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

by Rachel Meyer

It has been more than a month since Michael Stone left.

What strange word is: gone .

Party, party, gone beyond all,

Like many of us, I can not believe it.

Michael's face continues to show up on my Facebook thread, and for a split second, my mind thinks it's a new blog or podcast or an upcoming retreat, for the shortest time .

And then I remember that he is door gate paragat parasamgate bodhi svaha

Party of suffering in the liberation of suffering.


Memorials have appeared regularly; graceful, everything.

Michael Jayme's brother a haunting-perfect eulogy about the wide wake that Michael leaves. The regular updates of the FB both real and incredibly anchored by Carina and her team. Compassionate Tributes of Spirituality and Health and Tricycle and Lion's Roar the Buddhist community coming together in their collective grief. Matthew Remski reads Michael's letters on how the family wakes us up . The current media coverage in The Washington Post and The Globe and Mail complicated plays often written from a secular point of view that throw thorny sentences as "charismatic guru" and "Opioid overdose".

Following the unexpected death of Michael, the main themes of the conversations between my fellow yoga teachers were:

1) Ohmigod is sad, and

2) we need to talk more transparently about mental health in the yoga and wellness communities.

Yoga teachers: How did this tragedy affect your heart and mind?

Where are we going from here?


This is 2008.

The first book of Michael, The Inner Tradition Of Yoga has just been published. There is not much else there.

I came across a copy of the philosophy section of a real life of God at Barnes & Noble, when there was such a thing at Union Square in San Francisco. I immediately read half inspired, sitting on the floor in a half lotus containing caffeine.

The next day, installed in a cafe on Polk Street, the guy on my left pats me on the shoulder, leans over, makes a gesture towards the blanket and asks with disbelief: "The inner tradition of yoga ?! ? Is there even such a thing ?? "

Michael Stone was unlike any other.

He established a remarkable standard.

Since then, almost a decade ago, he has been the cornerstone of what it means to be a thoughtful, humble and wise student, teacher, writer, meditator, activist and philosopher .

Here is someone who had studied with Richard Freeman and who was an intellectual Ashtangi, an intellectual who had lived a Thoreauvienne life in a bus in the desert, an activist who applied the ethics of yoga to the movement Occupy and who called Buddhism engaged with an eye towards social justice. He was a teacher who mixed the psychology and philosophy of yoga and Buddhism in the most accessible way. There was a globally respected scholar-yogi who did not sell to multinationals by becoming an ambassador of yoga pants. It was a young husband and father who was both engaged in family life and anchored in the monastic / ascetic model, a researcher who had trained with the grown-ups and perfected his own voice at the same time .

Michael's work gave me permission to be a yoga teacher who was not always perky and full of woo-woo bliss-talk. It has made it possible to be both serious and funny and engaged and introspective, as opposed to a banal Barbie yoga exercise.

As a student and teacher, his work encouraged me to feel all my human feelings. To aspire to balance rather than happiness. To aim sattva instead of sparkling wine.

That he had struggled should not come to any of us as a shock.

That all of us struggle should come to none of us as a shock.


I understand Michael's fear of being honest about his mental health.

In April 2016, I wrote an article for the Washington Post on my own fight against postpartum depression . The piece had been on my heart for two years, and he desperately needed to be articulated, like nothing else I had ever written before. The final test took months to meet, and I was satisfied with the end result.

It was true, unvarnished, melancholy, whole.

But in the days leading up to its publication, I was terrified. Destroys anxiety. The morning before he came out, I sat on the floor of my desk, shaking, and cried. It was like the ultimate out of the closet. Total vulnerability naked.

Because " speaking [my] desolation was terrifying. I was a yoga teacher. I was supposed to overcome the storms of parenthood with grace: being positive and perky, measured and resilient, losing baby's weight in a flash, thriving on green juice and quinoa while carrying my baby like a kangaroo. "

was not it? Is not it the myth of the shakti cheerleader that we have collectively built, Instagram posted by Instagram post?

After the publication of the article, I was overwhelmed by a wave of solidarity from around the world, Yogi women coming forward to say, "You said my truth. I see myself in your words, and I have not had the words to articulate this experience myself. Thank you. "

(These are always the most terrifying pieces to be published that touch the strings, that people have in common … The entire experience was a good reminder to trust the vulnerability at the heart of the world. intimacy.)

A few days later, I reached out to Michael and shared my essay with him, mentioning that I had long respected his work and imagined that he could find it worth, or at least relatable.

The next morning, I woke up to his answer. Michael wrote: "It's the most tender, accurate and clear article I've read for months. Perfectly sad and inspiring. "

It was, and always will be, one of the highlights of my career.

Michael and I never met in person. But I spent hundreds of hours "with" him and his teachings over the years, listening to his measured voice while pedaling on the trails of Northern California, driving Marin's winding roads en route to teach in Oakland, sitting on buses in San Francisco sent metta to strangers in front of me, silently dropping on the floor of my kitchen in Portland while my son slept upstairs, meditating on a flying in cross-country to start a new life in Boston.

I know I'm not alone These years, these hours of listening, all, have been a lesson in the impact that one person can have on another (thousands of others), quietly, through the miles .

I am eternally grateful.


In the inimitable void that Michael has left, I am comforted to see that his team of teachers is still moving ahead with future trainings, so that his teaching could continue, even in his physical absence.

Among so many lessons over the years, these are distinguished:

The illumination is intimacy. And the family wakes us up. Michael described enlightenment as an intimacy. A closeness with what is. A clear vision a profound acquaintance.

I keep thinking of Carina, their children, their unborn baby. I do not stop thinking how much the grief of the loss must be unbearable, the overwhelming miracle that will be this child to come. I continue to think that we never know when our day will come.

All spiritual practice is simply taking care of things. Years ago, I scribbled this podcast nugget on a piece of scrap paper and attached it to the wall. My husband found it in a moving box in the basement a few days after Michael's death. This always seems true.

Yoga is about learning to be awake in the world. Michael's book of the same name, his podcast, too, emphasized as much, both poetry and prose and philosophy and meditation. Very similar to Virginia Woolf's, her writing was both literary and philosophical and based on the substance of real life.

Your life does not need you to think about it all the time. Perfectly simple. Perfectly wise.

Yoga is about learning to be real. Yoga means to drop our masks, releasing armor. Find the ease in your being, your body and your mind. We are allowed to feel the full depth of the human emotional spectrum without invalidating or abusing our psyche by denying the darkest of these emotions. It means learning to be with everything we feel – even the most irritable, politically incorrect, difficult and complicated emotions – and to believe that with the help of breath we can stay with them and watch them "Stand up, unfold, and pass," all the time residing in this place of equilibrium.This is the true work of the yogi.


Teachers, where are we going from here?

What does a new paradigm look like? And how can we help struggling colleagues?

Here is what I have until here:

1. We can not put ourselves on top of each other. Nuff said. Matthew Gindin's reflection on " Putting the heroic self myth to rest" at Tricycle responds well to this question.

2. We must be more transparent about our own humanity and bold enough to recognize more than bliss. We must be genuine about the fact that, yes, absolutely, we are human, and we experience the whole realm of human emotions. We can not give priority to bliss over other aspects of the human being, by fetishizing a certain myth of saccharine happiness that resembles glittering leggings and beach supports. We have to talk about this stuff, to enter the world with our own armor removed. Nobody wants a teacher who is all cotton candy, shooting unicorn rainbows on the buttocks.

3. That said, we must teach from our scars, not from our open wounds. As a survivor of eating disorders, as a survivor of postpartum depression, as a woman, as a partner, I can serve people who suffer and struggle with similar circumstances in saying, "Ok, I'm not perfect, but here are some tools that yoga and meditation have learned that helped me, and maybe they'll help you also. "

Our job is to help each other feel better in our body and mind, is not it? Use what we have learned and practiced to offer a measure of ease, freedom from bodily suffering, freedom from mental suffering.

So maybe on our bios where we mention how delighted we are to have studied with Rockstar Teacher A and Rockstar Guru B, we can also mention the ways we have been open and the communities we have learned to serve accordingly. This recent piece Josh Korda articulates this idea.

4. We must be aware of our own spiritual circumvention. If you do not know yet what it is, I highly recommend digging into the work of the Buddhist psychologist John Welwood . "Spiritual Bypass" occurs when we use spiritual beliefs and practices to avoid dealing with feelings, wounds, or painful or uncomfortable problems. A lot of what happens in and around social media yogi, admirite?

5. We must release shame and be bold enough to be vulnerable. Most of us are too familiar with the dangers of building a shiny facade. Vulnerability leads to compassion leads to intimacy. Discover Brené Brown on these two themes if you have not already done so.

6. We must redefine happiness as a profound deep well. Tara Brach (another wise and wonderful Buddhist teacher with a psychological penchant) offers this basic definition, and I can not love her enough. Happiness as deep well is the key to re-designing a yogic approach that is more than a perpetual euphoria (which is not sustainable, nor realistic, for anyone who knows the First Noble Truth.) life is suffering, my brother. you in).

7. We can not be afraid to get help when we need it. I can never claim to understand what it is to cycle between manic episodes of a bipolar diagnosis. We all struggle in our own ways, and we are healed or comforted in our own way.

As the excellent recent article by Julie Peters argues, "yoga, self-care and alternative medicine can not fix everything." So you do it. All it takes for you to prosper. Including drugs. Including acupuncture. Including Ayurvedic medicine, etc. etc. Everything is in sauce.

8. We must be humble and genuine – brave enough to stop selling a pretty picture.
The contemporary yoga scene is dominated by commodification. Most of us are painfully aware of how social media has turned the practice of yoga into a performative popularity contest, rather than a meditative spiritual discipline and a path to the liberation of suffering. So what can we do to be more authentic as teachers, to relax in the qualities wabi-sabi of being without spitting our guts like a burning mess? Where is the scale?

9. Finally, we must speak more openly about death. Because, I wrote last year in Yoga International "death is as real and as sacred and holy as life. Because suffering and sorrow are the necessary counterparts to contentment and joy. And because I'm willing to bet that some kind of suffering (what Buddhists call dukkha) has brought most of us to yoga – be it pain in our knees, or pains in our hearts. "


"When we examine in detail our daily experience, we see that death and birth occur one after the other at each successive moment.What we see in a respiratory cycle we see everywhere. "
– MS

My three year old son and I made a kind of pilgrimage to Walden Pond the other day. I showed him the statue of the man who had been Henry David Thoreau, and I told him that he was dead now. He became sad and serious, and said, "Mom, but will he come back? I do not want him to be dead." We sat on a bench and talked about the spirit , deity and perpetuity, and what it means to leave the body, it was the first time that he asked himself or asked.

"How are we going to be with God, and you and I and dad, how do our bodies know how to breathe, we are still alive, is not it?"

Later, when I buckled him in his seat, after swimming and fishing for tadpoles and having walked up to the original site of Thoreau's cabin, he looked up at me and I asked, "Well, Ben (his preschool friend)? Will he die too?"

Party, gone, outdated.

I often thought of Michael that day at Walden Pond. He had spoken in interviews of his own Thoreauvian experience, living in a VW bus in the woods in his early twenties. It was one of the things I liked most about him, this duality of being both an ascetic, a monastic and a householder who was waking up in his relationships.

Michael, thank you. Thank you for all your service, your heart, your ethics, the way you have worked to transform your own suffering into teachings that could be so much comfort and inspiration for so many people. I imagine that you had no idea of ​​the great impact of your teachings around the world.

And to Michael's family: Our collective hearts have broken several times imagining your suffering as a result of his unexpected loss. For you, Carina, for Michael's children and for your unborn child, we offer tenderness, peace and strength.

Inhale, start the vinyasa.

Exhale, sit with the void at the end of the expiration.

May you rest in peace beyond comprehension.

* * *

Co-create a list of mental health resources for yoga teachers. You can post them here in the comments or email me at and we will compile and share them here.

Here is a start:

If you are so inclined, the link to donate to Michael's family is here .

Tara Brach : Meditation, Psychologist, Author, Teacher

Yogaland Podcast: A True Story of Overcoming Depression, Panic, and Shame

TED Speech by Stephanie Snyder: Learning to Live

On the Death of Michael Stone and Mental Health in the Yoga Community (Spirituality &

Why I come to clean my students of my insomnia, my anxiety and my sobriety (Tricycle)

Zen Yoga Teacher Recognizes Postpartum Depression (Washington Post)


Rachel Meyer is a Boston-based writer and yoga teacher. His work has been published in the Washington Post, On Being, Yoga Journal, Tricycle, International Yoga, HuffPost and more. You can find it at or @rachelmeyeryoga.

Image Credit (1): Michael Stone Instagram, (2): via


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