Yoga: Restorative Yoga, with Judith Hanson Lasater

Ella Isakov, Yoga Editor: Judith Lasater dedicates her life to helping people rest with Restorative Yoga and has published books guiding people to live more peaceful lives. It is a pleasure to interview her for the theme of forgiveness.

Parvati Magazine: You have been teaching for over 4 decades and published books on asana, anatomy and how to live your yoga off the mat.  How would the world around us shift if we were more compassionate and loving towards ourselves? 

Judith Lasater: I think we should frame the question “how can I be more loving to myself?” because that’s the beginning. When we shift, the world shifts. So the practice of being present and self-reflection is the beginning of the spiritual practice because when we are present with ourselves and we regard ourselves with tenderness, there is a space that opens up in us in which compassion arises. I cannot make myself be compassionate, I can only recognize compassion when it arises. When I sit in meditation, do my yoga or breathing, or read about the higher self I am creating a context which is inviting and creating oneness and connection with the suffering of myself and other people. If I hold that with tenderness, compassion arises.

PMAG: You created Restorative yoga.  How do you feel making time to find rest influences forgiveness for yourself and of your willingness to forgive others?

JL: Everything is better when you are rested. One thing being tired, depleted and stressed out does is it narrows our perspective. It is so uncomfortable to be in our body and in our mind in those moments, and so when we are caught up with our own discomfort it is like we have blinders on to everyone else’s. We are not generous of spirit in that moment. We have no energy to do for others, to do for ourselves. What we need to do is notice that, understand its causes and conditions, and then take one small step towards resting. Today I am going to rest when I am tired for 5 minutes. Every step, every change is always small, and then there is the last one which is also small but its effects are huge.

PMAG: In your book “What You Say Matters: Practicing Nonviolent Communication” you offer tools to cultivate clearer self-awareness and how these skills can benefit how we communicate in our life.  What is the most valuable tool for non-harming communication?

JL: The most important thing is to have empathy for yourself. Hold in tenderness how you got what you did not want or how afraid or lonely you are feeling. When we are able to hold our own suffering with tenderness that is the only true way we can have empathy for other people. Empathy is the beginning of compassion. Compassion is the deep understanding of our connection, not feeling sorry for you, but understanding that your suffering is universal and human, and I also have suffering. Even when we hear of someone who has done something horrible and we believe they should be incarcerated, we can still have compassion for this human being. Buddha said “Hate never dispels hate, only love dispels hate”, but I am talking about fierce, courageous, rooted self-accepting love that’s extended with compassion to everyone. It does not mean I don’t hold people responsible for their choices, but I don’t have to hate them to do it. I can hold them with compassion for the suffering that they feel.

PMAG: As human beings we often find ourselves attached to situations and circumstances that have bestowed pain on us, and forgiveness seems unimaginable.  What advice do you have for people that find it hard to let go and forgive?

JL: We cannot make ourselves forgive, we can just recognize that we have. That may take a minute or a lifetime. Maybe it is our parents, relatives or friends and the forgiveness part is something that you recognize and it’s something that is for us. I think we have a harder time forgiving when we think it has to do with the other person, and if we can accept that forgiveness is about nurturing myself, letting myself move past. When I can accept the fact that something happened that I didn’t like, and I can forgive myself for wishing that never happened, and if I can forgive myself then that is where all forgiveness lives and I notice I don’t hold resentment for the other anymore.

judithJudith Hanson Lasater has taught yoga since 1971. In addition to co-founding Yoga Journal Magazine, Judith has written eight books on yoga. She teaches extensively throughout the United States and internationally.

Ms. Lasater trains yoga teachers in virtually every state of the union and is often an invited guest at international yoga conventions. She has been a consultant on three National Institute of Health studies on various aspects of yoga.

Judith is president emeritus of the California Yoga Teachers’ Association as well as the author of numerous articles on yoga and health for nationally recognized magazines.