Sample from The Commemorative Issue – Boundless Giving of Integral Yoga Magazine
“The spiritual teacher Swami Satchidananda was once asked, ‘What’s the difference between illness and wellness?’ ‘He walked over to a blackboard [during Grand Rounds at the University of Virginia Medical Center] and wrote illness and circled the first letter, i. He then wrote wellness and circled the first two letters, we.” — Dr. Dean Ornish in The Oprah Magazine , November 2002.
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…
December 2002, Dr. Phil McGraw interviewing CNN’s Larry King on the Dr. Phil Show:
Dr. Phil: “You have had several bypass surgeries. How do you handle anger?”
Larry King: “Swami Satchidananda was a great man . . . you’d have liked him. Swami Satchidananda said that when you’re angry, the last thing you get is information. It’s the first thing you want and it’s the last thing you get. If you’re angry at the clerk at the airport you will not get information. If you’re nice, you will get information. So anger, he said, never pays. It never pays…”
Read the rest of this article in the Commemorative Issue – Boundless Giving of Integral Yoga Magazine.