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New World Library Unshelved

New World Library Unshelved

Positive news and inspiring views from the New World Library community

Wednesday, October 10, 2012
"Misadventures of a Garden State Yogi" by guest blogger Brian Leaf

In 1989 I was like every other insecure freshman at Georgetown University. I was like everyone else, except that every few hours I had to sneak off to issue myself a medical enema. Needless to say, this did little to boost my self-esteem.

I faced this plight because I had ulcerative colitis. I’ll spare you the detailed symptoms, except to say that they greatly resembled what you’d expect after drinking murky tap water at a very cheap Mexican motel.

Luckily, though, my situation changed dramatically that year after I stumbled onto an elective: yoga.

I noticed that my symptoms of colitis were worse on days that I had skipped yoga. And I wondered, therefore, if doing more yoga would lessen the symptoms.

I decided to self-medicate with yoga. Five times a day, I practiced four sun salutations, followed by ten minutes of deep relaxation. Taking these twenty-minute yoga breaks five times every day was a huge time investment. But my effort proved worthwhile, because three days later my symptoms were gone. GONE.

The symptoms stayed in remission for two years. When they flared up again, I reinstated my self-medicating regimen of four sun salutations, followed by ten minutes of deep relaxation, five times a day. And again it worked.

As you can imagine, I was a yoga zealot after that. In fact, in the span of two years, I went from being New Jersey’s top-rated high school debater to being the kind of guy who shows up to Advanced Accounting class in a Mexican serape and leather sandals.

After college, instead of pursuing an accounting career, I traveled the United States, studying yoga and meditation. I didn’t hold any jobs for too long, and wherever I lived, I tutored to cover rent and expenses.

I was happy with this nomadic lifestyle for several years, until, during a meditation-based psychotherapy session, my therapist suggested that I was not simply free but, in fact, avoiding settling down. She suggested that holding down a job and showing up consistently for a relationship was challenging for me because I had attention deficit disorder (ADD).

I thought she was probably right, and I was miserable about the diagnosis. I wondered if my biochemistry would limit what I could achieve. Could I ever work a steady job, get married, and settle down?

Then I remembered when I had been diagnosed with ulcerative colitis. I wondered if, like colitis, ADD did not represent a permanent disease or disorder but an indication that I needed to reexamine how I was living. I began searching for evidence in holistic health literature that ADD could be treated naturally through yoga, diet, exercise, and lifestyle changes.

Finally, in an article about Ayurveda, I read that a certain imbalance can cause ADD-type symptoms.

I made an appointment with a local Ayurveda practitioner, and I started taking classes. I received a wide range of suggestions, including meditation, yoga postures, herbs, urine therapy (the daily practice of drinking one’s own midstream morning urine), and this gem: “Every morning before you leave the house, apply a small amount of untoasted sesame oil to every orifice of your body: lips, nostrils, ears, nipples, penis, and anus.”

I learned that according to Ayurveda each individual is a unique blend of three proclivities, or doshas, described as ether/air (vata), fire (pitta), and water/earth (kapha). Ayurveda posits that health and vitality result from respecting the particular needs and maximizing the innate gifts of one’s dosha.

I learned that a person with lots of ether/air (me) is often very creative and funny and flexible (if I do say so myself), but when out of balance can become overly creative, overly flexible, and overly airy — basically scatterbrained, wishy-washy, and flatulent (d’oh!).

In fact, vata people’s tendency toward flexibility and creativity can become unbounded and then look like the spaciness and distractibility of ADD.

I developed a personalized prescription that included taking herbs, meditating, giving myself a daily sesame-oil massage, eating a certain diet, sitting for an hour every day next to a tree on the bank of a gently flowing stream, and reminding myself throughout the day to be in my body (rather than lost in my mind).

And again, it worked. After six months, I was more focused, more energized, and more present. I went from being spacey, distractible, and impulsive to being attentive, focused, and mindful. Now I could hold down a job and finish a long-term project; in fact, I’ve authored eleven books.

It’s fair to say that as long as I respect the needs of my particular constitution, I don’t have ADD any more. And the same is true of colitis. If I held in my emotions, gave up yoga, and subsisted on fast food and soda, I bet I’d be back to the medical enemas, but as long as I express my feelings, exercise, and eat well, I am colitis-, ADD-, and enema-free.

Brian Leaf, MA, is the author of Misadventures of a Garden State Yogi. He draws upon twenty-one years of intensive study, practice, and teaching of yoga, meditation, and holistic health. Visit him online at

Based on the new book Misadventures of a Garden State Yogi © 2012 by Brian Leaf. Published with permission.


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