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Would Yoga have Saved Robin Williams Life?

Posted by on August 14, 2014

Robin Williams Spark

Without an iota of humor, satire, or sarcasms, I seriously ponder the thought: Would yoga have saved Robin Williams life?  What would have happened if the great comedic mind had discovered the teachings of a sage named Patanjali who invited all of us to “Still the fluctuations of the mind?”

One of Robin Williams’ infamous quotes was:  “You are only given one little spark of madness. You mustn’t lose it!”  Yoga would suggest that we not lose it, rather learn to harness and manage it.  This madness is known as the ‘monkey mind’.  It can entertain us, or drive us mad. When I heard Robin Williams’ passing was connected with depression, I immediately thought of the ‘monkey-mind’ we all have in common.

Four Truths

If Robin Williams had studied the yogic principles he would have discovered the Four Noble Truths. The first ‘Truth’ is often as translated as ‘Life is suffering’, meaning that to chase after the delights of the world, expecting them to bring lasting pleasure, always leads to disappointment. Even when you do find something pleasant or pleasurable how soon do we grow tired of it? None of these ‘things’ offer any real satisfaction or peace.  We have to wonder what Robin Williams was suffering from in his mind.  What was he chasing?

The second noble ‘Truth’ is not being able to be content with what we have or who we are.  Have you explored the powerful question:  What makes you think you will be happy with more if you aren’t happy with what you have?

This ‘Truth’ teaches of a craving or thirst known as tanha, where we are continually searching for something outside ourselves to make us happy.  Is it possible Robin Williams’ extreme highs, disguised as over-the-top-over-of-the-box humor, were balanced with equally extreme lows due to his thirst for something outside of himself?  Yoga is all about going within to find our peace and stillness.

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This last week I have been reading a best-selling book entitled The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin.  She was clerking for Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Conner when she realized that what she really wanted to do was have more time to study yoga and write.  Her book thesis, having sold over a million copies, is that we have to determine what makes us feel good and what makes us feel bad.  We all know that Robin Williams made us feel good with his humor and antics; what we don’t know is what made him feel so bad he would take his own life.  The key is to learn from his demise and seek to determine the cause of our own suffering.

The third noble ‘Truth’ and third Happiness Project premise is similar:  Determine where the suffering or ‘not right’ feeling is coming from and seek to put an end to it.  The Vedic masters taught when we release our need to ‘feel’ a certain way all our suffering and dissatisfaction will come to an end. The goal is to become the ‘observer’; to be aware of what the sensation we are experiencing is by just noticing, and letting it float pass, rather than getting caught up in the drama of the emotion or experience.  Imagine if Robin Williams had trained his mind to observe his depression, or sad feeling, the same way he was able to observe life and makes light of it.  Would his suffering have been lessened?

The philosophical teachings of the Fourth Noble ‘Truths’ are sometimes compared to a physician diagnosing an illness and prescribing a treatment: The first ‘Truth’ has us confront the fact there is an illness;  the second ‘Truth’ seeks to determine what the cause of the illness is and the third ‘Truth’ holds out hope for a cure. Often the so-called illness is a dis-ease in the mind from wanting something different than what we have.

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In yoga, part of the prescriptive treatment for happiness is the physical practice of yoga known as the asanas or poses that help harmonize and strengthen the vitality of the body and mind.   In the traditional Sun Salutation sequence there is a very important pose known as Adho Mukha Svanasana or Downward-Facing Dog that has been documented to calm the brain and help relieve stress and mild depression.  As a yoga teacher myself, I like to describe this pose as a time we get out of our ‘mental head space’ and have the opportunity to release the thoughts stuck in our mind by taking our head to the ground, dumping all that does not serve us.

If Robin Williams had shown up in a yoga class the verbal instructions he may have heard would have been something like this:  Stand for a moment in Mountain Pose, quieting your mind with the realization there is no mountain too tall to climb if taken one step at a time.  Take a deep cleansing breath, releasing any thoughts of the past . . . or the future . . .Be here now!  Raise your hands in gratitude, bow forward to ground yourself . . .

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In a German study, 24 people who described themselves as ‘emotionally distressed’ took two 90-minute yoga classes a week for three months. Though not formally diagnosed with depression, all participants described themselves as being ‘out of balance’ or just not themselves in the previous 90 days. At the end of three months, the control group doing yoga reported marked improvements in perceived stress, depression, anxiety, energy, fatigue, and well-being; their depression scores improved by 50%, anxiety scores by 30%, and overall well-being scores by 65%. Oh, don’t you just wish Robin Williams would have been part of this experiment?

robin

There are several ways to describe the meaning of the Fourth noble ‘Truth’, one of which could be taken from one of Robin Williams’ most famous films, Dead Poets Society.   Remember Robin being cast as the maverick teacher, John Keating, where his character inspired his students with the words ‘Carpe Diem – Seize the day’.

The most important ‘Truth’ may well be ‘Seize the day’.  Throughout the movie John Keating/Robin Williams could have been described as a pseudo yoga teacher, espousing what master yoga teachers teach: To end of all suffering, we must avoid harming all other living beings, we must sharpen and focus our mind, and as we seek inner wisdom and calmness, each of us can reach perfect happiness.

kindness

Swami Vivekananda translated Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra as “Yoga is the restraint of the modifications of the mind-stuff.”  Somehow I think Robin Williams would have related to the description of “mind-stuff.”  As a yoga student Robin would have had a chance to understand that once the mind is properly restrained, then the ‘seer’ or the ‘true soul self’ can rest in its own true nature, neither too manic nor too sad.

better way

Seriously, yoga may have saved Robin Williams life. Please understand  I am not taking mental illness or depression lightly at all.  Many of my prayers are sent to the Divine for the ‘Peace and healing of others . . . both for body and mind disturbances.’  My message is: If YOU know anyone who is suffering, invite them to meet you on the mat . . . a yoga mat!    Blessings ~

KC Miller is the Founder of Southwest Institute of Healing Arts, featuring a Yoga Teacher Training program taught at Spirit of Yoga, an educational facility and public yoga studio. Each week there are several complimentary yoga classes, known as Student Yoga Practicums, available to anyone wishing to explore yoga as a tool for balancing mind and body.  To a complete list of yoga class times go to www.MySpiritofYoga.com

 

 

7 Responses to Would Yoga have Saved Robin Williams Life?

  1. Nancy Murbach

    Thank you for this message KC Miller, really appreciated it and actually think that it is within that other individual to come to their own sense. It is another human beings choice what path they will take. I remember an elderly neighbor of mine once told me this ” Be kind to yourself because that is when you learn to be kind to another human being” and that has stuck with me through the most important times in my life.

  2. Sheri

    KC, thank you for this article. I have been meaning to take the Weight fit Yoga class on Saturday mornings…but just can’t make myself…for fear of embarresment…i can not even get into the child pose. I have been having deep depression allllll my 57 years of life on this planet. I contemplate suicide daily. I do not like this life and I can’t wait until it is over. Everyone around me, thinks I am a happy creature and have lots of friends. I have no one…not even family to call my own. I find myself being rejected everytime I make a new friend…I make them…but can not keep them. So…it is easier for me…to be isolated. This doesnt’ work well at SWIHA…because we have to practice with each other on all the modalities we are learning…! I find it effortless to coach others…but difficult to be vulnerable to being coached. I am a turmoil mess inside. I have days when I can’t get out of bed. I have been coached for a recent suicide attempt…and discovered it is possible that I may be carrying it over from a previuos lifetime. The more I get to know myself…the more I realize I have no idea who I am. I wish I could do yoga…but I cant do anything physical…never have even when i was a skinny kid. I totally get why Robin Williams is not here…! He has conquered more than the averag person and has awards etc. He has done it all…what else was left to do?? This is how I feel. Everything comes easy to me…there is NO challenge…what else is there left to do?

  3. Jen Smith

    Dearest Sheri – Ohh your comment completely resonated with me! I have wondered since I am a child what I am doing here. There is a quote attributed to Picasso saying something like “the meaning of life is to find your gift, the purpose of life is to give it away”. I have found that thought comforting. You are at SWIHA for a reason, you are attracted to yoga for a reason.

    I have a challenge for you – I encourage you to just go to a yoga class. I can’t do a lot of the poses and I spend half of each class sitting or laying down. I can’t do child’s pose either. The folks at Spirit of Yoga have been fantastic, very encouraging and supportive. And the 15 minutes of the moves I CAN do has made a huge difference in my balance, stress level and overall health. If you don’t want to do one of the movement classes, you can take Yoga Nidra and get a huge benefit from the meditation.

    Maybe the challenge is to figure out how to LIVE in this lifetime. I know that is my challenge.

    Hugs,
    Jen

  4. Will Zecco

    KC, Thank you for this article. Yes I believe that had Robin found Yoga it might have given him a fighting chance to slay his dragons. As I reflect on the many times I have witnessed his genius way of making the world smile, how his innate sense of timing and improvisation could make even the darkest of times shine bright. I ask myself what did we miss behind the mask that Robin wore. Now looking back at his pictures there are many times we get a glimpse of something sad behind those smiling eyes. We will never know if Yoga would have saved him but if you know of someone living in despair reach out to them and become the teacher and show them the way. To Sheri……. I invite you to join us Saturday morning for Feel Fit Yoga Class. There is no judgment there, show up and do your best. It become better with each try, like anything it just takes practice. And each time your practice will be PERECT exactly as it is because YOU showed up

  5. Pam Field

    Thank you for opening the ideas. I thought would have massage helped Robin? The isolation of depression has a theme loneiness or detatchment from others and therefore Source. I have found with both depression and addiction, people are almost resistance to receive help that is all around them. This resistance has the feel of stuborn, i do it myself when they are so needing of attachment so they attach to substances that they think is safer then people who are not always there for them. The attachment to Source could be the answer but they are stubborn and know best and not want to be told about the very thing that may be there for them all the time.
    I have found massage is a safe form of intimacy that can sneak in on the heart of abandonment issue that we all struggle with. The abandonment from Source. Just ideas that will not help Robin but may we seek ideas to help those who are still in need.

  6. ld

    i agree with both KC and pam. i too have had severe depression my whole life, and when i DO force myself to do yoga, i have noticed it does calm some of the mind-stuff, even if minimally. but the stubborn feeling that pam mentioned always creeps in – the resistance to accept assistance, the detachment from people (and self), and the almost nihilistic view that nothing matters anyway. in those moments i know that if i got back into it i’d feel better, yet there’s also the feeling that it’s hopeless and there’s no point. then the “i don’t have the energy or caring to get help, but getting help will make me feel better, but i don’t have the energy or caring to get help” cycle begins. it’s difficult to do asanas when someone’s in that spiral; that crushing void in the chest can make one numb to doing anything that may lessen the pain.
    i have nothing really to add to this post, except that depression is a truly self-defeating dis-ease because it takes away a fundamental feeling: hope. by talking about yoga and other possible avenues for treatment more, i am optimistic that other sufferers will realize that people are always around to help, and just how much hope is out there.
    RIP RW <3

  7. Mariah

    Thank you KC Miller. I started back into yoga after my sister’s death to sucide. The first year I dealt with darkness I had never known. I struggled with thoughts of ending my life because pain was so bad. Yoga I noticed rebalanced me. Yes I was still going through grief but I noticed the amazing changes when I started practicing yoga, mediation and even having healing energy work and massage. As I journeyed through I had also wonder if the key to helping depression. Could this have helped my sister? Could it save others? I appreciate your blog of wisdom and compassion to this disease. I have visions of a healing center for others being built, one that has all this to help others.

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