On the evening of my return from Omega, I attended a fantastic evening event at Lenox Hill Hospital hosted by Integral Yoga Institute — the “Enlightened Health Panel Discussion: The History and Future of Yoga in Medicine” with Dr. Dean Ornish, Dr. Mehmet Oz and Dr. Sandra Amrita McLanahan. I was very impressed with all the speakers as well as the moderator, Dr. Graham, who is running their Integrative Practice at Lenox Hill – it even includes an edible, herbal rooftop garden, as well as Reiki, yoga, pet therapy, music therapy, meditation, and walking and exercise clubs! How far hospitals have come!
The three speakers (as well as artist Peter Max) spoke about their connections to Integral Yoga and its’ founder Swami Satchidananda, as well as the health benefits of the yogic lifestyle. Dean Ornish spoke movingly about how when he was a medical student, he was depressed, stressed and suicidal, a fortuitous meeting with the Swami saved and changed his life forever. The Swami taught him, among many things, that we cannot look for happiness outside our selves (hence, the letdown we may feel after acquiring things and achieving goals.) Rather, through our yogic practices we quiet ourselves down enough to find the happiness and peace within. After incorporating walking meditation, yoga and diet changes into his life, Dr. Ornish graduated with high honors, and became one of the most influential doctors linking diet with health and heart disease. He continues to expand his holistic approach to medicine, calling for a new paradigm of “health care, not sick care”, to create a “Lifestyle Medicine” that includes love and compassion in the medical model (this is also Dr. Bernie Siegel’s model and basis of success with his cancer patients described in his many books, including “Love, Medicine, and Miracles”!)
Dr. McLanahan, who is a very impressive speaker, is based at Yogaville in Virginia. Among the many things she discussed was the importance of the body-mind-spirit connection, and that intimacy is the route of healing, and that we “need to learn how to relax as a culture” through tools anyone can use, such as laughter, yoga, deep breathing (which also improves lymph flow and reduces inflammation). She discussed that shame and guilt do not change people, but love, compassion and acceptance heals, and suffering can be used as a catalyst for change. She and Dr. Ornish actually did yoga at the White House with the Obamas!
Dr. Oz was initially taught yoga by Dr. McLanahan, and that changed how “his mind saw the world” and influenced his opening of a complementary medicine center. At the Lenox Hill evening, he graciously ceded much of his speaking time to Peter Max who was brought on stage from his seat in the audience. Peter Max famously was the person who brought Swami Satchidananda to NYC in 1966 after meeting him in Paris. And the rest is history! Yoga in America greatly expanded, and the Swami even addressed the crowds at Woodstock. I feel so fortunate to be teaching at the NYC center founded by Swami Satchidananda, and that Integral Yoga Institute is on the forefront of yoga and medicine by expanding therapeutically-based yoga beyond the yoga studios.