Maddy – a Celebration

A Tribute to Maddy Smith
5th July 1971 – 29th October 2023

By Rose Thorn and friends

Maddy had a huge tattoo of Kali on her arm.

Kali is the Hindu goddess of death, represented by fire and the sword; the fire burns away falsity and the misdeeds of the past and the sword is the cutting edge of truth.

She is associated with sexuality and violence; she also embodies the Great Mother holding both the powers of destruction and creation.

The spirit of Kali is alive now, in our times of the ‘Me Too’ campaign and Black Lives Matter naming abuse in many of our institutions.

Like this goddess, Maddy followed her fiery intuition, named the shadow, and challenged power structures that oppressed others.

Maddy trained at the IYT with Pauline Sawyer who shared the following:

“I first met Maddy in 2009, when she successfully completed her IYT Teachers course in Scotland with myself and Dawn Baille. Subsequently Maddy participated in a number of continued Pofessional Development workshops with both myself and Jenny Beeken. Maddy was the Administrator on several of my Foundation Courses in Hebden Bridge and I have such happy memories of staying with her whilst teaching there.

In 2018, Maddy was chosen to be co-tutor on an IYT ‘Healing through Yoga’ residential retreat in Wales with myself and Jenny Beeken. On the basis of her successful studies and the high esteem in which she was held she was invited to formulate and teach, together with Rose Thorn, a module on Trauma Awareness for Yoga Teachers.

Over the years, Maddy became a very good friend to me and I will very much miss our chats and fun times together….”       Pauline Corbet (Sawyer)

I first met Maddy in July 2015, on the ‘The Transforming Power of Yoga’ IYT week taught by Jenny Beeken and Bridget Whitehead at Over the Rainbow where I live. We immediately recognised the angry vibrations of two feminists. During that week, she encouraged me to bring out my art materials and dressing up clothes, and the whole group embodied goddesses as part of the transformation process. Taking risks, being playful and more deeply authentic were qualities that I loved in Maddy and this mischievous trickster energy, radiated out to those around her.

Maddy popped down many times whilst visiting her mother in west Wales and our friendship grew. I then attended the ‘Healing Through Yoga’ IYT week taught by Jenny, Pauline and Maddy. She was the first to suggest a cold swim – Maddy loved the sea. The photos are from Juliette Larken who also attended, Juliette wrote:

“Maddy inspired me and taught me a lot… such a lot of love and laughter. Her teaching was raw and she brought such an honesty and edge to the yoga.”

‘Healing Through Yoga’, July 2018 – a trip out to the Llech y Drybedd cromlech in west Wales. Maddy is on the right in a blue fleece and touching the cap stone

Maddy and I co-created a Trauma Awareness training for teachers. Maddy was so informed and widely read about this and sensitive to how we communicated the material so that it was inclusive and that people who came on the course were not re-traumatised. At this time she shared her journey with yoga:

“Yoga has been a really massive part of working with my own trauma history, helping me to manage trauma symptoms. From my first experience as a young person doing yoga at a time when I was living with severe PTSD symptoms. The relief that I experienced from practicing yoga left such a deep impression. I’ve been fortunate in the last few years to do various specialist trainings. I am passionate about this being accessible to trauma survivors who might not have access to mental health support or who might not be able to access mainstream yoga classes (such as in psychiatric services). I feel like this is my life’s work.”

Unfortunately, we were unable to deliver the module during 2019 because my mother died and Maddy had an ongoing court case that was extremely re-traumatising for her. It is relevant to state here that Maddy was challenging a yoga therapy training that had not practiced ethically; instead she was scapegoated, shamed and silenced. She fought this injustice for four years, as you can imagine it took a toll on her mental health.

Maddy became increasingly sceptical about the yoga industry deeply questioning why yoga was often centered around the ‘young, white, affluent, slim, women’. We had many intense conversations about spiritual bypassing, cultural appropriation and body image in the yoga world. Maddy was one of my few white allies that didn’t avoid the discomfort of questioning her white privilege and examining her own racism.

Maddy worked for over 25 years in the voluntary sector, often working in crisis services in the areas of child abuse, violence against women, addictions, mental ill health and she trained as an Art Psychotherapist. Her own art work was raw and revealed her own journey as a survivor. She taught yoga classes for traumatised women and was a core founder of Sisters United a user-led group set up in 2017 which provide mutual support & solidarity for all women including those from asylum seeking, refugee and migrant backgrounds.

But Maddy wasn’t just an activist she was also interested in your personal stories – she would dive deep with you and listen intently to what makes you, you. I never felt judged by Maddy – she knew how difficult and messy living could be. Often, tears would come to her eyes – then she would laugh and cry out ‘fuck it!’ – Maddy loved to swear! She would cut through bull shit and was especially passionate about enabling access for all within the fields of mental health, therapy and yoga. I went with Maddy to the ‘Celebrating Diane Long’ yoga week. This photo was taken on a walk, escaping the oppressive old boarding school.

When it emerged that this institution had a long past history of sexual abuse of children, Maddy became very upset and brought this to the attention of the organisers.

She always spoke to reveal those secrets n lies… I loved that about her. I miss her questioning, intelligent, sensitive and radical spirit immensely.

At Samhain – the death of summer, moving into the darkness of the spirit worlds – Maddy chose to end her life. She had been battling with psychiatric drug withdrawal and overwhelmed with what kept resurfacing.

She returned to Cornwall, her childhood home, where her love of the sea began. We hope that she is truly at peace now.

Maddy you are very missed.

OM Shanti, Shanti, Shanti

Sisters United continue to build community to support and empower women and their children through activism and human rights education. Donations in memory of Maddy can be made here:

  • July 5, 2024
    8:00 am - 5:00 pm