in the mid-70s, Sandra Amrita McLanahan, M.D. established the country’s first comprehensive integrative health care center—Integral Health Services (IHS), near Satchidananda Ashram-Yogaville East in Connecticut. A true trailblazer, Dr. Amrita talks about her pioneering work and the healing power of Yoga.
Integral Yoga Magazine: Integral Health Services (IHS) was groundbreaking in its day. How did this come about?
Amrita McLanahan: This was Sri Gurudev’s (Swami Satchidananda’s) vision of which I feel I was an instrument. He brought all religions together and he brought all paths of medicine together. He personally oversaw the development of IHS. The modalities included medicine, psychotherapy, chiropractic, massage, nutritional counseling, Yoga therapy. He suggested that each patient be seen by the individual practitioners. Afterwards, all of the practitioners sat in a circle to exchange information and to develop a treatment plan. Then we invited the patient to join us to hear our findings and recommendations.
IYM: You also wrote a groundbreaking book with your brother in which he represented the allopathic approach and you represented the complementary and alternative therapies.
AMcL: Surgery and Its Alternatives covers 200 different diseases and how to treat them, both naturally and with conventional approaches. I wrote this book to bridge the gap between conventional and alternative medicine.
The book is like a portable IHS. It details how the various natural therapies can be utilized for prevention and treatment of ailments. For those who need to have surgery, it offers Yoga practices and other natural modalities that one can use before and after the operation.
IYM: You just finished a project entitled Dr. Yoga?
AMcL: Yes, I was the medical consultant for Nirmala Heriza’s book. Nirmala is a senior Integral Yoga teacher and developed a program based on Integral Yoga that is offered to cardiac patients at Cedars-Sinai Hospital in Los Angeles. Each of the traditional practices of an Integral Yoga class is analyzed for its physical and medical benefits. Testimonials from doctors and patients using Yoga in health and healing are also included.
IYM: What are some of the practices that you feel are most useful in, to quote Sri Gurudev, “maintaining our natural condition of a body of optimum health and strength…”
AMcL: Regular chanting can be very healing. We begin our Integral Yoga class with chanting because it balances right and left hemispheres of the brain and takes us outside of our usual harried time and space continuum. Alternate nostril breathing is also very powerful and balancing to the system. And, it’s a very portable practice! You can do it while waiting in line, and anytime you feel stressed.
IYM: What is it about the Integral Yoga system that is so effective?
AMcL: The combination of practices and the comprehensiveness of the system makes it most remarkable. Sri Gurudev has given us teachings and tools that impact every aspect of our lives from birth to death.
Sri Gurudev taught us that in order to maintain our health we have to maintain our peace. Each disturbing emotion creates a cascade of negative physical effects and leads to negative lifestyle choices and behaviors. The Yogic practices can help us experience that peace and then maintain it as we go through the inevitable ups and downs of life.
IYM: What guidance did Sri Gurudev give that was particularly helpful to you as a physician?
AMcL: “Start with yourself.” Sri Gurudev always said, “Everyone wants to be a teacher. I am just looking for one good student.”
About Sandra McLanahan, MD
Dr. McLanahan is a nationally recognized authority on preventive medicine. She served as Director of Stress Management Training for Dr. Dean Ornish’s program. She gives programs throughout the year at Yogaville and writes a blog for iymagazine.org
Reprinted from Integral Yoga Magazine, Summer 2004