by Rosemary Trommer
I had the honor of hosting the Enlightened Health Conference on behalf of Integral Yoga and its New York Institute,
October 17 and 18. The conference was held as a part of the Global Garland, a series of events worldwide honoring the 100th birth anniversary of Sri Swami Satchidananda. This conference featured a series of dynamic panels sharing the integration of Yoga into western medicine and acknowledging the part Sri Swamiji played in that shift.
The first evening was entitled The History and Future of Yoga in Medicine, and featured doctors Dean Ornish, Mehmet Oz and Amrita McClanahan. It was hosted at Lenox Hill hospital where the Integrative Medicine department is offering Yoga as stress management, vegetarian cooking classes and has an organic rooftop vegetable garden.
Dr Ornish spoke with conviction about how Sri Swamiji impacted his own life and guided him in the use of the teachings and lifestyle of Yoga as a program for patients with heart disease. His work has shown unequivocally how Yoga, proper exercise and diet, and group support can reverse heart disease and prostrate cancer. He emphasized how Yoga means union and its practice brings one back into wholeness–a deep sense of connection with the Spiritual Self and with that same Spirit that dwells in others.
As an example of Sri Swamiji’s vision and guidance, he spoke about how Swamiji told him that Yoga practice and a healthy lifestyle could have such a deep impact that it could change someone’s genes. Only years later, a pilot study showed for the first time that changes in diet, exercise, stress management and social support result in longer telomeres, the parts of chromosomes that affect aging.
Dr Oz and Dr McClanahan reinforced this message with stories from their own experience and examples of how healing takes place on this deeper level. It is a process of learning to be at peace with life as it is and is greatly aided by the compassion and kindness that one can both give and receive through an open heart.
In a moment of spontaneity, Dr Oz invited Peter Max on stage to describe how he met and invited Sri Swamiji to New York in 1966, how young people flocked to his talks, and those early students conspired to keep Swamiji in the U.S.
The panel on the following morning picked up on similar themes, discussing The Heart of Yoga Therapy. Cheri Clampett and Sivakami Sumar joined Dr McClanahan in describing the essence of Yoga as a therapy, beginning with the personal practice of the therapist that enables her/him to be balanced and at peace, and provide a safe and loving environment for someone who is suffering.
They spoke about how all of the Yoga practices can be adapted to make them accessible to anyone, and used to meet the powerful range of emotions that can cloud the hearts and minds of those struggling with illness, even life threatening ones.
When any of us are able to contact the deep well of peace within, our relationship to suffering changes. The enlightened heart has the capacity to embrace all the physical issues, emotional distress and mental storylines that entangle one another. Free of the fear that normally governs our experience, a profound inner healing can take place.
The final panel, made up of Nischala Joy Devi, Dr Timothy McCall and Michael Lerner, centered on the theme, The Power of Yoga for Healing, and reinforced the same message. Nischala spoke about how the healing relationship between therapist and client can be a meeting of hearts, and told a beautiful story of such a meeting with a communist soldier during a visit to Russia. Michael Lerner, spoke about the danger of reaching for the Spirit and by-passing the soul, where we are now. It is only by bringing compassion and wisdom to our darkness that we heal.
All three speakers acknowledged that healing does not mean curing, but happens on a deeper level that enables someone to live with greater peace and joy in their hearts, even though the body may not be cured. This is a message I believe we all found relevant to our own lives.
Sri Swamiji often explained that we all suffer from expecting the body to conform to some idea of perfect health and from expecting our lives to be free of pain. The very real fact of pain and illness delivers to us potent lessons, compelling us to acknowledge the impermanence of the body-mind, and to discover that we need not suffer from our pain. In fact, pain is one of the most universal of our teachers, guiding us to look within and touch the unchanging source of contentment that is our birthright. That connection heals us in ways that nothing else can.
Many, many words of gratitude were heard in the hallways of the New York Institute in the days following the conference, especially directed to Chandra Scammato, the Institute manager, and her assistant Rebecca McKenzie.
“In the same way we need never be afraid of the world if we learn how to enjoy it. We can really enjoy the world and even give all the pleasures to our senses. Nothing needs to be starved. But when? Only when we have found the source and connected one part of the mind there –then we can enjoy everything. Otherwise we will get lost.”
– Commentary on the Yoga Sutras by Swami Satchidananda
The residents of the Institute decided to practice gratitude for the month of November, in harmony with Thanksgiving. Since we are enjoying the presence of Divyananda with us here and the beautiful way she lives and shares the teachings of Yoga, I asked her to share her thoughts on gratitude for the blog.
GRATITUDE : “The attitude of Gratitude brings altitude.”
In Yoga our happiness is the happiness that is not based on conditions. In other words, when Life delivers a lemon (and we were expecting a peach) we find a way to make lemonade and enjoy it too. It’s a challenge! How can we be grateful when everything is going wrong? How can we be grateful for the people in our life who bring us irritation and aggravation? It’s not easy, but the ingrained Habit of Gratitude will be our greatest ally at that time. At best, we hypothesize that this unexpected hardship is sparing us from something far worse. And if we dig deep, we can reframe our perception of the situation and practice a little pratipaksha bhavana. Master Sivanandaji reminds us: “A positive thought is thrice blessed … to the thinker, the subject, and to all mankind.”
HOW TO BE A BETTER TEACHER
In Integral Yoga the quality of selflessness is given top importance. It was the bedrock of the teachings of Swami Satchidananda. For an Integral Yoga teacher, that means that our service as teachers is an opportunity to practice selflessness. Our contemporary Yoga culture is saturated with commercial and business values, and the drive to have popular classes and earn well has seeped into the consciousness of us all. It’s inevitable and nothing to be ashamed of, but at least we can be aware of it, and take the steps to counter it. Learn to give your ALL in every class, whether big or small. Learn to serve each student with all the tools you have at your disposal, and with humility. Give them what they need, even if it is not what they want. If they leave you because it is not the Fancy Yoga they were looking for, bless them to do well whenever they go. None of us need to be famous and rich, but we do need to be enlightened, eventually. Teaching with a pure attitude of service will speed our way there.
Of course, the best teachers are the enlightened teachers, and let us always remember that goal.