Yoga innovator dies of suspected drug overdose in Victoria

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VICTORIA — A Canadian yoga innovator who started working out of an old garage in Toronto more than a decade ago and expanded worldwide has died of a suspected drug overdose in Victoria.

Michael Stone, who offered compassion and collaboration yoga and meditation retreats, died earlier this month, two days after being found unresponsive on July 14.

His family said he took street drugs in an attempt to medicate his on-going struggles with bipolar disorder.

“Michael did amazing work in the world and changed the lives of so many,” Stone’s wife, Carina, said in a statement posted on Stone’s website and Facebook. “He was a beautiful father and loving husband. He loved his life, his work, and his students deeply. He was loved immeasurably.”

Her statement said Stone likely purchased drugs on the street after a pharmacy rejected his request for treatment medicine.

“On Thursday, July 13, 2017, Michael left his Gulf Island home for a routine trip to Victoria,” she said in the statement. “On the way into town, he called a substance abuse and addictions pharmacy, likely to ask for a safe, controlled drug to self-medicate. He was not a candidate. He got a haircut, exercised, ran household errands and finally acquired a street drug.”

Stone was declared brain dead on July 14 and was placed on life support for organ donor purposes, with three people receiving new life, said her statement.

Initial tests indicate opioids, including fentanyl, were found in Stone’s body, but conclusive toxicology tests will not be ready for up to five months.

The BC Coroners Service confirmed an investigation into the death is underway but could not confirm any further details, citing privacy concerns.

Almost 1,000 people died of illicit drug overdoses in B.C. last year, many of those deaths are related to the powerful opioid fentanyl. Current overdose death statistics for 2017 in B.C. indicate the province is on pace to exceed the last year’s toll.

The statement said Stone was preparing to reveal his struggles with bipolar disorder, that he was receiving treatment from a psychiatrist and was on medication as well as living a healthy and spiritual life.

The statement quotes Stone in 2015 as saying that it was hard to admit even to himself that there are times when the stability of awareness he discovers through meditation just isn’t enough.

“When this started happening I’d say my practice needs to get deeper. But the truth is, there was a chemical change in my brain,” he added.

Stone held workshops and retreats related to yoga, meditation, mindfulness, intimacy, inequality and Buddhism across Canada and around the world. He founded Toronto’s Centre of Gravity in 2003 and also authored several books.

Stone’s website stated he was scheduled to hold an eight-day silent meditation retreat on a farm on Saltspring Island, B.C., in September.

In the coming weeks and months, Stone had similar events scheduled for the United States, France, England, Sweden and Denmark.

“He had a gift for making really old practices fresh and relevant,” said his wife’s statement. “He shone brightly. He was the bedrock of a community of yoga and meditation practitioners, first in Toronto and now an expanded international community. If you met or studied with Michael you may remember him as wise, charismatic and poetic.”

An office worker at Toronto’s Downward Dog Yoga Centre says a memorial ceremony for Stone was held recently at the studio.

Stone’s wife is pregnant, expecting their fourth child.

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