Yoga, Mental Health & Michael Stone

[Image: source]

My personal world was rocked recently. It all started on Friday 14 July when a post on my social media newsfeed had such impact, that everything went to freeze-frame for what felt like a lengthy time.

 

A teacher, an inspiration, it's difficult to find the appropriate way to describe him, Michael Stone was all this and more, was said to be on life support in a coma in hospital.

At that time, information was sketchy, so naturally, as is human-nature, we began to fill the gaps ourselves with a narrative that we felt was most appropriate.

 

Perhaps he had an aneurysm or had had a stroke? Why else would he be in such a critical condition considering that to everyone, he was fit, healthy and had such vibrancy?

 

The update when it came on 16 July was devastating to many across the world within Buddhist, yoga and meditation communities alike. He had been taken off life support.

 

An official statement was released by Lion's Roar which bought with it, the courageous revelation from Michael's wife, Carina Stone, that he had battled with bipolar. The circumstances behind his death are covered with sensitivity in the statement, and therefore I don't feel any need to mention them here.

 

As a result the news has sent a shock-wave through the communities he inspired. With it, sadly, has also come much rhetoric as to his lack of transparency about his mental health issues.

 

It brings with it, the issue of each person's rights to privacy. It is not for me or others to question his motives about his diagnosis, his choice to not reveal it publicly, or indeed, suggest a narrative around the events of 13 July.

 

What is apparent is that Michael, like many, many others, was suffering. The extent of that suffering for me is quite unimaginable, but I can understand it to a point. The desire for a release of the inner turmoil can be both seductive and over-powering.

 

I have read many articles that have since debated whether anyone should in fact take medication, and this has led to further debates on over-prescribing and the use of street drugs. This in itself is the reason why so much stigma still persists around mental health. Yoga can be a tool to help support with many conditions, but it does not offer a cure. We need to be mindful of this subtle, but important difference.

 

My hope is that when the essence of shock settles, others, like me, will choose to remember all that Michael was to everyone, rather than focusing in on one aspect of his life.

 

We are all a sum of our many parts. In this I am reminded of something I heard on a podcast interview many years ago. Apologies that I am unable to remember the name of the person who spoke these words, but they have remained at the forefront of my actions and I often remind my daughters of them too:

 

We are never any better than anyone, but we are always just as good.

 

I particularly appreciate the reflection of Matthew Gindin in this regard. As practitioners we would serve our teachers best by not putting them on a pedestal, which ultimately elevates their position in such a way that we forget their common humanity. It would also mean they are at liberty to be able to live without fear of judgement or discrimination.

 

Sending love, prayers and healing to Michael's family, friends and wider community.

 

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