Compassion is the sacred energy that flows through the heart chakra to each and every living thing in the universe and then from the universe it is offered to us. This exchange of energy allows us to feel a sense of oneness with all.
As Yoga students and teachers, compassion blossoms as our inner guidance. It constantly reminds us that it is not the exactness of a technique that gives students the experience of Yoga, but the ability to access our own sacred energy.
Compassion is fostered by our personal experience through hardships—physical, mental or emotional—or by perceiving other’s suffering with an open heart.
The next time you have a slight injury or pain, allow the awareness of that discomfort to expand, embracing the many that live with chronic suffering on a permanent basis. This consciousness greatly aids in the development of our compassion.
The great privilege of learning compassion in my life came through both of the ways described. As a child and young adult I had multiple infirmities. Yet, my greatest gift of compassion came when I was able to share the great teachings of Yoga with people whose lives are intimately infused with pain and the fear that often accompanies it.
All the formulas and structures accrued dissolve as we embrace a person in their deepest suffering. A prayer that the person is able to stand or bend without discomfort replaces the alignment once thought to be so important in asana.
Compassion is the catalyst that allows the great teachings to guide them in realizing that the physical body is the temple lodging the Divine Self. According to Yoga philosophy, disease manifests not from the physical, but from the disconnection with our source or spirit. When we are able to remember who we are the healing is accelerated.
Querying the reasons for this separation, the Yoga Sutras describe the primary Kleshas, II-3, and Avidya, Innocence of our true nature, as the prime cause of forgetting who we are. As compassionate beings, our ability to help others is directly affected by our own belief in this most basic of concepts.
On a practical basis, when teaching Yoga to people with life-threatening diseases, I suggest practices that embrace the totality of who we are as physical, mental, emotional and spiritual beings.
My initial entry into working with this population blossomed as I became more and more disillusioned with the western style of medicine. In their need to specialize, the whole was often missed. The separate parts became more important. From this narrowed view, the Divine within was forgotten.
Weaving the understanding of the miracle of the human body with the elegance of the spirit allowed me to help create a new way of looking toward the whole person.
The following incident early in life guided my view inward to the wholeness we long for. It was this moment of clarity that was revealed on one of my normal morning rounds.
Absentmindedly, I entered the hospital room of a woman with end stage cancer to do a “routine” procedure. As I started to take out the instruments, I glanced ; and my eyes met the soul of a mother of three, six months pregnant, emanating fear and loneliness. At that moment there was a merging with her. I could feel it as a shift in the room and in my heart. Placing the instruments on the bedside table, I then enacted what my heart dictated. I got into bed with her and embraced her. We held each other, and wept.
From a disembodied voice in the hospital speaker I heard my name being paged in urgency. Leaving the haven of emotional comradery, I hurried back to the training office. “Are you telling me you have been in with a patient all this time, simply listening to her talk and comforting her when she cried? That is a waste of time. Keep that up and I will have to dismiss you from this training program,” scolded the department head. Was I wrong to spend this time with an emotionally-charged patient and situation? Was this wasting time or healing?
Now, many years later, after completing my training as a physician’s assistant, being involved in medical research, studying and teaching Yoga, I have learned that certain methods, practices, diets and procedures work much of the time. Without the underlying compassion, healing is not fully realized.
After deep reflection, I now understand that the time I was accused of “wasting” with the young mother with cancer was indeed-Yoga. That aspect of Yoga is the essence of healing, soothing as it heals not only the patient, but also the therapist and, ultimately, the world.
The practices and philosophy of Yoga blend both the physical and spiritual, encouraging them to unite. Healing then happens. This synthesis was the key component in developing the research protocol and subsequent study for the Lifestyle Heart Trial (Dr. Dean Ornish’s Program) and the Commonweal Cancer Help Program. Both programs allowed me a feeling of gratitude and a sense of contribution to bringing the light of Yoga into western medicine.
The constant refinement and rediscovering of the yogic practices allow each person to gain the benefit of healing. Often the healing was not a total physical cure, but a rebalancing of the energies that flow through the body, mind and emotions rejoining the spirit. It affords everyone a sense of peace and clarity in making often difficult decisions and changes, based on their highest level of healing.
Yoga is the creation of a balance of energies that allows the natural intelligence of the body to right itself. It is for this reason that most of the gentle practices can positively affect any disease or imbalance. It facilitates the alchemy by connecting hearts and souls, remembering that we are all ONE.
Nischala Joy Devi is highly respected as an international advocate for her innovative way of expressing Yoga and its subtle uses for spiritual growth and complete healing. She was graced to spend over 25 years as a monastic disciple with the world renowned, Yogiraj Sri Swami Satchidanandaji, receiving his direct guidance and teachings. Originally trained in Western medicine, she began to blend western medicine with Yoga to help develop the Yoga portion of The Dean Ornish Program for Reversing Heart Disease and co-founded the award-winning Commonweal Cancer Help Program. Her book The Healing Path of Yoga expresses these teachings. With her knowledge of Yoga and her experience in assisting those with life-threatening diseases, she created Yoga of the Heart, a training and certification program for Yoga teachers and health professionals designed to adapt Yoga practices to the special needs of that population. She is now dedicated to bringing the Feminine back into spirituality and the scriptures, in her latest book and audio CD’s, The Secret Power of Yoga, a Woman’s Guide to the Heart and Spirit of the Yoga Sutras.
Nischala Joy Devi will be leading the Yoga of the Heart Cardiac and Cancer Certification Course here at Yogaville from August 23-September 1, 2013.
(From the IYTA Newsletter, August, 2009)