December 19, 2011

Narrative Medicine: From Sickness to Health

The Altar by Mikalujus Ciurlionis (1909)

This is the second of the monthly installments on the topic of writing and its healing qualities for Olte Confine (Outer Limits) magazine. Issue number two is now out and it continues to show how thoughtful, open-minded inquiry can lead to an informative, tasteful production, beautifully illustrated and presented in magazine format on quality paper.  

There is an article on Jiddu Krishnamurti who bravely denounced even his own status as a  guru, declining any fawning adulation, and clearly seeing through any organised religious institutions to their power-hungry core by saying "All ideologies are idiotic, whether religious or political, for it is conceptual thinking, the conceptual word, which has so unfortunately divided man.

There is also an article on Pranic Healing, founded by Choa Kok Sui- and I feel it is necessary to remind people how breathing is the best and easiest connection we have to the spirit. Breathe deeper and longer and we have an instant valium-like easing of stress in our nervous system. That breathing accumulates 'chi' or 'prana' ( life energy) should come as no surprise; likewise, that it can also heal.  

Then in the Literature section, an essay on Algernon Blackwood who definitely is worth rereading in this day and age for his subtlety and suggestion of his writing. Don't be deceived by the antiquated style. There is an alternate reality bursting through the veil in most of his stories.

Plus, the  front cover of numero due is intriguing, a painting called 'The Altar' by Lithuanian symbolist, Mikalojus Ciurlionis ( 1875-1911) who was also a composer. He, like many who are synaesthetes, perecieved colours and sounds as fused together, so not surprisingly many of his paintings are named after musical forms, sonatas and preludes. His works are marvels of colour and ambiguous shading.

Perhaps the whole magazine could be translated into English one day. I can't think of another quality magazine in English, not ridden with advertising, purely for the interest in the ideas. Each of my columns is translated into Italian each month showcasing the key ideas from the research I've done into how writing heals. This is exclusively shown here and on my blog and the plan is to put them all together into an e-book. 

This second installment covers Narrative Medicine or Pathographesis, the proliferation of narratives about how the soul was put on trial in the body through diseases and how that transforms people. The next one is about how keeping a daily diary or journal can keep you sane. So watch out for that in the new year 2012. This is part of a short series of explorations of how writing heals based on my research and experience as a writer of all things difficult, exploring, among other things, how writing can be time travel, yoga, meditation and take us to the core of our minds.

For a full pdf of this article click the Oltre Confine image on


© Kieron Devlin, all rights reserved, 2011 

November 19, 2011

''Healing Through Writing in 'Oltre Confine'

Just to introduce my new monthly column for Olte Confine (Across the Border) magazine. November, Issue Numero Uno is now out and what a splendid production it is. Written in Italian, with headquarters in Rome, it is a tastefully designed feast of philosophical ideas. It is committed to 'global illumination' no less, through acknowledging the fact that we are living through a kind of neo-renaissance era, in which a transformation of the collective consciousness is taking place. 'Across the Border is a publishing project of the Cooperative Inner Space, which aims, through a variety of artistic and cultural activities, to promote the awakening of the spiritual, mental and creative individuals.' 

 For those, like me, who only know a few words of Italian, here is the first installment in English: Healing Through Writing: An Introduction. For a better view of it, go to my website The column is designed to be a short series of explorations of how writing heals based on my research and experience as a writer and purveyor of the psychological interior, and of all things difficult. It will  explore, among other things, how writing can be time travel, yoga, hypnosis, meditation and take us to the core of our minds, causing reintegration.

The magazine is a very lavish but elegant, with articles on fascinating artists, and all things esoteric and spiritual.  For example the the Zero Issue has an article on one of my all time favourite artists, Odilon Redon, by Silvia Tusi. Redon said once that 'to understand all is to love everything'. Also, the current issue approaches the divinely-inspired William Blake, so favoured by Patti Smith, she featured a reverent visit to Blake's gravestone at Bunhill cemetery here in East London in her documentary film 'Dream of Life' directed by Steven Sebring. 

They have an in-house artist who did this impression of me in pencil.The next installment will be on Pathographies: From Sickness to Health. Look out for that. It's a big challenge for me to see if I can write pithily and encompass a great deal in a short space. Giovanni Piccoza, the editor, invited me to render for the Italian readership what I know about how writing and healing interact. So, in a sense, these columns may become tasters for the book I should be writing and a reminder of all the work I still need to do to achieve that- plus, not least that I need to learn Italian, 'e quanto difficile sara'?

Why does writing heal? Simple - as Aristotle said, one of the strongest of human motivations is not food, sex or survival, but self expression. It is as though he meant -we must do that or die.


August 21, 2011

Hypnosis and Meditation: Are they the Same or Different?

They say that "when the student is ready, the teacher appears," but when I began writing this article on Hypnosis and Meditation: Same or Different (Yoga and Health Magazine, August, 2011) it was just the opposite. The teacher appeared in the guise of a student, obliging me to take the role of teacher.
Temple Painting, Neyyar Dam
I was looking for a deeper angle on meditation. I didn't feel my own practice was enough to speak with absolute authority, even though I had trained in Raja Meditation back in eighties with the Philosophy School in the UK. With quiet-spoken candour, verging on shyness, the man I approached feigned ignorance of hypnosis and hypnotherapy.  He asked me to explain it to him, as though he was a novice. I was dumfounded - he had flattered me to thinking hypnosis was more interesting to him, when the fact was that I wanted to know more about meditation from him. It was a guileless, but nevertheless, clever technique to put me first and himself last.

From that interview in his office, I gleaned some of the insights into Vedic-style meditation from a serious, long-term meditator. His name was Nataraj - the spiritual director, not the overall master, but the de facto guru of the ashram. 'Nataraj' means 'King of Dancers' referring to one of Shiva's many forms. He explained meditation from the Vedic point of view - but for Buddhists too, meditation is the cornerstone of altering ordinary perception of reality to the subtle energetic layers of existence. It is a direct way of understanding that we are not our body - there is an essence beyond yet within it.

I drew three circles for him to explain what I thought were the similarities and differences between hypnosis and meditation and where they overlapped. This was my rough draft of the chart in the article- still being developed I might add.  He offered me ginger tea and seemed only mildly curious about me and my life in England. It was as though he was declaring the outside world to be an 'illusion' to be kept at arm's length; he rarely paid much attention to it, yet any little nuggets of info I could bring from my investigations were curiosities to him. I was, in effect, his news conduit.

This ruse deflected any awkwardness and nerves on my part about being with a real 'guru'. There's this silly idea that they can somehow see right through you. In front of them, you become emotionally naked. I thought 'this must be his strategy of selflessness so that everyone felt good in his presence; felt the allure of the spirit; and he must see a lot of people; yet each one must feel acknowledged; noticed; even though he probably will never remember your name - which would not matter anyway.

For him, the notions of the Causal, Mental and Physical Bodies and how they interconnected were very important, as was the concept of Karma, of cause and effect and Ahimsa (avoiding harm). Getting to the Causal body- where it all starts- is similar to accessing the subconscious mind to reframe beliefs and dispel problems.  He asked me to write names that I'd mentioned: Jonathan Goldman, Charles Tart, and the Epsilon frequency. As, he didn't spend a lot of time surfing the net, he was fascinated about the the Dalai Lama who encourages  scientists to do experiments on Tibetan monks, monitoring their brain-wave frequencies. I said that the Epsilon frequency, was linked to deep-sleep states, knowledge of which the Tibetans excel.

All this was at the Sivananda Neyyar Dam Ashram, near Trivinandrum, Kerala. Thirty kilometers into the backhills away from the coast, it is well known in the area as a true haven. Yet it still feels like a well-kept secret, being to my mind, one of the most secluded and peaceful beauty spots on earth, nestled as it is on a mountain side, near a lake with soothing water for swimming. Think - jungle foliage, hidden shrines, Ayurvedic massage huts, extraordiary Hindu god statues, a rigorous yoga routine, and the echo of lions roaring in the morning, and there you have it.

It's the perfect place to meditate, especially at dawn, but even if you don't know how to meditate, and prefer just to fix problems by going inwards in the privacy of your own bedroom, it is the same place that you arrive at - the inner space. 'Wherever you go, there you are' says J.Kabat-Zinn, and this is the paradox. We always land just where we are, and that is perhaps just where we are meant to be.

Daily Lecture on Yoga
It has to be said that going to exotic ashrams in itself does not make your meditation any better than anyone else's. Pretty surroundings can even be a distraction, though it does help a bit with peripheral focus. You can effectively do meditation anywhere, even while walking. For those who are stuck in a low-paid, nine-to-five job that doesn't permit holidays to yoga retreats, there's always the comfortable chair at home. Just begin just closing your eyes and 'being there'.

Likewise, for those who are turned off by all the Hindu or Buddhist terminology and iconography, you can relax too: hypnosis with a trained hypnotherapist or a session by yourself of self hypnosis, is a great way - and a gateway! - to the path inwards. Sometimes we don't need to travel far to get where we want to be. It's right there at home all the time.

Fortunately it's all a big cumulative, virtuous circle: the more people can genuinely relax, the more they breathe deeply; the more able they are to connect to their inner energies, the more able they are to gain intuition and insight; the more they are able to relax in situations that used to stress them out, the more they are able to gain a handle on tricky problems; the more confident they get at overcoming obstacles, the less fear and anxiety they experience, and so on and so on.

Siva, Lord of the Dance
So sit with a straight spine and gently close your eyes, listen to the regular intake of breath in and out, rest awhile here, and just BE wherever you are for a few minutes and that's IT. That's just fine.

Follow your goals, but hold on to them lightly, for goals sometimes make us feel upset with what we have.

Both Hypnosis and Meditation are healing and integrative processes - not exactlythe same, but sharing similar approaches - and while there are still people who have difficulties with life, or feel stuck, or afraid, or locked in patterns they can't get out of, these techniques will both be needed to restore harmony.


© Kieron Devlin, August 2011, all rights reserved

June 15, 2011

Re Energize with Donna Eden

Let the body think of the spirit
as streaming, rushing,
pouring, shining into it from

all sides.

If you have not discovered Donna Eden before, you are in for a treat. If you already know her, then you’ll realise that she is a powerhouse of light that shines into the field of energy medicine. She is a pioneer of the ideas that the body wants to heal. It is more intelligent than the brain. It is just that we often get in the way or fail to understand its energies. Her work is accessible, without dumbing down, and holds profound implications for the way we conceive of health and the human body. So when she was doing an energy medicine workshop in London, I knew nothing would keep me away. I had to meet this phenomenon. Her energy precedes her and you notice her 'effect' as she bounces on to the stage, grinning endlessly and laughing infectiously. You could - as the announcer said- feel her presence even before you arrived. You just knew she would be a effervescent personality, and that has a tonic effect on your general spirits. 

Donna Eden

What is immediately evident is this radiance that makes the electromagnetic field around her almost tangible. After about five minutes of this people were feeding off the energy like vampires. Her spontaneity and fire was in full force. This Eden 'sparkle' most likely comes from working with her own body and charging up its vital force- call it chi or prana – in all its forms.  She talks of nine systems, including the meridians lines as used in acupuncture, the triple warmer, the aura, the strange flows ( which align us with longer cycles of nature) and the Celtic Weave. The  more people know about these invisible channels of energy, the more likely they are to be of radiant health as Taoist doctors have maintained for centuries. 

She is a recoveree from multiple sclerosis and other debilitating diseases. The message is especially relevant in this current era- that your personal wound is exactly the one you heal in order to teach others the same. She is a 'wounded-healer' teacher of first rank. More than anyone else I have come across, Eden has increased my awareness of the body’s hidden lattice work of energies and kept me on the track of good health.

Many remain unaware, or have only a dim recognition, that these energies exist. What? You can't 'see' them ergo they are not there!! But they are there. One reason we fail to see them might be that in Western medicine the body is regarded as a concrete, solid object, full of discrete parts to be surgically removed when they go wrong. Yet there are many signs of major shift in the perception towards an more subtle organising energy principle like an electromagnetic field, a life force that governs the overall vital health. Kirlian photography shows that heat lines travelling along these meridian lines.
David Feinstein

David Feinstein, her partner, was also presenting, and commented every so often, adding points, sharpening the blurry edges of Donna's explanations. They make a great double act: right and left brain working in a dance of complementary modes. He looks distinguished, tall with grey hair and she obviously loves him being around. In his very ill-fitting suit, he was the left brain, calming and organising, giving the scientific bases underscoring the energy medicine philosophy. Donna was the visual/kinaesthetic, emotional core; wilder and freer- getting it out of sequence in her enthusiasm, having to ask what she was doing in the middle of doing it- but her assistants were there to help her out, yet she was  help taking it all in, and did not forget anyone who asked for help. She is the planetary sun in solar system of the Eden family. While, he wore grey, black, purple; she wore bright orange; plum and pink.

Donna certainly delivers. She dealt promptly and effectively with people who had headaches, back aches, breathing problems, chronic fatigue, and even lock jaw. She descrambled people whose energies were not fully integrated, and thus not working at full potential. She was very unplanned, gauging what she would do on the basis of what the audience wanted, fielding questions that went off at every tangent.  She would bring anyone who asked a question up on stage. She worked on them directly often with startling effect. Then she would laugh and say, ‘that’s it you’re done now, you are healed, you can go.’ Usually they were ‘fixed,’ at least temporarily, and happy to have received their super ‘hug’ from Donna.

Titanya Eden
Then there was Donna's daughter, Titanya floating around. On first sight, almost a carbon copy of Donna herself, with the same recognisable frizzy-blonde hair, but Titanya has her own unique vibe with her music and quasi-oriental dance moves. Titanya having grown up with Donna has made her own version of energy medicine - energy dance. This involved twining your hands around in figure eights, and shimmying your hips like jelly, needless to say very popular. She is co-authoring a book with her mother on Energy Medicine for children. Yet some, no doubt, would find the eternal grinning off putting thinking Donna can't be this happy ALL the time. But it seems she is. Plus she always tests positive for a hot fudge sundae- her favourtie dessert.

If you have already read the book Energy Medicine (1999) the workshop brings it all to life.  She showed how someone with homolateral (not fully integrated energies) reads in front of someone it redirects their energies. She showed how in couples, if one reads strong and the other weak, they have an alternating current effect on each other- the one matching and complementing the other, switching as needed. She showed how the most ‘difficult’ people just had crossed energies which could affect your own. Empathic people with sensitive auras should stay away from Shopping Centres unless they know how to do the Zip Up. Also, if your spleen energy is low you can borrow energy from the Triple Warmer to top it up and vice versa. 

I’ll not forget now that Spleen and Triple Warmer are polar opposites, like tides on opposite shores on an ocean, when one is low, the other is high. Interestingly, Caroline Myss herself has written a foreword to the new edition of Energy Medicine, but I think it does not quite do justice to Eden's contribution. It sounds terrible ‘dry’ somehow to say only that Donna provided a 'backbone  study' for this field. There is a sternness in Ms Myss, a steely core that is somewhat unflinching. Donna is 'juicy' and full of 'pizazz,' but you'd never guess that from Myss' introduction.

The infectious laughter and puppy-dog grin should not put you off from realising that Donna Eden has achieved a remarkable feat of bringing this intimate knowledge of the body and its energy systems to the attention of the world.One easy way to enjoy an increase in energy is to follow Donna's simple Five-Minute Energy Routine.

Donna signing books
I enjoyed my day with Donna Eden and felt energized by it. She showed us some simple observable phenomena that can be tested by tracing or locking meridians up and down.  If you trace a meridian line backwards, people lose energy- which they did. Also, if your energy is scrambled and you have to talk, or teach people, your scrambled energy scrambles theirs and reverses their flow.

We come across people who are like this all the time. These are things we all experience and even sense vividly, but have no other way of explaining except through energy flow and energy medicine has some useful, easy-to-learn techniques  to help improve the level of body awareness on the planet.

© Kieron Devlin, June 2011, all rights reserved.

April 10, 2011

THE POSITIVE IN THE NEGATIVE, Part 2: Extracting the benefit out of anxiety, depression and disappointment

I had the blues because I had no shoes
 until upon the street,
 I met a man who had no feet. 
Persian Saying

All the contrarians in the world can now rejoice they have found a voice. Dr. Rorem’s theory of the power of the negative thinking is not just alluring, but can be an effective strategy for managing anxiety. As we saw in Part 1 of this article, having positive attitude alone is not sufficient for highly anxious people. There is the ‘defensive pessimism’ a strategy which works where just being positive fails. Even Martin Seligman, the father of the positivity movement acknowledges this.

Martin Seligman
It is also true that genuinely resilient positivity often grows out of a depressive personality, because it started from shaky roots; like Seligman himself, he knows not to go back there. Its strength is tested by experience. It was William James who first said that changing your attitude can change your life, which is still a vital message for angst-ridden people, even though the thought of changing their world view spins them into greater anxiety.

The evidence is still overwhelming that having the grace of hope against all odds is an evolved way to be, ensuring your life will be more tuned-in and successful. According to numerous studies, positive people tend to exceed their performance ( with positive attitude. But anxious people do much better by using this ‘negative anticipation’ method, in maintaining their paranoia rather than clicking the switch to pronoia or conscious optimism. If you accentuate the positive, that’s what you find in abundance, but fault-finders also find exactly what they seek. Looking on the black side can be addictive. It is the same universe that satisfies both.

From the kernel of painful, traumatic experiences something strong is forged. So is there any point avoiding it or being fearful of the difficult? We feel bad when we don’t get what we want. Oscar Wilde noted that if you don’t get what you want, think of the things you don’t want, that you don’t get. This is a neat compensation trick, requiring some effort of perception. This is what we need to do with disappointment and difficulty - to extract the beneficial juice and somehow alchemically distill the reason why it happened to us.

Soren Kierkegaard
The novel Therapy (1995) by David Lodge is a fine example of how for the character of Tubby - getting fat, losing your hair, getting divorced, becoming impotent, and having a bad knee- can all actually turn out be good for you. Tubby finds that the word ‘dread’ nails his own issue more than ‘anxiety’ which tends to trivialize the feeling. He discovers hidden affinities with Danish philosopher, Kierkegaard.  This ‘dread’ suggests that we often fail to ‘coincide’ with ourselves, missing the best of our current life as we focussed on ‘dread.’  Twenty years ago, I read Kierkegaard and it was as electrifying to me then as it is to Tubby to read the words: ‘an unhappy man is always absent to himself, never present.’  But there was more…  on the one hand he constantly hopes for something he should be remembering. On the other hand he constantly remembers something he should be hoping for. Consequently, what he hopes for lies behind him and what he remembers lies before him.’

This is unfortunately the condition of many; we fail to be at home to ourselves. We fail to be relaxed in our true nature. We are too busy ‘futurising’ and ‘pasturising’ so to speak, playing the ‘when... then’ game: When I get  X, then I’ll feel happy. Oh what a twisted world we inhabit.

Lodge’s Therapy is by turns serious and hilarious. It highlights this paradox: how useful it can be when you suffer agonies and depression to see these experiences as valid, formative and necessary. Shakespeare’s words ring ever true here, ‘the sweet uses of adversity.’ We can in fact reclaim these negative experiences and, like rubbish hawks, recycle discarded stuff found on the waste tip of your life, and creatively put it to good use again.

Jean Rhys
Writer, Jean Rhys, wrote brilliant books, such as Wide Sargasso Sea (1966), but never enjoyed any success from them in her lifetime. She once said that if she could have her life all over again, she would rather have been happy than have been a writer. But, we might ask, can happy people ever be good writers? Is not unhappiness the secret ingredient of good books? It is hard to conceive of a truly happy person wanting to be a writer. The myth would suggest that  happy people are too busy being happy to bother writing.So let us hope that Rhys's wish is granted   in a happier incarnation now, in which she finds libraries, books and typewriters naturally abhorrent. But perhaps there would not be many interesting books left to read if every writer felt this way?

Other writers swear that their unhappiness is their true muse. Take the pain and sickness away from them and they have nothing left, just an abyss lacking clear purpose or identity. They only write when they are unhappy or because of unease about something. Writing out painful experiences is a form of healing medicine for them. Writing is certainly therapy, as is well documented. It channels one other ‘use’ to which adverse experience can be put. The ultimate goal then might be for the writer to stop writing - making writer’s block, contrarily, a symptom of good mental health, not bad.

During a long period of depression back in the late eighties and mid nineties, I was one of those annoying people who only obsessed about the things that went wrong in my life.  Depression is the antithesis of creativity, which requires openness and hope: I had neither. A person is in danger of shutting down totally, which is what I did. It caused me a lot of isolation and heartbreak, not to mention how it must have bothered other people. I used to believe that I was the living king of disappointments, and I wrote about it as a kind of exquisite pain. I had a knack for getting things wrong, for catching life by the knife’s edge and getting hurt. I had breakdowns. I skittered around people never really getting close. I used to fancy, like Kierkegaard, that disappointment was a kind of mistress who courted me, a perverse guardian angel. When I began to use this analogy, it actually made feeling rotten, slightly better for a few minutes, even hours, so it felt good, and I could almost laugh at my clownish antics feeling sorry for myself, my broken relationships, my miserable, unstable mood swings.  I was certain that I was destined to be the buffoon, to whom bad stuff adhered like glue. Astonishingly, in the UK, depression affects 1 in 4 women and 1 in 10 men, so once I began to understand how it worked inside myself, my goal became how to bring any relief possible to those who suffer.

Woody Allen
Along with learning hypnosis, humour was what helped pull me through. Humour provides the subtle key that could twist pain into a belly laugh. This new idea was the key- suddenly seeing the funny side of what happened allowed the emotional pain to shift, and thus subside. Being a miserable sod was really a totally hilarious farce - a nasty joke the universe played at my expense. So why not laugh it out? Tickling the funny bone of depression shifted my point of view. It was like it was happening to someone else. Woody Allen is King of this line in has twisted logic: “More than at any other time in history, mankind faces a crossroads. One path leads to despair and utter hopelessness. The other leads to extinction. Let us pray that we have the wisdom to choose correctly.”

Humour, hypnosis, and writing have all served a reconstructive purpose for me. Hypnosis delves deep into mind states to unravel knotty problems, and irons out the creases of your psyche. This was all before anyone knew about EFT Emotional Freedom Technique - which is another nifty technique. Many issues rooted largely in 'fear' 'dread' and 'anxiety,' respond quickly and well to tapping directly on the energy body, which, like healing writing, triggers both right and left brain to refresh inspiration. You reconnect with the muse.  Simple emotional acupuncture can often provoke multiple viewpoints. We begin to see the other sides of a problem and from that vantage point, it soon ceases to bother you. Other more complex and subtle problems tend to float up for your edification once the big ones are knocked on the head.  But I have always found that recommend writing out problems works incredibly well too. The more complex and horrific the feelings, the more benefit you gain from writing each tangled strand of the turmoil out on paper or on a computer screen.

Make of this what you will, but it is the strategy of unhappy people the world over to forget to feel the fresh air on your face on their way to the Tube station. They are so busy spinning scenarios of what was and what could be, they miss where they are right now - where everything is usually pretty much okay mate. This is the self-created bubble some people live in; yet  they wonder why they suffer. Try to pop this illusion, push them out of their comfort zone and they become incredibly upset, even fighting to keep it. We often feel locked in a complex sense of reality that loves to feel the pain of dis-contentedness. The neurotic state can make pain seem like joy, making some people happy being unhappy perhaps? This too might be an as yet uncharted great survival strategy in the making. Ultimately, it is an incomplete picture of who we are.

From the standpoint of hypnotherapy one size certainly does not fit all. Positive attitude alone does not always solve the problem. The therapist has to be extremely flexible, adapting a variety of  techniques to suit the idiosyncrasies of the client. What’s negative to some is positive to others and vice versa. Anything that ‘works’ for clients,  however odd, or irrational, is usually there for a reason at that point in their lives. Yet, most who come for help are simply not happy with their current mental landscape and need help controlling what they think about that.  What we think determines how we feel.

Control of thoughts is essential yet so difficult for a lot of people. We have unconscious beliefs. People with performance anxiety for example tend to run this ‘constructive pessimism’ strategy, as Rorem suggests, so perhaps it's manageable.  Yet, they can go on imagining terrible things over and over and are locked in that pattern. 

In  the end we all have to decide what we want to feel. The mind controls it all; we decide we feel happy or unhappy, pissed off or frustrated. Bad things happen. This gives us access to is our personal alchemy, our magic of wringing the honey and ‘sweet uses’ out of repeated anxiety, depression and disappointment. We should  not ignore suffering or the patterns that dog us or weaken us, but we do get to decide exactly how we want to cope with it by whatever means works for us.

© Copyright, Kieron Devlin, 2011, all rights reserved

To Read Part 1 of this Article, The Positive in the Negative Click Here 

February 13, 2011

Max Strom: A LIfe Worth Breathing

The Tao is the breath that never dies  
Tao Te Ching
Skyhorse Publishing, 2010
We may think we know how to breathe already. Think again. Perhaps there is an inch more oxygen to be inhaled by expanding your lung power? Attending a Max Strom class with my wintry chest cough, I felt I would not be able to get through it, but he taught me how to enlarge my lung capacity, and it was just the thing I needed. Fuller expansive chest breathing gives us more energy as it is literally the spirit and soul of life. In many languages the root of the words ‘breath’, ‘soul’ or ‘spirit’ is the same.Hence the title of this book. Life is definitely worth breathing some more.

We can all breathe, but often we do not know how to do it fully and consciously. Once we realise however, that the body contains and stores emotions like grief and anger, and that the breath controls this, then healing can begin. Strom’s message is - Breathe More and watch this healing evolve. He has a deep, mellifluous tone, which comes from a source deep inside him and I can almost hear him say the words on the page: people are scared of breathing deeply because they are scared of their emotions.

Strom shows that even to know simple things about yoga can help us to integrate different elements of our personality. It does not have to be esoteric. You don’t have to be able to wrap your legs around your neck to be enlightened. Flexible does not equal spiritual.

Many great saints actually had stiff necks or legs. They were not nimble-footed when old, but walked like broken robots, spine bent, or not at all, as unfortunately many elderly people do. The most dangerous place for the over sixties in the USA is the bedroom and the bathroom where falls occur that can be fatal. Flexibility could help maintain a healthier, longer life. Similarly, people who are incredibly flexible, able to do the most gymnastic of  poses, can still be thinking what's for dinner, or how much they hate the grouchy person next to them on the bus.

Max Strom is a kind of teacher’s teacher. He has that something ‘extra’, a deeper understanding,  a balanced tone, a sharp intellect, a kindness towards those who struggle to learn, such as the over 60s, who have little coordination or balance. This may be because of his own personal struggles with pain- his clubbed feet, but he quickly realised aged 15, after starting with Chi Gong, and Chinese yoga, that  yoga is transformational, and catches you for life.

I still can’t do the full wheel – it’s like hitting a wall every time I try.  Deeper chest breathing could help it to eventually happen. His inclination, both in the book and in his classes, is to be calm and explain things in a way that seems simple, yet lucid, fresh and illuminating.  So,  the real change are not in being able to do the Side Crow, or Peacock pose, but in opening up as a person to the world around you; seeing the world differently with the ‘ears’ and the ‘eyes’ of an open heart.

It seems a lot for yoga to manage to be able to do all of this.  Yet it is deceptive.  It is a big mistake  to confuse ‘yoga’ with a lightweight work out session, or think it involves doing  asanas (physical postures) only. The physical positions are only one of the eight limbs of yoga. Other branches are Pranayama (breathing) and Samyama which is the combined simultaneous practice of Dharana (concentration, intent), Dhyana, (contemplation) and Samadhi (unity). These are words he rarely uses as they tend to scare off beginners who don't like mystical claptrap. But these deeper approaches to yoga help us respond to dilemmas, connect to the world through focused attention, deeper breathing which leads us to be more present in any moment. And that can't be a bad thing

Strom’s words are so apt here: to the outside observer, looking through the window of a yoga class, it is just a bunch of people stretching hamstrings, nothing more. If an illiterate person watches someone reading a book, all they see is a person with their head in pages filled with black indecipherable squiggles on. They cannot fathom the possible impact of reading, even less gauge if that person happens to be reading a life-changing novel. 

We live in a market driven culture that puts premium emphasis on physical health, often overlooking the emotional and psychological issues that underpin illness. Through yogic breathing our nervous system becomes more relaxed and open to giving us heightened experiences. This is what yoga does for us. It can heal emotional complexes like depression – it can also make you look fitter and be more confident,  and have a sexier butt, but the sexy butt is not the goal- just the bonus. All sensory and positive experiences are enhanced.

Yoga has to be experienced to be known fully. People come to yoga to heal their back pains, their dodgy knees, and it helps them, but what keeps them coming back for more is that it heals their lives too.

This book could help trigger your desire to breathe and connect to the world in fuller, more satisfying ways. It is that simple. It is full of graceful, healing thoughts which linger in the mind just like the impression the man himself makes. It is a book worth reading for that alone.

Kieron Devlin

January 10, 2011

The Waves

Here is a new hypnosis video which uses footage of the sea in Kovalam, Kerala. With background music gratefully acknowledged by Craig Pruess, the Ganesha invocation from the Sacred Chants of Devi.

The quote is from Virgil 'We Make our Destinies by our Choice of Gods'- a favourite of mine and Robert Ohotto's. So it's been on my mind for a while. The question is of course, if thoughts become reality, 'Whose gods are yours?' Which enculturation/indoctrination do we follow. Thoughts are embedded and often very unconscious. Often beliefs are largely unquestioned and largely Judaeo/Christian? Perhaps we should ask and examine these in order to get free of some that are no longer working well for us in today's world and turbulent economy.


It is also a reflection on waves and partly inspired by a quote from the Virginia Woolf book 'The Waves' which is really a prose poem, where the voices ask the stars to 'Consume me'. I just changed it to 'waves', consume me and set me free of the past'.

If you follow the instructions given at the bottom of the video and enter into a light trance, this relaxation feeling is worth practising at any time of day and can be repeated whenever you wish.

During the trance watching the waves fall on the shore, you are encouraged to make a statement of intent, your 'san kalpa' or deep intention, engraving it into the sand and seeing the waves cannot wash this away though everything else comes and goes like a thought on the shore of your mind. If you are not ready the first time; try it a second or third time so you can hold your mind still and firm.

Believe fully that your intention will stick like glue. And it will. Simply because you are addressing a deeper level of mind and sending a firm instruction it is bound to follow.

Hope you find it useful for reconnecting to your true desires for 2011.

Health and Happiness, Peace and Love to all.