Perhaps one of the most
impressive arenas of Sri Gurudev's service has been his contribution
to the field of health and complementary medicine. From the start of his
service in the West, Sri Gurudev steadfastly promoted vegetarian diet,
stress reduction through the Yoga practices and philosophy, and living in
harmony with nature. As a homeopath and naturopath, Sri Gurudev offered a
holistic health perspective to the world of Western medicine.
He was, at the same time, supportive of the positive aspects of allopathic
medicine, and always spoke about the great advances achieved, particularly
for acute problems.
Sri Gurudev's ideas
and ideals were radical at the time-chief among them the notion that
disease was essentially-"dis-ease," or disturbed ease. The chief
culprits responsible for those disturbances included: non-vegetarian
diet, unhealthy habits like smoking, drinking, drug use, wrong
thinking ("As you think, so you become," he would often quote),
sedentary life-style and stress. He taught that treating illness
from a purely allopathic approach put undue focus on symptoms
without going to the root cause of disease. He gave the analogy
that treating symptoms alone was like cutting the wires on a home
smoke alarm. If you cut the alarm wires and go back to sleep, the
fire may take your life. He would often tease the doctors performing
bypass surgery that they will only be "bypassing" the real problem
which would recur unless addressed. These words were prophetic and
were to change the face of Western medical approaches to heart disease.
It was September 1972 and 600 people
gathered on a hot, dry day in Calistoga, California for the start of a ten
day Integral Yoga retreat. Among them was Sandra McLanahan, M.D.,
there for her first retreat experience. Finished with her internship
she was seeking a deeper understanding of herself and her profession.
Sri Gurudev spoke daily at the retreat and was teaching kriyas-the yogic
cleansing practices. Dr. McLanahan wanted to approach him but she was shy
and it was a silent retreat. On the last day of the retreat, Sri Gurudev
came up to her, put his arm around her and said: &So, you've come to be my
doctor.& And that is exactly what happened. She received the name Amrita
(the divine, life-giving nectar), and after completing her residency,
she moved into Yogaville East in Connecticut. Later, in 1974, she toured
India with Sri Gurudev.
Putting into practice all
she was learning from Sri Gurudev on yogic approaches to health and healing,
Dr. Amrita opened the Integral Health Center (IHC) in Putnam, Connecticut in
1976. Sri Gurudev's vision was to bring practitioners of every healing
discipline together to individually make assessments and then to jointly
diagnose and provide treatment options to the patient. Called a
"Comprehensive Evaluation," this idea of complementary and multimodal
treatment was cutting edge in the mid-1970s. Within a short time,
Prevention magazine featured IHC in an article entitled,
"The Clinic Where Love and Medicine Go Hand in Hand." Soon, IHC had a
500-patient waiting list!Just around this time, another groundbreaker-to-be
was coming onto the medical scene. Dean Ornish's sister Laurel was a
Yoga enthusiast and student of Sri Gurudev. With all the challenges of
medical school, Dean was finding himself extremely stressed and depressed.
Laurel introduced him to Sri Gurudev and Yoga. He felt an immediate benefit.
Dean read an article in Integral Yoga Magazine written by Dr.
Amrita on the "Medical Benefits of Yoga." He invited her to his medical
school-Baylor College of Medicine-to speak. He also asked her to do
research with him on the medical benefits of Yoga on heart disease.
Dean came to Yogaville East and spent time with Sri Gurudev and Dr. Amrita,
discussing plans for research projects that would attempt to measure the
benefits of vegetarian diet, meditation, Hatha Yoga, and exercise...