The Holden Village Podcast

Anjuli Shah-Johnson

August 27, 2023 Dev Bach
The Holden Village Podcast
Anjuli Shah-Johnson
Show Notes Transcript

Anjuli Shah-Johnson is a somatic therapist who integrates teachings from the worlds of clinical social work and bodywork in hopes of walking alongside others in finding the paths that connect their body, mind and heart.  She is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and a Licensed Massage Therapist with specialized training in utilizing therapeutic touch and craniosacral techniques to tend to folks who have experienced trauma and who hope to feel more at home in their lives, relationships and bodies.  She deeply values the natural healing powers of the outdoors, humor, touch and being in the presence of animals and integrates all of these into her teaching and individual sessions as much as possible.

After close to 20 years as a social worker, Anjuli has more recently begun to teach and mentor graduate level and pre-licensed therapists at a local university and agency with a special interest in supporting up and coming BIPOC and LGBTQ therapists.  She recently integrated Luna, her dog, into her private practice and has witnessed the profound impact of the human-animal bond.  She currently lives in Portland, OR with her two awesome kids, husband, dog and cat.

To learn more about her wok, visit

To learn more about Holden Village, visit: or to listen to more audio recordings visit: The Holden Village Podcast is accessible through Apple iTunes, Spotify, TuneIn, iHeart Radio, and most podcast apps. For questions and inquiries, contact

Background music by Coma-Media: Chill Abstract (Intention).

Anjuli Shah-Johnson

[00:00:00] Intro: Welcome to the Holden Village Podcast. Holden is a community of education, programming, and worship located in the remote wilderness of the Cascade Mountains. These snapshots provide a glimpse into the learnings taking place in our community. Let's tune in to this week's highlight. 

[00:00:22] Dev: Welcome to another episode of the Holden Village Podcast. We are in week five of the 2023 summer program. I am with the wonderful Anjuli Shah-Johnson. How would you like to introduce yourself? 

[00:00:39] Anjuli: I am so glad to be back at Holden 20 years. Since I was here last and being able to share this experience with my family and my kids...and here on teaching faculty this year. It's been really cool to kind of bring my life from home into the village and at home. I am a practicing somatic therapist...working both with individuals and doing community workshops and so it's been really cool to do that here...where people are already a little bit more present. 

[00:01:07] Dev: How would you describe the village as it is now compared to how it was back then?

[00:01:13] Anjuli: Well, I'm seeing it through different eyes as a parent and as a full fledge grownup, but there's so many similarities and it feels so familiar. I have these funny moments of walking into the pool of our jobs because I was always here as a volunteer...but walking into a bathroom and having a memory all of a of our jobs was to paint that bathroom. And I think we did a mural of like a bear.

[00:01:37] Dev: Is it still there? 

[00:01:38] Anjuli: No, it's been taken down. 

[00:01:41] Dev: How dare they take down the bear!

[00:01:43] Anjuli: Some things in Holden have been there for 20 years, but that had been repainted. So it's been a really neat mixture and I think there are things that have shifted some that I really appreciate as a mixed-race person. That's been really cool to see more BIPOC people here and that feels way different. 

[00:02:01] Dev: Way more now. 

[00:02:02] Anjuli: Way more and I think I was curious how that would be for our family coming. My husband's Filipino and our kids are mixed and curious kind of how it would feel. And I think it's been really neat to see other multiracial families.

[00:02:15] Dev: For me as well. Somatic therapy.  What is it? What do you love about it? And how are you bringing that to the village this year? 

[00:02:24] Anjuli: So it's a huge term that means 10,000 different things. It's kind of an umbrella term for bringing the body into the work of emotions and of spirit and of community. And for me it means really trying to bring together an understanding of how we're feeling in our body. Connecting that then to emotions...connecting that to our thoughts...and then being able to be more conscious about how we interact in we show up in community...those different pieces. How we show up for ourselves. How we show up in spiritual practices...allowing us to start from a place that's more conscious.

[00:03:02] Dev: Would you call yourself more spiritual than religious? 

[00:03:05] Anjuli: Yes. I grew up mom's side was Lutheran and my dad's side was Hindu. 

[00:03:10] Dev: Oh, beautiful. What a great combo. 

[00:03:12] Anjuli: Yeah. But, you know, I think Holden was a spiritual place for me more because of how it's situated in nature. And it was the first time I'd ever seen mountains. The vastness of them allowed me to kind of feel the sense of embodiment while also being interconnected within nature. Just felt like, okay, I'm being held in this place. And then I could really feel into all of the other life around a way that I'd never experienced before...and that piece started my own sense of what spirituality means.

[00:03:41] Dev: Absolutely. You're doing a different sense each day. Right? What brought you into that sort of syllabi or curriculum? 

[00:03:50] Anjuli: Yeah. So I mostly have done...or up until the last couple of years...had done mostly individual work with folks. And so, as I've been trying to conceive of how this might translate best to a workshop format...either a single day or a series...I've just been sitting with ways that we could break this down that would help people tune into their own experience.

And it made sense to me at some point to just isolate each sense. I think that they're all involved, but I think that if we can narrow our attention down to one at a time, that sometimes it can help people tap into what's going to work best for them in terms of terms of just being able to name what's happening in themselves. And so I didn't do taste this time, although I'd be really curious to try that another time. 

So this time I'm just doing, touch, smell, sight, and sound. It works better to give people smaller chunks and then to really allow folks to figure out what works for them. So I have had different people at each session so far and I think that will continue because I've had to limit it to 10 people just given the format of the way that I'm doing these sessions.

[00:05:03] Dev: It's kind of like who's your favorite kid kind of question, but if you were to keep two senses, what would they be?

[00:05:09] Anjuli: I think I would do smell and touch. Some of the conversations i've been having with the neuroscientist here is about how smell is the sense that's most directly connected to memory. And smell works differently than the other senses in route to the thalamus. 

[00:05:25] Dev: Oh, fascinating. Great. 

[00:05:26] Anjuli: And it really kind of goes directly to the amygdala and so it has just a very quick response. In terms of our own sense of either safety or protection or...of course there are lots of neutral smells...but I think that's fascinating and I think I would want to maintain my ability to connect to memory at this really deep level through the sense of smell.

And I think touch...touch is the first sense that really arrives and it's our last sense to go. And I think that's fascinating that you could have absolutely not have access to any other sense and you'll still be able to generally feel touch. 

[00:06:04] Dev: Totally. Smell has not been something that I have connected to as strongly as the other senses, but I do have these very strong core memories...of a sense of smell being associated with transition. So we lived in Southeast Asia during the school year when I was younger, but we'd always come to Central Washington in the summer. Whenever we went back in September for the beginning of the new school year, there was always a smell...and the only way I know how to describe wasn't a physical smell. It was like the smell of a new something...but it was somehow I associated with smell...even though it wasn't like the smell of an orange or anything like that. It was just like this transcendent smell or something. 

[00:06:49] Anjuli: We talked about thinking of our senses too not just as literal not just what you see out the outside of the window, but we did a little bit of like...what is it like to actually look from the inside when your eyes are closed?

What is it like to...there's a guided imagery practice that we'll do of like looking from the inside of your heart or the inside of...for women...or folks that have uterus...the inside of their uterus. And what do they see? What is it like to look from within your body out instead of kind of looking fully outside or even just looking at yourself? And so I wonder if that sense of smell that you have or that me smell memory is almost like that. 

[00:07:26] Dev: Absolutely. Oh man. Greatness! Greatness!

[00:07:31] Anjuli: I know! I love talking about this! 

[00:07:35] Dev: Our main summer theme for 2023 is Eden is Calling. I'm curious for you, what does that mean? 

[00:07:42] Anjuli: I had to do a little bit of searching to understand what it meant, but what I came to is that it meant finding a way to come back to a place of interconnectedness. To come back to a place of self. 

[00:07:56] Dev: With the work that you do...grounding in the's a very essential step towards how one might experience Eden. Because Eden can't be conceptualized, you know, I feel like most people try to do that. That even goes into territories of like past lives and stuff like that.

[00:08:17] Anjuli: Ancestral trauma. Yes. Well, there is a study that I had read and then I confirmed with the neuroscientist, but where they had had rats smell cherry blossoms and then they shock them...which is not great, but then they moved the rat. Those rats had babies...they moved them across the ocean to Europe.

They checked on those rats. They did the same thing for five generations and still five generations later...if the rat smelled cherry blossoms...they would startle. It's just fascinating, right? These things that we have absolutely no actual narrative memory for...we may or may not know the stories depending on how good our families are at passing down stories of lineage...and that we're walking around having responses to things all the time. And making...maybe making up stories. 

[00:09:04] Dev: Oh yeah. I make up stories all the time.

[00:09:06] Anjuli: Cause we want to know...that's a human thing to want to understand.

[00:09:10] Dev: I want to seem very important.  

[00:09:13] Anjuli: Or you just want to have something to contain it. Like, I want a story for this. Someone ask me why...I want to have an answer. 

[00:09:21] Dev: Yeah. On the topic of stories, are there any stories that come to your mind right now that have been important to you? 

[00:09:28] Anjuli: I think it's fascinating how much you can tell a story without words. By just putting your body in a specific position. And I think that's what draws me into somatic therapy...or what keeps me how many stories our bodies are telling that are not conscious...that as I am meeting with somebody or even looking around a group, that I have some sense of a story of that person. Even maybe stories that they don't yet or are not yet consciously aware of.

[00:09:55] Dev: If there was one silly thing that you would want for the a change in the world...what would it be? 

[00:10:03] Anjuli: This actually connects to Holden. Not intentionally, but the silliness of Holden. I think I was telling my husband, because I've been here once or twice when they've done the school bus routine on the first day of school. And just to allow things to be a little bit less serious and to...there's such an element of improv in that too. And willingness to be kind of wild and goofy. And again...not think too hard about what the meaning of this is. And I think there's a place for that, but we need the full range.

And as somebody who probably more naturally and for a variety of reasons, leans towards the more serious end, I really appreciate the levity and lightness when it comes. So they had us do the the dining hall...and it was just silly and it made everyone laugh. And like that laughter together...I think can really shift the way we all see each other and see the world and interact. 

[00:11:06] Dev: You don't come off as a very serious person. Not that you don't do serious work, but I sense levity from you. 

[00:11:15] Anjuli: I think I've begun to appreciate it more as I've gotten older and really sought out play and creativity. And that went a little too far on the other side for a while. I think I always picture coming up to Holden just sitting on a rock and like reflecting. There's some of that, but I also think there...there's just a lot of leisure time and there are a lot of interactions that are unplanned...and there's spontaneity that is sometimes harder to come by. 

[00:11:44] Dev: Rocks are amazing. 

[00:11:45] Anjuli: Rocks are amazing. There's some really good ones to sit on and reflect. They really are. There's a special one right on as you're heading up to Hart Lake. Got pictures there from when I was 13 or 15. It's a very special rock. Hopefully I could still identify it. 

[00:12:02] Dev: Is there anything else you would like to say? Perhaps something you've always wanted to say, but don't get the opportunity to...or it doesn't have to be that dramatic.

[00:12:12] Anjuli: I know that's big. I know, right? Something you've always wanted to say. Wait. The silly thing that's coming to my mind, so I'll just say it out loud, is I've always been curious about what the heck a monkey bear is. 

[00:12:23] Dev: A monkey bear? 

[00:12:24] Anjuli: Yeah. For the monkey bear falls. 

[00:12:26] Dev: Ohhhhhhh..a monkey bear? Excellent. I've never heard anyone ask about the monkey bear. Either everybody knows and I don't...

[00:12:38] Anjuli: Yeah, it's not a real animal, right? 

[00:12:40] Dev: I mean... 

[00:12:41] Anjuli: I just learned about another new animal that looks like...or is like a gopher kind of thing that I didn't know existed.

[00:12:46] Dev: The Pine Martin? Yeah. 

[00:12:46] Anjuli: I never heard of those. 

[00:12:48] Dev: Oh, the pine Martins...they're incredible. 

[00:12:51] Anjuli: They're big, right? 

[00:12:52] Dev: Kind of. They're weasel like...a little bigger. I just saw one take care of a squirrel the other day.

[00:13:00] Anjuli: I thought they eat the chipmunks.

[00:13:01] Dev: They do. Oh yeah. Take care of. Yeah. Sorry. 

[00:13:06] Anjuli: Yeah. Coming from my perspective, I'm like imagining the like

[00:13:13] Dev: That's fantastic. 

[00:13:15] Anjuli: I was like, ok. So we take care of the the chipmunks. 

[00:13:18] Dev: I know. Yeah. Linguistics is a funny thing.

[00:13:22] Anjuli: Okay. So they ate the squirrel too. 

[00:13:23] Dev: Yeah, they ate the squirrel. It was great. It was a very idyllic scene with the squirrel. I was having tea and then out of nowhere...Pine Martin came...and squirrel was done.

[00:13:33] Anjuli: Wow. Yeah. Right in the village. 

[00:13:35] Dev: Oh yeah. But the Pine Martin... there's also a lore to them cuz they have these like heart-shaped faces and they're actually quite adorable. But they also are really smart. Like sometimes they will find themselves in the chalets, and you can't catch them...people have tried and songs have been sung about such attempts...I just recorded one recently. It's super adorable. 

[00:13:58] Anjuli: Any songs about Monkey Bears? 

[00:14:00] Dev: No. I feel like people are holding out.

[00:14:03] Anjuli: You'll have to let me know if you find out. 

[00:14:04] Dev: Absolutely. Well, thank you so much for sharing your time with the village...sharing your thoughts and conversations...and this has been delightful. 

[00:14:16] Anjuli: For me too. Thank you. 

[00:14:18] Dev: Thank you.

[00:14:20] Outro: Thanks for joining us. Be sure to view the links in the description for more information or visit our website to find out more about the village. We hope you will make a pilgrimage to Holden. Blessings and peace to you.