Brad Willis a.k.a. Bhava Ram is a former NBC war correstpondent. He is the recipient of the prestigious Alfred I. duPont Award for his work inside Afghanistan during the Soviet occupation. Self-healed from a broken back, failed surgery, and Stage IV cancer, he is now devoted to teaching Yoga and Ayurveda. In his book Warrior Pose: A War Correspondent’s Memoir, he tells the story of his transformational journey of radical self-healing.

Interview: Zoë Kors

Zoë Kors: Hi Bhava! You have a very inspiring story, but what inspires you?

Bhava Ram: What inspires me is the power of human potential… the human potential to evolve in our lives, and for profound healing. It’s always been there but it’s become somewhat obscure to us given the stressful, fast-paced modern culture in which we live. I’m also inspired by how miraculous some of the simplest and most natural aspects of life can be the greatest sources of healing and transformation.

ZK: There was a time when you were on your deathbed, essentially. What was the moment of inspiration to actually heal yourself? And at what point did you realize you were out of the woods?

BR: There were a few moments that I will share with you. Just before the year 2000, I was toward the end of my life due to the Stage IV cancer. My little boy, who at that point was my only touchstone left in the world—because I was so drugged, so sick, so depressed and so filled with self-pity that I had basically deliberately alienated myself from the rest of the world—he was finally old enough, in his own little way, to realize that something was terribly wrong with his daddy. He crawled up on my lap, and with tears in his eyes, he looked at me and he said, “Get up, Daddy.”

And those three little words hit me in a place that I didn’t know that I had. That was really the first major epiphany in my life. I knew then that I had to find some inner strength and to do something, for this child. My first course of action was to detox off of all the medications, really thinking I’m just going to die with the dignity that I don’t have right now. I went through the detox program at a hospital—which with fourteen years of heavy drugs, going cold turkey was pretty fascinating.

bhava_ram_3When I came out of it, they invited me into a new, experimental clinic that used ancient Eastern healing modalities with modern Western holistic ones. My first epiphany that this might work came on my first day, when I went into biofeedback. They hooked me up to computers through electrodes, put me in a comfortable lounge chair, put an eye pillow over my face, slipped speakers onto my head and played an audio guided visualization. This very deep, soothing voice came on, saying: “You now have permission to be strong and healthy and calm and relaxed. There’s no place else to go. There’s nothing else to do.” I could feel it in every cell of my body, and I immediately realized, there’s something here. I could feel my heart rate slow down. I could feel stress melting out of my body. I had a direct experience of the efficacy of this form of mind-body medicine. This comes from somebody who had been sort of an alpha male, highly cynical war correspondent, who had basically seen it all and heard it all, was cynical and trusted nothing.

The third epiphany came about a month and a half later, when they took me for my first session of therapeutic yoga. I had never done any sort of yoga before, and this epiphany was a little more esoteric. I walked into the yoga room and there was a voice from my soul that said out loud, This is it! I just knew. I just knew in that moment—
I couldn’t even straighten my legs. I couldn’t sit cross-legged on the floor. I couldn’t put my legs up the wall in the most gentle, restorative yoga pose, and yet, I knew. There was a voice inside of me that had a wisdom that I had never deeply tapped into, in terms of my own personal transformation.

ZK: That touches on what I was going to ask you next, which is: do you attribute the healing to an energy that is located in your mind or in your heart? Or somewhere else?


BR: Definitely an intelligence in the light of the heart. In yoga, we refer to this as the heart center—right behind the breastbone, and visualize it as a golden candle flame of light and spirit. There’s a much deeper knowing and deeper intelligence in
this place. This is where I began the journey of listening to that inner wisdom. We’ve all had those aha moments. In yoga it’s called prajna—a flash of illumination. I heard that voice. I was at a point in my life that was really between life or death, and I sort of intuitively and instinctively knew, I have to listen.

ZK: How long from that point until your cancer went into remission?

BR: Two years. I don’t think I can put my finger exactly on when remission occurred, because from that moment on, I left Western medicine and never looked back. I practiced every day for ten to twelve hours a day—spiritual studies, meditation, pranayama, yoga postures, Ayurvedic studies, deep, deep, powerful cleansings and fasting. Each day, I would feel new wisdom and new intuition and I would follow that. Most everything I was doing was coming from that voice in my heart, which was affirmed by the ancient texts.

ZK: This begs the question: what does courage mean to you?

BR: Well for me, courage means having the courage to walk off the edge of what is known, with complete faith that you’re not going to go crashing to the bottom. Stepping outside of your own self-perceived boundaries and limitations.

ZK: How do you process emotional pain, after this journey that you’ve been on?

BR: Emotional pain rarely comes up for me now. When it does, for sure, I feel it. But then, fortunately, through my life experience and my practices, I’m able to see it for what it is, and I’m able to use the techniques that yoga and Ayurveda have to offer us. I remind myself that I don’t have the ability to completely manipulate reality to be exactly what I want it to be. So now that reality is antithetical to what I want, how I can feel into it and act skillfully rather than react? How can I choose my best course of action while not pretending I don’t have the pain, or running away from the pain, or blaming someone else for the circumstances of my life? How can I look at it and say, there it is—it’s real. This is what is happening. It might even be a catalyst for more personal growth for me. It might be a blessing in disguise. It might not be. What’s my best course of action? How can I be skillful?

ZK: What makes you feel vulnerable?

BR: I feel vulnerable every day to the grace of God as expressed in every living thing. I feel vulnerable to the astonishing beauty of being alive and to Mother Nature. I feel positive when I feel vulnerable, because it’s another reminder that it’s not all about me and about my ego. And I actually think it’s courageous to be vulnerable, and it’s not something to be avoided.

ZK: I have goosebumps. Must be so different from who you used to be.

BR: Really amazingly different from who I used to be, yet also I liked who I used to be before I got sick. I think, in a way, I’ve returned to who I used to be as a global correspondent whose life was devoted to really making a difference, illuminating what’s happening in the world, always drawn toward the suffering of peoples and cultures and exposing exploitation and injustice; but now I’m the same person in a much, much softer iteration.

ZK: How do you feel about the phrase, “bad things happen to good people?”


BR: To start with, I now realize that a broken back, failed surgery, and Stage IV cancer are three of the greatest things that ever happened to me. Three of the most positive, transformative things that ever happened to me. They helped me become a vastly better person than I ever was, and I am eternally grateful for that.

ZK: What was the gratitude? What were you grateful to the back pain for?

BR: Grateful that it brought me to a point of really seeing myself and really seeing where I was imbalanced, and really seeing it was a message from the Divine that changed my life. You might say that, imagine a child walking by a hot stove and touching it, and burning their finger and screaming, and being very angry and whiny and wanting to kick the stove—when it really was the Divine’s way of saying, “My beloved child, you’re acting wrong, you can’t touch me, I’m hot. So I’m going to send you this message and I’m going to make it so palpable that you’re not going to do it again.” And it was a message that my life was out of balance. I was charging forward too hard, into too many war zones, working too long, drinking too heavily, pushing forward, pushing forward. And who knows, had this not happened, maybe I would have been one of the casualties as a journalist covering the war. Who knows, maybe I would have been captured and tortured somewhere along the line, because I always pushed things to the limit. And I went through the same process when I sort of addressed in my practice cancer next, when I began all the veganism and the fasting and the purifications. Part of that was just gratitude, expressing gratitude, thank you, thank you.

When I work with private clients now, one of the first places that I try to take them to is cultivating a sense of gratitude for their circumstances. And that’s usually one of the first big steps in their healing.

ZK: It’s a very powerful perspective. What is your message to other people?

BR: No matter what you’re facing in your life, what obstacles you might have, and what you feel your limitations might be, there’s something inside you that’s eternal, that is filled with wisdom and potential and possibility. There’s an inner power inside you to affect an amazing level of healing, to help you find who you really are, to help you walk your unique path up the mountain, to help you move towards manifesting your fullest potential. Whether your life is destined to be short or to be long, along the way on that journey, if you access that inner power, not only will you change your life in a positive way, you’ll ultimately help change other peoples lives. You will be carrying something forward.

ZK: That’s beautiful. Bhava, I’m going to play back this recording as a daily affirmation. In your voice. That is beautiful.

BR: That is sweet. My message is believe in yourself. Have courage in your capacity. Listen to your inner voice. And then the critical component of all this is, do the work.

ZK: Gotcha. I’m going to do my practice now. Thanks, Bhava!

BR: Thank you, Zoe!

Bhava Ram lives in San Diego and is the founder of Deep Yoga with his wife, Laura Plumb.

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