Brian Leaf : Misadventures of a Garden State Yogi Q & A
Q & A with Brian Leaf
Misadventures of a Garden State Yogi
The hilarious, enlightening, and inspiring story of how a brainy bundle of nerves became a holistic teacher.
"In Misadventures of a Garden State Yogi: My Humble Quest to Heal My Colitis, Calm My ADD, and Find the Key to Happiness, Brian Leaf shares how with no real understanding of the practice he signed up for a yoga class. Little did he realize then how that one class would ultimately set the course for a lifetime of exploration into the healing powers of yoga and other holistic therapies."
Q: What inspired you to start doing yoga? Did you have any idea the impact it would ultimately have on your life?
A: I signed up for yoga in 1989 on a lark because my brother, Larry, had taken kung fu and skeet shooting electives during college. I wanted something equally exotic. I’m not sure what I expected, probably something from a Bruce Lee or James Bond film. A few minutes into the first class, though, I knew that I had found my path.
Q: What is colitis and how did yoga help you heal yourself? What yoga postures were most helpful?
A: Colitis is a condition of chronic inflammation of the colon. Ulcerative colitis, which is what I had, also includes ulcers in the colon. It’s not pretty. I’ll spare you the symptoms, except to say that they greatly resemble what you’d expect after drinking murky tap water at a very cheap Mexican motel.
In college, I noticed that my symptoms of colitis were worse on days that I skipped yoga. I wondered, therefore, if doing more yoga would lessen the symptoms. So I decided to medicate with yoga. I practiced four sun salutations, followed by ten minutes of deep relaxation, five times a day. This was a huge commitment, but it proved worthwhile. Three days later my symptoms were gone.
The symptoms stayed in remission for two years and then flared up. I again began my self-medicating regimen with 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.
Q: Do you really put on gloves and punch a mattress as part of your yoga practice? Why?
A: I don’t understand the question. Of course I put on gloves and punch a mattress as part of my yoga practice. You don’t?
No, seriously, I did do this for about six months. I realized that I needed to release and express my anger and angst, and I found that meditating on it was not enough. After beating the crap out of the mattress for about ten or twenty minutes, I’d feel better and also, oddly enough, much more peaceful.
Q: How did yoga’s sister science, Ayurveda, help you with Attention Deficit Disorder?
A: When I was diagnosed with ADD in 1997, I wondered if I could treat it naturally, as I had done with colitis. I began searching for evidence in holistic health literature that ADD could be treated 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. Eventually, 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 for more of my day.
Q: 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?
A: 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.