Agitator, activist, therapist, punk rocker, and author of the recently published yoga memoir No Gurus Came Knocking, Molly Lannon Kenny always reminds her students: “do not mistake the technique for the goal” (Paramhamsa Yogananda).
It is a centerpiece of the groundbreaking yoga modality she created, Integrated Movement Therapy, which emphasizes the concept that people are perfect and whole as they are. Kenny lives this philosophy with deep insight, honesty, humility, authenticity, and love. This June, she is visiting New York from Seattle, and offering workshops in this unique therapeutic style—appropriate for even the most challenged among us.
HanaKyle Moranz sat down with Kenny to get the details.
HanaKyle: What would you like people to know if they've never heard of IMT, but are interested in yoga and yoga therapy?
Molly Lannon Kenny: IMT is an approach to working with all kinds of people that's based in the principles and philosophies of yoga and clinical practices.
It is, first and foremost, an internal shift on the part of the the practitioner. So whether you're a clinician, an educator, a yoga teacher, etc., it's much less about teaching what to do with someone else, and more about focusing on developing a powerful internal framework. After having supervised many people over the years, I know that this creates
radical shifts in people's lives and personal relationships.
Another important distinction is that IMT, as a form of yoga therapy, is not asana-focused. It doesn't mean that we don't use asana, it means that we put asana into its real place as merely one of many tools. In each session, we also bring best clinical practices to bear. One of the most inspiring aspects of IMT is that it is completely non-population specific. It has principles and practices that we can use with any group or individual, irrespective of his/her specific challenge, because it's non-prescriptive.
HKM: Your studio has a beautiful mission statement. How do you apply it?
MLK: The Samarya Center’s mission statement is: "fostering individual transformation as a means to radical social change." That statement points to the heart of my work: influencing people who have influence over other people, whether it's in the service world, or the social justice world, or the clinical world. It's really our own individual change—our own deep transformation—that is ultimately and collectively going to create social change.
I recently listened to a podcast with Rep. John Lewis (On Being with Krista Tippett), and I was so moved by it. Lewis kept talking about two really important things. One is that the heart of it all is love, and that his own personal practice is continually going back to love, and continually transforming himself.
Additionally, when Lewis led the march across the bridge in Selma, they did a lot of organizing and role-playing, and studied their teachers. They studied Desmond Tutu, Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Mahatma Ghandi, so they were deeply immersed in change makers who were also coming out of a place of transformation. I think that's an important thing for us not to lose. Whether it's yoga service, teaching yoga as a regular ol' yoga teacher, working in the social justice movement, or being a clinician. Our actions come from our own intrinsic values.
In creating The Samarya Center, I wanted to build a private practice with this same therapeutic framework, and to work with people by using my clinical experience and knowledge of yoga. There's a difference between how beautiful a yoga space generally looks, and how cold a clinical space usually looks. I felt that if I brought people in for a clinical intervention in a beautiful space, it would assist and inform healing!
The Samarya Center also came out of an issue that I saw clinically. I saw that people can become so isolated when they are in trouble or having a difficult time. For example, a parent of a child with autism might have community that's specifically organized around the fact that you all have children with autism. While that's good in one way, it also further ingrains the marginalization and the pathologization of the experience. We chose the word Samarya, which means "community" and "festive gathering." The community center was created to offer access to all people, regardless of perceived barriers—especially barriers related to autism, developmental disability, acquired brain injuries, and more. The Samarya Center is a place where a parent can take his/her child for therapy, and the child is also welcome and included at events like our holiday parties and other gatherings, and maybe the parent is doing yoga!
HKM: What brings you to the East Coast and what are you offering here?
MLK: I was born and raised in New Jersey, and I'm a Jersey girl still. In the City, I lived at the corner of St. Mark's and Avenue A before I moved to Seattle. This coast is always in my heart and, despite living on the West Coast for a long time, I offer an East Coast-ey, salt-of-the-earth, practical application to my teaching.
I also value people for what they’re already doing, and recognize that here, at my studio, we are a collective, and there are other people doing this same thing as well, and we can support one another. We don't always see these values in our teachers. I spent many of my formative years fronting local bands, everything from all-girl punk rock bands, to emo Sonic Youth-style bands. I still maintain that punk rock ethic, and I think that it's something people appreciate in my teaching.
I hope people can see, from being in my presence, that what I'm talking about is a way to be in the world, whether you're playing rock music, practicing yoga, doing clinical work, or anything else. I truly believe in the first overarching principle of IMT: "everybody is perfect and whole exactly as they are."
You'll have to come to a workshop to learn more because certainly, as a clinician working with a severely autistic child, I can't tell the parent “It's fine, they don't need therapy.” But I do believe that they're not intrinsically broken. There are outward manifestations that I call "impediments to joy," so if there's something I can do to alleviate or ease those impediments, then I've done my job.
In my life, no matter what someone brings to me, I have a sense of acceptance. If we could just learn to look at each other in terms of our shared humanity and collective struggles, it would open our hearts and minds in a completely different way. That'd be good.
For more about Kenny's June workshops at Jennifer Brilliant's studio, click here.