Reflections On Michael Stone, Mental Health And Yoga

Reflections On Michael Stone, Mental Health And Yoga’s Cult Of Positivity


It’s over a month now that Michael Stone is gone.

What a weird phrase that’s: gone.

Gone, Gone, Gone past Gone totally past

Like many people, I can’t fairly consider it.

Michael’s face retains popping up on my Fb feed, and for a split-second, my thoughts think it’s a brand new weblog or an unheard podcast or an upcoming retreat, for the briefest second excited to see what knowledge providing could be across the nook.

After which I bear in mind he’s gate paragate parasamgate bodhi svaha

Gone from struggling into the liberation from struggling.

Memorials have been showing commonly; swish, all.

Michael’s brother Jayme’s hauntingly-perfect eulogy in regards to the huge wake that Michael leaves. The heartbreakingly-real, but unbelievably-grounded common FB updates from Carina and crew. Compassionate tributes from Spirituality and Wellbeing and Tricycle and Lion’s Roar, the Buddhist group coming collectively of their collective grief. Matthew Remski studying Michael’s letters about how the household wakes us up. Mainstream media protection in The Washington Post and The Globe and Mail, difficult items typically written from a secular perspective that throw around thorny phrases like “charismatic guru” and “opioid overdose.”

Within the wake of Michael’s surprising dying, the overarching themes from conversations amongst my yoga trainer colleagues have been:

  1. ohmigod that is so f*cking unhappy, and
  2. we’ve GOT to speak extra transparently about psychological well being within the yoga and wellness communities.

Yoga academics: how has this tragedy touched your hearts and minds?

And the place can we go from right here?


It’s 2008

Michael’s first ebook, The Interior Custom Of Yoga, has simply been revealed. There’s not a lot else on the market that prefer it.

I stumble throughout a replica within the philosophy part of an honest-to-god real-life Barnes & Noble, again when there was such a factor in San Francisco’s Union Sq… I learn half of it instantly, impressed, sitting there on the ground in a caffeinated half-lotus.

The following day, ensconced in a restaurant on Polk Avenue, the man to my left faucets my shoulder, leans over, gestures on the cowl, and asks incredulously, “The internal custom of yoga?!? Is there even such a factor??”

Michael Stone was in contrast to another.

He set an exceptional normal.

Since that second practically a decade in the past, he has been my touchstone for what it means to be a considerate, humble, smart pupil, trainer, author, meditator, activist, and yoga thinker.

Right here was somebody who’d studied with Richard Freeman and was a legit Ashtangi, a mental who’d lived a Thoreauvian life in a bus within the wilderness, an activist who utilized yogic ethics to the Occupy motion and referred to as for engaged Buddhism with an eye fixed towards social justice. Right here was a trainer who melded psychology and yoga philosophy and Buddhism within the most-approachable of the way. Right here was a globally revered scholar-yogi who didn’t promote out to multinational companies by turning into an envoy for yoga pants. Right here was a younger husband and father who was without delay engaged in household life and grounded within the monastic/ascetic mannequin, a seeker who’d skilled with the greats and was honing his personal voice on the similar time.

Michael’s work gave me permission to be a yoga trainer who was not at all times perky and chirpy and stuffed with woo-woo bliss-talk. He made it appear attainable to be without delay critical and humorous and engaged and introspective, versus a run-of-the-mill yoga health Barbie.

As a pupil and as a trainer, his work inspired me to really feel all of my human emotions. To aspire to steadiness fairly than bliss. To intention for sattva as an alternative of glowing.

That he struggled shouldn’t come to any of us as a shock.

That all of us wrestle shouldn’t come to any of us as a shock.


I perceive Michael’s concern about being forthcoming about his psychological well being.

In April 2016, I wrote an article for The Washington Publish about my very own wrestle with postpartum despair… The piece had been on my coronary heart for 2 years, and it hungered desperately to be articulated, like nothing else I’d ever written earlier than. The ultimate essay took months to come back collectively, and I used to be happy with the ultimate consequence.

It felt true, unvarnished, melancholy, complete.

However, within the days earlier than it was revealed, I used to be terrified. Wracked with anxiousness. The morning earlier than it got here out, I sat on the ground of my workplace, shaking, and wept. It felt like the last word popping out of the closet. Whole bare vulnerability.

As a result of “talking [my] desolation was terrifying. I used to be a yoga trainer. I used to be presupposed to climate the storms of parenthood with grace: be optimistic and perky, measured and resilient, lose the child weight in a flash, thrive on inexperienced juice and quinoa while sporting my child like a kangaroo.”

Wasn’t I? Isn’t that the shakti cheerleader fantasy we’ve collectively constructed, Instagram submit by Instagram submit?

After the piece was revealed, I used to be overwhelmed by an outpouring of solidarity from throughout the globe, girls yogis reaching out to say, “You spoke my fact. I see myself in your phrases, and I didn’t have the phrases to articulate this expertise myself. Thanks.”

(It’s at all times the items which might be most terrifying to publish that ring a bell, that individuals relate to most. The entire expertise was such a superb reminder to believe the vulnerability in the coronary heart of intimacy.)

A number of days later, I reached out to Michael and shared my essay with him, mentioning that I’d lengthy revered his work and imagined he would possibly discover it of worth, or at the very least relatable.

The following morning I awoke to his reply. Michael wrote, “That is essentially the most tender, correct, & clear article I’ve to learn in months. Completely unhappy and provoking.”

It was, and at all times might be, one of the many highlights of my profession.

Michael and I by no means met in a particular person. However, I’ve spent tons of of hours “with” him and his teachings through the years, listening to his measured voice whereas mountain climbing the paths of Northern California, driving the twisting roads of Marin en route to show in Oakland, sitting on buses in San Francisco sending Metta to the strangers throughout from me, practicing silently on my kitchen ground in Portland whereas my son slept upstairs, meditating on an aircraft flying cross-country to start a brand new life in Boston.

I do know I’m not alone. These years, these hours, listening, all, have been a lesson within the impression one particular person can have on one other (1000’s of others), quietly, throughout the miles.

I’m perpetually grateful.

Within the inimitable void that Michael has left, I’m heartened to see that his educating crew remains to be transferring ahead with upcoming training, such that his educating would possibly proceed, even in his bodily absence.

Amongst so many classes through the years, these stand out:

Enlightenment is intimacy. And the household wakes us up.

Michael described enlightenment as intimacy. A closeness with what’s. A transparent-seeing; a deep-knowing.

I preserve pondering of Carina, their youngsters, their unborn child. I preserve pondering of how insufferable the grief of loss should be, the heart-shattering miracle that might be a that forthcoming little one. I preserve pondering of the truth that we simply by no means f*cking know when our day will come.

All of the religious follow is simply taking good care of issues.

Years in the past, I scrawled this podcast nugget down on a chunk of scrap paper and taped it to the wall. My husband discovered it in a transferring field within the basement a couple of days after Michael handed. It nonetheless feels true.

Yoga is about studying to be awake on the planet.

Michael’s ebook of the identical title, his podcast, too, emphasized as a lot, without delay poetry and prose and philosophy and meditation. Very very similar to Virginia Woolf’s, his writing was without delay literary and philosophical and grounded within the stuff of actual life.

Your life doesn’t want you to consider it on a regular basis.

Completely easy. Completely smart.

Yoga is about studying to be actual.

Yoga means dropping our masks, releasing the armor. Discovering ease in your being, your physique and thoughts. We’re allowed to really feel the complete depth of the human emotional spectrum without invalidating or doing violence to our psyches by denying the extra shadowy of these feelings. This implies studying to be with all that we really feel—even essentially the most irritable, politically incorrect, tough, difficult feelings—and trusting that, with the assistance of the breath, we are able to stick with them and watch them “come up, unfold, and cross away,” all of the whereas residing in that place of equilibrium. That is the true work of the yogi.

Lecturers, the place can we go from right here?

What does a brand new paradigm seem like? And the way can we assist colleagues who’re struggling?

Right here’s what I’ve acquired to date:

1. We are able to put each other on pedestals.

‘Nuff stated. Matthew Gindin’s reflection on “Placing To Relaxation The Fable of The Heroic Self” over at Tricycle addresses this effectively.

2. We must be extra clear about our personal humanity, and daring sufficient to acknowledge greater than bliss.

Now we have to be genuine about the truth that, sure, completely, we’re human, and we expertise the entire realm of human feelings. We are able to prioritize bliss over the opposite facets of being human, fetishizing a sure saccharine happiness fantasy that appears like glittery leggings and handstands on the seaside. We have to TALK about these things, to step into the world with our personal armor eliminated. No one needs a trainer who’s all-cotton sweet, taking pictures unicorn rainbows out the butt.

3. That stated, we have to educate from our scars, not from our open wounds.

As an consuming dysfunction survivor, as a postpartum despair survivor, as a lady, as a mom, as an associate, I can serve people that suffer and wrestle with related life circumstances by saying, “Okay, I’m not good, however, listed here are some instruments yoga and meditation have taught me that helped me, and perhaps they’ll allow you to, too.”

Our job is to assist each other really feel higher in physique and thoughts, proper? To make use of what we’ve realized and practiced to supply a measure of ease, freedom from bodily struggling, freedom from psychological struggling.

So perhaps on our bios the place we point out how delighted we’re to have studied with Rockstar Instructor A and Rockstar Guru B, we are able to additionally point out the methods through which we’ve been broken-open and the communities we’ve realized to serve consequently. This current piece from Josh Korda articulates this concept properly.

4. We must be vigilantly self-aware of our personal religious bypassing.

Should you don’t know but what that’s, I extremely suggest you dig into Buddhist psychologist John Welwood’s work. “Religious bypassing” happens once we use religious beliefs and practices to keep away from coping with painful or uncomfortable emotions, wounds, or points. A lot of this taking place in and around yogi social media, amirite?

5. We have to launch disgrace and be daring sufficient to be weak.

Most of us know too effectively the risks of setting up a shiny facade. Vulnerability results in compassion results in intimacy. Try Brené Brown on each of those themes should you haven’t carried out so already.

6. We have to redefine happiness as profound okayness.

Tara Brach (one other smart and great Buddhist trainer with a psychological bent) gives this grounding definition, and I can’t adore it sufficient. Happiness as profound okayness is essential to re-conceiving a yogic strategy that’s greater than perpetual euphoria (which isn’t sustainable, nor lifelike, for anybody aware of the First Noble Fact. Life is struggling, bro. Ask the Buddha, he’ll fill you in).

7. We are able to be afraid to get assistance once we want it.

I can by no means fake to grasp what it wishes to cycle between the manic/depressive episodes of a bipolar analysis. All of us wrestle in our personal methods and are healed or given solace in our personal methods.

As Julie Peters’s wonderful current essay argues, “yoga, self-care, and different types of drugs can’t repair the whole lot.” So that you do you. No matter what takes to convey you to thriving. Together with meds. Together with acupuncture. Together with ayurvedic drugs, and so forth. and so forth. It’s all gravy.

8. We’ve gotta be humble and genuine—courageous sufficient to cease promoting a reasonable picture.

The modern yoga scene is dominated by commodification. Most of us academics are painfully conscious of how social media has turned yoga follow right into a performative recognition contest, fairly than meditative religious self-discipline and path to freedom from struggling. So what can we do to be extra genuine as academics, to calm down into the wabi-sabi qualities of being without spewing our guts like a scorching mess? The place’s the steadiness?

9. Lastly, we have to discuss extra overtly about dying.

As a result of, as I wrote final yr in Yoga Worldwide, “dying is as actual and as sacred and as holy as life. As a result of struggling and sorrow are the required counterparts to contentment and pleasure. And since I’m prepared to wager that some form of struggling (what Buddhists name dukkha) introduced most of us to yoga within the first place—whether or not it was an ache in our knees or aches in our hearts.”

After we examine us on regular basis expertise intimately, we see that death and beginning happen one after the opposite in each successive second. What we see in a single breath cycle we see in all places.

My three-year-old son and I made a pilgrimage of kinds to Walden Pond the opposite day. I confirmed him the statue of the person who had been Henry David Thoreau and informed him he’s lifeless now. He acquired unhappy and critical, and stated, “Mama, however, will he come again? I don’t need him to be lifeless.” We sat down on a bench and talked about spirit, and divinity, and perpetuity, and what it means to depart the physique. It was the primary time he’s ever questioned or requested.

“How can we go to be with God? What about you and me and daddy? How do our bodies know to breathe? We’re nonetheless alive, proper?”

Later, as I buckled him into his car seat, after we’d swum and fished for tadpoles and hiked to the unique web site of Thoreau’s cabin, he appeared up at me and requested, “Properly, what about Ben (his pal from preschool)? Will he die, too?”

Gone, gone, gone past.

I considered Michael typically that day at Walden Pond. He had spoken in interviews of his personal Thoreauvian experiment, dwelling in a VW bus within the woods in his early 20s. This was one of many issues I’d most appreciated about him, that duality of being without delay an ascetic, a monastic, and a householder discovering awakening in his relationships.

Michael, thanks. Thanks for all of your service, your coronary heart, your ethics, the best way you labored to remodel your individual struggling into teachings that could be of a lot solace and inspiration to so many. I think about you had no thought what nice impression your teachings have had all through the world.

And to Michael’s household: our collective hearts have damaged time and again in imagining your struggling within the wake of his surprising loss. To you, Carina, to Michael’s youngsters and to your unborn little one, we provide tenderness and peace and power.

Inhale, start the vinyasa.

Exhale, sit with the vacancy on the finish of the exhalation.

Might your relaxation within the peace that passes all understanding.


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