When Suzy Daren was fourteen years old, she made herself a promise: to try and understand and alleviate her own suffering—and then pay it forward.
Twenty-five years later, as a pioneer in the field of Yoga Psychotherapy, the rebel once known as “Suzy Hardcore” is doing just that. YogaCity NYC’s Sharon Watts was eager to learn more.
Sharon Watts: What kind of pain were you addressing?
Suzy Daren: I was intensely teased and bullied as a child, and didn’t fit in with any of my peers. My parents innocently forced rules and restrictions onto me that further separated me from the pack. By my teens, I was more than willing to sacrifice the attachment with my parents in order to discover a sense of belonging, which I explored through harmful rebellious acts. Proud of being “cool” and “tough,” I was completely detached from my true self and the destruction that I was inflicting upon my body, mind, and heart.
SW: How did yoga and psychology first dovetail in your life?
SD: I had just started at the University of Toronto as a psychology major and saw a yoga flyer in a health-food shop. After that first class, I had the feeling of walking on clouds and immediately recognized that there was something magical about the practice. I didn’t choose it as a therapy until a teacher training six years later, with 7 Centers Yoga Arts, that promised deep, physical cleansing during a month-long residential intensive. What I didn’t yet understand was the mind-body connection, and how I would be forced to stare-down my psychological suffering through Hatha yoga and the shatkarmas (yogic purifications). The overwhelming flood of emotional energy from acknowledging the pain of both my past and my present set me on a course that was unstoppable.
SW: The healing process is, as you say, not overnight, but “a steady illumination beneath our feet.” How has your own experience reflected this?
SD:Drugs, alcohol, and abusive relationships became a mainstay well into my adulthood. My road to self-love was a slow process. I would study and teach yoga by day and party by night. Over time, I grew tired of the hangovers, the unhealthy relationships, and the emptiness that I began to recognize inside of myself. I wanted to want to change, so I deepened my yogic lifestyle and began Ayurvedic practices to heal my devastated nervous system, yet always found escape routes back to my old routines. My saving grace was that I never fell prey to the kind of self-hatred that can sabotage our most sincere efforts, and so I continued along the path. In fact, this became my sankalpa (inner resolve) for many years: “Just keep going”.
SW: Tell us about the Yoga Psychotherapy that you practice now.
SD: Yoga Psychotherapy integrates modern psychotherapy with the timeless wisdom of yoga, meditation, and Ayurveda. It teaches us how to better access the truth of our lives and relationships, while learning to master uncomfortable thoughts and feelings that can awaken in the process. It provides tangible methods for treating imbalances, like anxiety and depression, along with other sources of mental and emotional suffering.
Relying on a non-pathologizing, non-judgmental, and compassionate approach, it gives clients direct tools to cultivate the same within themselves. After balance is restored, it can also assist in deepening the relationship to one’s healthiest and most creative self.
SW: What does a session involve?
SD: There are two types of clients: Those who want to change and those who want to want to change. The latter represents a well-known stage in psycho-spiritual work: recognizing that they are suffering, yet not able to find the self-love and discipline to make the necessary changes. In these cases, it is often said that “more suffering is required.” When making the investment to do this kind of work, it is best if one has reached an inner resolve to do whatever it takes to prioritize inner peace and freedom.
A session is primarily talking, along with some breathing or meditation. I do recommend that each client has a regular yoga practice or other kind of mind/body training. Yogic and Ayurvedic methods dominate the underlying philosophy of imbalance and treatment, and are used as a framework for understanding ourselves and our place within the universe. I teach these methods face-to-face and often assign readings such as Asana Pranayama Mudra Bandha and Prakriti: Your Ayurvedic Constitution. Most importantly, I strive to create a welcoming and safe environment where clients feel free to express both their most fettered limitations and their most expansive and creative virtues.
SW: Any other messages for anyone identifying with your struggle and achievements?
SD: Freedom from suffering is an ongoing process. This journey is only viable with self-love and forgiveness. Without these, it’s not possible to confront the difficult thoughts and sensations that arise from the truth, and will most certainly deliver us back to the harmful behaviors that served as coping mechanisms in the past. We have to expect these setbacks, as they have so much karmic momentum behind them. We need the courage to keep going, no matter how difficult or futile change may seem.
Yoga has been fine-tuned throughout the millennia and is one of the most profound and natural healing modalities on this planet. Our little psychologies are no match for its greatness, and if we can surrender to this fact and just keep practicing, results come and we grow beyond our wildest dreams. Yoga works.