Wednesday, February 20, 2013

The Anarchist Yoga Mom

How yoga keeps me sane and well

Almost one year ago today, a few weeks after losing a job I loved, I was standing in line at the grocery store when I got a call from my doctor. The results of a routine lab test were not good. I put down the milk, picked up a yoga mat, and headed to my first hot yoga class. Sixty days later, I emerged with a new body, and more importantly, a new mind.

Yoga saved me. The strength I found within myself on the mat, as I sweated and stretched and pushed myself past limits I thought I would never overcome, served me well in the coming months, as I faced challenges in my personal life that were also beyond what I thought I could handle.

That’s why I want to be a yoga teacher. When you find something that works, something that calms your mind, restores your spirit, energizes your body, you want to share that something with everyone you know. My surgery was successful. My job loss was temporary. The strength and poise and inner sense of peace I gained were far more valuable than what I lost.

Through the pain of loss, the universe gave me time to connect with myself. And yoga—which means union—was the instrument of that connection.

Today my son and I were featured in a Nova documentary on PBS with a truly awful title: “Mind of a Rampage Killer.” But the documentary itself, crafted by Miles O’Brien, told a compassionate and compelling story about families’ struggles with mental disorders. My son and I were honored and humbled to be a part of this critical conversation. We have learned firsthand the power of advocacy, of speaking out and sharing your story.

Mental health is an overwhelming problem for families everywhere. I think that yoga can be a part of managing this difficult illness.  The practice of yoga strengthens the body and mind. I want to share this path to strength and serenity with others, even as I continue to develop in my own practice.

One of my former yoga teachers used to say, “This is simple. It is not easy.” I have adopted this mantra as a guide for my own practice and my life. I have learned to accept myself, my limitations. I have learned to ask for help. I have learned to let go.

Today I introduced Gabriel Azoulay to our BikYasa class at Hollywood Market Yoga in Boise. Gabriel has practiced yoga for 20 years. His favorite pose is full camel because it opens the heart (my own favorite is camel because it gets rid of the excrement, if you know what I mean). Gabe developed Bikyasa because he wanted to share his practice with others. He is a knowledgeable, passionate instructor, and I am really looking forward to learning more over the next few days.

Yoga teacher training is the reason vacation days exist. The next few days (minus a few mandatory faculty meetings and appointments with my son’s healthcare providers) are all about me. That’s not selfish—it’s self-care. If your family is struggling, or if you are caregiver, take time for yourself. Consider coming to the mat, to Child’s Pose. 

Sometimes all we can control is our breath. And sometimes, the grace of that gift of breath is enough. 


Unknown said...

I watched the show on PBS and I commend you for bringing out more awareness to children who have emotional issues. My son is ADHD and ODD. I relate to your story with your son because my son since birth we knew something was off. Our society wants to sweep children with conduct disorders, or any mental health disorders under the carpet. No one talks about it, until an event triggers it. My personal belief is every child should have access to good quality mental health care. That their mental illness is an illness that may not be medical but it is just as important. I see my child suffer and not fully understand the scope of what is going on with him. At age 9 he says what is wrong with me. He has always asked that since age 5. We explain it to him, and encourage him to talk to us, and his teachers, and the doctor. He has an open door policy with his guidance counselor because I have ammended his IEP. I have made his school have a plan to deal with his emotional issues, and behavior. And every teacher who comes into contact in his resource class next year will meet with us to discuss how we approach his emotional health. I have started a blog to chronicle my son's story, his ups, and downs, and our daily lives. It is on blogspot. It helps me to share what our lives are like with my son who has mental health problems. Thank You Tasha Bish

Tamara said...

My husband and I watched the show last night, and I wanted to tell you that I thought you did a wonderful job of sharing what goes on in your life and with your family. It had to be hard. I was very touched by your son when he was describing what it's like for him. It's such a difficult situation for you all, and I hope it gets better. I don't know what the answers are either.

eliot said...

Just wanted to let you know that there is a special diet that could help your son. Its called GAPS for short. It stands for gut associated psychology syndrome. If you google gaps diet, you'll find lots of inof about it. They have had a lot of success with kids such as your son, pretty miraculous responses. The diet itself takes a lot of commitment and effort. Its not easy, but it could change his life, and its not drugs.

hartandsol said...

I watched the NOVA documentary last night on violence and while watching your bit on the show I knew I had to contact you somehow.

When you described how your son would hit his head against a surface as an infant, right away I thought of The Nature of Things episode on Autism. I have to admit that I also rolled my eyes on how your son's pediatrician had no explanation for your son's head-hitting behaviour. To me the answer was simple: a severe imbalance in gut bacteria aggravating your son's nervous system (including his brain). Something a good high dose probiotic and proper diet would have solved.

I felt for you and your son when you showed all the medications he takes or has taken and how I recall that a diagnosis for his behaviour/condition has not been made. However, in my opinion, narrowing in on a diagnosis when the differential diagnoses are ADHD, autism, or Asperger's, is not always the most important thing. What's important is looking at the behaviour and investigating the development and health of the child and even going as far back as the health of the mother pre- and post-partum.

You may have done research on ADHD and autism spectrum disorders yourself so I won't go on about them. Hopefully, you understand the importance of rebalancing gut flora and diet and how it relates to managing behaviour. If you have not explored this with your son, I strongly encourage you to do so. I feel confident you will see improvements in his behaviour.

Here's the link to The Nature of Things episode on autism:

I'd be happy to talk to you further about anything I've mentioned here.

All the best to you and your family.

Holly Letourneau

Unknown said...

I agree, Yoga is a life-saver.

Besides reading anything and everything related to mental illness, in an attempt to figure my own head out, for the last 25 years I've also studied Yoga, philosophy, spirituality, health and nutrition, and the all-important mind-body connection.

I didn't have a television for ten years, either. Instead, I read classic literature, or painted and listened to public radio. Hearing and reading about flawed, complicated, intuitive creative people, like me, gave me hope that one day I would overcome the belief I'd had since childhood that I deserved to be alone.

My brother Greg was unable to find peace in Yoga, or in anything in else. On April 12, 2010, he shot himself.

For the previous ten months, he and I had been living with our mother in a two bedroom double wide trailer. I'd moved in because it was clearly not safe for her to live alone; I'd arrive for a visit and find piles of empty beer cans surrounding my father's threadbare recliner, and dessicated piles of dog poop in several corners. She'd been inviting a homeless man "she knew from the park" into the house, and then going for a drive when she didn't know how to get rid of him.

My brother Al and I moved Greg from Colorado to live with Mom and me, to prevent him from "going wandering." He knocked the bathroom door down on me two mornings later, his eyes blazing fire-engine red, and demanded to know, "WHYYYYYYYYYYY DID YOU DECIIIIDE--TO START MAKING SOOO MUCH NOOOISE???"

He had been bi-polar since childhood, that much I knew. I, too, had been "diagnosed" once, but subsequent therapists had said no, I'd just had tumultuous a-ha moments.

I finally arrived at a self-proclaimed diagnosis of cyclothymia, a somewhat "toned-down" version of bi-polar disorder.

I have spent my life digging, and facing my fears head-on, and I know in my heart that these are the only reasons why I didn't go down the same road as my brother. I am lucky, yes; but luck is not the cure for mental illness.

You are absolutely right, your son Michael is afraid of himself. Greg was afraid of himself, too; but it was only after reading your initial blog post that I finally understood what had been happening inside him. Inside my family. Inside me.

Your article initiated a firestorm of activity inside me, and allowed me to connect all the dots. My entire family suffered from mental illness because no one understood what was happening or knew how to cope. Ignorance and fear killed my brother.

This is a really tough subject to get people talking about. I know, because I've been trying since the day I read your article. But I refuse to give up. I'm on a mission to save Greg's now-orphaned son, my only nephew, and to continue the conversation you started.

Thank you, Liza, from the bottom of my heart.

Monica said...

I watched your account and the NOVA show in tears. MY son is YOUR son. The description of the kid most at risk for that kind of violence fits my son to a T. Adopted from Russia, my 14-year-old never accepted all the love and better new life offered him, but became increasingly hostile, angry and hateful towards me and America. He has multiple mental illnesses, refuses to take his meds, flies into wild rages, threatens me (with knives, once with a hammer), has threatened to blow up and burn down the school, has been hospitalized 9 times, is depressed and suicidal and has cut himself a number of times, has language and learning disabilities, loves to fight all the time, associates with the wrong crowd that supplies him with knives and lighters, and keeps me in a state of terror and threats at home. I have to call 911 at least once a month. I alerted all authorities. They can't say "If only we knew." They DO know. The school knows, the police knows, the crisis centers know, the psychiatrist knows, yet NO ONE helps. Everyone claims they follow "official procedure," and maybe they are. But months and months pass, and nothing is being done. Just last week he told a teacher that he's "the devil" and will burn down the school. The teacher never told me, nor reported the incident. That after he made a similar threat in the past. He knows how to set fires and says he' wants a gun. He looks for one desperately in the ditches and at flea markets. Yet until he fires one on someone, no one will act. It could be me, other kids, the principal ... or himself. What can I do to stop him before, not after a tragedy happens? Please email:

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tds said...

I watched the show I just want to thank you for not turning your back on this topic. I was the child who was different, didn't fit in and was bullied to no end. My response was to turn inside and I've never turned back to the outside world; I can barely cope with the outside world and struggle every day. So much I wish I had a parent who would have recognized what was happening. For your son, please stay strong and always stand by him.

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