What's the best advice you've ever received?
To learn to breathe properly. It's the master key to good health. These were yoga techniques to lengthen exhalation. There's a particular one called the four-seven-eight breath that I teach everyone. I felt an immediate effect, but the real changes come from practicing it every day. And after several weeks, there are some major changes — it slows heart rate, lowers blood pressure, improves digestion, improves sleep, and controls anxiety.
Was there an adventure that changed your life?
When I was 28, I spent three and a half years on the road, mostly in South America. I visited shamans and studied medicinal plants. That's where I learned about the psychological dimension of healing. A good shaman can sense people's belief systems — particularly the belief a patient has in a practitioner — and work to increase the likelihood of healing.
Shamans also treat people with psychotropic drugs. What were your experiences like?
They varied, but they definitely convinced me of their potential usefulness. They created interesting possibilities. They show that by changing your perception of what's going on in your physical body, you can actually change your physical body. I'd love to see them become medically available here. I'm interested in their physical healing abilities because I've seen the disappearance of allergies and autoimmune diseases. There are reports of positive results with cancer. There's a wide range of possibilities.
What's the best health tip you know?
To really trust in the healing power of your body. The most wonderful thing about the human organism is that it has the ability to self-diagnose, to repair, to adapt to injury and loss. You can see that when you get a cut and you watch it heal. But that's going on at every level of the body, and most people have no confidence in their bodies' own healing potential.
You attract critics from the New Age and from traditional medicine.
As long as I'm getting it equally from both sides, I think I'm in the right place.
Do you think we're an overmedicated society?
That's putting it very mildly. When I was growing up, Americans were prescribed medications at something like 10 percent of the pace they are now. Most patients and doctors think that the only way to treat illness is with drugs. And that's absolutely not so.
What's the key to staying young?
First of all, I think it's largely mental, to not buy into the vision of yourself as an old person. And obviously there's all sorts of stuff to do, like staying physically and mentally active and eating right, and so on. But I think mostly it's mental.
How should we eat?
The overarching rule is to avoid refined, processed foods. It's that simple. And I'd advise an anti-inflammatory diet, which is actually an enjoyable way to eat. It's a Mediterranean diet — a lot of olive oil, vegetables, fish, even a little dark chocolate.
What's the best way to motivate people?
By your own example. This goes for health professionals: If you are an embodiment of the principles of healthy living, you naturally inspire other people to do that.
What's the connection between emotional health and physical health?
Oh, I don't think you can disconnect them. They're two poles of the same thing.
What do you think of the government's handling of the Ebola crisis?
I think there are more important things to worry about — such as the possibility of an influenza pandemic. But they should have had a vaccine sooner. And probably the one reason for the delay and lack of funding was that this was going on in Africa and affecting other people, not us.
What do you want your legacy to be?
I see myself called the father of integrative medicine. That would be fine with me. Integrative medicine is clearly becoming mainstream. And one day we can drop the word integrative and it will just become medicine.
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