How Canada can avoid an American corporate takeover

by Drew Noftle

What do you call a country where the gap between the rich and the poor is growing beyond bounds, the principal exports are wood pulp and scrap metal, the principal imports are manufactured goods and the fastest growing industry is the construction and operation of private prisons?

According to Dr. Robert Bowman Lt. Col. (ret), the answer is a Third World country. Unfortunately for us, this Third World country is the US with its corporations unilaterally running the world, and its military spending far exceeding that of the rest of the world combined. Disturbingly, Canada is currently going down a path that will see its inevitable integration into the Bush Administration’s corporate and militaristic desires. The question is can Canada regain its own self-determined direction?

Dr. Robert Bowman has seen both sides of the argument of corporatism and militarism. He flew more than 100 combat missions over Vietnam and directed the Department of Defense’s Star Wars programs under presidents Ford and Carter. Since then, however, Dr. Bowman, who received a Ph.D. in Aeronautics and Nuclear Engineering from Caltech and ran as the Reform Party presidential candidate in 2000, has spent well over two decades in the peace movement.

Last summer, during a speech he gave in Portland, Oregon, Bowman delivered a State of the Union address at his imaginary inauguration as successor of George W. Bush for President of the United States. During this address, he cited how America is unquestionably number one. “Number one in the use of our world’s resources, number one in the production of pollution, number one in the gap between the rich and the poor, …deaths by gunfire…teen pregnancies …poverty among the elderly …citizens without health coverage…child poverty …homeless veterans …and number one in citizens behind bars. Our Canada is following suit with these prerequisites for corporate takeover.”

Bowman also talked about how his predecessor should have taken the advice of his father. In George H. W. Bush’s memoir, he writes, “Trying to eliminate Saddam would have incurred incalculable human and political costs. We would have been forced to occupy Baghdad, and, in effect, rule Iraq. There was no viable exit strategy we could see. Had we gone the invasion route, the United States could conceivably still be an occupying power in a bitterly hostile land.” In a rare show of emotion, Bowman then proclaimed, “It is too damn bad his son doesn’t read!”

Mr. Harper is also seemingly missing this fatherly advice.

On August 22, 7:30 PM, Dr. Bowman will give a lecture at the Maritime Labour Centre in Vancouver. His talk will focus on how Canada can escape American corporate takeover. Although he will be back in Vancouver in late October, be sure to catch him this time around.

In October, he will present evidence to the newly formed Canadian Citizens Jury on 9/11, where a non-partial jury will hear presentations from both the 9/11 Truth community and from official defenders of the official story to determine if the 9/11 Commission Report is a reliable and honest account of what happened that day.

If the jury decides that it is not, it may advise Canada to begin its own investigation to either justify or end our participation in Afghanistan and our material support for the Iraq war. Although the Canadian Citizens Jury will be open to the public, seating will be very limited. The location has yet to be announced.

Come out for Dr. Bowman’s talk on August 22 to see why the Los Angeles Times calls Dr. Bowman, “The best speaker in the country.” We all, Stephen Harper included, could use a little advice. For more information, seewww.vancouver911truth.com

Drew Noftle helped organize the Vancouver 9/11 Truth Conference in June 2007. He is currently working as a teacher in Yaletown. onehistory@gmail.com

Caesar’s last breath

by Geoff Olson

Breathe in. Breathe out. Now consider this: every breath you take contains at least one air molecule exhaled by Julius Caesar in his last breath. With your every breath, at least one of these molecules makes its way into your lungs. This pop-science factoid may sound dubious, but it actually began as a thought experiment by nuclear physicist Enrico Fermi. It’s been a chem class standard ever since.

Mathematician John Allen Paulos took another look at the numbers for his 1988 book Innumeracy. He began from the assumption that two thousand years have been enough time for the carbon dioxide molecules in Caesar’s last breath to mix evenly in the atmosphere. “Thus there is a 1.8% chance that none of the molecules you are (still) holding in your lungs came from Caesar’s last breath. And there is a 98.2% chance that at least one of the molecules in your lungs came from Caesar’s last breath,” Paulos noted.

This counterintuitive calculation strikingly illustrates how interconnected our lives are, across vast stretches of time. The traffic of molecules between our bodies and the environment is the ultimate in “free trade.” As Zen philosopher Alan Watts once observed, human beings are like the whirlpools and eddies seen at the edge of running streams. We’re dynamical systems that maintain recognizable form while exchanging matter and energy with our environment.

We are inseparable from the larger patterns in which we’re embedded. The great lesson of twentieth century science, from quantum physics to ecology, is that we cannot understand the separate components apart from the whole. Yet there are places in the world where they apparently haven’t heard the news yet, and I don’t mean the refugee camps of Sudan or the jungles of Borneo; I mean the university faculty clubs in the First World.

Post-Keynesian economic theory is stuck in a Newtonian era rut – a push-pull paradigm – and it’s about to hit a wall, both intellectually and practically, in Earth’s carrying capacity.

It’s not as if there hasn’t been plenty of time to catch up with the non-reductionist worldview. In 1866, German biologist Ernst Haeckel coined the term oekologie, or “ecology,” defining it as “…the comprehensive science of the relationship of the organism to the environment.” By the early twentieth century, poverty-stricken New York collector of scientific oddities Charles Fort had a grasp of where the new sciences were heading. “If there is an underlying oneness of all things, it does not matter where we begin, whether with stars, or laws of supply and demand, or frogs, or Napoleon Bonaparte. One measures a circle, beginning anywhere,” Fort stated.

In 1961, when weather scientist Edward Lorenz was programming a computer to predict weather patterns, he entered the decimal .506 as a shortcut, rather than the full sequence of .506127. The result was a radically different weather scenario. Lorenz remarked on this finding in a 1963 paper: “One meteorologist remarked that if the theory were correct, one flap of a seagull’s wings could change the course of weather forever.” Appearing before the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Lorenz gave a talk entitled, Does the Flap of a Butterfly’s Wings in Brazil Set off a Tornado in Texas? The title has since become a shorthand expression for nature’s interconnectedness.

Lorenz’s findings kick-started the 1980s academic cottage industry of “chaos theory.” Aided by the personal computing explosion, scientists plumbed the bizarre, psychedelic landscapes of fractals and “strange attractors,” mathematical forms that appeared to underlie some of nature’s most persistent themes. Suddenly, it became possible to see links between seemingly unrelated things. From dripping taps to the collapse of caribou populations, from the whirlpool of cream in your coffee cup to the pinwheel of stars in a galaxy millions of light years away, chaos theory supplied the connections. Charles Fort was right: you could measure a circle beginning anywhere.

The disciplines of chaos theory and complexity theory have both had a strong influence on the physical sciences and in some of the life sciences, as well. Urban planners and social scientists have also seized upon the new ideas. Yet, as far as neoclassical economics is concerned, it’s as if the discoveries of Lorenz and his colleagues never occurred. The disconnect between rhetoric and reality has alerted some of the silverbacks within the financial-speculative complex that something is very wrong with their profession. Among them are Joseph Steiglitz, former senior vice president and chief economist of the World Bank, former hedge fund financier George Soros and University of Bologna professor of political economics Stefano Zamagni.

David Suzuki is another skeptic and he offers a great anecdote about economic thinking. While at the University of British Columbia, he figured it would be a good idea to supplement his academic background in biology with an understanding of economics. When he attended his first class, the instructor stood at the blackboard, drawing lines in chalk to show the flow from the resource base into the market, with subsidiary industries adding value and creating wealth for investors.

Suzuki pointed to the side of the blackboard that was empty of equations, the resource base, and asked whether the calculations took into account the effect of human activity on the environment, the diminishing reserves and growing waste that Suzuki reasonably regarded as a cost mortgaged into the future. “That’s an externality,” the instructor responded dryly. In other words, the environment is something external to the grand human workings of the market and not worth factoring in. Suzuki left the class on the spot.

According to Stefano Zamagni, prior to the 1900s, economics was referred to as “the science of happiness.” By the late twentieth century, it bore the ignominious title, “the dismal science.” In a lecture in Vancouver in 2004, Zamagni described the crisis facing economic science. Economists identify the common good with the sum total of individual goods, the professor says, which doesn’t work, as it ignores “the good of every individual in all the dimensions of a human being.” What Zamagni calls the “original sin of economics” is the reductionist idea that economic relations are reducible to the exchange of equivalence: I give or do something for you and you give or do something for me of the same value.

Yet there is another dimension to exchange, based on the principle of reciprocity, and as Zamagni noted, “…the principle of reciprocity is completely different from the exchange of goods.” Reciprocity is closely tied to trust and both variables are entirely missing from economic equations. In fact, they are extremely difficult or impossible to quantify, yet immensely important for sustaining fair economic relations. Enron, anyone?

Zamagni connects several decades of materialistic economic philosophy, with its reductionistic disconnect from the real word, to the deterioration of North American civic and family life. The “instrumental rationality” of economic thinking, he says, has ventured far beyond its sphere of applicability, justifying a dog-eat-dog paradigm for both interpersonal and international relations.

Steve Keen, associate professor of economics and finance at the University of Western Sydney, describes conventional economic theory as “autistic.” “What passes for ‘normal’ in economics barely deserves the appellation ‘science,’ he asserts in his 2001 paper Economists Don’t Have Ears.

Keen writes: “Most introductory economics textbooks present a sanitized, uncritical rendition of conventional economic theory…the courses in which these textbooks are used do little to counter this mendacious presentation. Students might learn, for example, that ‘externalities’ reduce the efficiency of the market mechanism. However, they will not learn that the ‘proof’ that markets are efficient is itself flawed.” Keen also assails the economics, as taught at an undergraduate level, as “profoundly boring,” and those who move from the discipline into accountancy, finance or management learn just enough to walk away from the classroom with a warped view of the world.

Although there is a vast body of literature critical of economic thinking, the students aren’t exposed to any of it. Most students end up swallowing the axioms of economic science because, as Keen notes, “…their training leaves them both insufficiently literate and insufficiently numerate.” Neither are they given the historical context for economic thinking, making it seem as if some bearded prof had delivered it from on high, reading from inscribed tablets.

Economics has persevered with mathematical methods that professional mathematicians have long ago transcended, Keen writes. “This dated version of mathematics shields students from new developments in mathematics that, incidentally, undermine much of neoclassical economic theory.”

In particular, applying the findings of chaos theory to real-world market behaviour involves an understanding of “ordinary differential equations.” Yet this topic is taught in very few courses on mathematical economics, notes Keen, and where it is taught, it is not covered in sufficient depth.

“Economics students therefore graduate from Masters and PhD programs with an effectively vacuous understanding of economics, no appreciation of the intellectual history of their discipline and an approach to mathematics, which hobbles both their critical understanding of economics and their ability to appreciate the latest advances in mathematics and other sciences.

“A minority of these ill-informed students themselves go on to be academic economists, and then repeat the process. Ignorance is perpetuated,” Keen claims.

Bill Rees, professor at the School of Community and Regional Planning at the University of British Columbia, is best known for his concept of the “ecological footprint.” He received a PhD from the University of Toronto in population ecology in 1969 and when UBC’s forward-thinking School of Planning went looking for someone with a background in the biological science, Rees fit the bill. He began to ponder the relationship between the carrying capacity of the environment and economic activity, subsequently developing “a simple little model” showing that the human carrying capacity of the Lower Mainland was less than half of the population of the time. In a 2006 article by Robert Alsted in the Vancouver Courier, Rees discussed the response from colleagues:

“One of them, a prominent Canadian resource economist, took him to lunch and with genuine concern told him that if he continued to pursue his research interests as expressed in that little paper, his career at UBC would be ‘nasty, brutish and short.’ Didn’t he know? Carrying capacity as a concept had been demolished long since –trade, technology and human ingenuity could make up for any regional resource shortfalls.”

In recent years, there has been some noodling with “the economics of happiness” along with the emerging new science of “behavourial economics.” But as long as GDP calculations can factor a heart attack, a divorce or an oil tanker spill as economic pluses, the rot goes to the core of the discipline.

“The mad rantings of men in authority often have their origins in the jottings of some forgotten professor of economics,” said John Maynard Keynes, himself a largely forgotten professor of economics. As journalist Naomi Klein demonstrates in her most recent book The Shock Doctrine, the economic theories of Milton Friedman were put into practice in Chile immediately following the 1972 coup. Friedman’s dangerous, destructive ideas became the intellectual foundation for the subsequent neocolonial domination of Latin America, under the so-called “Washington consensus.”

From the corporate-backed war of attrition on the pubic sector, to Canada’s proxy war in Afghanistan, with its perpetually-undefined “mission,” to the Iraqi debacle and the American’s current sabre-rattling with Iran, surely part of the problem resides in the education of the advisors and handlers who surround our leaders. These people suffer from a serious thinking problem. Their blinkered, one-size fits all vision of a world monoculture, of democracy at gunpoint, is about what you’d expect from anyone whose worldview is post-Enlightenment, but pre-Einsteinian.

I’m sure many of these highly educated sorts would fail to see the full relevance of the anecdote about Caesar’s last breath. But I’d like to think a few of them would be stirred by the words of the late Italian author Primo Levi. In his book The Periodic Table, Levi tracks the path of a carbon atom as it escapes from a block of limestone and travels into the airways of a falcon. It fails to penetrate the bird’s bloodstream and continues whirling about in the atmosphere for another eight years, before being inhaled by the author himself. The carbon atom makes its way into Levi’s bloodstream and into a brain cell that, as he says, “…guides this hand of mine to make this dot upon the page: this one.”

Levi’s scientific lyricism underscores the message of Caesar’s last breath. Our lives are intimately interwoven with all things, living and nonliving. It’s hardly a radical notion: most of us get it by now. “The Butterfly Effect” is well known enough that it became the title of a Hollywood film. Yet the idea that human beings are rational free agents, with no allegiance to anyone or anything other than their own self-interest, remains a given in neoclassical economics. It’s not a workable recipe for dealing with a finite planet with real-world limits, but it works just fine as a philosophy for psychopaths.

Like former chemist and Auschwitz survivor Primo Levi, we’re all co-authors in the universal process of creation. This is demonstrably true in market economics. Our collective capacity for reality construction is demonstrated by the gyrations of stock exchanges. The value of stocks are no more than what we collectively believe them to be, arguably making market economics a branch of social psychology.

The world as we experience it is a weird amalgam of world and worldview, of expectation and external relations. Werner Heisenberg, one of the architects of quantum theory, held that “…what we observe is not nature itself, but nature exposed to our method of questioning.” As scientists penetrate nature to smaller and smaller scales, all they find are ghostlike entities that evaporate into abstract clouds of probabilities. And the deeper they go, they find only the relationships between things, which themselves are only relationships between other things, whether we call them quarks, strings, “virtual particles” or some other conceptual will-o’-the-wisp.

Recent physics experiments in Vienna on “non-locality” have confirmed that all parts of the universe appear to be in instantaneous connection with all other parts. This is reminiscent of the Buddhist notion of “mutual arising” or the Vedic myth of Indra’s net, composed of an endless web of jewels that reflect one another.

Through its recursive retreat into endless layers of pattern, it seems the universe forever hides its face from us, hinting that our self-image as independent beings isn’t the whole story. It’s more like a game of hide and seek between observer and observed.

Ultimately, we are no more “rational utility maximizers” in a “free market” than we are sacks of chemicals disconnected from the air we breathe. We are creative patterns, whirlpools and turbulent flows, inseparable from all the other patterns in the river of being. This is what ecology and the sciences of connectedness have been telling us for decades. And as the frogs, songbirds and honeybees continue with their vanishing acts, the time is running short for the wizards of the dismal science to get it.

www.geoffolson.com

Health Canada takes baby steps toward drug safety

DRUG BUST Alan Cassels

If you thought we could get through these lazy days of summer without another major drug warning from Health Canada for a class of drugs taken by thousands of Canadians, think again.

The most recent advisory is among the more mystifying of the “adverse drug reactions” warnings I’ve seen lately; it warns of tendonitis and even tendon rupture linked to a commonly prescribed, relatively new class of antibiotics. And while the warning threatens to make me riff, for the umpteenth time, on the variety of ways in which drug regulators around the world – Health Canada not excepted – seem to go through the motions of monitoring and ensuring drug safety, there was also some good news. In a separate announcement, Health Canada advised it would provide some new seed money to help establish a drug safety research network in Canada.

This is very good news, but first, about the warning. The fluoroquinolone antibiotics, which include ciprofloxacin (Cipro) and other drugs whose generic names end in floxacin, have been under a dark cloud for a while now. More than two years ago, the drug watchdog group Public Citizen petitioned the US FDA to strengthen the warnings, stating, “…tendon ruptures associated with these drugs continue to occur at a disturbing rate, but could be prevented if doctors and patients were more aware of early warning signals.”

Last month, Health Canada was seemingly spurred into action by the US FDA’s ruling that makers of fluoroquinolone drugs had to issue a “black box” warning – the FDA’s strongest safety warning – on these drugs. Black box warnings don’t come along all that frequently and they usually emerge after much negotiation between the manufacturers and the regulator. A “black box” often precedes the removal of a drug from the market and it is a serious signal that the regulators are concerned about the drug’s toxicity.

For all you active individuals out enjoying the summer sunshine, the phrase “tendon rupture” is likely to strike fear in your heart. Tendon damage and perhaps a torn Achilles tendon could wreck anyone’s day. And this due to a drug you took for a simple infection? While the potential effects on your tendons from these drugs have been known for some time, what isn’t entirely clear is why any physician would prescribe the drug, being fully aware of the risk it carries when other antibiotics carry no such risk. As far as I can tell, there is no valid evidence that the fluoroquinolones are any better at treating most infections compared to the alternatives, such as older penicillin-type antibiotics.

My knee-jerk reaction is to suspect that the fluoroquinolone antibiotics have been widely prescribed – both mis-prescribed and over-prescribed – and only a little research confirms those suspicions. There is that perennial, but misapplied, axiom “newer equals better,” which has likely driven much of the marketing and subsequent prescribing of these drugs, and as with any newer treatment, the drug roars onto the scene with bells and whistles while the vital safety signals are spoken in whispers years later.

It is obvious to me that these drugs are marketed as being useful for indications for which they would, at best, be someone’s second choice. At least one manufacturer of this type of antibiotic has been slapped on the wrist by the US FDA for “…making false and misleading statements regarding the safety and efficacy” of the treatment in its advertising.

In terms of how well the drugs are being prescribed, one study involving 100 patients in two academic medical centres in the US found that 81 percent of the patients taking fluoroquinolone antibiotics had been given them for an inappropriate indication. In that same study, 43 percent of the patients received these antibiotics as a first-line treatment and 27 percent of recipients had no evidence of an infection. If this study, which was small and perhaps not applicable to the wider population, comes even close to representing the actual use of these drugs in the “real world,” it is a damning indictment of a serious failure in prescribing, made all the more serious because the drugs have the inconvenient capacity to cause “tendon rupture.”

Should we not expect Health Canada, as our drug regulator, to ensure that proper and timely prescribing information, especially safety information, is made available to guide our physicians? Sadly “too little and too late” seems to characterize the safety signals reaching physicians. After a new drug is approved, the marketers jump into action putting the new drug front and centre of our doctors, our hospitals and health clinics, plying them with free samples and glowing literature.

So what can we do to ensure that new drugs are used properly, rather than inadvertently inflicting tendon damage on the population?

Essentially, we need better “real world” data. It is slowly being recognized that Canada lacks the capacity to properly ensure that “real world” data is generated for new drugs, and that vital safety information about how drugs work in the world in which you and I live must be delivered to physicians in a timely manner. We hope that our physicians are acting in the most prudent manner possible when it comes to treating our infections. We also hope they will reserve newer drugs for patients for whom the older, more established classes of drugs clearly don’t work. Although hope is a pretty frail framework upon which to build a drug safety system.

The demand for “Real World Safety and Effectiveness” research around pharmaceuticals is a topic I’ve written about in the past (Common Ground, August, 2007). This need was initially enshrined in the National Pharmaceutical Strategy (NPS), a federal-provincial initiative boldly launched in September 2004, with the goal of providing Canadians with more equitable, sustainable and safer access to new drugs.

Almost four years later, I’m not the only one to notice that the NPS is largely a dud. Some have said that the “new” Conservative government’s mighty tendency to jettison those Liberal initiatives sounded the death knell for the NPS. Others have noted that provincial-federal wrangling over drug issues – the provinces want help to stanch the bleeding of red ink on the provincial drug file while the feds want to please the drug industry – means the NPS is going nowhere fast.

One of the things buried in the NPS’s objectives was a desire to “strengthen evaluation of real-world drug safety and effectiveness” and this recent announcement seems like it’s about to happen, albeit with baby steps.

With prescription drug spending now in excess of $22 billion per year, and a strong public appetite for more rigorous drug safety in Canada, Health Canada announced in mid-July it would provide the seed money needed to set up an independent research network to study the real world safety and effectiveness of prescription drugs in Canada. The business plan behind this network called for about $20 million per year, but Health Canada announced an immediate five percent of that ($1 million dollars) to get things up and running.

The hope is that the provinces will jump in with their own money and make the network a reality, a network that will likely link researchers in Canada, who are already doing “post-market” surveillance work, and allow them to cooperate in tracking real world drug use issues across the country.

No one can argue that Canadians must be protected from the unanticipated, adverse effects of prescription drugs, as the recent drug safety warning related to the fluoroquinolones has highlighted. Some, however, are insulted with the measly five percent Health Canada is kicking in, as it barely represents a down payment on the initiative.

Some have said that regardless of what form Bill C-51 ultimately takes, if it even survives, any promise of a “cradle-to-grave” surveillance of drugs in Canada will have to be bankrolled by “real world” drug data, and this money will ensure that Canadian researchers are organized and funded to use those data.

I say we give credit where credit is due. Health Canada has anted up so let’s wait and see if the provinces will come on board. Only time will tell if they will do their part to make this network fly. Or perhaps this initiative, like so many other important initiatives in the past, is destined to die from the lack of political will.

My strategy? I’m going to say a little prayer for those who are suffering needless Achilles damage this summer and I’ll feel a little guilty as I continue to enjoy running, jumping, hiking and walking. Because of our collective ignorance about a particular class of drugs, many Canadians won’t be enjoying the summer as I will.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Let’s make drug safety a priority this year and put the money behind that decision.

Alan Cassels is a pharmaceutical policy researcher at the University of Victoria and can be reached at; cassels@uivic.ca

If you think you have been injured by a prescription drug, you should call the Canada Vigilance Program at 1-866-234-2345. You can also submit an adverse reaction report on the Med Effect Canada website (www.hc-sc.gc.ca/dhp-mps/medeff/index_e.html).

Higher education just got higher

by Naseem Salila Gulamhusein

As human beings, our greatness lies not so much in being able to remake the world, as in being able to remake ourselves.

– Mohandas Gandhi

While finishing a degree at UBC, I dreamed of a curriculum that included yoga and wellness. I had already completed a degree at Langara College and I was well aware of the stress and pressure placed on students to succeed. I also questioned the logic of having to take some of the classes deemed “mandatory” to obtain a degree and I thought colleges and universities would be wise to include a six-credit course in yoga and holistic health. This way, when students got into the “real world,” they would have some valuable tools to deal with the changes and challenges of life.

In 1999, I was heading down the path to depression; life was taking its toll on me and sadness consumed my heart. I remember leaving campus one day after seeing a psychologist who had recommended I go on Prozac. I knew this was not an answer to my problems. Walking away from the institution, I was aware that I needed to make a choice between a path of suffering (where I was getting great marks) or embracing a path towards peace. In that moment, I remembered a quote my uncle had written in a yoga book: “When you surrender to emptiness, you will find happiness.”

The Centre for Holistic Health Studies at Langara College states its purpose as follows: “…to re-evaluate how health is created in the mind, body and spirit by expanding a client centred healthcare model that awakens the body’s innate healing potential and opens the path of the Heart.” After selecting the centre from a long list of potential workplaces that would be a good fit for my skills and passions, I was called in for an interview for the position of program coordinator.

During the interview, we talked about a number of things in relation to the programs. I spoke about wanting to share my passion for teaching yoga, and the interview changed into a larger discussion about creating a yoga teacher-training program at Langara. It would be vital to create a balance between the art and science of yoga and program development; and conversations with the Dean and others helped clarify how we could accomplish this in a college setting.

Spirituality and religion have always been a part of my life. Growing up, I was exposed to a diverse cultural and religious background. My father is Ismaili Muslim, born is East Africa, and my mother is Catholic, born in Northern Ireland. As a little girl, on Friday nights I would accompany my father when he went to the mosque. On Sundays, I attended church with my mother. Hearing the words of God, Allah, Jesus and Mohamed, I would think to myself how similar they all sounded; the meaning and message were about living by one’s virtues and helping those in need.

My mother and father struggled to find a balance and I soon came to understand why people fight over religion. Because of their interracial marriage, my parents were on the fringe of their own religions, providing me with a rich, cultural experience. In my teenage years, my father took me to my first yoga class, where I met my first teacher, a woman named Joy who suggested that one day I teach yoga. In saying that, she sealed my destiny.

My yoga-training journey brought me many blessings and the honour of studying with four great teachers: the first of which are my parents, who have taught me patience; the second, Yogi Bhajan (Kundalini yoga), taught me courage; the third, Gurumayi (Siddha yoga), taught me to follow my heart, and, to this day, Baba Hari Dass (classical Ashtanga and Raja Yoga) teaches me selfless service and devotion.

In 2001, I ended up in New Mexico with a backpack and a small tent, which would be my only possessions for the next six months. I couldn’t help but ask myself, “What am I doing?” but I knew there was no turning back. I had a strong desire to burn off the karma of sadness and suffering and my days consisted of chanting every morning at 4 AM, yoga, meditation and working in the gardens and the office. On the first day of our yoga teacher-training, Yogi Bhajan advised, “You are going to work through your stuff now!” and he made us hold our arms in the air for what seems like hours. After I completed my stay there, he admonished me to go and teach the world.

After travelling and teaching yoga full time for several years, my life took a dramatic turn. Having just spent more than a year in service at the Mount Madonna Center in Northern California and the Salt Spring Centre of Yoga in BC, I received news that my beloved mother in Ottawa had breast cancer. The prognosis was not good – she had three to six months to live. My reality crashed around me as I fell to the ground in deep sadness. Only a few days before, I had talked with a close friend about what it would be like to lose a parent. I was not prepared, but bolstered with the support of community, I headed home to do my duty. Initially, my duty to my family took me to Ottawa, but it was my love for my mother that kept me there. Hospitals, chemotherapy, painkillers, nausea, cooking, laughter, forgiveness and tears became our day-to-day reality. Having lived independently for so many years, I was once again a daughter, living at home.

I have heard that the greatest test of anyone’s practice is to move back home with parents and continue to remain in a state of shanti (peace). Three to six months turned into 18 months and I was honoured to be by my mother’s side during the process. In the summer of 2006, the cancer consumed my mother’s body, the battle was over and all that remained was to surrender. In the face of death, all I knew to do was chant. Both the Catholic priest and the Mukhi Kamadia from the mosque gave the Last Rights and I chanted the shanti mantra so that peace would prevail.

I was graced by watching my mother live and die without fear. She offered all of her suffering to God and forgave those who had trespassed against her. In her final hours, I watched the true meaning of life unfold. We come into this world on an inhale and we literally leave on an exhale. Everything in between is an experience that brings us closer to our inner truth and divine consciousness. Life is pairs of opposites seeking balance and union (yoga). Balance arises when we give up suffering, negativity and fear.

In the face of fear, there is always love and this is what guides me to live in the world. I choose to live and love through the path of devotion and action. After my mother’s death, I travelled with my beloved teacher Baba Hari Dass to India. For two months, I lived at Sri Ram Ashram, an orphanage for 68 destitute and orphaned children and school for 500 children. It is also a charitable medical clinic. It was there that my feelings of gratitude for having the love of a mother became more than I can ever express.

All these experiences brought me back to Vancouver in the fall of 2007, where I was led to Langara College to follow my dream at the Centre for Holistic Health Studies. Langara College is the first college in Canada to offer a 250-hour, experiential yoga teacher-training certificate program, which offers students the opportunity to study and practice these ancient teachings, which can bring about personal transformation, as well as allowing them to develop a daily at-home yoga and meditation practice.

One of the foundations of yoga is a regular daily practice (sadhana). Through meditation, self-affirming thinking and developing a positive approach to life, students learn how to solve personal challenges and promote peaceful change in society. They also gain the knowledge and skills to effectively teach mindful yoga classes and deliver workshops to diverse groups.

It is our life experiences that make us great teachers. We can only teach people from where we have gone before. Teaching yoga is a life journey, which begins with cultivating awareness of one’s mind, body and soul and a strong desire to free oneself from the bondage of suffering. When we are free, life becomes a joyous dance with the divine. The heart opens and blossoms, providing beauty and light to all.

Naseem Salila Gulamhusein is the Yoga Teacher Training Program Coordinator and Teacher Trainer at Langara College. She has taught all levels of students internationally and has instructed for yoga teacher training programs in Canada and the US. ngulamhusein@langara.bc.ca, 
www.holistichealthstudies.com