Which is scarier — being blindfolded and smuggled into Afghanistan by mujaheddin with AK-47s during the Soviet invasion to land an exclusive interview with rebel fighters, or being told by your doctor that you’re crippled for life, have inoperable cancer, and need to write your will?
In a new memoir, Warrior Pose: How Yoga (Literally) Saved My Life, we get to glimpse some of the globe’s edgiest places — South Africa during the Apartheid rebellions, Iraq during the Persian Gulf War, Bolivian jungle coca drug labs — through the eyes of former NBC war correspondent Brad Willis, a.k.a Bhava Ram. The writing is crisp, the tales of his adventures bracing.
But running in a jagged line behind all of those gripping tales is a story that’s far more frightening and full of dread. During the peak of his career, Ram broke his back in a freak accident unrelated to his work, and that moment of falling from a 12-foot ledge changed his life. Afraid he’d lose his career, he began secretly popping pills — antidepressants, painkillers, Ritalin — and washing them down with massive amounts of alcohol. Just as his life was headed in a steep downward spiral, things actually got worse.
On assignment in Asia, Ram’s vertebra finally snapped completely, cutting into his spinal cord. After failed surgery back in the States, he was condemned to life in a stiff body brace, and then more bad news arrived. Ram was diagnosed with inoperable stage IV throat cancer as a result of exposure to spent uranium in the Gulf War.
For anyone else, it would have been the end. His doctors, friends, and family thought so, and said goodbye. But not his two-year-old son, who begged him, “Get up, Daddy.”
This is a book full of epiphanies. That plea from his son became another turning point for Ram. With the same intensity he used to have for his work when he threw himself into danger zones with reckless abandon, Ram totally reshaped his life.
In many ways, the part of Warrior Pose that covers Ram’s remarkable journey back to health by adopting ancient Yoga practices, completely detoxing, purifying his body in unusual ways daily, and meditating is more shocking than his war stories. He calls his rigorous 14-hour-a-day regimen “organic chemotherapy.”
One question that arises is, how could someone be that devoted to healing himself, and do it so successfully and thoroughly, against all odds? How did he stay focused, positive, and motivated?
The answer, I suppose, is how could he not? His choices were die or try not to die. Ram did the latter.
Years later, doctors declared him cancer-free and said it was a miracle.
There is a photo of Bhava Ram balancing on his hands, with one leg wrapped behind his neck in an advanced Yoga pose. This wasn’t merely recovery. It was reinvention.
I recommend this book to anyone who has a serious illness or injury and feels hopeless and helpless. Adversity can be our greatest friend, as it was for Bhava Ram, who now teaches classes in Deep Yoga and gives inspirational talks nationwide. His memoir is not for the faint of heart, nor is his prescription for self-healing.
But his core message is one that can be universally applied, even if Yoga isn’t one’s healing modality of choice. Everyone has the power deep within them to realize their fullest potential, and to become whole and well again despite the scariest imaginable conditions of the body and soul.