Compassion is the sacred energy that flows through the heart chakra to each and every living thing in the universe. When accessed it 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, with an open heart, perceiving the suffering of others. 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 as a 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 his or her 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 us in realizing that the physical body is the temple housing 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. When we look to and study the reasons for this separation, the kleshas show (Patanjali’s Sutra II-3), avidya, or lack of knowledge of our true nature, is the prime cause of forgetting. 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 use practices that embrace the totality of who we all are – 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 on guided my view inward to the wholeness we long for. “Don’t tell 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 physician’s assistant training program.” This was the response from the department head after I was summoned for failing to report exactly on time after performing a procedure in a patient’s room.
It was a moment of truth for me. It happened on my normal rounds one morning, walking into the hospital room of a woman with end stage cancer. She was six months pregnant, had three other children and was very frightened and feeling alone. I was there to do some procedure; I can’t even remember what it was. As I started to take out the instruments, I glanced up and our eyes met. At that moment something happened. I could feel 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.
Now many years after I completed that training as a physician’s assistant, then being involved in medical research, studying and teaching Yoga, I have learned that certain methods, practices, diets and procedures work—much of the time. When they do, we are so happy. But there are times when all our protocols, ideas and hypotheses just don’t get to the essence, the root. What do we do then? After so many years of reflection, I now realize that the time I spent with the sweet young mother with cancer, that compassion was indeed Yoga. It is this aspect of Yoga that is the depth of healing that soothes 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 and cajole them to unite. Healing then happens. This blend was put forth to develop the research protocol and study, Dr. Dean Ornish’s Lifestyle Heart Trial and the award winning Commonweal Cancer Program. Both programs gave me a feeling of gratitude and a sense of contributing to bringing light into western medicine. The constant refinement and rediscovering of the yogic practices allows each person to gain the benefit of healing. Often the healing was not a total physical cure, but a rebalancing of the energies that flows through the body, mind and emotions to touch the spirit. It affords everyone a sense of peace and clarity to make 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.
Originally trained in Western medicine, after studying with Sri Swami Satchidananda, Nischala Devi began to blend western medicine with Yoga, offering her expertise in developing the yoga portion of The Dean Ornish Program for Reversing Heart Disease, and co-founding the award-winning Commonweal Cancer Help Program. 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 people with serious illness. She is invited all over the world to conduct Yoga of the Heart® trainings and other workshops. Nischala Devi is the author of “The Healing Path of Yoga” and “The Secret Power of Yoga.” She serves on the Advisory Council for The International Association of Yoga Therapists and for YogaHub.
(by Nischala Joy Devi, from the May, 2013 IYTA Newsletter)