John Friend: The Radical Quantum Shift of Yoga
YTW-Writer Eva Norlyk Smith recently sat down for an interview with Anusara® yoga founder John Friend. This is the second installment of the interview.
YTW: We hear a lot of reports like that about the transformative powers of yoga, enough so that it’s clear that yoga isn’t just about working out or even feeling better, getting rid of back pain, or whatever. A lot of people seem to have a natural experience of transformation in their life. Could you speak a little bit about that?
John Friend: Yes, as I see it, there are three aspects to the transformation many people experience when they start yoga. I call them the 3 A’s: attitude, alignment, and action. That is really the source of tremendous deep transformation within a person, not just physically but on all levels: mentally, psychologically, emotionally, and I think even spiritually.
Very regularly I meet people who tell me that yoga helped to change their life. What are they really saying? Well, they’re saying that their whole view on life, the way that they’re approaching and relating to life has radically shifted. It speaks to something much more than just the physical benefits of yoga.
YTW: Yes, a case in point: In one of the sessions at the Anusara Yoga Grand Gathering in Estes Park, you brought up a guy, who was hit by lightning many years ago, and had such a painful spine condition that he had been on painkillers for 7-8 years and had become addicted. He said that after one yoga session, his life started turning around and he’s now off his addiction.
Yes. Ben (name has been changed) came to me on the recommendation of somebody else, whose life had been radically shifted by their yoga practice. Ben had had a very mysterious physiological response to being hit by lightening. He was in chronic pain, and he had been to numerous doctors around the United States, but no one could provide him with any other relief than pain medications. In the process, he had even gotten addicted to those pain medications.
When I worked with him, I basically helped him to align his body, physically. So I worked with him from a physical orientation. But by aligning him physically, he had an opening, energetically.
He was in chronic pain, but I got him out of pain within a few minutes, at least for a few minutes, and that immediately gave him some relief. And, as you know, physical pain is directly connected to mental pain. So once he got out of physical pain without medication, he relaxed.
And then as the energy moved through him, he started to literally realign his body within minutes, to the extent that he could hold it. And the pain went away. The pain went away and he began feeling so empowered that he could finally exercise. After 7 years.
Living with pain like that is like being imprisoned in your body. And when you’re let out, what happens? Watch him. Watch people come out of jail. They will kiss the ground. They smell the air outside. It shifts you inside. It’s a feeling that your spirit, you soul, is free of a chronic pain. And the suffering is really the mind and the soul suffering in reaction to this pain.
When that pain is alleviated and you know that you can alleviate it without medication, that you have the power to do it by yourself, that blows your heart open. And that changes your life. And you think, “You know what, I can do this myself to some extent in alignment with nature. I can do this.” That’s what’s so empowering about this practice.
YTW: You’re probably familiar with Richard Miller’s work with veterans with post traumatic stress disorder and Amy Weintraub’s work with yoga for depression and anxiety…
John Friend: Yes, of course.
YTW: One of my favorite yoga quotes is, “Whatever and we hold the past in our bodies as well as in our minds.” That quote speaks so well to why and how yoga would have an effect even on mental health issues. Do you think yoga is ultimately going to prove to be as effective in treating psychological issues as counseling or guidance?
John Friend: Firstly, when we say that yoga affects these conditions, it’s a big catch-all. So for the purposes of this conversation, let’s define yoga as a practice that aligns one with the rhythms of nature to bring greater balance and harmony to one’s life.
And that harmony, at the deepest point, is in one’s soul. And, it’s in one’s mind, on all the levels of mind, from the most intuitive part to the most rational. Because, while yoga appears to touch only the physiology, we now know that the biology of the body is intrinsically intertwined with the mind. There’s a very fuzzy border between mind and the biochemical reality of the body. So our yoga practice helps us to align with nature, i.e. we literally have more control over our biology. It helps us align in ways so that those deep traumas, which have created bindings and pains and have blocked the flow of life within us, can be completely shifted.
I have seen this happen again and again over 40 years, so I know it works.
The trick is to be able to take a yoga program, take any kind of a template and take it out to the masses, so that we can empower people, so that they don’t have to be in this situation. Because right now, when people are in pain physically or emotionally, many times there are no big avenues for alleviation. So people just kind of say, “You know what, this is the way it’s been. This is the way it’s always gonna be.”
So, that’s what blows many people away when they start yoga. The fact that even just after just a short while of practicing yoga they can have such a radical quantum shift in their physical, mental, and emotional states through this practice. It is completely astounding.