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.