Suzanne Sterling is an accomplished musician, yogi, and activist who has been performing and teaching transformational workshops for over 20 years. She has been featured at hundreds of international festivals and conference centers including Yoga Journal, Omega, Esalen, Wanderlust, Bhakti Fest, and Earthdance and is the founder of Voice of Change, a course that teaches participants to unlock their creative potential and express themselves authentically, as well as a co-founder of Off the Mat, Into the World, a yoga-based leadership training organization. Suzanne will be teaching at this year’s Hanuman Festival in Boulder, Co.
What is the main message of your teaching?
My essential message is that we are all hard-wired for self-expression in community. That we have “civilized” ourselves away from the very practices that assist us in releasing trauma and liberating us into states of connection, healing, and joy. My teaching is a blend of yogic, movement, voice, ritual, and deep self-inquiry tools that point us toward our authentic truth, help us find better connection, and unlock our purposeful offerings to the world.
What sources do you draw upon to shape your teaching?
I draw from many different sources and traditions including science, yogic and shamanic traditions, modern psychology, trauma healing, ritual practices, social justice and activist wisdom, and more. We are incredibly lucky and privileged to have access to these many and varied modalities to serve the greater purpose of evolution away from violence and toward a world that is sustainable and peace-filled.
Which personal practices do you find allow you to best shine your light brightly into the world?
I have found that a daily practice of listening to what my body needs moment to moment is crucial for me. I have studied with some incredible teachers and yet I really do cherish my alone time on the mat listening and moving and playing with stability and flexibility. This year though, my commitment is to take more public classes. :)
What has been your biggest obstacle to uncovering your inner radiance?
My biggest obstacle to seeing my inner radiance was very early trauma that conditioned me to be hyper-vigilant to the needs of others in order to feel safe. When this arises now, I have to remind myself that I can shine forth in my own light and that I have a right to be here, fully embodied and alive!
What has been the biggest transformative experience in your life?
I have had such a long and action-packed career and have experienced and facilitated so much transformation that I can’t choose only one. I might say that one thing that has fascinated me—and that I keep learning—is that life is art and so we must keep changing, let go of our preconceived notions about how it will unfold, and just listen for instructions from the inner teacher. This requires a tremendous amount of trust as we move forward step by step.
For so many years I was following a number of very different pathways such as music, yoga, ritual, and activism, and only in the last 15 years or so have I been able to weave them together into something unique and needed in the world. I have been able to find ways to bridge ancient wisdom with modern systems, and in the process, I’ve come up with what might be called a “twisted hair path” that helps us to remember our indigenousness as we move into the global conversation in a more holistic way.
What has helped me in this journey is a willingness to let go of who I think I am and what I think is supposed to happen while also being clear about my vision and creativity. What does not help is when I cling to situations from a place of fear and control. In other words, vulnerability is key.
What inspired you to co-found Off The Mat, Into the World?
Twelve years ago when we co-founded OTM, the yoga community was growing exponentially and didn’t really have a sense of itself quite yet. There were individual studios and teachers but not a lot of cross-pollination or collective avenues. Hala [Khouri], Seane [Corn], and I said to ourselves and each other, “What if we could harness and amplify the potential of this community of folks who are doing deep self-healing of personal and ancestral wounds? What if we could connect this inner healing work that we do on the mat to the outer healing work that our world needs so desperately?”
These ideas required a tremendous amount of convincing at first, as the idea of collective movements was primarily happening only in activist circles. This also meant that we had to be flexible and open to both constructive criticism and humble change along the way. It meant that we had to look at not only what needed healing in the non-yogic world, but perhaps even more importantly, what needed healing in spiritual communities. We had to examine our own spaces and notice who was being included in yoga rooms and who was being excluded. Who was being represented and given access and who was not. This is an ongoing and necessary conversation if we are going to even begin to talk about one-ness and union.
One-ness and union are at the heart of the OTM methodology. That we must begin by looking within to see our own places of separation from ourselves and others, then take a critical look at the systems that perpetuate that harmful separation and take responsibility for our own complicity in them. Only then can we begin to make the kind of changes that can be sustainable and long-lasting.
Excitedly, we now are seeing the yoga/mindfulness/wellness communities not only working together for change but also moving out into all kinds of places where these practices can be crucial. From schools to prisons, from politics to racial justice, from environmental awareness to creative solutions and artistic expression, yoga is making an impact. This is exactly what we at OTM have been working toward and preparing for!
What are some of your future projects and dreams?
My own body of work is called Voice of Change. It facilitates a deep journey into the power of our voices to heal our personal, ancestral, and systemic traumas, and to move us toward living and embodying our truth. Once we tap into that authentic voice we can more powerfully and effectively use it to take a stand for justice, connection, and community. I am excitedly offering this modality in workshops and one-on-one sessions as well as in training Voice of Change facilitators. I am so passionate about this work and love bringing it into the world. Currently, I am also writing a Voice of Change book and writing songs for my next album!
My dream is to normalize singing and ritual practices for our evolution into a global conversation. Just that. :)