Brad Willis, now known as Bhava Ram, was a well-known NBC broadcast journalist who won the Alfred I. duPont Award for his work inside Afghanistan during the Soviet occupation. In the midst of a shining career, he broke his back after a freak fall off a 12-foot ledge—which sent his life spiraling downward through crippling pain, alcohol and drug addiction, career loss, and an 80-pound weight gain. After failed surgery that left him in a body brace, followed by a diagnosis of terminal throat cancer, he was given only weeks to life. With nothing to lose, he launched into ancient yoga and Ayurvedic practices to save his life, and now, 15 years later, is a yoga teacher and cancer free. Below is an excerpt from his book, Warrior Pose: How Yoga (Literally) Saved My Life (BenBella Books).
Each evening after dinner in my hotel suite, I practice deep breathing, a few alternate arm-leg balances, then lie on the living room floor, reading Deep Healing and listening to Dr. Emmett Miller’s audiotapes. When I’m completely relaxed, I contemplate my higher power. Exactly what is it? How do I connect at a deeper level? Harmonize body, mind, and soul like Dr. Miller advocates and Dawn teaches me in Jin Shin Jyutsu?
But tonight, after a long day, I feel the full force of back pain returning. It’s the first time since checking into the detox ward that this prelude to a major episode has gripped me. I know it too well. It begins with the ice pick sensation, like I’m being stabbed in the tailbone. Then a fire rages in my back. My muscles fill with tension and begin to spasm. Sciatica runs down the backs of my arms and legs. These episodes always shut me down for at least two or three days, sometimes a week or more. I’m gripped with fear. Is all my progress just a farce? Is this going to knock me out of the pain center? I have just crawled out of the abyss, and now I wonder, Am I going to fall back in?
Instinct and habit kick in. I need some pills. Must gobble morphine, Vicodin, and Valium. Oh God, I flushed those! I remember the Celebrex and Neurontin by my bedside and start to go for them. Then I pause. Deep inside of me I hear Dawn talking about physical, mental, and spiritual harmony. And Dr. Miller’s words are bubbling into my mind as well, urging me to be strong, healthy, calm, and relaxed. As I stare at the prescription bottles, contemplating swallowing a double or triple dose, an inner voice says Don’t do it. Take responsibility for your own health. Allow relaxation to heal you at every level.
The flare-up continues to grip me all over, but I don’t resist. “I have you,” I tell the pain out loud. “You don’t have me.” I lie down on the living room floor and try to relax into it. Oh, Higher Power, Dear God, whoever, whatever you are, guide me through this. Holding my hands together in a Jin Shin Jyutsu position designed to move energy in the lower back, I breathe as deeply as I can, consciously accepting the torment, surrendering to it, even thanking it for all it has taught me. I am strong, healthy, calm, and relaxed. There are moments I want to scream and writhe in pain, but I keep completely still. Breathing, relaxing, accepting, releasing, surrendering. Wage inner peace. It’s now or never, this is the test.
Thirty minutes later, a slow shift. The sciatica and muscle spasms start to subside. I have you, you don’t have me. I breathe deeper. Focus more intently. Surrender further. Another thirty minutes. I can feel pain leaving my arms and legs. Thank you for the lesson, pain. Thirty more minutes and it leaves my hips. I’m strong, healthy, calm, and relaxed. My back is still on fire. I stay with it. My body, emotions, mind, and Soul are all at peace. Visualizing the ice pick slowly being removed from my tailbone. And then I picture my son Morgan. Get up, Daddy. Another thirty minutes. Breathe, accept, release. Maybe an hour goes by. Get up, Daddy. Suddenly, I feel deeply relieved. Light. Airy. Still, it takes a while to realize it: All the pain is gone.
I can hardly believe it. In less than three hours, I’ve ended a pain episode that in the past would have immobilized me for days. The best news is that I haven’t had to rely on any drugs. Maybe I don’t have to look inside of a pill jar any more to find relief. I can look inside myself instead. I stay on the floor a while longer, just to make sure this is real, then get up carefully, find the Celebrex and Neurontin, and toss them in the trash.
Brad Willis, a.k.a. Bhava Ram, is a former NBC News war correspondent who self-healed through mind/body/spirit medicine and yoga. The founder of Deep Yoga, based in San Diego, he teaches workshops and leads retreats throughout the US and India. See his recent TEDx talk based on the book, find out how he has impacted many lives (Healing with Bhava Ram), and learn more at www.deepyoga.com.