An audience of engaged doctors, yogis, and wellness enthusiasts gathered at the Tibet House in Manhattan last week for a talk with Dr. Frank Lipman (whose patients include Maggie Gyllenhaal and Kevin Bacon, to name a few), an expert in integrative and functional medicine, and Elena Brower, an Anusara yoga instructor and founder and co-owner of Virayoga in Soho. Talking later in the evening was the Madonna of wellness, Kris Carr, whose irreverent approach to wellness has inspired people living with cancer to take charge and lead healthier and more passionate lives. This talk (the first in a series of four that Dr. Frank is hosting at the Tibet House) evolved the concept of health care beyond the yearly flu shot, transactional doctor's appointment, and "disease care" system, and explored how ancient traditions and philosophies can be weaved into a total health plan. While the dialogue focused on the benefits of yoga as a health tool, the conversation explored everything from epigenetics, to acupuncture, to nutrition. While doctors writing prescriptions for farmers market produce made headlines earlier this year, will doctors begin to prescribe pranayama, asanas and yoga retreats?
Dr. Frank started the conversation with a primer on functional medicine, a patient-centric health care approach that recognizes the subjectivity of the doctor-patient relationship (no one approach heals all) as well as the myriad of environmental and lifestyle factors that affect health and disease. Dubbing Dr. Jeffrey Bland the "father of functional medicine," Dr. Frank further explained that functional medicine is "the new system of medicine where East meets West. Everyone is unique. You treat the patient and not the disease." Health care connects us with specialists when something is "broken," but falters when it comes to empowering us to be the Chief Executive Officers of our daily wellness. Have a sports injury? There's an orthopedic surgeon for that. Feeling a little blue? Try a psychiatrist and some Prozac. Dr. Frank, however, recommends we craft a long-term health-centric philosophy that focuses just as intensely on how we think, move and experience life on the days when nothing is broken to optimize health. And yoga may be just what the doctor ordered.
According to Dr. Frank, the blueprint for health involves the creation of an "anti-inflammatory lifestyle." It's not uncommon to hear people either abdicate personal responsibility for their health (obesity gene?) or to live in a fear-based state due to their genetic make-up. Dr. Frank points to the power of nurture and epigenetics, the science that "most of our genes are not set in stone. They are formed through our thoughts, the foods we eat, and our belief system." It's an optimistic, empowering message that we can help define our health destiny. And where's a good place to start? Listening to the gut is one of the best internal thermometers of a healthy lifestyle. Dr. Frank elaborated that master herbalists looked to the gut when unsure of what next steps to recommend: "It all starts with the gut. Inflammation starts in the colon. The gut is the second brain, literally." Colonic anyone?