As a cofounder of the Commonweal Cancer Help Program and of the Integral Yoga Teacher Training Programs, collaborator for the Yoga portion of Dr. Dean Ornish’s Program for Reversing Heart Disease, and founder of Yoga of the Heart,™ Nischala Joy Devi has been serving as a bridge between Yoga and modern medical techniques since the 1970s. Yoga of the Heart is a unique certification program for Yoga teachers to be trained in adapting Yoga for heart and other life-threatening diseases. In this interview, she talks about the heart of healing.
Integral Yoga Magazine: Why did you choose, The Healing Path of Yoga as the title of your book?
Nischala Devi: I wanted to convey that this is not a book of cures. It’s not, “Do these three asanas and call me in the morning!” [laughs] The book talks about the path we walk in terms of a labyrinth—it’s not a straight line but a process and pathway toward our inner Self.
And, if along the path, the physical body is having imbalances, then we can utilize the great teachings of Yoga to help our bodies rebalance. I believe in applying the whole philosophy of Yoga; otherwise it’s almost an “allopathic” application of Yoga. Ultimately, Yoga is for total transformation.
IYM: What is this healing path of Yoga?
ND: It is the path that we embark on to our wholeness as we embrace the teachings and practices of Yoga. The word healing means, “to go back to wholeness.” Yoga means, “to reunite.” Essentially, these two words have the same meaning! It is this healing, in the larger sense, that we took birth for. It is a return to our oneness with the divine.
The essence of healing is basically to bring the consciousness back to the heart, and that is the ultimate healing. The reason we have problems healing is because we forget who we are. We forget our divine nature. So then we get pulled into things that are not as healthy. And that is message of the Yoga Sutras—to remind us to go back to the essence of who we are and let go of our perceived suffering, the identification with who we are not.
IYM: What do you mean by “perceived suffering?”
ND: Suffering is holding onto pain and identifying with it. When we begin to work at deeper levels, we touch parts of ourselves that are not in pain. This contact enables us to understand that part of ourselves that is not in pain, as well as that part of ourselves that is in pain. By shifting our identification to the part of ourselves that is not in pain, our perception of suffering changes.
IYM: What is the difference between healing and curing in your view?
ND: Healing is a lifetime process that occurs on many levels—mental, emotional, physical, spiritual. As we are speaking, there are cells dying and cells being born. In nature, leaves bloom while other leaves wither. It’s a constant process. The body is a part of nature. The Western mind thinks of healing with a period at the end. This is the Western model of cure, but if we treat the problem without finding its cause, it will just come out in some other way.
IYM: Do you have concerns about the increasingly popular Yoga therapy arena?
ND: I have a number of concerns. A huge amount of humility is needed to work with someone who is ill. It’s as important to know what not to do as it is to know what to do. Ahimsa is the first thing. I think there are dangers in “prescriptive Yoga.” A holistic understanding of Yoga is needed before becoming a Yoga therapist. I also see some Yoga therapists promising “cures” just so they can get more clients. For me, Yoga is about service, not business.
I am also concerned that many teachers have good intentions but haven’t studied under a Yoga Master for years to learn the subtle and delicate aspects of Yoga or established that connection. Many are not able to call in the spirit of the Masters when people are in need of healing. I feel very blessed to have had so much time with Sri Gurudev (Swami Satchidananda).
About Nischala Joy Devi
Nischala Joy Devi is a master teacher and healer. For over 30 years she has been 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 study with Yoga masters in US, India and worldwide and was a monastic disciple of the world renowned Yogiraj Sri Swami Satchidananda and spent over 25 years receiving his direct guidance and teachings. During her time in the monastery she began to blend western medicine with yoga and meditation. She then offered her expertise in developing the Yoga portion of The Dean Ornish Program for Reversing Heart Disease where she subsequently served for seven years as Director of Stress Management. She also co-founded the award-winning Commonweal Cancer Help Program. The Healing Path of Yoga, now in its sixth printing, has become a classic text for Yoga Therapy. For more information on Nischala Joy Devi’s books, her programs, and Abundant Well-Being Series of CDs, please visit her website: abundantwellbeing.com.
Reprinted from Integral Yoga Magazine, Summer 2004