Coming Home: A Conversation with Judith & Lizzie Lasater
Kick back and relax as you “listen” in on a delightful conversation about what it is that makes Feathered Pipe Ranch the special place people have returned to year after year for more than four decades.
Longtime Ranch friend and teacher Judith Hanson Lasater and her daughter Lizzie Lasater, who will both be teaching workshops this summer, share the colorful threads of their stories and teaching with Feathered Pipe Founder and Executive Director, India Supera.
India: Judith, you taught the first season at the Ranch in 1975. Did any other teaching engagements come from that?
Judith: Two years later I was invited, by students I met at the Ranch, to teach in Alaska. Kathy Vasquez and Lynne Minton invited me. I had always wanted to visit Alaska, it is so wonderfully wild. On one of our days off they took me down a river on a float trip. There was a young man leading it and he had prepared our lunch and we were sitting around talking. He asked us how we had met. I told him it was at the Feathered Pipe Ranch in Helena, Montana where I was teaching a yoga workshop and they were attending. “Feathered Pipe Ranch, he said, “My girlfriend studied yoga there!” So, there we were, in the middle of nowhere, and even there the Feathered Pipe Ranch was known.
India: I love that. Lizzie, what is your first memory of the Feathered Pipe?
Lizzie: I have so many wonderful childhood memories of the Ranch. For me, a city kid from San Francisco, it was a place where I could be wild, be outside, run free and not be so restricted. There was a deep sense of safety. I was in Spain a couple of weeks ago and I was given a yoga nidra. The teacher asked me to think of a place where I felt totally safe and happy and carefree and held by the universe and the first place that came into my mind was a lake in Austria where we go a lot, and then immediately I realized it was a mirror image and that I had the same feeling about the lake at Feathered Pipe. For us it’s this calm, still, serene feeling of being completely at ease in the world.
India: How do you feel the Feathered Pipe guided you to becoming a yoga teacher? You’re so well educated already in many areas.
Lizzie: For me it’s always been a touchstone. We live in such a cacophonous world now and we’re so splintered. It’s one year’s vacation here, one year a trip there, I want to go to Costa Rica, I want to visit so many places, but for me, the Feathered Pipe Ranch has this magical quality that comes from going back every year – almost like a pilgrimage. In that way, I got to see how I had changed because it had stayed the same in some beautiful way. I think it shaped my desire to be a yoga teacher, just in being around people like you, India, all of the kind of old-school, deep souled yogis living and studying there. They shaped my broader community in feeling like I had a deeper wisdom to share.
India: Judith, what is your fondest memory of the Feathered Pipe?
Judith: I was walking back to Teacher’s Cabin from the Main Lodge one mid-day and I looked across the way, toward the Honeymoon Cabin. There was no railing around the porch then and, lying on the couch (there was a couch on the porch) was a deer, lying on the couch, on its side with its head on the armrest and legs sticking straight out, totally asleep. Immediately I thought, “Side-lying savasana.” I stood there transfixed. I didn’t have a camera but told myself to take mental photos of this sight because this was an expression of the beautiful interface of our human souls and the animal souls of all the animals that inhabit the woods and we had come together in this sacred place. Many years later I read a poem about standing in the woods at Feathered Pipe which I read to my classes now, every year. That was my personal best memory.
India: Judith, how is your teaching at the Ranch different than when teach at other places? What is different about the Ranch?
Judith: My teaching is always shaped by the environment in which I am teaching, by the room and the building. But it’s also shaped by the people who come there. At Feathered Pipe we can stand in the morning in the yoga room and look out at the mist rising off the lake – and beyond it to the mountains. This is what we’re looking at, the lawn, the lake and the mountains. There are no cars, no noise. People are staying there, getting to know each other. People have their meals together and get connected outside of class. I find that I can both go deeper and be more playful. As much as the room and the place, the people who come are as much a part of why I come to the Ranch as the place itself.
Lizzie: It’s also a state of mind. I’ve been to a lot of yoga retreat centers but the Ranch has the perfect combination of all the comforts you need, the food is great, the scenery is beautiful, the water is clean and delicious, the air is clear and sweet. Everything is there but without the veneer of luxury which is now present at a lot of retreat centers and that I actually think gets in the way of the learning and the teaching. If you’re lying by a pool and someone is bringing you a drink, you don’t have the ability for internalized experience because you’re always being served and always trying to enjoy one more luxury spa treatment. I think the rustic quality of the Ranch actually helps the experience of being a student.
Judith: The Ranch is simple but it’s mindful. I like that because there are so many things in our world but at the Ranch we spend time with people. Connecting with people is the main recreation at the Ranch.
Lizzie: I completely agree with that, that connecting with people is the main activity at the Ranch. After dinner you talk with people, take walks with them, sit by the lake and chat. People talk about digital detox but everyone is sitting around with their phones checking in. At the Ranch, you have a different relationship with the internet. The slowness of the connection is a real shift in how I experience the world – not mediated by what’s happening next on my phone.
India: We’ve met a lot of people at the Ranch. People forge close relationships at the Ranch that they maintain throughout their lives. Do you think the experience for the student is different at the Ranch than at other retreat centers?
Judith: One of the things that makes it so sweet here is that your workshop is the only one going on. It’s not a workshop factory retreat center. I do teach at those places, and they’re lovely, but there’s something super special at the Feathered Pipe about being the only workshop there. It gives people time to really get to know each other. It’s a very personal experience.
India: I know, every year I look at the rosters to see who’s coming back and I look forward to spending time with old friends again. In the beginning, because the population of yogis in the US was small, there was only one degree of separation between the Ranch and most yoga studios. Now it’s more distant but still, everywhere I go, I meet someone who has studied here or whose teacher studied here.
Lizzie: When I was recently teaching in Spain, some of the students remarked “Oh it’s so great that you actually eat meals with us. When we go on other retreats the teachers evaporate after the class and you never get to see them.”
Judith: I make it a point to eat lunch and supper with the students. It’s getting increasingly rare in our digital world to have a real experience with a real human being. The beginning of yoga teaching was one-on-one.
Lizzie: What do you do at breakfast?
Judith: I have my own breakfast, alone, to prepare for teaching.
Another fun thing at Feathered Pipe retreats is that we have a talent show at the end – A Feathered Pipe Follies. One of my favorite acts was a woman from Denmark. Of course she had perfect English. She got up and said, “I’m going to tell you a Danish joke.” We were clapping wildly. She proceeded to tell us this very long joke, all in Danish, which she acted out. We had grown so close in the workshop that language was no barrier and we all laughed hysterically.
India: Liz are you going to carry on the Follies tradition? Judith and Mary Dunn always had a Follies Night, they loved it so much.
Lizzie: I think so . . .
Judith: If you do it they will laugh and joke about us, you and me.
Lizzie: It’s good that we don’t take ourselves so seriously! The world feels very serious at the moment and I think it’s good to laugh at ourselves.
India: Have you met anyone at the Ranch who changed your life?
Judith: I don’t think it’s people I met at the Ranch, but rather people I see every year there. They are my core extended family who are all connected by the Ranch. A couple of years ago two of my nieces and their friends all came, my eldest son Miles and his wife Liz and their children came, Lizzie and Nico came. It was an explosion of Lasaters.
India: One of my best memories about the kids was the rope swing and how important it was in their life. They were so excited and free. Do you think adults feel the same way?
Lizzie: I do. I live in the Alps and I’m so steeped in it and so spoiled by it that I realize it is a rare treat for city people that when you stand on the dock at the lake you can’t see one man-made thing and you don’t hear man-made sounds that are so intrusive on our nervous system. When you go day after day in a city environment your stress level gets triggered all the time.
Judith: What I’ve heard people at the Feathered Pipe Ranch say, time after time, it that it’s summer camp for grown-ups. They love the freedom. The brain needs silence to repair and renew itself. You don’t even see many cars there, just the occasional delivery van. It’s so rare to have that magical gift of silence. Just spending time in the forest is so good for our brains and nervous systems.
India: Another beautiful thing at the Ranch is the night sky on a dark moon. We are surrounded by mountains that block the lights from town so on a new moon the view of the Milky Way is breathtaking.
Lizzie: It’s the smell too, for me. At night, walking back to your cabin there’s the scent of the pine trees, the forest floor, is something that you don’t have in the city.
India: Lizzie, I think your first workshop at the Feathered Pipe will be too much fun. I know some of your European clientele are coming and seeing you and Judith teaching together will be a delight.
Judith: To all of you who are thinking of coming, think of what this will do for your teaching. When you choose a place like the Ranch, to put your attention and your money here, not only does it nourish yourself but your students. It’s a way of voting for these special, sacred places, which the Ranch is. There is a real Feathered Pipe. This is an historical place where Indigenous People have gathered and lived. When we support the spirit of the land with our presence then we are voting for that goodness, that inherent goodness and simplicity and joy and health in the world.
India: Just last week a herd of elk appeared. Elk! You don’t usually see them but they’re out there and they just came.
Lizzie: When you have nature all around you, you really don’t need someone to bring you a gin and tonic. Nature is enough.
Judith: Well, you have to have cookies!
India: Even Jesus had to spend 40 days in the wilderness. I think people really need some time in nature.
Lizzie: There’s something about landing at the Helena airport with its 4 gates then driving out to the end of the road. It’s a decompression time.
Judith: Another thing to remember is that both Lizzie and I are offering half-day float trips during our workshops. It’s important that, if you come to Montana, which is a long way away from wherever you start, you experience some of the wildness of nature too.
Lizzie: I’d like to say a bit about our workshop together. Mom has been training restorative yoga teachers around the world now for 17 years and I’ve been giving trainings for 2 or 3 years. We want to make it a tribe gathering. We don’t want to make it exclusive and only for certified restorative yoga teachers. We want it to be inclusive of everyone who loves restorative, at whatever level. We want to express our vision of how this work evolves and where it can go. I think that getting all these people together – it’s going to spark some magic in the restorative yoga community.
India: And it’s a spark that yoga needs right now. Yoga is so different now, people go on-line and take classes that way and maybe never had a live yoga class.
Lizzie: I think the future of yoga includes the sangha, community. I think we are in a post-lineage yoga. There are many yoga teachers on YouTube with millions of followers, who don’t really come from a lineage in the way we have understood the patriarchal system of yoga lineage. I think that what we need in yoga is not really certified lineage but rather yoga community. The Feathered Pipe Ranch is a wonderful place to bring people together and solidify the bonds of the yoga community.
Judith: I think we need community because our families are scattered, our communities are scattered. I tell students that when they go back home and they get on their mats to practice, remember that there’s an invisible sangha there. Know that someone you practice with at the Feathered Pipe is very likely practicing at the same time. We are not alone, there is connection there. Human beings have always needed connections. This is our one-week village.
My workshop will have restorative, pranayama and meditation in the afternoons. In the mornings we’ll have a more traditional active practice. We will chant a verse from the Yoga Sutra and we will have a theme for the week. We will think about how this affects our practice.
Judith and Lizzie: We will have two weeks together, Lizzie will be in Judith’s class as a student. And we want you to come to this amazing place to study with us.
We invite you to join us at the Feathered Pipe Ranch this summer, July 28 – August 4, for Judith’s Self-Compassion: Exploring the Heart of Yoga and Judith and Lizzie’s Restorative Yoga Reunion, August 4 – 11.