Your mental health

Jim Campbell - OmLight Yoga Photography

Earlier today I had a conversation about mental illness.  It made me think of yoga, and I posted on the facebook page.  But then that same friend and I talked again, and he reminded me of the difficulty: on the one hand, it is too easy to call negative emotions or problems in life 'illness' when it is part of being human; on the other hand, 'mental illness', along with a hit list of things from fibromyalgia to IBS to PTSD, are too often minimized and dismissed as being 'in your head'. Clarity: it is not just in your head.  I hope that anyone who knows my teaching knows I believe these things to be very real, very physical, a cornerstone to reality.  I do not advocate over simplistic views of 'healing' that encourage you to meditate your way past DNA or cancer or depression or alcoholism or schizophrenia.

But I do think - I know - that yoga helps.

Western medicine (humanity, maybe) has floundered on these kinds of illness, and yoga offers a kind of healing that is unheard of, elsewhere.  I do not say it makes it all better.  I do not promise symptoms will all go away.  I cannot make the blind see or the dead rise and I will never, ever tell someone NOT to listen to their doctor.

The best shot you've got involves both your doctor and your yoga.

Here is what I said on facebook:

talked with a friend this morning about 'mental illness'. How, of all the medical conditions in the world, most of which have seen an improvement in life expectancy in recent years, the opposite is true for the chronically depressed, anxious, and struggling.

Yoga helps, I kept thinking. Yoga heals. I know this is true.

But I also know that 'illness' is itself limiting. There is nothing wrong with feeling anxious, sad, or angry. Life is anxiety provoking. We should feel sad and angry.

The problem is not that we feel these things, but that we feel overwhelmed and damaged by what we feel.Yoga, though, teaches us different. Teaches us to find more more meaning and more power from what we feel. To use these very things to feel more alive, not less so.Yoga helps. I know this is true.

The fact is, anyone who tells you they have a cure or it is all in your head is minimizing your experience.  Anyone who tells you they can change the way you feel or that you SHOULD change the way you feel is being harmful and dishonest and misleading in very important ways.


I do not want to offer you something to make you feel better or to change you.  I want to say it's okay to feel what you feel.  To say yes, I see it, it is there.


To say, still: yoga helps.  I know this.


Oddly, though, I want to throw in an immediate caveat: yoga isn't for everybody.  The gurus who try to tell you their yoga is for everyone are false gurus.  This yoga has worked for me, and I believe there is a yoga that will work for everyone.  It may not be called 'yoga'.  It may have nothing to do with physical postures or breathing or philosophy.  But if it is an ongoing personal transformation, it qualifies in my book.


I throw caveats, everywhere.  Like breadcrumbs.  As if I'm going very deep into the unknown woods.  Perhaps I am.


Mental health.  Yoga for everyone.  I think I will continue to write on these things, to teach and to practice and to sweat them out.  I am not preaching answers.  I'm asking questions.


The problem with mental health is hopelessness, pathology, and society.  Within the individual, healing and a full, humane, joyful life are entirely possible.  Yoga is the process of finding it.


I know, this: I am watching someone I love be destroyed by active alcoholism and am maddened by her inability to see it, crushed by my inability to understand why I was able to get better and she has not.

I sat with a woman for a long time last week talking of chronic, debilitating depression and crushed my fingernails into my palms as she said she didn't believe she could ever have kids for fear she'd pass 'this' on, yet she was grief stricken by her loss; she didn't believe she'd be able to live to old age if it kept on this way, that suicide is inevitable; I knew exactly what she meant.  I know, because I have that depression, too.  I tried to explain that I have it - I have it STILL - but that it is different, now.  That it is truly my strong point, my revolution, my actual reason for being alive and finding joy and being strong.  I cannot much explain it, but it happened on a yoga mat.

I have seen autism, trauma, manic states, and schizophrenia change because of a yoga practice, people become alive again and not crushed, not broken, but sweet and powerful and glad to be alive.

These are the questions.

If this is possible, why not try?