The 40 Day Practice: Shifts in Consciousness

The first thing I did when I completed my forty day practice earlier this month was to commit myself to another 40 day practice. Why? Because I want to build a habitual devotion to a practice that transforms human consciousness.

This is not hyperbole. It is as sure as the constant wash of water against stone, as certain as the paths of the planets in their orbits, as trustworthy as the promise of each new dawn.

What has happened to me over the last forty days has been subtle but measurable change. Like the water that wears away weaker stone to reveal its core of strength, forty straight days of devotion to meditation practice slowly brings an increment of change that I can sense and build on.

I wont’ kid you. Every morning was not a revelation of ineffable glory, though, to be sure, there were days of sublime, tantalizing bliss. Some mornings were a slog through the swamp of my own crazy mind. Often it would take 20 minutes of such slogging to get just a taste of clear, cool, pinpoint stillness. Sometimes all I got was the swamp.

It is a slow alignment, sort of like braces on your teeth. I can feel my mind, indeed my entire being, being pulled, if only slightly, by the force of Spirit. The experience of grace is perhaps not some fickle, inexplicable favor bestowed at random, but a practical merging of our energy with Universal Life Force.

At the end of forty days I feel a bit more aware, a bit more stable, a bit stronger. All these little bits feed the fire of my yearning for transformation that comes alive in persistent practice. Persistent practice increases the likelihood that the path of the practitioner will intersect with moments of serendipitous joy and ecstasy.

Most of all, I feel encouraged to unleash my longing for the Divine!

We needn’t fear that we will fail to taste, digest and be nourished by the Divine presence that is readily accessible to all. Those who will persist in their efforts to align themselves with the pervasive, elegant willingness of creation’s eternal Energy are guaranteed success. It is our birthright.

So, I ask you to join me in forty days of devotion to the magnetic, righteous desire of your heart. It awaits you. It is a gift with your name on it. No one can deny you the prize of your destiny.


The Concept of Incurable Disease is Dead

Note: Before I begin, let me say that modern medicine can often be miraculous in its power to heal. Sometimes there is no substitute for a good surgeon, a life-saving antibiotic or the strong medicines that can prolong the quality and quantity of our lives. However, there are many conditions that continue to baffle medicine that can and are successfully treated with alternative practices.

Words can have a big impact on us, especially foreign sounding medical jargon like those long, multi-syllabic concoctions that describe a disease condition. Sometimes it’s as simple and devastating as the word cancer. But whether the words are simple or complex, the fact that they come from a doctor can make them seem as if they were written by the hand of god on a stone tablet.

The psychological impression that medical disease terminology evokes can be deep, and damaging. I’ve seen this happen to some of my yoga therapy clients. For example, degenerative disc disease is neither a disease nor is it degenerative according to one of my yoga therapy teachers, Neil Pearson, founding president of the Canadian Physiotherapy Association. Disc problems are associated with aging and poor condition. Discs may bulge or rupture, but they do not degenerate

But when a patient hears this diagnosis all kinds of fears may be conjured up that actually inhibit the patient from increasing daily function and reducing or eliminating pain. The psychological damage done by those official-sounding words often seem to be a sentence of damnation to which there is little recourse. Nevertheless, a regular practice of therapeutic yoga postures can often relieve the suffering of a person so diagnosed.

Another recent example that comes to mind is Sacroiliac Dysfunction. A new client of mine recently presented with this diagnosis. Often it is associated with cartilage wear and tear in the joint. One of the first results you’ll find if you google the term is a surgical technique that is advertised as “minimally invasive.”

My client, a former dancer, who also has lower lumbar disc ruptures due to an equestrian accident, has responded well to yoga therapy and chiropractic treatment. Her chronic pain is now nearly gone and she moves with a freedom she hasn’t had in a long time. Fortunately, she had previous yoga experience and didn’t let her diagnosis make her feel disempowered.

Often though, patients seem to get locked into a diagnosis like it’s an immutable fact of life about which they can do very little, which is rarely the case. Taking control of our health rather than asking a medical professional to “fix” us can make all the difference in the world. It did for me when I refused to believe that Crohn’s Disease was incurable. For over a decade I have lived without the specter of this awful digestive scourge and have no fear of it ever returning. Though medicine does not have a cure, that doesn’t mean there isn’t a cure or that we can’t heal ourselves without medicine.

Last year, at the age of 62 I had a routine colonoscopy. My results were nearly perfect. The doctor commented that it was very unusual for a person with Crohn’s Disease not to be taking medicine to remain in “remission.” What surprised me though was his utter lack of curiosity about how I had achieved and maintained my excellent condition.

Through the stress management skills I’ve learned from yoga and meditation and a diet of whole foods, I no longer get sick or even have an inkling of symptoms. I’ve got news for the medical profession: I don’t have Crohn’s Disease. I’m the only one among my many family members who have been likewise stricken to reverse my illness and be completely healthy.

The point I’m trying to make is that the human body may get “out of balance” in any number of ways. This doesn’t mean that we are sentenced to a lifetime of suffering, constant medical care and the inconvenience and expense that go along with it. The truth is quite to the contrary. It is more common than we realize that ordinary people like myself refuse to believe that they are helpless. Everyday thousands of people chart a new course for themselves and explore healing methods that lead them to a new world of bountiful health they’d previously been led to believe did not exist.

In her recent book, Radical Remission, Kelly Turner, PhD, studied over a thousand cases of what may be called spontaneous remission from cancer. Or course, these remissions weren’t spontaneous in the sense that they came out of nowhere. Turner identified nine things that all these cancer patients did for themselves that helped them get well, even after their doctors told they were going to die and began hospice care. One of those things was taking control of their health.

When doctors announce these terrifying diagnoses they think they’re being realistic, but often their words crush hope, hope that can and does lead to healing. Andrew Weil calls this “medical hexing.” Because of the position of authority a doctor occupies, patients often take that statement as the last word.

As Lissa Rankin, M.D., points out in her book, Mind Over Medicine, patients frequently imbibe a doctor’s pronouncements about their disease hook, line and sinker. They give up hope and die. This is the “nocebo” effect, where patients believe the worst and suffer accordingly.

Conversely, Rankin, with copious studies and examples demonstrates the power of the famous placebo effect. When given an inert treatment, patients recover from the even the most devastating diseases including cancer. A prime example is Mr. Wright who was dying of terminal cancer. His doctor gave him an experimental drug. Mr. Wright recovered in a miraculously short time. But when news surfaced that showed the medicine to be ineffective, Wright’s cancer returned. His doctor, now quite aware of the powerful placebo effect told him the medicine he’d been given was tainted, but that he now had a pure, more potent batch to give him. Again, Wright recovered. And again, when a national news story proclaimed the medicine worthless, Wright’s health faltered and he died soon thereafter.

What both Turner and Rankin are demonstrating is that there is no such thing as an incurable disease. Just because medicine has no cure, it assumes that no other treatment could possibly stimulate the body to heal itself.

In my next post I’ll explore the nine things that Kelly Turner discovered that help even the most hopeless cancer patients heal and go on to live many years full of accomplishment and happiness.

Until then, remember, a diagnosis is simply a description from a system that does not recognize any other possible way to heal. It is not a prophecy of doom. Rather, it can be the door that opens to a new world of knowledge, liberation and health as we take control of our lives and discover a world of possibilities beyond conventional medicine.


Gratitude and the Yoga of Boundless Potential

Though it may seem fairly cliché to look back at the end of the year and take stock of one’s life, it is nevertheless still a worthwhile action. During such times of reflection we are encouraged by the wise among us to practice gratitude for the goodness we’ve received and also for the challenging, difficult or less than perfect parts of our lives. Of course, it’s easy to give thanks when things go our way, but it takes some seasoning and maturity to see difficulty or misfortune as equal threads in the fabric of our lives.
This has been a personal problem for me. Even when things are good, I may often see them as not quite good enough. When serendipity comes my way I am apt to be glad of it, but also disappointed that the boon did not include some greater more satisfying aspect. This continuous grasping or lack of contentment defaces my joy and sours the honey of life’s treasures. It is a crime I commit against myself and the universe of all beings. When I trespass upon providence by criticizing the bounty of its measure I participate in a form of blasphemy. I not only issue a kind of childish psychic complaint, but I bruise or disable the conduit through which my blessings are generated.
Yoga, the ever-dependable universal tool box, offers two explicit and direct concepts to steer me away from my deficient attitudes: aparigraha and santosha.
Parigrah is synonymous with craving, greed, hoarding and possessiveness. The addition of the prefix “a” equals “non”. So by practicing aparigraha I may restrain myself from grasping, lusting and reaching for things in a way that upsets my mental/emotional balance. Upsetting myself in this way may sound benign, but it is the kind of calamity that can be compared to the capsizing of a boat; it can mean utter and complete disaster. Aparigraha and santosha are the attitudes that lead away from poverty toward practical, sustainable bounty.
Santosha helps me to embody the opposite of Parigrah; it is about contentment and satisfaction. Practicing santosha helps me to be comfortable where I am and with what I have in a full and complete way. The corrosive agent of malcontent on the other hand acts as a poison that leads to a chronic state of mental, emotional and physical exhaustion that will eventually present itself as dis-ease.
Satisfaction and contentment are also in perfect alignment with goal setting and achieving greater of expression of my potential. Indeed, santosha helps to me express confidence in the infinite supply of the universe as I connect with that generosity through my goals.
Coveting, hoarding and constant grasping are manifestations of fear, want and lack. If I allow fear to govern my approach to life I constrict the universal flow of plenty.
When I am gratefully content with my present situation the stage is set for me to receive the unlimited potential of all goodness.
Aparigraha and santosha come to us from the first limb of yoga, yama and niyama respectively. These are the ethical considerations of yoga or the precepts of wise living.
As we begin the year it is worthwhile to look back at where we’ve been and forward to where we’d like to go. Availing ourselves of all the eight limbs of yoga, beginning with yama and niyama, will serve us well as we integrate them into our lives. Indeed, they are here to assist us in achieving our yoga or union with the divine or the great unlimited power of universal creation.
May your new year be healthy, happy, prosperous and fulfilling as you practice the yoga of boundless potential.
As always I would love to hear from you about how yoga is transforming your life experiences.