Remarkable transformations have occurred in the world since I wrote the first edition of Perfect Health almost a decade ago. Ten years ago the ideas that there was more to health than the absence of disease, that natural approaches could enliven our intrinsic healing system, and that the human body was a network of energy and information rather than a frozen anatomical structure seemed radical. And yet today we see that these concepts have become woven into the very fabric of our modern view of health and sickness, and of life and death. A recent report in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that over 40 percent of Americans are now regularly accessing unconventional medical care that goes beyond a materialistic view of the human body. More than two in three medical schools have introduced courses on alternative and complementary medicine to their students. And, recognizing that patients are demanding greater choice and access, increasing numbers of insurance companies and health maintenance organizations are covering the costs of holistic medical care.
The scientific community has shifted from outright rejection and ridicule of alternative healing approaches to serious investigation. If you access the National Library of Medicine's database, you will find over forty thousand articles on alternative and complementary medicine with over sixteen hundred on herbal medicines alone. Meditation, yoga, massage, and nutritional approaches are increasingly embraced as mainstream tools for healing. St. John's wort, ginkgo biloba, and echinacea have become household words, with almost every pharmacy in America carrying its own line of natural medicines. Through the proliferation of journals, books, and the Internet, people have unprecedented access to information on health, and are taking increasing responsibility for their own well-being. Although this may be threatening to the established medical community, I see the trend toward increasing self-awareness and empowerment as a sign of expanding personal and collective health.
At the Chopra Center for Well Being in beautiful La Jolla, California, we have created a healing environment to directly explore the power of Ayurveda and mind body medicine. We have developed courses applying the principles and practices of holistic medicine to the most common health concerns. Our Magical Beginnings program provides information and inspiration for pregnant couples to nurture their unborn children as incubating gods and goddesses in embryo. We have certified birth educators around the world teaching this program, which will help create a new generation of healthy, conscious beings.
Mind body educators on every continent in the world have been trained at the Chopra Center to teach Creating Health, our premier course on mind body medicine and Ayurveda. More than five hundred people have been certified worldwide as instructors in Primordial Sound Meditation, our stress-relieving program that enables people to directly experience their inner field of energy and creativity. Return to Wholeness, our course for people facing cancer, has had a transformational effect on those dealing with this challenging illness. Programs for people with chronic fatigue, women transitioning through menopause, and those struggling to lose weight have helped thousands to realize their intrinsic potential to consciously transform their lives. Over the past decade I have repeatedly seen the profound effect that the approaches described in Perfect Health have on people's lives.
It has been very gratifying to witness the changes occurring in world consciousness. We are in the midst of a revolution that will forever change the way we view the world and ourselves. The timeless wisdom tradition of Ayurveda and the most advanced theories of modern physics both point to a deeper reality that encourages us to see the universe as an eternal, infinite field of potentiality that we can access for healing and transformation. This is the core message of Perfect Health.
This updated version contains some significant changes. I have introduced new healing techniques that we have found useful with patients at the Chopra Center. Guided visualizations and meditations are presented that can provide the direct experience of more expanded awareness, the key to changing your perception of your body. I offer subtle mind body approaches to consciously connect with your cells, tissues, and organs. Learning to influence so-called "autonomic" functions is important in creating and maintaining perfect health. I have updated the sections on nutrition and herbal medicines, with an emphasis on a wholesome, balanced diet. These days, in the rush to ensure health with nutritional supplements, it is important not to overlook the basic health-promoting value of a balanced nutritional program. The Ayurvedic diet promoted in Perfect Health is characterized by its simplicity, elegance, and sumptuousness. I have introduced new, updated references, which draw from the growing body of scientific research on mind body interactions in health and sickness. It is very fulfilling to see objective documentation of health principles and practices that go back thousands of years. Expanded ways to nourish your body through the five senses are explored that use healing sound, touch, sight, taste, and smell to awaken the body's inner pharmacy. Understanding that the environment is our extended body, I have introduced fun exercises to enliven the connection between our inner and outer worlds. Overall, this edition of Perfect Health is designed to be practical, accessible, and very user-friendly.
In my continuing exploration of healing, I am totally convinced that true health is much more than the absence of an abnormal laboratory finding; it is even more than optimal mind body integration. Health in its essence is a higher state of consciousness. For thousands of years the great Vedic seers have proclaimed that the purpose of attending to the body is to support the state of being known as enlightenment. In this state our internal reference point shifts from the ego to spirit, and we recognize that the knower, the process of knowing, and that which is known are one and the same. The boundaries of time and space become fluid as we remember ourselves as unbounded beings temporarily masquerading as individuals. This state of wholeness is the basis of all healing. This is the state of perfect health. I am grateful for the opportunity to escort you to this place that is very near to where you currently reside.
INVITATION TO A HIGHER REALITY
There exists in every person a place that is free from disease, that never feels pain, that cannot age or die. When you go to this place, limitations which all of us accept cease to exist. They are not even entertained as a possibility.
This is the place called perfect health.
Visits to this place may be very brief, or they may last for many years. Even the briefest visit, however, instills a profound change. As long as you are there, the assumptions that hold true for ordinary existence are altered, and the possibility of a new existence, higher and more ideal, begins to flower. This book is for people who would like to explore this new existence, bring it into their lives, and make it permanent.
The cause of disease is often extremely complex, but one thing can be said for certain: no one has proved that getting sick is necessary. In fact, quite the opposite is true. Every day we come into contact with millions of viruses, bacteria, allergens, and fungi, and only the tiniest fraction of these encounters ever leads to disease. It is not uncommon for doctors to see patients whose respiratory tracts contain clusters of virulent meningococcus bacteria living there harmlessly. Only on rare occasions do they break out and cause meningitis, a serious and at times fatal infection of the central nervous system. Many of us carry the varicella virus, lying dormant in our nerves since a bout with chicken pox as children, but only rarely, under stress, does it reactivate to cause the painful condition of shingles. What provokes such an attack? No one knows precisely, but it seems to involve a mysterious factor called "host resistance," meaning that we, the host of germs, somehow open or close the window to them. More than 99.99 percent of the time, the window is closed, which implies that each of us is much closer to perfect health than we realize.
The leading cause of death in the United States is heart disease, which in most cases is caused by deposits of plaque blocking the coronary arteries that conduct oxygen to the heart. When cholesterol and other debris begin to obstruct these arteries, oxygen starvation threatens to impair the heart's function. Yet the course of heart disease is highly personal. One person with a single, rather small bit of plaque can be incapacitated by angina, the squeezing chest pain symptomatic of coronary artery disease. A second person with several deposits of plaque large enough to block much of the oxygen flow to the heart might feel nothing. People whose coronary arteries were 85 percent blocked have been known to run marathons, while others have dropped dead of a heart attack with completely clean vessels. In fact, recent studies have found that many younger people who die suddenly of a heart attack have none of the usual risk factors for coronary artery disease. Our physical ability to repel disease is extremely flexible.
In addition to our body's physical immunity, we all have strong emotional resistance to sickness. As one woman, an older patient of mine, put it, "I've read enough psychology to know that a well-adjusted adult is supposed to become reconciled to getting sick, growing old, and eventually dying. At some level I have understood that, but emotionally and instinctively, I don't believe it at all. Getting sick and deteriorating physically seem like a ghastly mistake, and I've always hoped someone would come along to correct it."
This woman is nearly 80 now, and her physical and mental condition is excellent. When asked what lies ahead, she said, "You may think this is crazy, but my attitude is that I'm not going to get old, and I'm not going to die." Is that so unreasonable? People who consider themselves "too busy to get sick" are known to have above-average health, while those who worry excessively about disease fall prey to it more often. Another man told us that the idea of perfect health appealed to him because it was a creative solution--perhaps the only solution--to the overwhelming problems currently facing medicine. A highly successful electronics executive, this man compared perfect health to the kind of "breakthrough thinking" that transforms corporations.
Breakthrough thinking is a unique form of problem solving: it involves making a situation better by first raising your expectations much higher than anyone believes possible and then looking for ways to make your vision come true. "If people continue to think and act in the same familiar ways," this man commented, "they may accomplish five to ten percent improvements by working harder. However, to get improvements of two to ten times, targets must be set high enough that people say, 'Well, if you want that much improvement, we'll have to do this an entirely different way.'"
Breakthrough thinking has been applied among advanced software companies in Silicon Valley. For example, if the current version of software took two years to develop, the next generation may be scheduled to take only one. If defects in manufacturing have been cut down to 5 percent, then "zero defects" becomes the rule for the future. That is exactly how perfect health works--it sets zero defects as the goal and then explores how the goal can be met. In the high-tech industry, it may cost eight to ten times more to repair a defect than to make it defect-free in the first place. For that reason, imposing "quality at the source" (i.e., doing things right the first time) makes better business sense than going for engineering that is merely good enough.
The same is true in medicine, where prevention is much cheaper than treatment, both in human and economic terms. A recent poll showed that Americans fear catastrophic illness more than anything else. The reason has less to do with pain and suffering than the crushing expense of a long hospital stay and the devastating costs of long-term care. For many people even death is not as frightening as leaving one's family destitute. Clearly, we need a medical approach that believes in "quality at the source" and can promote it in individuals.
PROMISE OF A NEW MEDICINE--AYURVEDA
The first secret you should know about perfect health is that you have to choose it. You can only be as healthy as you think it is possible to be. Perfect health is no mere 5 or 10 percent improvement over good health. It involves a total shift in perspective that makes disease and infirm old age unacceptable.
Can we really believe in "zero defects" for something as complex as the human body? According to the National Institute on Aging, no diet, exercise, vitamin, drug, or lifestyle change has proved itself capable of reliably extending life. Averting the degenerative disorders that afflict the elderly--heart disease, stroke, cancer, arteriosclerosis, arthritis, diabetes, osteoporosis, and so on--is more feasible than ever before but still unlikely. Although in public medical researchers speak optimistically of major breakthroughs in curing cancer and the other major intractable illnesses, they are much more pessimistic among themselves. The best that they hope for is creeping gradualism--taking one tiny step at a time toward a solution. (Lowering cholesterol levels will, statistically, reduce heart attacks in a large group of people, for instance, but it does not guarantee that any single person will be spared.)
To make health twice or ten times better, you need a new kind of knowledge, based on a deeper concept of life. This book presents a unique source of such knowledge, a system of preventive medicine and health care called Ayurveda. Dating back in India more than 5,000 years, Ayurveda comes from two Sanskrit root words, Ayus, or "life," and Veda, meaning "knowledge" or "science." Therefore, Ayurveda is usually translated as "the science of life." An alternate and more precise reading would be "the knowledge of life span."
The purpose of Ayurveda is to tell us how our lives can be influenced, shaped, extended, and ultimately controlled without interference from sickness or old age. The guiding principle of Ayurveda is that the mind exerts the deepest influence on the body, and freedom from sickness depends upon contacting our own awareness, bringing it into balance, and then extending that balance to the body. This state of balanced awareness, more than any kind of physical immunity, creates a higher state of health.
Ayurveda embodies the collected wisdom of sages who began their tradition many centuries before the construction of the Pyramids and carried it forward generation after generation. At the Chopra Center for Well Being we have developed a modernized system of Ayurveda that integrates the perennial truths of this ancient healing approach with the most advanced insights of modern science.
Over the past fifteen years my colleagues and I have treated more than ten thousand patients and trained nearly three thousand other health care providers in Ayurvedic theory and practice. In adopting Ayurveda, we have not abandoned our conventional training but extended it. Blending Ayurveda and Western medicine brings together ancient wisdom and modern science and the two have proved completely compatible. The doctors at the Chopra Center still take medical histories and work up physicals on their patients, relying on objective tests to tell them when a person is sick. In addition, however, we guide our patients to look inward, to find that all-important balanced awareness inside themselves.
Copyright © 2001 by Deepak Chopra, M.D.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.