Saturday, September 30, 2017


coco mālie kawaioli krishok
6 pounds of decolonization
each syllable proclaims your lineage
your auspicious arrival
daughter of natives and immigrants

small earthling self
constellating through the cosmos
into our arms on the fall equinox

did your grandmother sense you?
as your mother’s ovaries formed in vitro
perfect little ovaries the size of mustard seeds
the embryo implanted into the lining
made rich by centuries of women survivors

hailing from portugal
the philippines
and hawaii

the follicle that would become you
carrying the stories that comprise your genes
your body knows the flavors and recipes
passed through umbilical cords into amniotic fluid

my son introduces my korean mother and father to you
and the polish and italian parents and grandparents of his father
the nightshades appropriated by the conquistadors from the americas
into italy circle back
and land smack dab in the middle of the pacific ocean

floating in your salty ocean
every grandmother and great grandmother and great great grandmother
caresses you
welcomes you
stay, little one, stay

where is my mother in your perfect dna?
where is my halmoni and the women before her?
could you taste the go-chu and ma-nul in the fluid
preparing your palate for kim-chi?

every gulp of breastmilk connects you back to the islands
and peninsulas of the matriline
those who survived genocides
the korean women during wartime, struggling to feed their children
buffeted by aspiring super-powers
the filipina clutching their identities, their homes, and families
the wahine fighting for their waters, their language, and their land

how many times can land be stolen?
how many times can a woman be raped?
how many times can she be humiliated and trampled?
how do we reclaim our bodies, our homes,
our food,
our stories,
our children and grandchildren?

I feed your mother the tomatoes and potatoes
from native america via italy and poland
I feed your mother the kim-chi from ground chilis
packed in po-ja-gi and carried across boats
I feed your mother my mother’s myuk-guk
iron-rich birthday soup of roasted sesame oil, soaked mushrooms,
and seaweed from oceans that touch both
this island and my grandmother’s peninsula

it is all I can do to not take you to my own breast
of dried milk ducts and shriveled ovaries
I am past childbearing
I have entered the larger realm
of the intergenerational embrace
I am backed by my ancestors and their ancestors before them

I carry their wounds and their brilliance and their strength
I am here to embody all that as I cradle you
in arms that stretch generations

welcome, my child
coco mālie kawaioli krishok

Mama Gwi-Seok’s Guide to Raising Strong, Confident, Free-Thinking Solutionaries, Part I

This has just happened:
I have become a Halmoni! Coco Malie Kawaioli Krishok was born on 11 September, and I've just returned from spending 9 days with her and her parents, my son Malachi, and his partner, Kai. In the airport coming home, I realized there was still so much I wanted to share, based on my experience of the last 30+ years as a mother. Here is the beginning of some thoughts regarding parenting.

Although patriarchy still shapes much of our society, don’t buy into it by reinforcing gender stereotypes. Invest in identity traits outside of gender. As your child grows, they will certainly express tendencies, which should be accepted and supported. Some of these tendencies could be attributed to their sex and hormones, but emphasizing gender can reinforce stereotypes that are often oppressive.

No baby or child is “bad.” They are all inherently “good” and perfect and beautiful. A mellow, laid-back child is not “better” than a spirited, high-energy child, and vice versa.

Sleeping and eating are too important to teach. In a healthy environment, babies will eat when they are hungry and sleep when they are tired. Sugar will dull their appetite for healthy food, and stress around sleep will cause anxiety and sleeplessness. The best place for baby to sleep is where everyone gets the most sleep. Don’t worry about whether they will outgrow baby patterns or not. They WILL!

Recognize when you are imposing an adult, work-centered, capitalist requirement upon your child, such as requiring them to eat or sleep at certain times. Sometimes this may be necessary. But notice how often this is required and the impact it has on your child and your family, and consider other options.

Be prepared to be both nurturer and warrior, both gentle and fierce. The fact is our society does not fully support children or mothers. Fatherhood is also, in turn, de-valued. Our society sees children as unproductive and the work of parenting as unimportant. We pay lip-service to parents and children but fail to back it up with policy and programs like paid parental leave, good education, and comprehensive health care. No one values your child as much as you do, so you have to fight and advocate for their rights and needs. No one knows your child as well as you do, so you have to fight for what they need as individuals. Don’t let your child become a cog in the wheel of a destructive, negligent society. Also remember that fighting for women’s rights is fighting for children’s rights, because women are the ones to bear and breastfeed children and frequently serve as primary caregivers.

Limit screen time to protect their senses and their sensibilities. The mainstream corporate media is the primary way that we are brainwashed into being good workers and consumers. You will not regret the limits you place, and when and if it’s time to remove them, it will be easy to do so. However, the reverse is difficult and will cause resentment—to take away a privilege that has already been granted.

Trust the genius and brilliance your child came into the world with, and trust yourself as their steward, protector, nurturer, and teacher. Others will try to steer you and your child toward their agenda. Keep your eyes on the prize, and let your child reveal their gifts in their own time. There’s no advantage to blooming early, and lots of potential harm in forcing it. Trees are healthiest and strongest when their growth is slow. Children also should not be rushed.

Remember illnesses are building a healthy immune system. Do not overmedicate, and trust their bodies to correct the imbalances that inevitably occur. Support their immune system with the best healthy food, and natural, nontoxic remedies. Instead of antibiotics, treat with powerful PRObiotics. If and when you must resort to allopathic treatment, do so judiciously and minimally.

This is the most difficult lesson in parenting: you will not be able to protect your child from all harm. Wrap them in a cloud of unconditional love, and recruit extended family and friends to do the same. When harm occurs through illness, accidents, conflicts, institutions and authorities, your child gets the opportunity to learn how to respond: by standing up for themselves, asking for help, expressing their needs and feelings, among lots of other constructive ways to act.

Remember all needs are sacred. When they are whining and crying and acting out, they are expressing needs and asking for attention. What is attention but love? Everyone has the need to be cherished, protected, seen and heard. Notice the magic in the room when a newborn enters. Remember that magic even as they get older and make you angry and frustrated. They will always be that most innocent and fragile baby inside their gruff exteriors.

Your needs as parents are also sacred. Do not shortchange yourself or burn yourself out. Your health must be preserved at all costs. Parents need to take care of themselves and each other as well as their children. It’s not either/or but both/and. Your child may not understand this at first, but you must model self-care so that they will eventually learn to take care of themselves.

Children must never be deprived of the need to contribute to the greater good. Everyone must build the household together. Housework and cooking are tasks everyone needs to contribute to, starting at the earliest age. Children naturally imitate and will work side by side with you, whatever you do. Welcome them, and give them age-appropriate tasks. Include them as much as possible in everything.

Trust, love, feel, discern, intuit, and trust yourself some more. You will figure out what is best for you and your child.

In unconditional love,


Monday, January 2, 2017

Happy New Year 2017! A Year to Use Your Gifts Fully in Sacred Struggle

“Humankind will always be engaged in struggle, because struggle is in fact the highest form of human creativity.” ~ Jimmy and Grace Lee Boggs, Revolution and Evolution in the 20th Century

2016, by all measures, was a year of upheaval, loss, and profound challenges. Especially since the recent election, I am determined to enter 2017 with renewed vigor. I don't have time to lapse into despair, or to squander energy in rage, or to numb myself with infinite distractions. I am determined to stay woke, to take self-care to another level, to throw all of my weight into the sacred struggles of our time, and indeed, to engage in struggle as “the highest form of human creativity.”

Between capitulation to the status quo and incessant protest, lies a third way: building the life and the society we long to live in. This is the most fulfilling form of resistance I can imagine. Outside the repressions of a counter-revolutionary government and institutions, we create with our friends and loved ones, another more compassionate, balanced, sustainable, and joyful path.

Perhaps you believe, as I do, that on some deep inner level, we each chose to be on the planet at this time, and even to be in these (not so) United States in the 21st century. If this is true, these are the times you’ve been preparing yourself for. Welcome!

What does the sacred struggle look like for you in 2017? For me, I’m determined to:
  •  Develop more quiet time: morning pranayama, evenings with candlelight instead of electricity, and reduced use of electronics. 
  •  Heal my injuries and illnesses: to prioritize and spend the time and energy and money to heal the physical and emotional conditions that result in illness and injury.
  •  Recognize when I need help, ask for it, and use it, whether it’s emotional support, health care, medicine, time, food, advice, information, and more.
  • Share my resources freely: firstly give credit and referrals to my friends, colleagues, and mentors, especially those who’ve been underappreciated due to systems of oppression; offer any experience and appropriate skills (and not take it personally if declined); show up and support individuals, groups, and organizations; speak up as needed (and be quiet as needed).
  • Speak truth to power and pressure our leaders, governments, and institutions to meet the needs of the people: I put my legislators on speed dial, will write letters and emails ad infinitum, organize, and join movements.

I hope these actions will manifest on numerous levels, from developing Iyengar Yoga Detroit Collective as a healing justice gathering place, to forming an all-abilities housing cooperative, to expanding my yoga teaching to be even more inclusive, and protecting the rights and resources of the people.

This is just the beginning. I look forward to hearing how you will exercise struggle as creativity and righteous justice in 2017. 

Sunday, December 25, 2016

A Yoga Sequence on Christmas Day

Married with kids, Christmas was typically a big fat deal. Despite my objections to commercialism and excess, we always had a tree, multiple gifts, tons of food, and time with family and friends. I tried to counteract the rampant consumerism by making stuff with the kids instead of shopping: beeswax candles, our own Christmas cards, and cooking, of course. I never quite succeeded in simplifying Christmas, and usually spent the holiday alternating between grumpiness and a reluctant acceptance, trying to glean whatever joy I could soften into.

Sure, there were always wonder-filled moments, especially when the kids were small. There were occasions spent with friends and family when it wasn't littered with excess, and candlelight and carols at church, while Christmas served as a marker of tender memories.

After I left my life as a householder in 2010, I spent Christmas in a variety of ways. At a Vipassana meditation center, often in India studying at the Iyengar Institute, in Korea with family.... But this is the first time I've spent Christmas "on my own."

All my close friends are out of town and 2 of my children remain in Hawaii. Later I will see my daughter down the street at a neighbor's family gathering. I enjoyed a lovely candlelight service at church last night, and will return this morning, then cook, and join friends and family. Even so, this Christmas feels like my first solo journey.

What does this mean? I spent some time at Belle Isle, our treasured park on the Detroit River, went to Charity's tree, a young willow planted in memory of an iconic activist taken from us way too soon, burned some sage, offered a few eurythmy Halleluiahs, came home, and warmed the house with simmering bone broth. I have no tree, no gifts, few cards, and no one with me besides my roommate, who is on her way to family and church.

I woke up with a feeling that is extremely unusual for a future-oriented builder and creator who tends to lead a full, robust, and highly social life. It was a feeling of melancholic longing for the comfort of the familiar and the past. I had a dream of sitting at the piano at my old house, where we raised 3 kids, and all of them were gathered 'round. It was a feeling of overwhelming sweetness and tenderness, at something no longer available, that I chose to leave behind, and that our children have outgrown.

Instead of wishing it back, I would like to appreciate and savor these memories and experiences, with love and gratitude.

With an incredibly tender and open heart, I offer this asana sequence for Christmas morning.

Supta Baddhakonasana, to feel what I feel, and open my heart
Supta Virasana, to dispel fear and stop gripping
Adho Mukha Svanasana, to prostrate myself, and open to what's possible
Uttanasana, to settle introspectively into moderate discomfort
Sirsasana, to enhance circulation and get a new perspective
Ardha Chandrasana, to facilitate levity and the ability to fly, and to open the front groins to release the past
Virabhadrasana I, III, to build courage and embrace risk, and to fly some more
Dwipada Viparita Dandasana, chair, to open the heart and become more pliable
Ustrasana, to open to the wonder of the back space
Marichyasana III, to detoxify, get new circulation into the organs, and see things anew
Paschimottanasana, to bring it all together and take it all in
Sarvangasana, to integrate all the feels and circulate it through the body and mind
Savasana, to rest and soak up the effects

Whatever Christmas may mean to you, may you abide in the wisdom of the body, and allow the season to blossom in a healing way.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Winter Solstice Prayer Vigil

Let's come together during these difficult times and shortening days, to build up our inner reserves of resilience, fortitude, courage, and vision. RSVP for this free event. All are welcome.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

A Chakra Meditation for the Hardest of Times

[I started doing this meditation in my classes right before the 2016 election. It became even more essential after the election.]

right hand on lower abdomen:
may i be grounded
may i be held by the earth

may i be connected to my ancestors

may i have deep roots

left hand on navel:
may i be safe
may i be protected from harm
may i feel secure in all circumstances
may i be sheltered and nourished

right hand on upper abdomen:
may i be recognized
may i be seen
may i be my fullest self
may i know who i am

left hand on chest:
may i be loved
may i give and receive love abundantly
may i be filled with compassion and courage
may i be a source and receptacle for unconditional love

right hand at base of throat:
may i speak my truth
may i express myself
may i not silence myself
may i use the full range of my voice

left hand on forehead:
may i see clearly
may i see beyond the visible
may i open to intuition
may i trust my vision

right hand on crown of head:
may i open to spirit
may i connect to higher source
may i receive wisdom
may the infinite in me be part of the whole

Sunday, November 13, 2016


In the wake of the presidential election, I look at everyone differently. I had mistakenly assumed that we all agreed that Trump was a joke, not worth our time, and definitely not worth our vote. But now that I realize that over half our state’s voters—including a smattering of brown people, Muslims, immigrants and more—chose him, I look around and wonder, was it you? did you vote for him?

I’m wondering, not to blame, but to understand. The fact is, we’ve all been participating in a broken, oppressive system resulting in our current fascist state. What I want to know is why did “you” vote for Trump?

One Facebook friend mentioned with a broken heart that her Chinese immigrant mother was a Trump supporter. Why? She didn’t fit the stereotype in the least: rural, white, conservative, racist. This friend realized it was because her mom felt scared, alone, anxious, and wanted some semblance of change and hope, regardless of how unlikely the source.

Larry Sparks, a longtime presence at the Boggs Center, often remarks that most of us are “living lives of quiet desperation.” Like my friend’s mother, most of us feel alienated, economically strained, frustrated, with little relief in sight. In such a state, we will fall for almost any snake oil.

In the last decade of her life, Detroit’s transformational visionary, Grace Lee Boggs’s mantra became “Grow our souls.” Instead of trying to replicate the old structures of the 20th century that no longer are feasible or relevant in the 21st century, we need to develop a radical inner revolution, that requires major changes in lifestyles and values, Grace iterated over and over.

But what does this mean?

I heard an interview with an iconic elder Detroit artist and activist, John Sinclair. He described how he coaches young artists who ask him for advice. He gives them the unwelcome message of “you need to take a vow of poverty.” He went on to describe that any artist or activist committed to their work needs to prioritize it, and that it will probably require significant economic sacrifice, if they are to have enough time and energy to develop and live up to their vision.

This sounds harsh to most of our ears. I mean, we’ve been coached in capitalism’s properity gospel, and made to believe that our success and self-worth are based on our financial prowess, and that abundance is defined by dollars. Even on the left, we’ve been taught that the good fight is for resources, and more equal distribution of wealth. The Occupy Movement was based on wresting the wealth of the 1% to give to the 99%. Even Bernie Sanders’ revolution was based on restructuring government and economics on a material level.

These may be worthy goals, but they don’t address this “grow your soul” business. What Grace meant, and what Sinclair may be alluding to, is the need to wean ourselves from dependence on old, outdated systems and structures.  I would rephrase Sinclair’s advice to say, if we are determined to integrate our values with our lifestyle, we need to redefine wealth.

Growing our souls may very well, to the outsider, look a bit pathetic, or foolish. I mean, I drive a 2001 Honda Civic with a smashed rear bumper and rust-eaten front end. My friends and I affectionately call it “Gigi.” I did get an insurance settlement when Gigi was rear-ended at a red light, but I didn’t spend the money on body repair, because I decided it was better spent on housing, food, and other expenses to sustain me for a good half-year in Detroit. After all, although the car looked like shit, it ran great.

Capitalism tells me that at my age, I should have accumulated a hefty retirement portfolio, be at the peak of my career and earning power, and be well-settled in my own house that is growing equity. Well, I have no retirement account whatsoever, live pretty much hand-to-mouth, and have just enough savings to replace Gigi with another 100,000+ mileage car when she finally gives out. Yes, I’d say I’m at the top of my game as a 20-year veteran in my career as an Iyengar Yoga teacher, but this does not translate financially, in a low-income city like Detroit.

I live modestly in one room, on Medicaid and food stamps. If I am fortunate enough to live another 20 years, I hope to be able to die at home, wherever home may be, with some level of autonomy, and in the company of loved ones. I will not string out my life in long-term medical care or an institution. If Gigi still runs, someone come and get her! That may be my only material residue.

I also readily admit that the reason I am able to live on less is because I have spent most of my life in middle class comfort and security. I don’t have an economic security net, and as a person of color, will remain outside mainstream America, but I will always have my educational and social privilege.

Those who have for generations been denied financial rights by white supremacy understandably want their fair share, and may find the privileged person’s “vow to poverty” insulting and offensive. They should absolutely pursue their American dream to whatever extent they can muster, and only they can define what that looks like.

But a great many may find—if that dream involves an enjoyable well-paying job with benefits, built without exploitation, and granting enough time off for other pursuits—such jobs are few and far between. It’s not their fault if they cannot find favorable work conditions. Many businesses and even nonprofits are doubling down to make ends meet, and requiring more and more of employees. Some folks are recognizing that our society’s emphasis on jobs as the cure for everything is misguided, and that the physical and emotional toll paid for financial security is too high.

And so we circle back around to “growing our souls,” when outer conditions will not meet our most important needs, and we need to “make a way out of no way,” as Grace also actively coached.

“You are very brave,” Grace used to tell me, whenever she asked me about the intentional community I was involved in building a few years ago. I wasn’t being brave at all, I was just trying to integrate my needs for community, shelter, and livelihood. Others would say I was incredibly foolish, hubristic even, outrageous, and just plain stupid. I would describe to her how we were coping with limited heat and electricity, unfinished plumbing, harvesting rainwater for toilets, while building enterprises that we hoped would sustain us.

I ended up leaving that intentional community after a year, for the usual kinds of obstacles that ambitious projects face: lack of resources, differences in priorities, interpersonal strains…. But even after the first cohort largely disbanded, that household continues and develops. That is, we may not see or directly benefit from the fruit of our effort, but hopefully others will.

Growing your soul will look differently for each person, and mean something different for each of us. It involves relinquishing that which is holding us back from leading our most meaningful, fulfilling lives, renouncing our former desperation and replacing it with something constructive.

For many people, it may mean quitting stifling jobs, and learning how to live with less money. It may mean moving out of houses that guzzle fossil fuels, or bicycling, walking, or taking public transit instead of driving. It may mean we replace shopping with gardening and swaps, eating out with potlucks, and entertainment with community-based art-making. It may mean leaving relationships that do not support our new lives.

Growing your soul may very well involve renouncing social capital, not just economic capital. That is, I’ve needed to put myself in the position of learner moreso than teacher. I’ve needed to apprentice myself to folks much younger than me, or who have radically different life experiences, who have important lessons for me. I’ve needed to hold my tongue and listen instead, and not just listen with my ears, but with my heart, silencing the shouts of my ego that tell me I am right.

Growing my soul also means silencing the shouts of my ego telling me to be quiet when it’s necessary for me to speak up. Ego flares in both directions: taking up too much space, AND sometimes taking up too little space in a gesture of false egotism. Growing my soul has meant being visibly vulnerable, making and admitting mistakes and shortcomings, and asking for help.

As we grow our own souls, we will attract and connect with others on parallel paths. And this is where Trump supporters come in. If many of them voted for him, not because they are secret KKK members, but because they are looking for something, someone, anyone, who promises to lead them out of their “lives of quiet desperation,” they may be willing to open their hearts and minds to a new way of thinking and being, that has more to do with connection than hatred.

I’m thinking of my Facebook friend’s Chinese mom. I’m thinking of the 45% of white women, the people of color, queer folks, Muslims, who, voting against their own self-interest, fell for Trump’s message, because they want and need some path of hope. Unless we look at the bigger picture of the 21st century—globalization, technology changing the nature of industry and labor, and the depletion of natural resources, including our capacity to grow food—we may very well want to point our fingers at any convenient “other.”

The next step of growing my soul will be to reach out to family, especially the folks who think I’m nuts, and the ones I avoid. I avoid them because I don’t want to get into ideological arguments, or listen to them gloat over material achievements, or get sucked back into definitions of success that I’ve rejected.

Instead, let’s reach out to one another, discover our common struggles, and support each other in growing our souls. What does that look like for you? Let’s get concrete, specific, real, and day-to-day. How do you expand your inner capacity for change? How do you evolve yourself? Beyond your silo? How do you lovingly engage with family members, colleagues, neighbors, and acquaintances who voted for Trump? How do you take yourself out of your comfort zone, and navigate this new territory with courage and compassion?