August 2015 By Purnima Pandey From a high-flying war correspondent to a yoga trainer and ayurveda expert, the trajectory of Bhava Ram’s life has been dramatic, and ultimately transformational. In this interview with Purnima Pandey, he shares its crests and troughs From war to peace in one lifetime Born Brad Willis, Bhava Ram’s followers like to call him a yoga warrior. A former NBC war correspondent, he won the Alfred I. DuPont prize, the most prestigious prize in broadcast, documentary and digital news section for his work as a war correspondent in Afghanistan in 1986 during the Soviet war. He had a successful, well-respected and exciting life as a mainstream journalist. But fate has a tendency to catch you unawares. Brad’s life turned 360 degrees after a life-altering accident. He broke his back which was followed by pain, dependency on hard and harsh pills, alcoholism, failed surgery and stage IV cancer. But this wounded warrior didn’t lose heart. He trained himself with yoga and ayurveda and made a comeback into the arena of life. Now as founder of Deep Yoga and The Deep Yoga School of Healing Arts, through his Mastery of Life programmes, he trains yoga teachers, ayurvedic therapists and vedic healers. He also leads inspirational workshops and retreats worldwide for wellness counselling. His book, Warrior Pose: A War Correspondent’s Memoir, is a fascinating portrayal of his chequered life. In this interview he shares the highlights of his transformational journey with Life Positive. An excerpt. You have faced illness and injuries, painful treatments, failed surgery and encounters with death. Can you tell us about that phase of your life in detail? I completely identified with my role as a journalist. My career as a foreign correspondent for network news was profoundly fulfilling, and provided me the opportunity to make a difference in the world through reporting on some of the most momentous events of our times. The last seven years of my career, however, I was working with a fractured vertebra in my lower spine as a result of falling off a ledge in a tropical storm while on vacation after returning from Afghanistan in 1986. That accident began a life of constant pain for me, and the only way I could cope was with painkillers, muscle relaxers and alcohol. Being so devoted to my career, and fearful of losing it, I gritted my teeth and worked through upheavals in Nicaragua and El Salvador, apartheid in Africa, drug wars in South America and the Persian Gulf War. As my career soared, my physical and mental health plummeted into darkness. My fear, anger, and frustration became uncontrollable. When the crack in my spine split open in 1993 while I was in Asia, I blacked out from pain. A failed back surgery left me in even deeper constant pain. Worse, however, I was losing my career and identity. I had to live in a body brace, walk with a cane, and could not sit up to eat a meal. I felt emasculated, lost, hopeless, and deeply depressed. I was now on heavier medications and still drinking to run from my reality. Darkness descended and masked my soul. Four years into this descent my only child was born. My little son brought light into my life. But three months after his birth I was diagnosed with Stage IV cancer from exposure to depleted uranium on the front lines of the Gulf War. My doctors told me that survival was not possible and gave me even heavier drugs. I fell into the depths of complete despair. What brought about the change? As I was slowly dying, my little boy became the only soft place in my life. Just after he turned two years old in the December of 1999, he came to me and for the first time realised that his daddy was in deep trouble. He whispered, “Get up, Daddy!” Those three little words cracked something wide open deep inside me. What happened next? How did you gravitate to yoga, ayurveda and self-healing? As the year 2000 dawned, I thought endlessly how I could “get up” for my son, but with advanced cancer and a broken back it seemed impossible. My final decision was to get off all the drugs and alcohol that had so deranged me, and that my gift to my son would be to die with some dignity. In a hospital ward, I detoxed and went cold turkey off what was 14 years of drugs. Virtually delirious when I crawled out of my detox room a fortnight later, I was offered the rare chance to matriculate in an experimental pain centre at the hospital that blended ancient Eastern healing modalities with Western holistic techniques. What happened there? My first experience was with biofeedback. Hooked up to electrodes monitoring my heart rate, temperature, brain waves and other vital signs, I listened to a guided visualization. It brought me into a state of calmness I had never before experienced. I even felt my inner chemistry change as all my vital signs found greater equilibrium. In that moment I realized that mind/body medicine might give me the opportunity to take charge of whatever time I was left with, and play a role in whatever healing was possible. Soon thereafter, the centre introduced me to therapeutic yoga. Despite my stiffness and pain, it was an immediate epiphany. The deeper voice within me KNEW that this was my path, and it overrode the jaded, cynical view of the journalist I once was. I began studying the deeper aspects of yoga and the ancient texts, applying this wisdom to my life as best as I could. The pain centre closed because insurance companies refused to reimburse the hospital for “alternative” treatments. I went home and built a yoga room in my house, practicing 10-12 hours per day: mantra, meditation, pranayama, purifications, asanas, fasting, and scriptural readings. I embraced the teachings of the Bhagavad Gita, Upanishads, Hatha Yoga Pradipika Yoga Sutras of Patanjali and all aspects of ayurveda. Through purifying my body and mind, plus connecting with my soul, I ultimately healed myself. How do you now see your illness and sufferings? I now see my challenges as the greatest blessings in my life as they were catalysts for my personal transformation. I now devote my life to sharing yoga and ayurveda at the deepest levels possible through my Deep Yoga School of Healing Arts in San Diego. How would you describe self-healing? Self-healing involves taking charge of one’s life, harmonizing ourselves with nature, detoxifying body and mind, eating pure food, thinking pure thoughts, doing gentle exercise, learning to relax and release stress, and finding a true connection with our sense of higher power. Can self-healing work on anyone or everyone the same way? Just as no medical systems or treatments have the same effect on every individual, our capacity to self-heal is influenced by myriad factors. This said, each of us has the capacity to maximise our healing potential, and the more we purify our bodies and our minds and live more natural lives, the greater our possibilities become. What is the biggest barrier of a self-healing process? Most of us have lost faith in ourselves and our capacity to find our true inner strength. We want a pill, a potion, a surgery or some other treatment to do the job for us without us making any effort. This completely disempowers us and puts us at the mercy of medical systems that primarily care for profits, and not patient’s health. How does the self-healing work impact life in the outer world? When you take charge of your life and implement a measure of self-healing it is extremely empowering. This then empowers us to move towards greater self-expression, creativity and fulfillment of our dreams. What is your life lesson from your self-healing journey? We all have an inherent power to heal ourselves, turn obstacles into opportunities, recreate our destinies, and manifest our fullest potential. It takes great devotion, discipline, a true reason to live, and faith. If we all have power within, why do we suffer in health and other areas? We live in an over-stimulated world which is perpetually invaded by mass media that promises false happiness and fulfillment in the form of material goods and externalised experiences. This creates great stress, which is a major factor in illness. When our minds are distracted and our consciousness controlled by advertising and mass media, we lose dialogue with our inner wisdom. Bhava Ram’s dramatic book is soon to be a movie, testifying to the power of the human spirit How can we reclaim our wisdom? First we must understand the pervasiveness of mass media and its power to control our minds. This is the first step to tuning it out of our lives as much as possible. Then we learn the art of stillness, silence and inner listening. In time, as we leave that which is artificial and embrace that which is natural, we begin to hear the whisper of our soul. In time, with steady practice and devotion, the whisper becomes a conversation and we reconnect with our inner wisdom and dignity. How will you define the state of reclaiming our potential? It is usually pain, crisis, loss and suffering that awakens us. This begins the journey. How much can yoga help us in this journey to live with our authentic self? I believe that yoga, in its deeper and most time-honoured aspects, is the greatest pathway we have to healing, wholeness, self-empowerment and self-realization. Apart from yoga what are the other ways to experience the wholeness and miracle of life? Learning to release the ego, understanding that we are all united, honouring all cultures and religions, no longer trying to force outcomes, practising peace and gratitude every day.
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