SPIRITUALITY AND HEALTH
SPIRITUALITY AND HEALTH
Subrahmanyam R. Boyareddi, M.D.
When one says he or she is spiritual, the perception is somebody who renounced everything and who is away from the mainstream. Is it true? Certainly not. When material life is based on the foundation of spiritual principles, it is much more enjoyable. The basic question one has to put to oneself is, am I at peace with myself and with others around me? If the answer is yes, then you are already spiritual. If the answer is no, then spirituality can greatly help. You might have the entire world at your feet, fame prestige, money, everything, but if you do not have peace, you do not have a worriless life. If you have peace, if you don’t have many things in life, you will be happy. That peace comes when the mind gets completely purified and is quieted. Then it is no longer an obstruction to your experience of the truth that is your pure self.
Recently, several studies have demonstrated the benefit of yoga, meditation, prayer and love (interconnectedness). Study after study has shown their effect on coronary artery disease, cancers, anxiety and depression. I would like to discuss Dr Dean Ornish's program for "Reversing Heart Disease." This is well publicized and accepted by the medical community and his program is covered by Medicare and many major insurance companies. It is interesting to note how Dr Dean Ornish was drawn to Eastern thought and ultimately provided a choice of low-tech alternative to management of heart disease. Dr Dean Ornish was suffering from Mononucleosis and was also depressed, when his sister Laurel, hooked him up with a prominent Swami, Satchidananda, who introduced him to yoga, meditation and vegetarian diet. By Dr Ornish"s account those disciples turned his life around. His mood lifted, his energy returned and he grew less anxious about things. As a medical student Dr Ornish was dismayed to see people with heart disease herded through by-pass surgery and sent home to resume the destruction of their arteries, by resuming the unhealthy habits that brought them to the hospital in the first place. They continued to smoke, they consumed a diet that was high in animal fat, led stressful lives and avoided regular exercise. This prompted him to conduct several studies, which ultimately led him to the program he currently advocates as one of the choices in the management of heart disease and also has shown actual reversal of heart disease. He carried out his work while he was at Baylor Medical School in Texas and Harvard Massachusetts General Hospital and currently he runs the non-profit Preventive Medicine Research Institute at Sausalito, CA.
Dr Dean Ornish's program: It has four components:
1: Vegetarian diet
2: Exercise that includes yoga and breathing exercises
4: Love and intimacy
1 Vegetarian diet: It consists of fat less than 10% of daily calories, mostly polyunsaturated or mono
saturated. This is intended for the reversal of heart disease. But more fat is allowed in the diet that prevents further progression of the heart disease but not reversal. 70% to75% daily calories are from carbohydrates, and from protein 15%to 20% daily calories. Total calories are unrestricted. Animal products are not allowed, except non-fat dairy foods and egg whites. Sugar and sodium are permitted in moderation and also small amount of alcohol.
2 Stress management through yoga, asana, breathing exercises and stretching exercises: One can begin with a few yoga asanas suited to him or her.
Dr Ornish highly recommends sun salutations (Surya Namaskaras). Also he recommends breathing exercises for stress management. According to Time Magazine (April 2001), yoga is a path to enlightenment that winds back 5,000 years in its native India; yoga has suddenly become so hot, so cool, so very this minute. It’s the exercise cum meditation for the new millennium. One that does not so much pump you up as bliss you out.
3 Meditation: The concept of meditation is very simple; anyone can do it. Peace and stress begin in the mind. Meditation is the process of quietening your mind. When your mind is quiet, you feel peaceful, you lose your sense of separateness and isolation. You may even experience your higher self. You cannot force your mind to be quiet any more than you can smooth out the waves in a tray of water by running your hand across the surface. If you look at your reflection in a disturbed tray of water, then your face looks distorted. You don’t have to do anything to smooth out the waves other than to stop disturbing them. When you do then you can see your true self more clearly in the reflection.
Similarly, meditation does not smooth out the disturbances in your life as a tranquilizer might, meditation allows you to go deeper to where the disturbances begin. It helps you to become more aware of how your mind becomes agitated and gives you more control to stop these disturbances. It does not bring you peace, for the peace is already there once you stop disturbing it. There are several ways of practicing meditation, you can use a prayer, you can use a mantra or you concentrate on your breath and there are various other methods including visualization. However, the first step of every approach to meditation is paying attention. Paying attention or increasing awareness, is the beginning of healing. Meditation keeps us in the present moment. Meditation is a state of being. When you meditate your mind becomes quieter, allowing you to directly experience the inner source of peace, joy and nourishment. Being mindful throughout the day is a form of meditation and it is said,"You bring meditation into your day and your day into your meditation." It is common knowledge now that meditation helps lower the blood pressure, lower the pulse rate, lower the respiratory rate, and improve the immunity of the body; change in the brain wave patterns and circulatory patterns were also clearly demonstrated through brain wave studies and PET scans.
4 Love and intimacy: Intimacy just does not mean intimacy between people. Intimacy is defined as anything that takes you out of the experience of feeling separate and only separate.
On one level we are separate: you are you, I am me. On another level we are part of something larger that connects us all, whatever religious or secular context you put that experience into. Something spiritual is that which is of the spirit that connects us all. It goes by different names and forms in different religions and cultures, throughout time and throughout the world, but that basic experience is available to everyone through whatever religious tradition. Interconnectedness with people, namely family members, friends’ community is very, very important. Love is healing. Dr Randy Byrd conducted a double blind randomized study of 393 patients at San Francisco General Hospital who were admitted to coronary care unit during a 10-month period. He arranged for people to pray for 192 of the patients, but not the 201 others. These two groups were comparable in terms of age and disease severity. He found that prayed for patients suffered fewer complications.
What works in getting patients to stick to the plan according to Dr Ornish is not fear of dying, but "joy of living”. People who eat right feel good. That feeling, instead of the fear, is going to help them change their lifestyle. If one starts feeling good by following a vegetarian diet, by meditation, by practicing yoga and connecting with other people, then he is going to stick to that changed lifestyle. That means helping them actually feel better, rather than just reducing risk factors. "Whether or not people want to make comprehensive lifestyle changes is a personal decision, but I think they should be given all the facts so they can make an informed choice," according to Dr. Ornish.
Dr. Ornish placed 28 people with heart disease on his reversal regimen while 20 others followed conventional advice. Differences after one year were dramatic.
Control Group Ornish Group
-5.4% Total Cholesterol -24.3%
-5.8% LDL Cholesterol -37.2%
+1.7 Body Weight -11.1
-6.4 Systolic Blood Pressure -5.2
+165.5 Angina Incidence -91.2
In summary then your mind, body and spirit are intimately inter connected. Because of this, coronary heart disease occurs on emotional and spiritual levels as well as on physical ones. The opening your heart program is designed to address all of these levels, not just the physical ones. If we limit our treatments only to the physical heart, then the disease tends to come back again and again or the treatments may be worse than the illness. If we also address the emotional/spiritual dimensions, then the physical heart begins to heal as well.
About the author: Dr Dean Ornish is currently in Sausalito near San Francisco, CA. He conducts several research programs. The one he is currently carrying on is the Prostate Cancer Study, which is conducted with two leading urologists. These articles were published in the Journal of American Medical Association, Lancet, American Journal of Cardiology. The following is some selected references and resources:
Ornish D. – Dr Dean Ornish's Program for Reversing Heart Disease. New York, Random House, 1990.
Ornish D. – Eat More, Weigh Less, New York, New York, Harper Collins; 1993
Ornish D. – Avoiding revascularization with lifestyle changes; the Multicentre Lifestyle
Time Magazine. Inc. (April 2001)
The above mentioned references were liberally used in writing this article.
1. A mind that is fast is sick. A mind that is slow is sound. The mind that is still is Divine. – Meher Baba.
2. He is born in vain who, having attained the human birth, so difficult to get, does not attempt to realize God in this very life. – Sri Ramakrishna.
3. To have courage for whatever comes in life. Everything lies in that. – Teresa of Avila.
4. All that we are is the result of what we have thought. – The Buddha.
5. The control of palate is a valuable aid for the control of the mind. – Mahatma Gandhi
6. Look upon man, woman, and everyone as God. You cannot help anyone, you can only serve; serve the children of the Lord, serve the Lord Himself, if you have the privilege. If the Lord grants that you can help any one of His children, blessed are you. – Swami Vivekananda
7. In seeking the lesser, we often lose the greater. – Swami Paramananda,
8. One should have a selfish interest to serve selflessly. – RK Panditi.