It sounds like a rock band doesn’t it, Dean Ornish and the Yoga Revolution. It kinda felt that way too when we arrived, last Friday morning, in the rain – myself and 23 participants from our Subtle Yoga RYT500 Therapeutic Yoga Teacher Training Program, to see Dean Ornish at the Renaissance Hotel in Asheville. Dr. Ornish was giving the keynote lecture at MAHEC’s 6th Annual Integrative Healthcare Conference. The room was filled with doctors, nurses and other health professionals (pretty likely we were the only yoga teachers in the room). We got cups of tea and found seats in the front. 

If you haven’t already met, let me introduce you to Dr. Ornish. He is the maverick who first proved that heart disease, even severe coronary artery disease, can be reversed with lifestyle changes. His program is now covered by Medicare and he advises the federal government on healthcare policy. He’s been on the cover of NewsweekTime, and U.S. News & World Report and was appointed by President Clinton to the White House Commission on Complementary and Alternative Medicine Policy (he’s the reason Bill went vegetarian and lost all that weight). He was also appointed by President Obama to the White House Advisory Group on Prevention, Health Promotion, and Integrative and Public Health.

(Here’s one of our graduates, Rhonda Cook, talking about the lecture)

I last saw Dr. Ornish in January at the Medical Yoga Symposium in Washington DC, and he was amazing. So when I heard he was coming to Asheville during our two week yoga therapy intensive – I got on the phone and worked my MAHEC connections so that we could all be there.

I was a little worried about bringing my trainees to see him at a medical conference – what if it’s over our heads? What if we don’t fit in with all those medical people in our yoga pants? What if it’s too damn early in the morning to listen to a lecture?

But his presentation was phenomenal and we were spellbound for an hour and half. And I was delighted to see that he talks to medical professionals the same way he talks to yoga teachers. The reason is simple – he has mined the best yoga interventions and created a “Lifestyle changes” program to help people heal and thrive. We get what he’s talking about – he speaks yoga.

His approach has four aspects:

  1. A healthy, plant-based diet
  2. Sufficient exercise
  3. Stress management (His team includes “Stress management specialists” – certified yoga and meditation teachers) 
  4. Love and support

Some of the highlights of his talk are things we’ve been teaching in our Subtle Yoga Training programs for years – 75 percent of healthcare dollars are spent on chronic, preventable diseases. Yoga and lifestyle changes are a cost-effective, person-centered strategy. Lifestyle changes are not just prevention, they are also treatment, and have been proven to benefit heart disease, prostate cancer and depression. People with a sense of meaning and purpose in their lives have less depression, are healthier and live longer.

Here are a few gems from his talk:

  • Worldwide, more people are dying from heart disease & diabetes than AIDS, TB and malaria combined.
  • Animal based diets increase mortality by 75 percent, cancer by 400 percent and diabetes by 500 percent
  • Lifestyle changes promote neurogenesis – your brain gets bigger when you eat better, exercise more, have a good support system, and relax and find meaning in life.
  • The idea that taking a pill is the easy way out is not the reality – two-thirds of people who are prescribed statins for heart disease stop taking their medication after three months. People don’t like taking pills.
  • Change happens through love, support and community, not through fear. You can’t scare someone into making changes in their life, you have to support them.
  • The New England Journal of Medicine recommends steering away from drugs and towards lifestyle changes to control diabetes.
  • Lifestyle changes are the only intervention that has been proven to lengthen telomeres (parts of genes which shorten with age).
  • If it came from a plant eat it. If it’s made in a plant, avoid it.
  • Meaning is the antithesis of depression.

Needless to say, we returned to the training glowing. The time for yoga, especially yoga therapy, is now. Dean Ornish has created a powerful and simple strategy out of essential yoga theory and practice. He even credits his teacher, Swami Satchidananda of Integral Yoga as a major influence. And his program is covered by Medicare. He has paved the way for yoga therapy to become an integral part of the healthcare system.

So the big question now is this: How can we take yoga out from the studios and fitness centers, where people may or may not know anything about the “Lifestyle changes” part of yoga beyond sun salutes, into our communities in order to transform the health of individuals and of our society?

Next week we will unveil our new website – Sarva Health. I can’t wait to share more about it with you. We are really excited to be a link between the yoga world and the healthcare world and we are positioning ourselves at the forefront of this movement. The world is waiting for the teachings of yoga. Maybe you want to join us?

You can – we have programs coming up in Charlotte and Huntsville, a special training for Behavioral Health Professionals in Atlanta and Asheville and our RYT500 Therapeutics Training in the fall in Asheville. We are also in the process of unveiling our Subtle Yoga teacher status program. Send us an email and let us know what you’re doing or Talk to us about becoming involved in the yoga revolution.





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