Interview With A Warrior
Bhava Ram (Brad Willis) was an ambitious, hard-nosed global journalist working for NBC in Asia when he collapsed at the editing table one afternoon in the Philippines. A small but painful fracture in his L5 vertebrae—that he’d self-medicated for seven years—had suddenly become a major fracture. Back in the US, he underwent bone fusion surgery—but it didn’t work. Willis was left permanently disabled and unable to return to the risky job that he loved so much.
To compound the trauma, Willis was diagnosed shortly after with stage IV cancer that metastasized to his lymph. Treatment destroyed his thyroid and salivary glands, and left him with a bleeding throat. Doctors gave him two years. From there he slipped into depression, drinking, more self-medication and fits of rage that terrified his family.
At an experimental pain management facility Willis discovered yoga and after much hard work and self-study, he eventually—and remarkably—transformed his life, healing his back and ultimately becoming cancer free through the ancient wisdom of yoga.
In 2004, Willis created the Deep Yoga School of Healing Arts in San Diego so that others can benefit from his experiences and studies.
Joelle Han: Can you tell me more about what Deep Yoga is?
Bhava Ram: What I found doing my own personal healing journey was that the ancient wisdom of the science of yoga embedded in the Upanishads, Bhagavad Gita, Hatha Yoga Pradipika, and Yoga Sutras had incredible application to our modern times.
We use the underlying logic and intelligence of these ancient texts and apply them to therapeutic modalities. Yoga is a science of personal transformation and self-awareness, and as a part of that process, healing happens on physical and emotional levels.
I work with a host of clients, and some of their conditions are dramatic such as cancer and chronic pain, severe back injuries, diabetes, depression. Others have lesser challenges such as a great desire for more happiness and spiritual awareness.
All of us have inner wisdom, deep inner knowing that we’ve been disenfranchised from, that place of us that immediately intuits the truth of what we are doing. If the practices are embraced and applied regularly, they always maximize our healing potential.
JH: I was surprised, after reading about your back surgery, that you were able to walk at all, let alone do yoga. Any thoughts on why?
BR: It was difficult walking, in a lot of pain, but I was also overweight. During my healing, I took 80 pounds off my body, built flexibility and strength slowly in the muscles and tissues in that area, and I was doing pranayama practices so I was sending oxygenated blood into those regions too.
I still technically have a broken back—but I’m fully active, rock climbing, climbing mountains. I still have flare ups where I feel tenderness in my back but I have this whole ancient tool kit to minimize the circumstances.
JH: So many people live with chronic pain such as back pain. Your example is a powerful reminder that they don’t have to just live with it.
BR: There is something people can do. It’s funny to say, but I have profound gratitude for that pain. It gives me more compassion for the people that I work with, and it reminds me that my journey is always a journey. When we have compassion for things that cause discomfort we can use them for growth instead of exacerbate them.
JH: Your son Morgan was an important part of your healing. How old is he now? Is he interested in any aspects of yoga?
BR: He’s 15 and we are extremely close. He’s a black belt in karate and wants to be an engineer. He participates when he’s interested. I’m not trying to make him into a yogi.
I learned a lot from my experience with my own parents. They were loving but their values were deeply constricted and prejudicial. I learned a lot from that, mostly that it’s really important to love people for who they are and not who you want to want them to be.
JH: What was it like writing your memoir, “Warrior Pose: A War Correspondent’s Memoir: How Yoga (Literally) Saved my Life”?
BR: Writing the book was a cathartic experience. When I realized I was healed of cancer, I was compelled to write this story because I realized that it was less than about me, personally, than it was about the potential for transformation that all of us have.
But it was hard to go back, to remember how dark I’d become when I was sick. Some of that stuff was too tender, like my illness, my divorce. I had to own all of that, and that took time.
JH: Was it painful to also recall your life as a global journalist? I imagine that wasn’t easy to let go of it.
BR: It was gratifying to recall that aspect of who I was and those peak moments in my life.
I am surprised to hear myself say this, but really, I don’t need to go back now. I established Deep Yoga, I feel grounded in what I do. That chapter is closed. I feel much more edified and whole doing what I do now.
Bhava Ram will be giving a workshop at Yoga Union on June 1st from 2-5pm called, “The Guru Is You: Connecting with Your Inner Power for Self-Healing and Manifesting Your Fullest Potential.”
Joelle Hann is a writer and yoga teacher. Read her yoga and travel writings here.