28 people, all inclusive for $250. And she’s returned nearly every year since then, and now every summer, one week she teaches herself and one week she teaches with her daughter Lizzie Lasater, an internationally-known Restorative yoga teacher who learned from her mom.

In this conversation, we talk about the right-hand turn that changed her life, her personal understanding of the word ‘spiritual,’ how the body is a storehouse for wisdom, and her favorite memory from the Feathered Pipe Ranch over the years. Judith has been brave enough to allow her intuition to carry her through life, an act that takes vulnerability, which she defines as being fully porous and present to the moment.

She walks us through several micro exercises to explain topics of perspective, the neurological relationships between the tongue and the brain, and the practice of disidentifying with our thoughts.

There is so much quotable wisdom in this conversation:
“Perspective doesn’t affect your life—it is your life.”
“The present moment is the only truth we know.”
“We think life is strong and love is fragile, but really it’s the other way around. Life hangs by a thread and love holds the universe together.”

Needless to say, you may have to listen to this episode more than once to soak it all up. Please get comfortable, settle in, and help me welcome my friend Judith Hanson Lasater.

Andy Vantrease 04:33
So Judith, I know that you mentioned wanting to start our conversation with a moment of silence and allow people to really settle in and arrive. I’d like to invite you to guide us into our talk in that way and then we can get going.

Judith Hanson Lasater 04:50
Alright, I’d love to do that. I find this very useful for me, and for listeners and for whenever I can imagine that it’s possible to do, in meetings or before dinners or whatever. It’s always good to settle into the present. So, let’s do that now.

[bell rings]

[bell rings]

Yes, ahh. Now we’re here.

Andy Vantrease 05:49
Now we’re here. Thank you for guiding us into the conversation in that way; that feels really good.

Judith Hanson Lasater
You’re welcome.

Andy Vantrease 06:00
Where I would love to start with this conversation—and before we dive in to your work of Judith as a world renowned yoga teacher and author—I want to take us back and learn a bit about your upbringing, your childhood, who you were before yoga. One of the ways that I typically start people off is by asking them the question of their origin. What comes up for you, when I ask you, “What is your origin story? What is the start of your life?”

Judith Hanson Lasater 06:24
Well, I was born in Ohio, and my family—my parents, my brother and I—moved to Texas and arrived the day I was six. So my growing up years before I married and moved to California, were in Texas. It wasn’t so much for me the location; it was three other things that I think shaped me and brought me to the path of yoga: One of them was my mother. I’m sure my father did this, too, but he traveled in his work, so my main memory when I was quite young, was my mother reading us a book. It was the story of the “churken goose”: part chicken, part turkey, and part goose. Genetically impossible, but this is an imaginary story, obviously. Everyone shunned him because he was so different. Then one day, the fox came to the hen house, and he scared the fox away, and then he became the hero. The moral of the story that I heard a million times when I was growing up is, “Just because he’s different, doesn’t make him wrong.” That was imprinted in me, and why credit that was it allowed my natural curiosity to be free to look at other points of view—other people, other cultures. My family brought in two Turkish soldiers for Christmas dinner once, who were visiting the United States. We lived that curious, open worldview. So, for me, boundaries about difference, that was a huge shaper for my adulthood.

The other thing was that I loved to move and dance. I studied dance—tap and ballet—and I loved it. I loved the costumes and the beauty in the music, classical music. And when I took my first yoga class, I actually had the thought, “Ah, someone knows that movement is sacred and is a form of worship.” This is another point: I was drawn to worship. I was drawn to churches. And as I got a little more in my teenage years, more sophisticated, I was fascinated by any different kind of church or any place that was a sacred place. It still resonates in me when I go to any country, I like to go to the temples, to sacred places. A couple years ago, we went to Spain, and I discovered mosques, and the spacious beauty of the mosque. I found that very healing.

I did go on a trip with India, the founder of the Ranch, and it was a sailing trip in the Mediterranean. I taught a little yoga, which is hard to do on ship. But we got off in Israel, went to Jerusalem, and we were driving up this hill—a dusty road, not a particularly grand boulevard, just a regular sort of road. There were houses scattered around and going up this hill, I felt this amazing rush of energy come up in my body and just pour out as tears. They weren’t the emotional tears of personal sadness; they were just, the energy had to come out some way. Then the guide on the bus said, “This is the hill where it’s believed Christ descended into heaven!” I’ve always been open to, drawn to those kinds of experiences in my life.

Andy Vantrease

Judith Hanson Lasater 10:34
I wanted to tell you one story, if I may.

Andy Vantrease

Judith Hanson Lasater 10:38
I entitled it “The most important right hand turn I ever took.” So, I was at the University of Texas in graduate school. I had been a teaching assistant, and the first year, I was disappointed in the lack of curiosity. “How do I get an A?” was what the students wanted to ask me. Or “How do I pass the course?” And I was, you know, quite idealistic and wanted them to share my passion, which they didn’t. And I walked down that street that every college and university has—the street with the coffee stop shops, and the little boutiques and the bookstores—that cater to students. There was a student YMCA and YWCA combined. I had never been in the building. But I just felt, Andy, I really felt this force right from the center of my belly, sort of pulling me, and I made a right-hand turn and walked up to the counter and just said, “I’m in graduate school across the street. I’m looking for a part time job for the fall.” There were two or three workers on the other side of the counter, sitting at desks, and they just stopped and looked at me and one of them came up and said, “How did you know?” And I said, “Know what?” She said, “We just got out of a meeting five minutes ago. We want to hire a program associate for next year. For the fall.”

I don’t remember the interview. I didn’t remember any of that part. But when I made that right-hand turn, I ended up meeting the father of my children; I ended up being able to take these yoga classes, which they offered free as a perk for being on the staff. So I took the yoga classes for 10 months and then my teacher came to me one day and said, “My husband and I are moving away. Would you take over the classes?” Well, of course, I was 24 years old. I’d studied for 10 months. I had gone home from that first class, gotten up the next morning and did what I remembered. It was like God opened the door and I walked through it. One day I was not doing yoga, the next day I was. And I had just before that become a vegetarian, so I was beginning to think about health. Not that there’s anything wrong with meat eating, but for me in that moment, it was a part of my evolution.

So I said, “Yes,” you know, full of hubris. And I sit down in the first class, and I look around at the 25 people waiting for the class. All of a sudden, remorse hits full tilt. What was I thinking? Can I sneak out? What am I going to say for one hour? This little voice trickled upwards from my dark inner self and said, “Just sit there. Take a couple of deep breaths.” You know, I’ve learned that that’s all I could hold onto. And I got this very clear vision slash kinesthetic awareness of my teacher standing behind me off to the right. And I kind of get emotional about this—there she was. She had a bucket, and instantly I saw her teacher behind her, and on and on, back into the mists of time.

She was handing me the bucket with a smile. And I remember understanding: “Oh, I’m not the water. I’m the bucket. I’m the bucket. It’s not about me. It’s about me delivering wisdom. And that’s okay, I don’t have to know. I can just hand the bucket.” So, I opened my eyes, opened my mouth and it hasn’t closed yet. That was a little over 50 years ago, and I still find it delightful. Still learning from it, still practicing, still wanting to hand the bucket.

Andy Vantrease 14:28
Yeah, I’m actually surprised to even hear that there were 25 people in a yoga class in, what year was this? 1971 or 70?

Judith Hanson Lasater
This was July 1971 in Austin, Texas.

Andy Vantrease
Yeah, that sentence is a surprise to me.

Judith Hanson Lasater 14:46
Right. But it was the Beatles. And it was the Maharishi. And it was the counterculture and Indian music and instruments. The Beatles were having them in their songs, and it was people opening up to different philosophies and there was the Vietnam War, which was causing people to look at themselves and history in their country. It was like someone had taken the lid off. There was “free love.” And there was a birth control pill, which changed all kinds of interpersonal relations. I mean it, it was just another moment like this one in some ways. Yeah, there was yoga. The Beatles did yoga. So, you know, there was yoga. I’m not saying it was in the mainstream, but I taught four classes a day, and in my later class in the morning, I got suburban housewives, who had read Indra Devi, and Yoga, Youth and Reincarnation by Jess Stearns. These books were out in counterculture-y, and they used to come. People from the university came. Classes were $1.

Andy Vantrease
Oh, wow.

Judith Hanson Lasater 15:59
But my apartment was $70 a month, so you know. There always has been a group of people who were open to exploration, and they were there. When I was in Austin, Swami Satchidananda came and he gave an interview at the University of Texas radio station. And they invited me to come over there and ask him questions, because I was teaching yoga and they thought I might know more. Yogi Bhajan, Kundalini Yoga, he came, and my ex husband—I was just getting to know him—he went to some Yogi Bhajan classes. And I mean, this was in the round, in the in the air a bit.

Andy Vantrease 16:55
Mm hmm. So you went to college in Austin, Texas. Did you stay in the area after you graduated?

Judith Hanson Lasater 17:01
We moved to my husband’s family’s ranch after we graduated for a while trying to figure out what we were going to do. It was outside a town of 4,500 people, two miles off the road. One day, I looked out my kitchen window, and there was a cow looking at me! So, we were out there, and we were doing yoga, and we were figuring it out. The biggest town nearby was 30,000 people, and somehow somebody found out about me and asked me to teach a yoga class there. It’s about a 30-minute car ride away, and I showed up the first day to like, 50 people, 60 people. Whole families would come, this is what blew me away.

Andy Vantrease
Oh, wow.

Judith Hanson Lasater
Parents and their teenage kids, and this was like, in 1972, in Alice, Texas—in the middle of nowhere. And it’s almost like, you know, divinity or the universe said, “Okay, you want to teach yoga? Here it is.”

Andy Vantrease
Here’s your opportunity. Yeah.

Judith Hanson Lasater 18:03
I mean, this story sounds incredible. I’m not sure if you were telling me I would be totally believing it. But one day, I woke up, out in the country at the ranch. And I turned to him (my husband) and I said, “I want to be a physical therapist.”
[He says] “Okay, what do they do?”
“I don’t know.”
“Do you know anyone who’s been to one?”
But I got this calling in my dream. He was thinking about going back to school studying energy policy. And we went in town to the library—this was pre internet—to look up where we could both do what we wanted to do. It didn’t snow in the San Francisco Bay area, so we packed up six weeks later, left my dogs with my mom, who had them, and we moved to the Bay Area.

Andy Vantrease

Judith Hanson Lasater 18:48
But before I left Austin, I was walking across the campus one day, and I picked up the Daily Texan, which was the undergraduate newspaper. I don’t know why; I was out of graduate school, pretty much done all my coursework, and I picked up this paper and I turned to the little ads at the back and there was an ad for a yoga class, and a number. So I call the number and it turned out to be gentlemen, Jean Bernard Rishi, who was a student of BKS Iyengar. I went to take the class, and I was the only one and he really didn’t speak much English, and I really didn’t couldn’t remember my French. When I was a child, I spoke French, but I couldn’t remember. So he basically just put me in the poses, and I would do two to two and a half hours. Then I would go to teach my class and I’m like, disoriented, because it was such a different method. Anyway, I was on his mailing list so when we got to the Bay Area, we had mail forwarded to us, and it turned out he was coming to San Francisco.

Andy Vantrease
Of course, he is!

Judith Hanson Lasater 19:53
The cost was $50 for the weekend workshop. At the same time, we got a check from my in laws who said, “Here’s $100, spend it on something good.” So we both went to this workshop—and that’s what plugged me into the Bay Area people. That’s how I got to know William Staniger, and through him, India. I mean, there were just so many coincidences, and unusual fate just stepped in front of me, saying “Go to the right, not the left.” I always listened to that intuition. And from that connection, I met the people who helped in our small group of five people start the Yoga Journal Magazine, and what ended up being the Iyengar Yoga Institute. I ended up going to India and studying with Iyengar and studying with him here.

Andy Vantrease 20:46
California Yoga Teachers Association and the Iyenar Yoga Institute of San Francisco—I know you were an integral part of those organizations. I’d love to you just explain a bit about how they got started and what they have meant to the growth and expansion of yoga in America.

Judith Hanson Lasater 21:07
When I arrived in the San Francisco Bay area, we decided to form an association. And we wanted to call it, I don’t know, the San Francisco Yoga Teachers Association or the San Francisco Bay Area Yoga Teacher Association. Somehow we got to the California Yoga Teachers Association, because someone said we should think a little bigger. So, we got together and we started publishing a little newsletter called “The Word,” and that was the foundation for the Yoga Journal, which started in my living room with five other people besides me. We just decided—almost like those movies from the 40s—”Hey, kids, let’s put on a play in our barn” kind of thing. We started Yoga Journal Magazine, and we had no training in that, just learned how to swim went from there.

But then we started sponsoring workshops, and we developed a teacher training program. When I graduated from physical therapy school in 1974—I graduated in August—and in September, we started our first teacher training program. I was teaching anatomy in that, so that grew and grew and grew. And in 74, we invited BKS Iyengar, who was in the United States, to come and teach, and then again in 76. The first workshop, I think it was either 50 places or 60 places, but there were a few unfilled ones, if you can imagine that. By 76, there were hundreds of people. Interested in Iyengar yoga had grown through the California Yoga Teacher Association and many of us in that association had been studying his work since 74. So, it didn’t quite fit anymore, because the California Yoga Teachers Association was the broader umbrella, but almost all the staff were Iyengar and all the writers for Yoga Journal were Iyengar trained. There came a time when it made sense to separate. There had just been formed an Iyengar Yoga Association of California, and I was on both boards. So, the Iyengar Association actually purchased the school, the assets of the Institute for Yoga Teacher Education, which was the California Yoga Teachers Association (many, many, many of the same people—almost exactly). It became the Iyengar Yoga Institute in San Francisco, which was the first Iyengar Training Center in North America.

Andy Vantrease

Judith Hanson Lasater

Andy Vantrease 23:40
Okay. How long did you stay associated with those organizations? Did they both continue on separately, one broader and one more dedicated Iyengar?

Judith Hanson Lasater 23:47
The California Teachers Association kept the Yoga Journal, which had come from “The Word,” and ran that for many years before it was sold for the first time. We developed on that board the first code of ethics that we knew of, for yoga teachers in the West. We were the first ones to begin to sell liability insurance to yoga teachers through the Yoga Journal, so that went well. And then the Iyengar Association went well, too. It grew and grew and grew and spread. We used to do summer intensives, and we would get people from all over the United States to come there, because it was like the Harvard of Iyengar studies.

Andy Vantrease 24:31
Did you have any sense of how popular and how much yoga was going to expand throughout the country at that time? Or were you kind of just like, “Well, we want to do this thing. This is what we’re interested in. We have a group of people, and we want to create community around it?”

Judith Hanson Lasater 24:42
We weren’t ever looking at the future. Because if we looked in the future, what we were doing in the present wouldn’t make a lot of sense. So we just kind of stayed grounded in what we were doing, and that was when the word “yoga” itself was unheard of. People thought it was men in dhotis, sitting on beds of nails, and if you were a vegetarian, you’re going to die because you didn’t eat meat. I’m not exaggerating this!

Andy Vantrease 25:07
Yeah, I can imagine.

Tell me about that first workshop at the Feathered Pipe Ranch. I mean, now we know people were doing yoga in Texas. They were doing yoga in California, and I’m sure other places across the country. But I’m curious how you got people to come do yoga in Montana in 1975.

Judith Hanson Lasater 25:27
We just advertised in Yoga Journal. We got 28 people to come and do the workshop.

Andy Vantrease

Judith Hanson Lasater 25:32
Well, first of all, we were stunned that people actually would sign up for such a thing called a yoga retreat because there wasn’t such a thing. I mean, Esalen was there. I remember hearing about Esalen in 1970-71 in Austin, Texas, but there wasn’t really a retreat culture around yoga. I mean, that just didn’t exist. But we didn’t know we couldn’t do it, and we had to do something with the ranch. So, we did it. It was three weeks long. There were three teachers, each of us taught one week and then stayed the other two. And it cost $250, in 1975. Not only was that not very much money for you to come and stay there for three weeks and eat and live. Each of the teachers got paid $250 for teaching a whole week.

Andy Vantrease 26:27
Different times, but you got it off the ground. And that was the beginning of so many things, right?

Judith Hanson Lasater 26:34
Yes, that was the workshop in which India… well, India had been trying to—as you know—sell the ranch for a long time, because she was a sadhu, and she didn’t want this ranch and the expense of it, the weight of it and the responsibility of it. Finally, we had a sweat lodge at the end of that three weeks, a traditional Indian sweat lodge. And she had this vision of the ranch as a retreat center and a healing center. It was a very strong and clear vision she had, and, literally, she walked out when it was done, and this big black limo type car pulled up right in the driveway (the drive we still see when we pull up today). This very suspicious couple of men got out and they opened a suitcase full of money. They said we want to buy this place. They were going to turn it into a gambling casino. And India, after all those years of what to do with this ranch, turned him down flat and sent them packing. We had no cash. No one that knew anything about running a center. I mean, none of this stuff fazed us—this is called by another name, which is, “Being in your 20s!”

Andy Vantrease 27:48
Ignorance is bliss sometimes.

Judith Hanson Lasater 27:51
It’s like, “Did you have a proposal? A business proposal to borrow money or to have…What? What? What? No!” The Ranch was just a place that was meant to be what it is today. There have been some way ups and some way downs, and some right against the edge of it and way back from the edge of it, over all these years since 1975—that’s 46 years. Things are so wonderful now, and everything about the Ranch has come true. All the dreams we had have come true. And I cannot imagine my summers without it. My children grew up there every summer. I thought of the name of my first son in the main lodge after class one day. My daughter learned to sit up on one of the picnic tables when she was five months old.

It was, it is, and it forever shall be one of my most favorite places to be in the world. Because for me, there is no place in the world that I feel so much at home, that’s not my actual home here in San Francisco. It is such a part of my life, and I have been given so many blessings by being part of the Ranch family from the very beginning.

Andy Vantrease 29:13
I’m so curious, because it seems to me like you are a person that just is so in tune with that intuitive feeling like kind of being pulled and guided along almost. Was it taught? Was it just something that is innate in children and you know, you weren’t conditioned out of it? Like how do you reflect on that courage, really?

Judith Hanson Lasater 29:36
I’ll tell you one more story as a lead into that answer. So, we moved to the Bay Area, and I wanted to go to physical therapy school because I wanted to be a better yoga teacher. I wasn’t interested in being a physical therapist. We lived in Berkeley then, and I called up across the bay to the city to the department, and I happened to get the director who answered the phone—everyone else was out for some reason. She was in a chatty mood, and she told me how to get in. There were 700 applicants and they took 40 people, and she told me what to do. One of the things she said was, “Go volunteer somewhere.”

So, I’m new to the area, I don’t know my hand from a hole in the ground, and I open the Yellow Pages. And I just kind of turn through and I just said, “Oh, now look at this physical therapy clinic.” I call them and it was in the next city over, and I wore my little white dress, my clogs and you know, washed out the hot tub and gave massages and folded towels. One Friday, [the owner] lived up in the hills and there was huge flood up there and he couldn’t get there. I was there at 8am, and he said, “Just treat”—well, this was probably illegal because I wasn’t a physical therapist—but he said, “You know all these patients. Give them their regular treatments.” And I agreed and just did it, and the patients were happy. And he said, “I’m going to give Irene (director) a call.” He knew her! So, he called her up and I think gave me a really good recommendation.

I got in [to PT school] the first try, and there were only two people in my whole 400 person class who got in the first time. Some people had applied two or three times. I mean, I just picked this name out of Yellow Pages.

Andy Vantrease
Yeah, yeah.

Judith Hanson Lasater 31:10
Human beings are born with intuition, and intuition is what I call “the belly brain,” because in your abdomen, there are neurological sites that respond to the exact neurotransmitters as the brain in your head. And so when we say “I knew in my gut that was the right thing to do,” that’s exactly what happened. Now all the studies about the gut say that 80% of your sense of wellbeing comes from the gut, and there’s a book called The Second Brain. It’s probably 15 years old now, but it talks about that, that the belly brain is never wrong. It’s the gut, animal, deep, unconscious, knowing part of everyone.

The thinking brain and the head is fast. But the belly brain is never wrong. The human race would not be here if we didn’t have a sense of something. The hair on the back of your neck stands up, and you know, I’m not going there. So what I tell my teacher trainees and my students is just to trust it in little things. Like you go to buy tires somewhere, and you just get a bad feeling—leave. It’s not a rational thing. And I’m not saying that we throw away rationality—I have four college degrees. I like my brain, I’m glad I have one. The mind is an interesting tool, but it’s not the only way to know. And I, for some reason, maybe it’s because I’m a Pisces, I trust my gut. I trust my intuition. I give it a lot of space, and everyone has it, but we are actively taught to ignore it.

Andy Vantrease 33:00
Right. You know, everybody gets glimpses of that. I mean, I’m thinking of times that I get glimpses of that, whether it’s that feeling like you said, where you’re in a place, and you’re just going like, “Something’s not right here.” And you leave, and you may never know why that wasn’t right. Or I’m being called, I’m being guided, I’m being led—and then that turns into something. What are the ways that, societally or culturally, people are taught to go against it, or at least to ignore it and not make it a topic of trust?

Judith Hanson Lasater 33:34
Well, it does sound a little woo-woo. You know, my kids went to this private school, and they had this program called Self Science, which they did once or twice a week. They started with the little kids about first or second grade, talking about what a feeling was. And by the time they were in eighth grade, which is the last year, the kids would have their Self Science, which had very little adult interaction. The kids would counsel each other, you know, “How did you feel when your grandfather died?” and they were very much taught. But the thing I was going to tell you about was that even from the early grades when they were teaching children about ‘stranger danger’—which is really a very hard thing to teach a six year old, because bad things could happen with someone you know—what they did is they fundamentally trusted the child’s intuition. And they said, “Have you ever had that feeling around somebody when you get that funny feeling in your stomach?” Yeah, every kid raised their hand. So they said, “Well, if you’re ever with somebody, an older kid, or a grownup, who asks you to do something, and you get that funny feeling in your stomach, let’s talk about who you’re going to tell. Even if the person says don’t tell.” That’s how they equipped them.

I got in an elevator at a Yoga Journal conference once with a man was wearing a dark—I’m not making this up—a dark trench coat, collars up, sunglasses, a black hat, and a black briefcase. No one else was in the elevator, and it was one of those 4000 story elevators. And literally the hair on the back of my neck stood up, and I felt very uneasy. He did not look at me, did not talk to me. He did nothing overt. He didn’t even glance at me that I could see. But I felt uneasy, and I trusted that. So, I pushed another button and got out. And I waited a while then I went down on another elevator. I went up to the desk—and this is the part that was a newer thing to learn to do—I went up to the desk, and notice my wording: I didn’t say, “Someone made me feel weird.” I said, “I was just on an elevator with a man, and I felt extremely uneasy.” And they just looked at me really quickly, and a couple of the people behind the desk came up and asked what he looked like. I told them, and they said, “That’s him. We’re looking for that guy; he’s been breaking into rooms and stealing things.”

I get chills right now thinking that.

Andy Vantrease 36:05
Yeah, I just got the chills too.

Judith Hanson Lasater 36:08
This is a state of vulnerability, and vulnerability has gotten a bad name. It means weakness to many people, but vulnerability in my experience is being fully porous and present to the moment—because then and only then are you going to be open to true danger. Because if I were living in my mind, I would be arguing, “This is ridiculous. He hasn’t done anything.” You know, and if you ever listen to people in law enforcement talk about difficult situations or dangerous situations, they always say to trust your gut, trust your intuition. Absolutely, that’s what saves people. We’re trained that it’s rude, or it’s not worth it, or we’re being silly, or we’re making something up. I just never pushed mine down.

Andy Vantrease 37:00
Yeah, and it seems like along the way, you really got confirmation, like, I can trust this, look what this is leading to.

Judith Hanson Lasater 37:07
Exactly. And so one of the things asana does, I think, in our practice, is it gets me in touch with my feelings. Honoring our feelings, whatever they are, without judgment, is honoring the wisdom of the body. The body stores memories, and it has this gut feeling and it has all this wisdom. The body is smarter than you are, Andy! Your shoulder joint—no offense—is smarter than you are. If you try with your thinking mind to control your shoulder movement, you’re going to miss it. So asana, to me, is not about imposing the pose on the body; it’s exposing, allowing, evoking, conjuring the body’s innate wisdom and sense and feeling sense of itself. Because when we are deeply aware of our inner selves—now there’s a fancy name for it: interoception—we’re in touch with the body’s wisdom. And we are in the present moment.

Andy Vantrease
Judith, is it possible to walk us through some type of awareness exercise that unpacks that idea that you just explained?

Judith Hanson Lasater 38:23
So put your hand out in front of you and look at your hand. First interesting question, “Are you looking at the palm or the back of your hand?”

Andy Vantrease
The palm.

Judith Hanson Lasater 38:30
I’m looking at the palm, too. So, alright, if you’re looking at your hand, I want you to look at it from the back of your brain, through your eyes as an object in front of you. You see your hand, you see the lines. Hopefully, the life line is really long. You see maybe a callus where you’ve been wearing a ring for a long time. I see a few wrinkles. Now close your eyes, and know your hand from the inside. Feel the space between the fingers. Feel the warmth, feel the life that’s in it. So, which of those ways of knowing is wrong? Neither one. We know our body from the inside through the practice of asana. It’s not just how does it look from the outside as an object, which is what our society wants us to do. But asana is teaching us to know our body from the inside.

Andy Vantrease 39:35
That’s a really interesting experiment. I mean, that felt completely different, those two routes. One was looking, one was feeling, I guess, is the easiest way to describe what it felt like.

Judith Hanson Lasater 39:50
See, perspective doesn’t affect your life, it is your life. I saw this great cartoon recently of two people sitting at a table, looking at each other, and on the table, the person on the left saw a big six that was on the table and the other person, from the other side, saw a nine—and they were arguing about it. It kind of sums up our whole society today.

Andy Vantrease 40:21
I was going to say that’s society in general. Just like, who has the “truth” or what are facts? So, would you say that getting into that feeling experience of learning yourself from the inside out and tuning to intuition and more of that inward presence… What’s coming to me is that there’s such a necessity of slowing down to do that. Has that been true for you? Is that a precursor to presence in your mind and a precursor to feeling?

Judith Hanson Lasater 40:54
Slowing down is the same thing as waking up. Mostly we do asana—and everything else—at the speed of the mind. That’s why you get hurt in asana, because you’re moving at the speed of the mind, not the speed of the body. So let’s do this: Let’s think about thought. When I took my neuroanatomy class in physical therapy school, I ended up spending most of my time having philosophical discussions with the professor in lab. I look at the brain, and I think, “My brain inside my head is contemplating that brain there in front of me.” But also, the human brain is the only thing I know of that can contemplate itself.

It’s fascinating, this thinking thing. It’s very seductive. Thinking is a useful tool. I hope I can do it well. But what yoga talks about, what the “problem” is, is that we believe our thoughts. What yoga teaches is that we want not to identify with them: “I am Judith. I am a yoga teacher. I live in San Francisco. I am a mother. I have nine grandchildren. I live on such and such a street. I like this. I’m good at that. I’m not good at that.” You know, thinking about, instead of the experience of.

So, let’s try this little experiment: Sit up well, so you’re sitting in front of your sitting bones, not on your tailbone, then you’d be slouching. If it’s safe for you to do this now, hearing us, sit in front of your sitting bones, and slightly drop your head. Go to the geographic center of your brain. Now release the root of your tongue. [Silence for 10 seconds.] I’m guessing that you moved slightly when I said, “Release the root of the tongue,” you moved immediately into a space of silence where thought was minimal. Is that true?

Andy Vantrease 43:07
Mm hmm. Something big shifted when I moved my tongue, yes.

Judith Hanson Lasater 43:10
So that is consciousness, pure consciousness, which is behind thinking. And that’s what being present means: recognizing and remembering. So first, let me say something about the neurology of the tongue and the brain. The tongue and the brain are very connected neurologically. The parts of our brain that are reading, speaking and thinking are very connected to the tongue. Now, there are a lot of people running around loose where that’s not true—their tongue is not connected to their brain. [laughter]

Have you ever seen—or maybe you were this kid—children when they learn to write? You look at them and it’s so cute, their tongue is sticking out of their mouth, and they’re writing with their tongue? They’re making the letters with the tongue.

Andy Vantrease 44:09
I have family members that do this thing with their tongue when they’re writing or when they’re like, really concentrated on something. It’s not quite sticking out, but it’s out and they’re like biting it.

Judith Hanson Lasater 44:21
Yeah, so neurologically thinking, speaking, and the tongue—they’re very, very, very intimately connected neurologically. So I have found that just going to the center of my brain, the geographic center of my brain, anatomical center, and then dropping down a level and releasing the root of my tongue, which I always find is tense. Then there’s the lotus of the heart. And then there’s the deep, rich belly, where, if you tune into it, you can feel the heartbeat of life itself. Because you’re not living in the universe; the universe is living through you. The life force is living through you.

Andy Vantrease 45:12
You know, that exercise, it felt like these multiple layers of letting go. First being in the center of my head and then releasing the tongue, kind of felt physically like something dropped down. The energy and the awareness dropped down, and then dropping down into the heart, letting go even more and dropping down into the belly, where there was just very subtle but almost like this brilliant nothingness.

Judith Hanson Lasater
Yeah. Full emptiness.

Andy Vantrease
Yeah, yeah.

Judith Hanson Lasater 45:52
There really are two steps to the wider practice of yoga, including asana, pranayama, meditation, self-study, all of it—big, big container view of the practice of yoga. The two words: recognize and remember. The first one happened to me my first yoga class for the first time when we were doing savasana, formal relaxation, and she had us to relax our bodies, and I did a progressive relaxation, which was a blinding flash of the obvious to me, because I thought relaxation was something that just happened to you. Like you got in bed, and you just waited for sleep to happen to you. I had no idea that you could consciously let go.

In that first savasana, she used a metaphor, my teacher, about thoughts being like the wind, moving through bamboo, a hollow piece of bamboo. And I began to see or recognize that my thoughts—I didn’t have these words, trust me on that one—were an epiphenomena of my consciousness. That I am not my thoughts. I have thoughts, yes. My brain generates 60,000 thoughts a day, and most of them are unconscious—no wonder we’re in trouble. And that is not who I am. And that’s the biggest thing that any human being can learn is that their consciousness is separate from thought and that they, as part, everyone is connected in this underground sea of deep consciousness, like the collective unconscious that Jung talks about. “I am not my thoughts” means that I can choose, as Krishnamurti says, “The biggest power human beings have is the ability to choose our thoughts.” We can notice that we’re feeling something, we can notice that we’re caught spinning in our mind, we can step back from that. That is the only freedom, because you can go on vacation to some exotic place like Tahiti, but unfortunately, you take yourself with you.

So the image that I like the most is that until that moment, we’re all in jail—the jail of our thoughts—until we realize the door is unlocked. That’s a letting go, a deep mental letting go of identity with thoughts. And then the next part, that’s the ah-ha moment. And many people are there and many people are not there. And the next part of this puzzle is remembering that. All day long when I’m talking to you, can I be in the center of my brain? All day long can I disidentify and not be run by my thoughts? And this is one reason I’m so interested in languaging, because my words reflect my thoughts, my thoughts reflect my beliefs—and beliefs are just organized thought patterns—and my beliefs run my life, especially the unexamined ones. So, part of the way I like to recognize and remember is to choose my words specifically, like back when we talked about the man in the elevator. I did not say, “He made me feel.” He didn’t make me feel. “I felt.” That was my choice. That’s closer to the truth, I think.

Andy Vantrease 49:43
Speaking of choice of words, the different phases of letting go that you were teaching at the Feathered Pipe Ranch this past summer: physical, emotional, mental and spiritual. I had a laugh with you because you said you didn’t really like the word [spiritual]. From somebody who’s been in this realm, teaching for so long, I’m curious of what was behind that and what is language around spirituality that you do like to use?

Judith Hanson Lasater 50:11
Well, the word spiritual is like the word love. I think the word love is the most important word in the English language, and the most misunderstood. My favorite quote on love is, “We think life is strong and love is fragile, but really, it’s the other way around. Life hangs by a thread and love holds the universe together. From subatomic particles on up.”

Spiritual is a word, and I believe that we do all project meaning onto words, but that’s one of the big one—like God, divinity, goddess. It’s really unclear what that means to the person. What it means to me has evolved over time. It’s twofold: It is that quiet sense of presence that you felt. That’s the spiritual nature of the human being. That unity with consciousness, the one consciousness, you call it by all kinds of names, but it’s there. And then “spiritual” means to me, alright, how do I then live, if that’s my experience? I believe everyone who studies yoga has had what we would call a spiritual experience. So that one consciousness. Walking in the woods or giving birth. It can be part of formal religion, but it’s bigger than that. And that’s why I liked yoga when I found it, especially Patanjali. And the yamas and niyamas, what everyone sort of calls the “10 Commandments of Yoga”. There was a specific path, a roadmap. Yoga, to me, is a roadmap home. The yamas and niyamas are the ethical precepts. And there are things like non-violence and truth and non-stealing, not being greedy. And, to me, what I do on the mat, or the meditation cushion, only has meaning in the context of how I live.

In other words, to me, the yamas and the niyamas, are the first two steps, before asana, and it’s how you live in society. To me, spiritual means that to the best of my ability, I choose to practice honesty, non-harming, telling the truth, etc. So that’s what spiritual means to me. And we all have our own way of interpreting that word. I mean, we’re on this piece of rock spinning through space 60,000 miles an hour, wobbling on its axis by several feet, and no one really knows how we got here. What happens in the next millisecond? Or like I got up this morning out of bed, the first thought was, “Why am I in this body walking across the hardwood floors going to the bathroom?” Why is this world here? And where were we the second before the Big Bang?

Andy Vantrease 53:29
Yeah, I could just be completely consumed all of time with those questions. Endless fascination. Endless curiosity.

Judith Hanson Lasater 53:38
Lying in the backyard on a blanket in the summer in Texas, where there wasn’t much light pollution, and looking at all the stars is a philosophical act. I don’t know those answers. Even Stephen Hawking didn’t know them. Einstein didn’t know them. Like, no one knows. My choice has been to take the path of yoga, which brings me into the moment. That’s all we know, really. I mean, the present moment is the only truth we know. And we spend all our time thinking about the past, or the future, and they do not exist. Where is yesterday’s thought? Where is tomorrow’s thought? It does not exist, the only thing that exists is this moment. And the practices of yoga are all about reminding us to recognize and remember that. And from that, we live the yamas and niyamas.

I have a new book out called Teaching Yoga with Intention. It’s out from Shambala books. It talks about communication and talks about touching, when not to, when to, how to. It talks about how to be an educated student.

Andy Vantrease 54:53
It sounds to me, just even in the title and in the description, a lot of what we talked about today of trusting your intuition and allowing that to help set your boundaries as a student, and then also as a teacher, how to communicate, how to use language to say what you mean and be clear and slow down.

Judith Hanson Lasater
Yeah, yeah.

Andy Vantrease 55:15
So Judith, you talked a lot about remembering today, in the context of remembering who we are, in the context of yoga and asana, and even the yamas and niyamas. I want to invite you to perhaps share one of your favorite memories with us, from your time at the Feathered Pipe Ranch. You, as I mentioned a couple times, were the first teacher ever to teach at the ranch in 1975. And that is a lot of years to spend at a place every summer for at least a few weeks. I know you must have a lot of stories. I’m curious if you can bring us full circle to what your favorite memory is of the Feathered Pipe Ranch.

Judith Hanson Lasater 55:57
It’s so easy, for that golden, mystic week, to live your yoga. You are supported by nature, by kindly people, by delicious food, by fresh air—and the water is like food, it tastes so good. At 9:45 in the morning, everyone’s going to yoga, so I might as well go. We know at 4pm we’re going to go in and do restorative yoga and sit quietly and then while we’re lying in savasana, someone’s cooking our dinner. I mean, the stress level is like -10. And the people are wonderful who come there, and it’s just place where we can really be openly, deeply home, grateful and present.

I remember one afternoon after lunch walking on the road toward the honeymoon cabin, there’s a porch, and there was a couch on there. An old couch. I walked up and I saw that there was a deer, wild deer lying on that couch, his feet sticking out and his head on the armrest.

Andy Vantrease
Oh my gosh!

Judith Hanson Lasater 57:05
And I stood there praying for someone with a phone to come by and take a picture. It would have been the cover of National Geographic.

Andy Vantrease
Absolutely. At least the homepage of the Feathered Pipe website.

Judith Hanson Lasater 57:17
For sure. And I just stood there in wonder. Such a special place for me and my family. My children grew up there every summer.

Andy Vantrease 57:26
If you’d like to, there’s a poem that I found on your website called “Let Go,” and I just thought it was so beautiful. I’d love you to read it to guide people out of the conversation.

Judith Hanson Lasater 57:36
Thank you. Alright, here we go.
“Let Go”
Let go and feel your goodness.
Right now God is here, pressing against your skin, bubbling up from your belly, dancing through your limbs.
Where else would She be?
Right now let the Universe breathe you, finding you over and over again with each inhalation, and filling you up with joy.
Taste it.
Your ribs move, your lungs open, and holiness enters.
Now your ribs drop and the breath is gone, dancing away as you exhale, like a teasing child playing hide and seek.
Then once again the Universe breathes you in an eternal sacred rhythm.
You are the refuge for this Universe.
You are story this Universe writes.
You are the painting this Universe colors.
You are the music of existence.
Recognize your magic, remember your mystic power.
Let go and know that you are life and divinity and oneness.
Boundaries are for your mind.
Spaciousness is for your heart.
Oneness is for your soul.
It has all already happened.
There is nothing to fix.
Wake up to this moment and this breath, and all mysteries will dissolve.

Andy Vantrease 59:18
Judith Lasater. What a conversation to get us back into the flow of the Dandelion Effect. Each time I replayed this episode, I heard something new to chew on. I’ve been thinking a lot about when she said, “The biggest thing any human being can learn is not to believe our thoughts. And the ability to choose our thoughts is the only freedom, the only way out of the jail of our thoughts is to realize the door is unlocked. Hmm.

For myself, and I’m sure many others, getting sucked down the spiral of thoughts can lead to a lot of anxiety about the future and worry about the past as well as attachment to all of the different identities that we believe ourselves to be. It’s been helpful each time I find myself on the precipice of this slippery slope, to make light of it and say, “I don’t believe that…” It’s helped me move on more quickly and not take everything I think so seriously.

To learn more about Judith’s work, order her books, and sign up for workshops, visit judithhansonlasater.com.

A special thank you to Matthew Marsolek and the Drum Brothers, whose music you hear at the beginning and end of this podcast, as well as Dr. Jean Shinoda Bolen, who first turned us on to the phenomenon of the Dandelion Effect and how ideas move through the world.

This podcast is a production of the Feathered Pipe Foundation, a 501c3 dedicated to healing, education, community and empowerment. If you’d like to help support this project, please visit FeatheredPipe.com/gratitude or leave a review on Apple podcasts and share with your friends. Be sure to tune in to our next episode in two weeks. We cannot wait to share another amazing conversation with you. Until then, have a beautiful day.

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