Earlier this year a beloved yoga coach to the stars committed suicide.
Her name is Psalm Isadora. She was a successful yogi, author, coach, and public speaker. (1)
When I first became familiarized with her work through "Mindbodygreen," a lifestyle media brand committed to wellness, I was both curious and profoundly affected by her charisma and passion. (2)
Psalm had served women from India who coped with their involvement in the sex trades. She brought her programs back to the United States hoping to help others with similar sexuality problems.
Beginning with her blog and articles; I noticed her approach to Tantra was unconventional. Although I considered the treatment to exceed western-style yoga, I kept an open mind.
Looking at her website, I became troubled by the lack of scripture sources. The absence of Tantra's history neglected its connection with the science of consciousness. (3) I also knew that ...
Tantra (Yoga) could be applied to rehabilitation protocols when learning about addictions, including
Porn and Sex.
Similar methods are used in conventional addiction clinics. My concern stems from the lack of historical perspective of Tantric doctrine which gives context to these unusual practices. Moreover, I was surprised at the absence of contraindications. It is fairly well known that any practice of high-level yoga disciplines especially in the presence of pre-existing mental illness can be hazardous. These warnings are mentioned in traditional Yoga teachings. In fact, current scientific research shows that certain techniques can aggravate mental states in some people. (4)
Furthermore, it is not unusual for people to misinterpret profound or persistent emotions. This is why it is so important to prepare; be sufficiently trained before exploring advanced techniques.
Extracting specific approaches from yoga's collective systems could cause mental confusion, unexpected struggles, and also delay progression of one's life quest. Even though we may gain pleasure and benefits from physical practices, it is not meant to be the intention. When pleasure is our intention, the result is not Yoga. Yoga is meant as a tool or system to become conscious of who we are, away from self-delusion, obsession, self-centeredness, or ambition. It is a way we can see our place in the world.
In other words, yoga is a means to become aware of our mind. Nevertheless, even knowing this we still manage to lose focus and insight.
I am not sure of the particular circumstances of her suicide, but I do know that something went terribly wrong. And when it did, her yoga practice did not save her. Although yoga is not a cure-all, we still can safely apply yoga science by keeping our intentions clear and within the principles of Patanjali's Yoga Sutras, Biblical Commandments or other moral standards of our culture.
Here lies the caveat: Perhaps, this bears a new found freedom from emotional pain and suffering. Possibly leading to a state of bliss or euphoria. Many want this extraordinary mental state to be lasting. When this happens, it could become a replacement for addiction. In this case, the addict is obsessed in replication of well-being. So, instead of becoming aware of one's true nature, we become trapped in a cycle of desires. What started out as a problem-solver ends-up becoming another addiction.
Tantra has a significant historical influence on yoga. Even so, the sexual practices are not mainstream in traditional yoga. The reason for this, goes beyond social norms or religious views of sex, drugs or alcohol.
In fact, traditional yoga doctrine warns against certain methods to gain higher states of consciousness, primarily due to its unfavorable influence on mental states. These "taboo" practices came to be labeled "left-handed" methods for this reason.
I considered, if Psalm Isadora had known the dangers of these advanced disciplines, she might have approached her practice in a more balanced way or perhaps avoided them altogether.
Months before her death, I considered reaching out to her; I did not. Unfortunately, the next time Psalm Isadora's name crossed my laptop screen, it was the terrible news about her suicide. Perhaps, if I reached out, things may have ended differently. Psalm is gone now, but we can learn from this tragedy.
This is what I would have liked to have told her:
1. As we learn the ancient techniques of yoga, it is imperative to gain an overall perspective before we jump in and experience. We can do this by a thorough study of traditional texts and scriptures. If we gain perspective with a balanced viewpoint of rituals, symbols, and practices then we can decide if a path is well suited for our particular nature.
2. Live by high moral standards; it is a safeguard. It is preferable to use your religion of birth such as the Biblical Ten Commandments or other religious dogma. The yoga sutras arranged by Patanjali expands upon these rules by shifting their focus to fine-tuned positive behaviors.
3. Remind yourself that the power of the mind is more than physical pleasure, personal power, or financial wealth. For every action you take, there is an effect on your mind; it is inescapable. When the mind becomes fixated on a subject like sex or money, it disturbs our true nature. Keeping a journal makes our intentions known and can help us stay on track and balanced.
4. The mind is a conduit for positive universal energy, but it can also channel the dark energy that causes confusion, pain, and suffering. Free will, religiously based goals, and purity of purpose sets a positive nature. Whereas, the personal desire beyond what we truly need will bring negative results. Choose wisely.
These points are rarely discussed in yoga today, but as we can see they can be life-changing.
Perhaps, we think there is an easy, faster, less arduous way to walk through our problems. Or possibly we can strong-arm through without doing the foundational work of self-realization. The truth is there is no easy route to overcome painful experiences and memories.
Brick-by-brick we build wisdom. Each experience, both negative and positive helps us to grow, and be balanced and peaceful. Otherwise, we remain stagnant; stuck in one place ...the past.
(1) Elizabeth, Erin. "Author, Healer, Yoga Instructor & Coach to the Stars Allegedly Commits Suicide." Health Nut News. N.p., 03 Apr. 2017. Web. 15 May 2017.
(2) Mindbodygreen is a website that wishes to inspire people to pursue wellness.
(4) "Yoga Affect: A Primer for a Beautiful Life," by Sandra Zuidema.
For additional information about Tantra and its place in yoga's history read my book "Yoga Affect: A Primer for a Beautiful Life." To implement yoga theory into your daily life, start journaling in "Yoga Affect: A Guided Journal." Both books are available on Amazon.
To learn more about traditional forms of yoga and how to add these methods to your life please visit my website: http://www.SandZuid.com.
Sandra Zuidema is the author of the Yoga Affect Series. Yoga Affect: A Primer for a Beautiful Life and it's companion journal, Yoga Affect: A Guided Journal, both available on Amazon.com. To learn more about the series and please visit the website SandZuid.com