One thing I really miss in my residency-filled life is READING. I finally finished Brian Leaf’s “Misadventures of a Garden State Yogi” and if you’re looking for a holiday gift for a yogi friend this might be a good one.
He talks about the eight keys to happiness:
- Do yoga. And if you already do yoga, do more yoga.
- Follow your heart.
- Cultivate and follow your intuition.
- Apply at least three pieces of Ayurvedic wisdom to your daily schedule.
- Connect with your heart, and interact with others from that place.
- Speak and act from your true self.
- Become most real.
He discusses the yamas and niyamas:
- Purity, cleanliness
- Discipline, purpose
- Self-observation, reflection
- Meditation on the divine
“Sometimes I like to do an experiment: I pick one yama or niyama and follow it ‘religiously’ for a week. This works because, as Swami Kripalu says, the yamas and niyamas are like beads on a necklace – if you pick up one, they all follow along.”
He writes about his battles with ulcerative colitis and how yoga helped him manage his symptoms.
“When diet is wrong, medicine is of no use. When diet is correct, medicine is of no need.” ~Ayurvedic proverb
He stresses the importance of pursuing your passion and following your intuition, quoting some of my favorites from Steve Jobs: “Have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become” to Paulo Coelho: “God had prepared a path for everyone to follow. You just have to read the omens that he left you.”
And he was generous enough to do this Q&A — enjoy!
Q&A with Brian Leaf, author of Misadventures of a Garden State Yogi
What advice do you have for doctors-in-training as they begin to develop their medical practice and style?
Listen to patients. You, the doctor, know a lot. But never stop listening and observing.
How do you fit yoga into your daily routine, particularly when you are busy and exhausted?
It can be tough. But I find that a lot of people have an all or nothing attitude that makes them skip yoga for weeks at a time–“If I can’t do my 75 minute class I won’t do yoga.” BUT, I find that after even ten minutes of simple postures on my yoga mat, I am more grounded, renewed, and more centered in my body and in my heart.
How do you keep connected to your passions?
Yoga. Truly. When yoga centers me in my body and in my heart, it’s easy to stay connected to my passions. I lose this connection and become flat and even depressed when I am lost in my mind and disconnected from my heart. So yoga which opens my heart reconnects me to my passions.
You offer eight Keys to Happiness throughout your book. One of them is “Follow Your Heart.” What advice do you have for people who would like to start living in that way?
The best way to do this is, as often as possible, to ask the question, “What do I really feel right now?” The question is not, “What should I feel right now.” It’s not even, “What is appropriate right now.” It is, “What do I really feel, and what do I really want?”
Asking these questions helps you get in touch with who you really are and what you’re really meant to do. Feel for answers that give you a deep sense of rightness, passion, and vitality. And, by the way, following your heart does not automatically mean giving up your nine-to-five job at the insurance company or leaving your spouse and fourteen children for your twenty-three-year-old Zumba instructor. Sometimes the boring job at the insurance company is just right. You might need the paycheck that feeds your family and allows you to spend happy evenings and weekends together. Or not. Following your heart only means tuning into and following not your ego, not your mind, not what you’ve been told is right, but a deep feeling of passion, vitality, and rightness.
You say that yoga is your calling. Do you believe that everyone has a calling?
Yes, I believe that everyone has a calling. It could be to teach math, practice medicine, build schools in India, raise a family, or trade stocks. I believe identifying and following one’s calling brings happiness and a sense of peace. Plus, when we are following our calling, we serve the world best, like playing the right part in a giant symphony.
You speak quite a bit about listening to intuition. How can you tell when an urge is intuition and when it is simply thoughts or desires?
For me, the litmus test of the legitimacy of an urge or intuition is to do yoga and meditate. Yoga quiets my mind and engages my heart and intuition. If after yoga and meditation an urge or concern goes away, it was just a passing whim. But if during practice, it builds and intensifies, and especially if all other thoughts fade away, leaving one urge shouting to be heeded, then I know I must follow it.
Another one of your Keys to Happiness is “Meditate.” What advice do you have to offer those who are new to meditation or having a hard time sticking with it?
Meditation can be torture at first. It can be just terrible. But it gets much easier. The key is taking small bites. Start with only five minutes. And use the breath as a point of focus. Otherwise meditation can be five solid minutes of the mind obsessing on lunch. I remember one time meditating in a very sacred room at the Kripalu yoga ashram and feeling really guilty because my mind was so ridiculously noisy — my thoughts were so loud in my head that I forgot that no one else could hear them.
What has been the most challenging part so far along your personal journey?
Staying committed to the path and tirelessly pursuing spiritual experiments was not at all challenging. It felt like the only choice, like what I was meant to do. But sometimes the day to day of being on the path was very difficult and painful. As they say, “The path to enlightenment [or I would add simply “to not being neurotic”] is like a razor’s edge.”