Name: Kendal Martel
Years of Non-profit experience: 7
Service in other areas prior to Sustainable Northwest? Before joining Sustainable Northwest, I was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Zambia. I’ve also served as an Americorps member in New Mexico working in local and regional food systems.
Educational Background? I have a degree in Sociology and Geography.
Yogic background? I took my first yoga class when I was 19. These days, I go to a class every few months to try to build on my at-home practice.
How long have you worked with Sustainable Northwest? My one year anniversary is at the end of March.
For those who don’t know anything about the work Sustainable Northwest does, can you describe the non-profits beliefs, mission, and actions in one short paragraph? Sustainable Northwest believes a healthy economy, environment, and community are indivisible, and that all three are strengthened by wise partnerships, policies, and investments. We envision a prosperous Northwest with sustainably produced goods and services, healthy natural systems, and strong communities. Sustainable Northwest is a conservation non-profit working at the radical middle of economy, environment, and community, pioneering natural resource solutions that work for people and nature. “Radical” because forging community-driven solutions in the face of change and conflict requires extraordinary patience, grit, and commitment. The three pillars of our work are sustainable forests and wood products, water, and energy, and all of our strategies support economic, environmental, and community needs.
We are interviewing you because you also have a yoga practice, what parallels do you see on the mat and off the mat here at Sustainable Northwest? My work with forest collaborative groups requires self-discipline to find the middle way and not let my personal views or emotions influence the science and policy information that these groups need me to organize for them. It has been a wonderful and life-changing practice of getting to know people, and I feel like those parallels on the mat require me to listen to myself and my body, to understand it, and to not beat myself up if I don’t have the perfect pose or flow, but to listen and respond to what my body and my mind is asking of me.
Karma Yoga is the Yoga of Action. It is the path chosen primarily by those of an outgoing nature. It purifies the heart by teaching you to act selflessly, without thought of gain or reward. How does your work with Sustainable Northwest relate to this path of yoga? I think one issue that we struggle with as humans is the concept of cognitive dissonance, or this feeling that we fight harder to defend our own views rather than using the best available information to find a more comprehensive understanding of the truth. I feel like this work, as well as the mission of Sustainable Northwest is centered on being the scouts, or information gathers, rather than the warriors. This requires a lot of selflessness at times, in that we set aside our own mental models and focus on providing citizens with the best tools and information possible on science and policy, so they can make a more informed decision. The goal is not to push an agenda, but to get closer to understanding the whole system.
Sometimes it can be really challenging to show up for an asana practice, how do you stay dedicated to your practice and to your service? I would say that I am more dedicated to my service than my yoga practice. I think that being around people and learning their stories and experience is incredibly important. This is also a lot of hard work. It’s a lot of traveling to rural Oregon, a lot of working late in hotel rooms, a ton of stress, and a lot of sacrificing some of your health for what you’re passionate about. I’ve learned to accept that. But I’ve also learned to be soft with myself. I bring my mat with me on work trips, and if the thought of a long yoga session sounds overwhelming, I tell myself to just get on the mat and stretch for 10 minutes. It almost always turns into a better experience. I’ve learned that you have to take care of yourself where you can, and to start small.
It is a challenging time for people in the US with a country that appears to be in a very disjointed and divided state. How do you keep yourself positive in your line of work? I believe that continuously seeking to understand, even if we “feel” negative, is still a sign of positivity. My work with Sustainable Northwest has changed my life in this way. Instead of only reading news articles and commentary from one point of view, I’ve gone further than the headlines and read about the actual context and nuances of contentious political issues. For me, trying to understand the social, ecological, and political undercurrents of an issue is healing and helps me approach individuals with more compassion, and more effectiveness. It is important to engage with people in a kind way and understand their experience, and remember that almost every view we have is learned, not inherent. In remembering this, we can offer grace to each other and to ourselves.
Do you think that works for you when you have a discouraging time on the mat? I certainly think that trying to understand what your body needs and listening to it is important. Some days, all you can muster is a savasana, and remember that yoga is as much about the mind as it is about the body.
What else can we see from Sustainable Northwest in the next year or so? In my program, we’ll be focusing on increasing the pace, scale, and quality of forest restoration activities, and creating ways for more rural communities to get involved with restoration projects. We have so many other initiatives going on too. We’re ramping up community-owned solar development projects, growing the market for sustainably sourced local wood, including Western Juniper, a native shrub that is threatening water supplies and overtaking wildlife habitat, and we’re keeping the largest dam removal project in U.S. history on the Klamath River on track, to name a few. We’re a small but mighty organization.
Any additional thoughts you would like to share on your work, Portland, yoga? (I’ll most likely frame a new questions for whatever she wants to add) Yoga means different things to different people. For me, it’s about healing and forgiveness. I absolutely do not fit the stereotype of a calm, zen, flexible yogi. I work a lot, I down coffee, I worry, and I stress out. A lot! But, moving and feeling your body is like giving yourself a hug, and saying it’s okay to relax, to stretch your muscles as much as you stretch your heart and mind. You don’t have to look the part or perfectly place your hips, you just have to listen to something inside you and respond to it. That’s beautiful to me.