Petrea King was 33 when she was diagnosed with leukemia. The diagnosis was grim. A naturopath and yoga teacher, King travelled to a monastery near Assisi in Italy where meditation helped her heal. Since then, through her Quest for Life Foundation, she has helped more than 80,000 Australians with cancer, grief, depression and trauma through residential programs and workshops.

What was your first experience with yoga?

When I was seven, I experienced a moment when the whole physical world became insubstantial. I could see through everything and there was a blinding unifying light. It was like seeing the hand inside the glove. The essence of yoga is union and that gave me an experience of this unifying principle.

When did you begin your spiritual path?

As a child, I had a problem with my legs and underwent 12 major surgeries. I was told twice that I would never walk again. The intense pain led me to meditation, breathing exercises really. Then, in my early 20s I was crippled with arthritis and began studying naturopathy. By the time I began having babies, I was doing two hours of yoga a day to cope. Naturopathy got me interested in yoga and I travelled to the United States to learn from Swami Kriyananda.

You are interested in how state of mind contributes to physical health. How do you reflect on that in your own life?

Studying yoga, I learned that whatever we hold in our consciousness is delivered to our cells. Just before I was diagnosed with leukemia, my brother had taken his own life and I had a lot of unresolved grief. However, if you pretend to know the source of things it can give you a feeling that you know the cause. For me it wasn’t like that. The diagnosis came as a huge shock. But it also felt like a relief; that the strain that I had been taking could end. I was a strict vegetarian, I did 30- and 40- day fasts and I meditated long and hard. It was a constant striving to measure up to some impossible standard that I had set for myself.

What advice do you have for those still “striving”?

Lighten up, really. God, love, life is here in the present and understanding that you are profoundly connected to that means you wouldn’t want to subject your body to striving. Accept the blessing of this moment.

How do you share your beliefs with those who come to Quest for Life?

Telling someone who is suffering that they have created the illness in their life to learn from it sounds pretty glib. While it is true that we are contributing to our physical health, it’s not a particularly helpful or compassionate approach. Making peace in our life is paramount. This means creating an ideal environment for our physical, mental, emotional and spiritual healing.

How has your relationship to yoga and meditation changed?

For many years I was up at 4am every morning for a whole range of meditation practices including yoga, calligraphy and Sanskrit. I had a very disciplined approach. But we don’t meditate to become fabulous meditators. We meditate because it gives us greater clarity. Now my most consistent spiritual practice is to “come to my senses”. Mostly I’ll settle myself with the breath. We don’t arrive at a place called peace. Peace is a moment by moment choice. Every moment, every breath is an opportunity to make the choice for peace.

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