Last week at the Tibet House in New York, Dr. Frank Lipman, founder of Eleven Eleven Wellness Center and an expert in integrative and functional medicine, continued his empowering dialogue on reinventing health care. He was joined by Dr. Robert Thurman, the dynamic Professor of Indo-Tibetan studies at Columbia University. The connecting element in Dr. Frank's series at the Tibet House is the concept of epigenetics: the idea that most of our genes are not set in stone and can be modified through environment and lifestyle. I.e., we can be the authors of our healthy destiny. The talk with Dr. Thurman centered on the power of our mind: how can our thoughts, attitude and mind interact to affect gene expression? How can happiness be a stable and satisfying part of our self-care? What can we learn from Buddhism so that we can be the teacher over our mind and body?
President of the Tibet House and personally ordained by the Dalai Lama in 1965 (and, yes, father to Uma), Dr. Thurman is a leading Buddhist scholar and an entertaining speaker with incredible wit. Dr. Thurman is also passionate about health: he's a big fan of Eleven Eleven Wellness, Dr. Colin Campbell's The China Study, cleansing to detox, and yoga (he favors Iyengar over the more physical, “show-off” styles). From the engaged, passionate conversation between these experts, here's what I took away from the night:
1. "We need to break free from the mind-numbing depression of Goldman Sachs or the fourth trophy wife." -- Dr Robert Thurman
In a world of bountiful abundance, such as certain parts of Manhattan, why has it become so hard to be happy? Dr. Robert pointed to the Buddhist explanation of the Three Poisons -- Ignorance, Greed and Hatred -- which lead to suffering and prevent us from achieving the elusive state of bliss. Bhutan's well-established Gross National Happiness Index defines quality of life in psychological terms. Post-financial crisis, French President Nicolas Sarkozy recommended, to mixed reviews, that happiness be included as a measurement of France's economic development. Will the U.S. begin to define success and capital in terms of fulfillment, freedom, and inner peace?
2. "If you love your work, it won't harm your heath." -- Dr. Robert Thurman
Live to work or work to live? Well if you love what you are doing, your health won't be affected by how much time you spend working at the office or developing your business plan. Research shows that heart attacks spike on Monday mornings. The return to an unfulfilling, stressful job, coupled with Monday morning traffic, is a toxic cocktail.
3. "The No-cebo Effect" -- Dr. Frank Lipman
We've all been told about the power of the placebo effect, or a patient's measurable improvement in health in the absence of medication. Positive thoughts, energy and optimism can help heal an illness, while negativity can have just as potent, harmful effects on a condition or recovery. Our brains and bodies can believe the expert opinion of a doctor, even if it doesn't reflect what's actually going on in our bodies. Surround yourself with positive energy. It’s probably good words to live by whether you are selecting your medical partner, or planning your Saturday night.