Do What You Can Do Today: My Yogic Mental Health Toolkit

o-YOGA-FOR-ANXIETY-facebook

The average stay at the crisis center where I teach yoga is 30 days, and since it’s an opt-in facility, there are no gates, searches or hospital gowns. When I go into my group meeting every Tuesday at 1:00, there are usually some familiar faces and some new patients.

There is also a broad range of mental illnesses ranging from suicidal depression to schizophrenia, OCD to psychosis. Group is a required part of the program and when many of them come in and hear they are about to practice yoga, the wall goes up.

So I start each class by saying, “Do what you can do today. If that’s just sitting still and listening, that counts. If you can do the breathing piece, even better. You still benefit from being in the room.”

The relief is palpable and more often than not, being in the room leads them to participate. That same reticent patient will likely put in even more effort at the next class. Some of the residents actually get really excited about the prospect of yoga because the results are empiric. That’s why it’s called yogic science; they see it for themselves.

I try to apply some of that spirit to my own practice. It’s hard with juggling a kid and multiple jobs and creative projects and my own mental resistance. Mornings are unusually accompanied by an internal groan, rather than a chipper “yay!”

But just asking myself, “what can I do today?” opens me up to more than doing nothing at all.

One of my teachers told me that when she was having a mental block against practicing, her teacher said, just roll out your mat everyday. Eventually, you’ll step onto it. She said just that act compelled the next act: breathing. Which compelled the next act: moving.

Yoga is no different than any other progression: there are days when nothing gets done. Acknowledging this lets my students apply what some teachers like to call, “imperfect action.” They are freed from the mental burden of having to perform. In a headspace where even the smallest demand feels unconquerable, and an environment where so much of their day is regimented, I give them permission to do whatever they can do.

Another thing that seems to help is giving my students tricks. I teach them easy poses, stretches, even awareness techniques that might come in handy during a bout of rage or extreme anxiety in a public place. I tell them why these actions help, what is going on in the brain, and it gives the smallest effort credibility.

I get anxious in public places on occasion, and I have bouts of rage too. In the moment, it can be difficult to think strategically, but that’s why we call it practice. With enough repetition, we can automate these tricks. Hopefully, we achieve the clarity to label them and activate the antidote. Or at least try.

Yoga is not a silver bullet. Meditation takes a certain amount of stillness and diligence that many of us, for whatever reason, don’t have. Sometimes it doesn’t work.

But to see these patients go from negative and lethargic to awake and relaxed in the course of 35 minutes, I’ll just say the practice continues to prove its worth. Just keep trying, and one of the valves will relieve the pressure.

Advertisements

Going Clear: Scientology and Dispelling the Myths About Cult Indoctrination

By Miranda Culp

There is widespread coverage of the damage groups like ISIS have inflicted on their neighbors and much conjecture about why Westerners would join groups that regularly broadcast journalist beheadings and destruction of ancient art.  How could any reasonably sane, educated person consider becoming a terrorist?

When the Waco standoff resulted in an entire community of people dying in a rain of bullets and fire and the response I often heard was, “well, they were all sheep, they just followed that guy to the slaughter.”

The problem with this basic ignorance and the lack of compassion that attends it, is that people don’t understand their own programming.  We have all been brainwashed, by our respective cultures.  From the moment we understand language, we start adopting assumptions and those assumptions are reinforced for us daily.

The Going Clear documentary was very close to home for me; quite literally, I grew up not far from the Scientology headquarters in Los Angles and many of my parents’ peers had a story about someone trying to talk them into a presentation or a free “audit”.  My main sense of the organization, according to my mom’s teacher and activist friends, was that it primarily pitched itself as a gay deprogramming operation for budding actors. It could convert you and you wouldn’t even miss your old lifestyle because you would become so rich and famous.

But there is another way that I relate to this story: when I was 19, I spent three days under the spell of a mad man like L. Ron Hubbard.  I had just moved from Los Angeles to Santa Cruz, CA. Unlike most of my friends in high school, I didn’t get into college and so I was drifting. Since many of my friends went to UCSC, I moved up there to go to junior college and get a job.

A young man who was an artist and musician, we’ll call him Michel, lived in the basement apartment of my old Victorian, and I was immediately captivated by him and his girlfriend, whom we will call Mandy, a tall willowy read head, also artsy and interesting.

One Sunday evening, after being gone all weekend, the couple came home and I knocked on Michel’s door to say hi.  They asked me to come in and when I opened the door, a small group of people was seated on Michel’s bed.  They asked me to join them and Michel and Mandy smiled warmly.

At the head of the bed was a tall, gorgeous African American man.  He had beautiful skin, close-cropped hair and perfect teeth.  His name was Joshua.

“Who are you?” he asked me. I gave him my name.

“Who are you?”  He asked again. I was confused.  Michel moved over so I could sit next to Joshua.  “I’m Miranda.” I repeated.

“No,” he leaned in, his eyes boring in to me, “who are you?” Everyone in the group sat and waited.  I think I must have giggled out of nervousness.

He tried again: “What are you?”

“I’m an..artist,” I stammered.

“Ah”, he smiled. “And how is that going?”

This went on and escalated, so that every time I gave him an answer he didn’t like, he would raise his voice, just a little, and show me with his body language that my answer didn’t please him. Meanwhile, everyone in the room sat and listened. When I looked at them for an explanation, they would just smile at me encouragingly.

After twenty minutes or so, this guy had uncovered my extreme doubts about my usefulness on the planet, he had sought out my anxiety about the state of the world and then presented me with a solution to both of these things at the same time. At his bidding, I called my parents at 11pm, to wake them up and tell them I was dropping out of school and joining the Blue White Dove Foundation.

I will cut to the chase here and tell you that Michel’s parents did some research on Joshua and discovered that he had done time for violent crime. With some digging in the Berkeley community, we found he had convinced over 80 college kids to quit school, empty their bank accounts and “follow” him. He had manipulated many of the women into unprotected sex, and he had convinced one woman to abandon her infant.

For those three days that I was with him, none of us ate or slept much. We did these exercises in his question-and-answer style and listened to him prattle on, borrowing from diverse sources such as Alistair Crowley and Prince.

It’s pretty obvious to me after watching Going Clear, that Joshua had some experience with Scientology because he had adapted many of their techniques. In the film, a former member of the Church describes his consciousness seeming to draw back in his brain and watch all the action from a pinhole.  I cannot tell you how accurate this is; it’s like the voice in your head is no longer your operating system, but it’s still talking.  There is a total disconnect between your inner voice and your actions.

Watch the trailer for Going Clear here.  It re-airs on HBO April 9th.

It’s not a complicated process to brainwash someone, it simply takes knowing where the vulnerability is and learning how to verbalize it in a way that resonates.  Religious leaders, politicians, lawyers and marketers already know this, in fact, there is a term for it in marketing: pain points.  If you know friction the customer experiences, and you can voice that pain point, the customer will go for the solution you provide.  Simple as that.

A cult leader is particularly deft at describing these pain points to you.  And once you have bought into the solution, even if you don’t believe it all the way, all of your peers are sold and self-doubt, the thing that got you there in the first place, does the rest.

For the young men that get indoctrinated into ISIS, there are probably so many questions that don’t have an answer: Why are so many members of my family being killed?  Why is there no fresh water? No access to food or medicine? When someone gives you the answer: “This is all the infidels’ fault. This is a holy war. You are chosen to stand up and fight. God wants you to fight.” There is suddenly order when before there was nothing but chaos and the directive is very clear.  Now you have a plan of action.

And when you are not eating or sleeping, or when you have experienced trauma, we know now that the decision-making part of the brain just shuts off, redirecting its precious energies to survival functions. This is how herd mentality works. It explains why totally sane, sweet people can be driven to the most heinous acts, because they stop individuating. The body takes over and goes with safety in numbers.

Scientology has ruined lives, vanquished the possibility of livelihood for thousands of children, and created a state-sanctioned human trafficking business that has racked up billions of dollars.  It has done all this by cashing in on the better nature of normal people, hard working, hopeful people whose only crime was self-doubt.

The good news about our suggestibility is that when people are presented with their options, they are still capable of making choices, even after years of submission.  Margaret Singer was a psychologist at Berkeley studying cult behavior at the time that I encountered Joshua.  One of the young men in our group had been embedded for 3 weeks and Joshua had convinced him that the end of the world was coming. After his parents contacted Singer and forcibly took him away from Joshua,  Dr. Singer’s secretary called right as he was about to jump out of the window and escape.  She said to him on the phone, “I was in a cult for 11 years and if your experience was anything like mine, the only thing you want to do right now is run.” That was the moment when the artifice collapsed for him, the moment when his consciousness broke free of the spell.

The former members of the Church of Scientology may have been just average people going in, but I can tell you first hand that in order to get out, they were nothing short of heroic. Some of them were embedded for 20 years, some of them had to leave behind partners and children. Some of them had to run like refugees and reenter a world where they had no money, no skills and nowhere to go.

We should do away with discussions that pigeonhole people into two categories: suckers and critical thinkers.  None of us think for ourselves; we are moved by the language around us.  Free will is a fragile construct based on that language.  The best we can do is try to become more comfortable with the human inclination to ask these questions and build our endurance for uncertainty.  That, and a healthy skepticism for anyone proclaiming to have all the answers.

Margaret Singer on language and how it is used in mind control: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g9rj4R4QhQg