I had the pleasure to spend two beautiful, warm, Central Coast days with ten psychotherapists interested in bring Yoga into clinical psychotherapeutic settings.
Joann Lutz presented an enormous wealth of well thought-out introductory neuroscience, Raja Yoga (Patanjali’s Eight Limbs) for beginners, asana, pranayama practices, Yoga nidra, mudra and other Yogic techniques appropriate and not appropriate for mental health care seekers and providers.
I was sponsored to attend this event by Shaun Wilde, a Yoga Therapist intern who works with me at The YOGA Center of Morro Bay (YCMB), and by several students who graciously and generously donated money after our 1:30pm Thursday Restorative, Yoga Nidra and Meditation class at YCMB.
My personal therapist, plus two friends from North County, a local Ananda Yoga Therapy colleague and an LCSW YCMB Yoga Teacher Trainee, plus six others gathered for a lively conversation that ultimately relaxed, charmed and entertained the presenter. What could have been a long, dry, tedious PowerPoint lecture became personable and joyful. By the end of two days, the group had evolved together in a way that we collectively agreed that we wanted to somehow continue the conversation beyond our introductory weekend, perhaps with a tea ceremony, in another workshop setting, as a meditation or walking group… it was one of THOSE kind of experiences. We all became friends and respected one another. It was a high time after Brahmari and cobra pose and releasing our cares to Source.
The room was a powerhouse of talented and caring individuals.
Los Osos is rad.
Two unexpected gems surfaced for me during this extraordinary weekend:
#1. My subtle, underlying and most deeply motivating quest: the common bipolar symptom of mania – delusions of being divine or god-like, (“megalomania”) met an ally in thought – Joann Lutz. The potential of Yoga Therapy to address this overlooked aspect of the “disease” we know as bipolar disorder is enormous and could shake the foundations of psychotherapy and psychopharmacology if addresses in a sophisticated and integral way.
“Grandiose delusions (GD) or delusions of grandeur are principally a subtype of delusional disorder that occurs in patients suffering from a wide range of mental illnesses, including two-thirds of patients in manic state of bipolar disorder, half of those with schizophrenia and a substantial portion of those with substance abuse disorders. GDs are characterized by fantastical beliefs that one is famous, omnipotent, wealthy, or otherwise very powerful. The delusions are generally fantastic and typically have a supernatural, science-fictional, or religious theme. There is a relative lack of research into GD, in contrast to persecutory delusions and auditory hallucinations. About 10% of healthy people experience grandiose thoughts but do not meet full criteria for a diagnosis of GD. “
A diagnostic symptom of bipolar mania is this delusion of a connection to or being a part of something divine… I think of it as being a fractal or fraction or faction of a power greater than oneself. This symptom elicits the diagnosis of psychosis.
I learned this weekend that there is a movement in the psychotherapy profession which aims to differentiate between interventions that are purely psychiatric in nature (medication therapy) and alternative, supportive interventions that chaperone and usher those experiencing these symptoms in a way that delivers them to a place of greater enlightenment, rather than crushing their bodies and psyches with pharmacology, misunderstanding and shame.
This acknowledgement of a “spiritual crisis” – rather than a psychiatric crisis – is revelatory. As I have been literally searching for someone to talk to about this subject that has not been researched or adequately discussed in the Yoga or Mental Health communities for years, here comes Joann Lutz, to tell me that she was the resource coordinator for The Spiritual Emergence Network in the 1990’s before they were watered down and swept under the rug, from a tiny Yoga studio that I didn’t even know existed, literally only four blocks from my house… I appealed to my Yoga students on Thursday to consider sponsoring my attendance fees because my financial situation has never been quite so limited (it would seem) – I am paying rent this month for the first time in my forty-two years on this planet. I was sick and without income for two months this winter. This is the magic of Yoga in my life: Do what you love and the resources will follow. Believe that.
I don’t yet know the whole story but it sounds something like this: Having attempted to address psychospiritual crises in the psychiatrist’s Bible, The DSM-V, this movement fell apart under the strain of Not Enough Evidence. The pioneers in this field languished in near silence for years, for the years that I searched… UNTIL!!! LAST!!! MONTH!!! (Divine Timing, I would say.) Check it out:
“Welcome to the Spiritual Emergence Network (SEN)
SEN is as of February 2015 a part of the Stanislav and Christina Grof Foundation! Read the full announcement.
SEN provides individuals that are experiencing difficulties with psychospiritual growth a therapist referral and support service that is staffed by trained graduate students. In a culture which has not understood issues surrounding spiritual development, the gift of being heard and understood by a knowledgeable and supportive listener can be life-altering. We can provide referrals to licensed mental health care professionals (often in the caller’s area) who may be of ongoing assistance. All members of SEN’s National Referral Directory are licensed and insured and specialize in or have been trained to deal with many psychospiritual issues…”
Though I have been on a mission in the name of bipolar disorder, in the name of my sister D’Arcy’s untimely suicide, in my fury regarding the dearth of research on bipolar disorder and Yoga therapy – this idea of spirituality emerging during a psychotic episode is of the deepest interest to me.
I feel that the discussion of spirituality (including Raja Yoga) holds the greatest potential for evolving the general community and the mental health community and the way mental health is perceived in modern culture.
“The Grof Foundation http://groffoundation.org will invest in and expand the speed and of the referrals and the number of therapists and counselors in its Directory. [Their] goal is that anyone in the US with a psychospiritual challenge, whatever the cause, is able to quickly find a qualified local professional to support them in a way that honors their process and sees it as potentially healing and offering a chance at growth, versus labeling them in pathological terms and taking steps to stop their process without considering its potential value.
To support the Grof Foundation and the SEN please contribute to our Kick Start campaign. A donation of $100 or more entitles you to be listed as a Founding Donor of the Grof Foundation.”
The Grof Foundation funding page is at:
Please consider donating to this consciousness-expanding movement.
#2. I realized that I am an authority on Yoga Therapy and Mental Health, in the context of trained and licensed psychotherapists, Marriage Family Therapists and Licensed Clinical Social Workers and Yoga practitioners.
On the heels of spending three eye-opening months with my mother, who displays sociopathic behavior, and recognizing the effects that her behavior had on me as a child – including withholding positive reinforcement of my talent throughout my life – from an actualized adult perspective, after having been separated and in recovery for years from her abuse, this validation of my extensive authority on Yoga therapy and mental health was a profound realization and empowering for me.
It would be difficult to describe the dynamic that evolved during this workshop and I remain humble and grateful that my expertise was so well received by both Joann, the presenter, and by the other participants of this intensive.
When my therapist was leaving on Saturday afternoon, she nudged me and said, with a grin, “Smarty pants!”
I know what I am doing! and I know what I am talking about! (These are the sentiments that I silently and repeatedly express to my mother) when it comes to mental health, Yoga and therapeutic interventions. I have the gift of being able to read energy. That gift comes from morphing hyper-vigilance and trauma into something positive and of benefit. With this gift, I can prescribe breathing, visualization and postural techniques to bring group and individual nervous systems into states of greater balance, with less “top-” or “bottom-heavy” oscillation within the “window of tolerance” – the window beyond which lies autonomic nervous system dysregulation, presenting as dysthymia, depression, catatonia, shock, PTS symptoms, panic, anxiety or other “fight, flight or freeze” presentations.
We are all made to go “up and down,” to have mood changes and variances in energy, heart rate variability and glandular activity.
Yoga techniques, applied by a qualified therapist (Yoga therapist, psychotherapist or other therapist) can have measurable and beneficial results. Each individual requires techniques specific to their general, daily, physical, mental, emotional, pranic, lifestyle, acute and chronic needs. This is a tall order for a therapist. That it seems to come as second nature to me – with room to improve, of course – makes this mission of mine, in fact, a pleasure.
In our evidence-based-centric society, we wait as a culture for measures and numbers and scales and graphs to give us the go-ahead to proceed with treatment.
But what of the spiritual, unseeable, philosophical spaces, the unstruck moments between evidence and confusion, of stillness and deep knowing to which Yoga and meditation deliver us, of individuality, of the mystery behind and beyond the human condition, of what moves and motivates us, personally and collectively? These are questions to be discussed, perhaps timelessly and with reverence, as in Plato’s day, to help to understand and ease the traumas of the human condition. These are the discussions which will lead us to a place of self-understanding, and to a place of embodying our intrinsic wounding and blessing. These are the conversations that will blur perceptions of what it means to suffer “mental illness.” These are the communities that will be built around an acceptance that not all experiences are measurable or repeatable. This is what it means to be a human.
At the end of the workshop, Joann approached me, telling me how impressed she was with my knowledge and training and that she would like to support me in creating and presenting workshops as she is doing. She mentioned that there were places where she was wanted as a presenter that she didn’t want to travel to… as in, there was room for me. She plans to come to my Tuesday 1:30pm Restorative, Nidra and Meditation class at YCMB and we hope to have lunch together afterward. I have found the mentor I have searched for every day since March, 1995. Twenty years since my first mania, to the day. No shit. Check my medical records. What a trip. Thank you, God, Guru, JAI!
On a lighter note, I have been listening to Traffic’s “The Low Spark of High heeled Boys” all weekend. I like music that has a spiritual message but that is veiled by rhythm or genre. This song is one of those. About the song, and again from Wikipedia, “…[The title] seemed to sum up all the people of that generation who were just rebels. The ‘Low Spark,’ for me, was the spirit, high-spirited. You know, standing on a street corner. The low rider. The ‘Low Spark’ meaning that strong undercurrent at the street level. “
Six months before I was born, and within a mile of my birthplace, Traffic played this, the only video recording of this amazing song. “The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys” is the first on the video. The second one: “Either Light Up or Leave Me Alone.”