By Bhava Ram
The greatest adversity in your life is also your greatest gift. A 2013 study found that those who reported the highest levels of trauma and adversity also reported the highest levels of growth and self-development. (Here’s the link.) This was definitely true for me.
I wasn’t always a yoga master. In fact, I used to be a poster child for hopelessness.
By my 50th birthday, I had lost my career as an NBC war correspondent to illness and injury. After I broke my back, failed surgery left me crippled and condemned to life in a body brace. I became addicted to painkillers, antidepressants, uppers, and alcohol. I gained 100 pounds, and then was diagnosed with stage IV terminal throat cancer. I felt my life was over.
The turning point for me came when my two-year-old son, Morgan, begged me, “Get up, Daddy.” Those three words became my motivator and my healing mantra.
Here are six lessons I learned from the adversity I had to overcome.
Working harder to get ahead won’t help you reach your potential.
I used to think that working longer and harder in my profession as a journalist was the path to fulfillment. I was recognized with a prestigious journalistic award and had many meaningful experiences, but at the end of the day, I lost my health, my marriage, and nearly lost my future–some due to working so hard, others not. Identify your true potential as a person, not as a professional, and pursue that instead with the same level of zeal.
Having a clear mantra or intention will carry you through difficult times.
If you’re determined to make a major change in your lifestyle, you’ll have to approach the challenge relentlessly, passionately, and with unflagging motivation. The easiest way to do this is to find something that you desperately care about, something that when you think about it impels your forward with even more resolve. In my case, as mentioned, it was living for my son. Whenever I faltered, I repeated his three-word plea to me over and over. A mantra also helps you flick away distracting thoughts and impulses.
We all have the power to take control of our health, and the capacity to self-heal.
Doctors may tell you your situation is hopeless. Or they may tell you the alternative healing path you’ve chosen won’t work. Take charge of your own healing journey, with or without their help. The capacity of human beings to reinvent ourselves is infinite–limited mainly by our fears. You can support your body’s innate ability to self-heal through diet, detoxing, meditation, a spiritual discipline, the loving support of friends and family, movement, mind-body therapies, energy medicine, and excellent teachers. The doctors called my recovery “a miracle”; I call it enabling my body to reach its full potential.
If you want to completely transform your health, make it your number one priority.
I had the good fortune to be able to devote myself to self-healing 12 hours a day. With the help of loved ones, healing became my primary job. Not all people can quit their jobs while healing. But think of it this way. If you get so sick you can’t work, you’ll lose your job anyway. When faced with a life-or-death decision, choose the path that will help you live this rich, wonderful life a little longer. You can do it. Don’t let naysayers, low-value people and activities, or outside pressure discourage you from your mission to heal.
Find a healing discipline and dive into it with your fullest passion and focus.
There’s more than one way to heal one’s body. For me, it was yoga combined with Ayurvedic medicine, diet, and practices. Whatever discipline you choose, become the best student you’ve ever been. Do research, find teachers, take classes, go on retreats, enter a clinic, and engage in the discipline every day. For me, doing yoga 12 hours a day and changing what I put in my body was my “organic chemotherapy”–it altered my body chemistry, my state of mind, and made my body strong.
You can’t make much progress on your health quest until you clean up your act.
People who are very ill or seriously injured often feel that their suffering entitles them to indulgences like a sugary dessert, steak dinner, or cocktails at night. My body was so riddled with alcohol, prescription drugs, and unhealthy food that it took me days in a rehab facility to get these toxins out of my body. It took many more months of cleanses and a complete overhaul of my diet to reverser the effect of the poisons. Once I did, however, my body responded well to yoga and all the other healing modalities I was using.
– Brad Willis, a.k.a. Bhava Ram, is a former NBC News war correspondent who self-healed from a broken back, addition, failed surgery, and stage IV cancer using yoga. The founder of Deep Yoga, based in San Diego, he teaches workshops throughout the US and India. His new book is Warrior Pose: How Yoga (Literally) Saved My Life (BenBella Books). See his recent TEDx talk based on the book, and learn more at deepyoga.com.