Six months ago, I found myself sitting under an overpass in North Carolina. I looked at the still creek, bare trees, and slate-grey sky; felt the smooth, cold sand under my seat; and listened to the sound of sweetly chirping birds that somehow overpowered the steady stream of cars on the bridge overhead. The area felt surprisingly peaceful in its bare December glory. It was a slice of nature and a sanctuary.
I took a deep breath of appreciation and let a smile spread across my face as I silently said thank you to Mother Earth and to God. Thank you for letting this be the last thing he saw.
You see, this was the exact spot where my big brother hung himself.
This memory came rushing back to me after the news that Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain had both committed suicide. And like so many, even those who haven’t had someone they’ve loved make the decision to exit this world, I find myself asking why? Why have suicide rates skyrocketed in the last 20 years, despite us living in a time when self-help practices are exploding? Why is this happening in an era where we’re seeing yoga set record-breaking levels of participation, and when the expansion of technology and ease of travel make it easier than ever to connect and stay connected with others?
Why is the number of people choosing to end their own lives growing and not slowing?
I don’t have all the answers, but I do believe that as a yoga community, we can be doing more to truly utilize yoga’s full power and true intentions—particularly when we’re faced with challenging times.
I often tell people that I believe our practice isn’t for the times that feel easy and manageable. Our practice is for when the times are the toughest, when we feel the most broken, threatened, or fearful. The teachings aren’t about how to shut out the things you don’t like; rather, they are about how to embrace those things, gain perspective from them, and expand yourself as a being by facing them.
How Yoga Guided Me Through My Brother’s Suicide
What I know now is that when you learn someone close to you has died, your mind kicks into overdrive as you try to figure out and understand what happened, and also how to handle it. There’s the immediate grieving; and then there’s everything else in your life that needs to stop or be rearranged. People to call, assets to handle. It‘s overwhelming, and can be all-consuming—if you let it take over.
It was that gentle-but-steady inner guidance that brought me peace, ease, and an almost immediate connection to something greater than myself. It was almost as if my brother was sitting there with me saying, It’s all good. Stop stressing. I’m happy and free, and it’s going to be OK. Everything about that defied logic. Yet if my practice has taught me anything, it’s that this inner guide will lead me beyond what is logical, and it will never lead me astray. It was through constant and unwavering practice that I was able to listen to this voice when I needed it most, and have faith that I’d know how to move forward.
There is no separation between my life and my practice. In the weeks and months following my brother’s suicide, I was reminded of this even more. In fact, my asana practice on my mat has taken more of a back seat over the years. But my practice? My practice comes to life in every moment I live, and in every breath I take. I am my practice, and my practice is me—and that never stops. Ever. When times are the hardest, that is when I have to dig into it the deepest and trust.
Yoga Can Help You Cope, Too
If the news of these recent, high-profile suicides has you feeling down or wondering what to do—or, if the news is bringing up memories of how suicide has touched you on a deep and very personal level—here’s my advice to you: Turn to your practices.