Tag Archives: mental-health

Spirituality and Psychosis

20 Jun

Karmageddon, the spiritual documentary by Jeff Brown about his relationship with the ever controversial Bhagavan Das, is now available for download. It’s a timely film that deals head-on with the issues of spiritual power and accountability, seekers’ responsibility and whether the disillusioned should “throw out the holy man with the bath water.”

The movie was filmed in part at the now defunct Jivamukti Yoga studio in Toronto, and many friends, past and present, walk through its frames. Seeing the studio I helped to build in this light raised some interesting questions for me about what we as yoga teachers and studio owners choose to put before our students.

A question I posed to Bhagavan Das over dinner one night made it into the film: “what is the relationship between spirituality and psychosis?” Bhagavan Das replied without a moment’s hesitation, “it’s a fine line between madness and illumination.”  My teacher Sharon Gannon often jokes that yogis are not “normal people.” Do you agree that attaining higher states of consciousness implies a rejection of social norms? If so, to what degree?

The Yoga of Deep Dreamless Sleep

14 Aug

Sleep is a precious commodity these days. So much so that eight hours of uninterrupted rest seems like a luxury reserved for holidays and the odd weekend. And it’s not just the new moms, students, professionals, and workaholics I’m talking about; everyone I know seems to be running at full tilt—even the yoga teachers and artists.

The truth is we cannot survive without sleep. When we lack quality sleep, we quickly become irritable, fuzzy-headed, and depressed. Our stress hormone levels increase, reaction times and accuracy decrease, and everything just plain hurts. Studies have also linked sleep deprivation to serious diseases such as fibromyalgia, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and even psychosis.

Interestingly, not all sleep is created equal. There are two basic sleep states, the dream state (called swapna in yoga circles and REM Sleep by scientists) and the state of deep, dreamless sleep (called sushupti by yogis and Slow Wave Sleep by scientists). Dreamless sleep is of particular interest to us because it is during this state that our bodies heal themselves and our minds come fully to rest. Theosophists refer to deep sleep as a spiritual reservoir where the soul receives profound nourishment by connecting to its source.

As a former insomniac and someone who cherishes her rest, I now treat sleep as both a physical and spiritual practice, and I’m admittedly a little superstitious about my nightly ritual. Before settling in for the night, I use Lotus Wei’s Quiet Mind line to clear the space and set the mood, then I establish my intention to sleep deeply and connect to Source for the benefit of all beings, consciously relax the body, down-regulate the nervous system and settle the mind. Sleep experts would call this establishing good sleep hygiene; I call it snooze-asana.

When sleep is occasionally elusive and I find myself running on empty, I make a concerted effort to make up for the lost rest by taking the advice of a teacher and nourishing myself on other levels. This includes eating and drinking as virtuously as possible, breathing lots, meditating, practicing yoga nidra and cultivating an attitude of hope.