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Fires of Transformation: A Letter from studio owner Lisa Mae about the closing of our physical space

Dearest Bhakti Yoga Center Family, This letter is long. There is so much that I want to tell you. You can skip directly to the FAQ’s section here, if you’d prefer.

Many of you have been here long enough to remember that we started the space we now call The Bhakti Yoga Movement Center on the Summer Solstice in June of 2007 as The Bhaktishop, out of a tiny by-the-hour dance space on SE 10th and Burnside, next to the anarchist bookshop and across from Union Jack’s. These humble beginnings held a tender seed of a vision for community-building through the practice of yoga, and though many iterations of community have passed through the space, that vision has strengthened and grown over these thirteen years. I certainly never, in the furthest reaches of my imagination, dreamed that we would transform into a fully-accessible online live-streaming yoga and movement center. I am astonished and humbled every day by the way the teachers, and you all, have so gracefully adapted to that new way of being together.

Even as we moved to SE Division in 2008 and the space you loved grew and morphed, year after year, what we didn’t plan for were the relationships: the falling in love, the birth of children and the burying of parents, the partnering and uncoupling of friends and lovers, the constellating of creative collaborations and the fostering and fledging of over 100 incredible new teachers.

We scrawled love notes on the walls and floors under the cork along with rose petals when we opened, and we danced and sang and chanted mantras, moved and cried, so many tears absorbed into the planks of this floor.

I, for one, knew nothing about business or how to run one, or people and how to manage them. I only knew that running this space on yogic principles and with highest integrity mattered to me. What I always held in deep esteem and high regard was community, and the potent strength of the collective to organize in shared power and shared values. Somewhere deep inside, I always understood the power of collective movement, and the deep, abiding need that adults have for communal spaces to share experiences as we grow and heal and expand into the most vulnerable, most connected versions of ourselves.

Over these years we have raised up young teachers, many of whom were just stepping into understanding of their own adult lives, and we mentored and groomed their wings with them as they became strong, powerful voices of hope and inquiry. We also feathered our nest with strong, vibrant, experienced teachers, the kind you turn to for guidance and wisdom on the winding and often surprising path of your life. All grounded in the teachings and the wisdom of the practices of yoga, all dedicated servants of the truth with their whole heart. These teachers have lived here, for what now feels like ages, growing and being grown by all of you, and their dedication and sacrifice remains boundless.

I had no idea that deep friendship and connection would form with all of you, either. That we would journey to beautiful tropical places or snowy mountains in search of a space to unplug and reset so that we could all return as changed, charged human beings, ready to serve in all the ways that we were raising our hands to serve in our lives. That we would link arms and hearts and share visions for a world and future that held more potential for grace and collective power than the one we have steeped in. Thousands of you over the years have graced these walls with your radiant breaths, your blistered and broken hearts, and shared your lives full of transformation and hardships with us; the honor of bearing witness to your lives as you navigate them stings my eyes with tears of privilege and humility.

Holding the community in its tender vulnerability, you all let me founder and fail a lot of times, too, and somehow stayed nearby as I learned to stand in my own accountability and make public corrections. So many of you stayed close during 2007 as I navigated both opening The Bhaktishop and a divorce simultaneously, witnessed the messy public exit of a founding business partner in 2011, cared for the space while I survived breast cancer in 2013, and starting in 2014, honed the ever-changing mission of this center toward one with a stronger equity and accountability lens and a real inquiry into who is truly welcome in yoga spaces. In 2015 and then AGAIN in 2019, you listened and grew with me as we ultimately changed the name of the Shop, twice, to help undo any harm caused by the former name, The Bhaktishop, and to speak to the whiteness that had pervaded the yoga world for so long. You donated money and time and effort toward so many of our justice missions, and helped create a means in which sharing resources and redistribution of wealth was truly a reality and not just lip service. And of course currently, in 2020, you’re growing your own capacity while we all build an ongoing, amazing and vibrant online Live-streaming class platform in our first global pandemic together. All with more questions than answers about how to alter that course for a future we want to build.

All these years later, I have a much more abiding understanding of the sacrifices one must make to try to run a yoga center on yogic principles; foremost among them to be in loving, selfless service to the truth, to do less harm, to not hoard power or resources, to be in right relationship to self and each other, to bear witness and care for community compassionately, and to undo suffering whenever we encounter it. I have not always excelled at this, but it remains my heart’s mission to continue to emerge into this potential that lives inside all of us. I have become so deeply identified with this yoga center and all who share its heart, like an organism or a rhizome, silently growing under the ground. Our art-wall, covered with images of hearts and lungs, is a tribute to celebrate all of you, and all of this, after our remodel/re-emergence in 2015. It was a way to put my own heart on the outside, where you could all see and know my love and affection and deep connection to every one of you that ever supported this space and these humans that decided this practice, this community, was a good idea.

The problem with humans is that we think we have time. Time to do all the things we long to do, time to say the things that matter, but later. Tomorrow is a false story that we all tell ourselves, and so I am telling you now: I love you. I have loved you for all of this time. I have been honored by your trust and your depth and your care and your wisdom in pursuit of knowing yourself more deeply. It has been, and continues to be, the honor of my life to witness you and serve you all in this way. As you know, we have always believed in people over profit, embedded with practices that help create a world of inter-dependent care and support. We have a chance to walk that talk at this precise moment in history.

Like all cocoons, there is the before-time, when the thing-that-is-now is in transformation. It is no longer the caterpillar, small but nimble with bright, soft skin and delicate steps, capable of digesting anything. But it is also not yet a butterfly either, nor does it have any sense of what it is to become with time and heat and pressure inside the chrysalis. Currently, it is an awkward state of becoming. A gooey, formless glob of liquid, digestive chemicals and undifferentiated cells undergoing a radical transformation—no longer what it was, but still not yet what it will become. We, my friends, are all in that goopy glob phase and learning to live with that uncertainty.

Like millions of other small business owners, I have been awake many nights since early March trying to plot a course for our community’s continuation, while also attending to caring for and feeding and organizing for folks experiencing deep income inequity. The painful discomfort of lacking choices combined with mourning the death of certainty make for some lively, sleepless nights, and in this I know I am not alone.

Now is the time to dream differently, and not get lost in the same incomplete reforms and changes to anachronistic systems that are dying and crumbling. Most of us have never been asked to use our skills collectively in this manner before. There is so much to lift and celebrate and be deeply proud of all over the world at this time, the ways that movements are growing to change culture and to center the dignity of human lives over profit and productivity. I am looking at the future, at everything that comes elegantly next that remains as of yet, unknown.

Because we have been present on SE Division for so many years, the rent has slowly crawled skyward, and at this juncture we cannot afford to pay it while also being closed to all of you for an indeterminate amount of time. Inside of my deepest visions of possibility, I also cannot see a path to re-opening our beautiful community center in the coming months, either, in a way that both values your health and safety, or that will provide a stable source of income for the teachers that work here. Long ago we created a model of redistribution of any profits from the yoga center, so that they could be moved directly into the community. It is unconscionable to me that a landlord could earn so much money doing so little, when that money could be distributed right here to people experiencing income inequity, systemic oppression and houselessness. We stand here together at a time that allows us all the opportunity to center our collective safety and wellness, not just that of the wealthy and white, and make choices that can affect culture. There is no path to going “back to things as they were before,” because that world is not sustainable.

Our space is designed for close-knit community gatherings; we simply do not have the capacity to keep you or the teachers safe and healthy in a space not designed for safe physical distance. There is no viable way to pay for the improvements or cleaning or staff that we would need to ensure that we could provide you with the safest space to be in close company with other people, even if we limited class sizes. To do that, we would have to raise our prices by A LOT, which is antithetical to our mission of accessibility entirely. Our teachers can’t earn a living that way, and the rent is even more unaffordable under those conditions. I cannot ask them to teach for less pay while assuming more risk and more labor, while someone else is profiting off of our hardship. Practicing yoga and chanting mantra in PPE and masks feels unhealthy, and extremely counter-intuitive to the healing and freedom that is inherent in the yoga practices, and I just do not see a way to make it possible to reopen safely and protect your health.

Because we do have the choice to protect and care for each other collectively, I choose you.

What are the practices and rituals that we do together, and what are those that we do separately, now that we are separated from each other? What are the ways that the future you envision includes the wisdom to know that change and shift and transformation are not sometime in the future, but here, right now, and how are you stepping into that unknown? Does our community's future involve eventual re-location to a new physical space, once circumstances allow for such a move, while maintaining our togetherness in the online space?

Let’s share this unfolding future together even as we all chant what feels like the mantra of this time: I don't know.

I miss you. I miss being a student, and like the other teachers here, I miss being your teacher. We all miss the collective deep breaths where we can hear and feel one another in proximity, the intelligence of touch and of sound, physical movement, of meditation in the circle of possibility.

While we must close our physical doors, we will remain fully present with you in our online platforms, both livestreaming 30+ classes each week and also recording many of these classes for the online library, which already contains some 180+ classes. So many of you have made the giant, generous leap to virtual classes with us already, and for that I am deeply grateful, as are all the teachers here, whose support and care have been instrumental to my own wellness and daily self-care routine, too. Being able to continue to pay them well has meant the world to me, and I couldn’t do that without you.

I sincerely hope that you will continue to stay and practice with us in the virtual space, as we shift our content regularly based on your feedback to meet your needs and as a collective, and all bear witness to the world around us unfolding and changing and asking us to pay attention as she morphs.

We are morphing too, and what our nebulous glob of a chrysalis will become is still incubating inside the warmth of the cocoon. Transformation has always been the deeper work of yoga, and vigorous inquiry about the nature of reality comes along with that. Sometimes it takes a while to emerge. This is reality. This is happening right now. Our deepest gratitude to all of you for cocooning with us, as we all nestle in for the metamorphosis together. We are being asked to move out of our dear, sweet space by May 23rd, as the landlord terminates our lease. Please stay with us online and let us know what you need and how we can help; we are here for you and with you.

May your hearts be nourished by and with the teachers and practices that you love as you traverse your own process of inquiry and transformation.

Be well, be safe, and stay close. We love you, and we always have.


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