(This is a modified letter that Moksha/Modo Yoga co-founder Ted Grand wrote to Moksha/Modo studio owners after the passing of one of our long-time teacher training lecturers, Michael Stone)
I just finished teaching a class at the teacher training and was almost brought to tears a few times. Once was during bridge pose, and I was remembering Michael Stone teaching us the cue I was saying at the Toronto 2008 training. Then, I was talking about relaxing the roof of the mouth, another Michael cue. And finally, I was talking about following the exhale all the way to the end (and further), another Michael Stone gem. And to think that I never really thought of him foremost as an asana teacher.
The last week has been spent revisiting lots of great memories of Michael, and through doing that I have deeply felt the influence he had on my life and this community. I remember at the first teacher training, walking through the park with him while he spoke about the various psychological traps that many teachers fall into. I remember having dinner with him, and we spoke of the massive potential to affect political discourse through our community. And, I remember him staying at our place in Saltspring, talking about how his suffering had grown, and how he was having a tough time with it. His awareness was deep and skillful, and that is a rare and special thing. But what was profoundly special about him was his ability to synthesize old stories and themes in Buddhism and yoga, and make them relatable and relevant in the modern world. He did so in a way that brought to life environmental and social justice themes, and made us all want to try a little harder to see how intimately we are connected to all things.
The truth is that I can’t really grasp the totality of this loss. It doesn’t make sense that a figure like that is now gone, and his existence only remains in memories, his children, his family, and in the influence that he had on many of us (and through that, an impact on many more). But such is life. It passes quickly, and then it transforms into something else. I mourn the man that I knew and loved, and I simultaneously hold dear to what he shared with me and so many others.
This is not to say that I think he was a saint or anything. The last thing he would want is for people to deify him and see him as something different than what he was – human, fragile, intuitive, flawed and gifted. He was a comet that burned bright and lit up a lot of people’s hearts and minds, but he was also someone that burned internally, and it could – at times – burn him and the people around him. I suspect that is part of his legacy and what his family is trying to illustrate in the beautiful and achingly transparent messages that they have sent out publicly and personally. Michael suffered greatly, and we need to be okay with that being the person as opposed to the figure. We also need to see that that is not unique, and that mental illness is a very real thing in the world and is wildly pervasive in the lives of many of our teachers and students.
Just the other day I was out to dinner with (my wife) Tara in PEI, and the waitress asked me if I was ‘Ted Grand from Moksha Yoga’. Awkward, but I said yes. She teared up and told me that Moksha/Modo Yoga had saved her life. She was ready to give up after years of suffering with bipolar disorder. She got into the Charlottetown studio and through the tools she learned in there, she has been able to find a sense of relative stability and adaptability in the world. She is still using medication and can now maintain relationships, hold a job, and see things in context, when before it was all out of control most of the time. I say this not to make any bold claim that anyone suffering with mental illness just needs to practice yoga with us, but rather to remind you all that you are helping people on a much more profound level than you might know.
We all spend a lot of time dancing with this idea of what success is. We see other studios that have packed classes, and we might feel like there is something wrong with our own. We see studios that have great social media, and we feel like we can’t even remember our password. We see studio owners with steady gazes and relaxed temperaments, and we might feel like we are a yoga impostor. And, we see other studios have great relationships with their teachers and contemporaries, while we may feel like we are in constant conflict. It is a tough ride being a studio owner, and sometimes it is hard to see the healthy forest through the clearcut. I do hope however, that you can see that the story of the woman above is being played out in your studio every single day. You are creating space for people that are struggling with mental illness, with addiction, with behavioural problems, and with the general anxiety that comes with living in the modern world. Have you noticed that much of social media these days seems to be a series of impassioned rants about what is wrong with the world? Many people are struggling, and it is the salve of simple breath awareness, body awareness, and community awareness that is providing some relief against so much suffering. Perhaps some of your students even feel a sense of gratitude or reverence for things that they took for granted by living in the rat race. How wonderful.
So thank you, studio owners. Thank you for reflecting the teachings of a truly gifted friend and mentor in this community, who we will miss greatly. Thank you for creating space for people who are struggling. And, thank you for taking the time to care for yourself and be more of a light in the world. I am not going to say that the world is a dark place and it needs your light, but I will say that there are a lot of people suffering that need your strength, your vulnerability and your caring. You do good work in the world and are making a difference. You are a success in the deepest meaning of the word.
(PLEASE NOTE: The image of Ted Grand and Katie – the waitress mentioned above – was used with her permission to share name, photo and story).