It’s about time to say goodbye to our beloved Chicago summer activities–– like meeting up with friends at the beach, enjoying an outdoor patio or biking the lakefront path. But preparing for shorter and colder days doesn’t have to be all bad. It could be an opportunity to expand the ways you seek joy within yourself.
At least, that’s what Deepak Chopra, Oprah’s longtime health adviser, would challenge you to do.
After being trained as a physician, Chopra became an alternative medicine advocate, author and founder of The Chopra Foundation, a wellness-focused research nonprofit. He recently gave Reset a preview of his new podcast, Mind Body Zone: Living Outside the Box, in which he explores how we can improve our lives by paying closer attention to the connection between our mental and physical health. Here are a few highlights from the conversation:
What qualities do the guests on your new podcast share?
Chopra: I’ve been a student of what people do and why they do it. Ninety-nine percent of us are basically biological algorithms, in that we are predictable, we have no original thought and we’re squeezed inside a box. The people I spoke to in my podcast are people who not only broke out of the box, but they basically were not even looking at a box. They had freed themselves from the conditioning that is part of our culture right now. Every single person I interviewed — from Gábor Marte to Oprah Winfrey — is not a victim of the conditioned mind. They are true creators and therefore role models for us all to see how we can break through our conditioning.
How did you make that mental shift?
Chopra: Forty-five years ago as a resident intern, I realized that what we call Reductionist Mechanistic Medicine was very good for [treating] acute illness, but not good for prevention or even for managing chronic illness. By chronic illness, I mean the major epidemics of our time — obesity, Type 2 diabetes, inflammation, depression, anxiety, stress. These are very important factors in illness.
Only 5% of disease-related gene mutations are fully penetrant, in that they guarantee the disease. If somebody has a mutation like Angelina Jolie had for breast cancer — it’s called the BRCA gene — then you need to have a preventive mastectomy. Only 5% of gene mutations are like that.
The rest [of illness-related mutation] are dependent on our daily choices, including how much we sleep, how we manage stress, emotional resiliency, biological rhythms and, of course, food, exercise, movement and mind-body coordination. I got a lot of criticism 35-40 years ago for having even proposed the idea that there were alternative or integrative methods for treating most chronic illnesses.
What role can love play in healing?
Chopra: Love is frequently understood as sentimentality and emotions, which it is. … But love is a much bigger truth than just mere emotion.
Wisdom traditions talk about how we are part of a matrix of inter-beingness. That’s part of the Buddhist teachings and Christian teachings — “Love thy neighbor as thyself.” You might think it’s impossible to do, but if you experience it through meditation, you do find love as truth, love of an idea, love of service, love of a higher calling, love of children, love of your significant other. It’s a whole new dimension of love that is healing.
In the Indian tradition that I come from, the word is “love in action,” which is called karma yoga. Love without action is meaningless and action without love is irrelevant. But when you practice love in action, then the whole world responds to you and wants to help you out. And that’s been my experience.
How can meditation improve our physical health?
Chopra: There were many pandemics: One was the COVID-19 pandemic, the second was the economic disasters that occurred with people losing their jobs, etc., and the third epidemic was stress, which was actually worse than the other two epidemics.
Stress is associated in the body with something called sympathetic overdrive. If your sympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for the fight or flight response, goes into overdrive, then it produces intense inflammation — both low-grade inflammation and what I call inflammatory storms. They are actually the precipitating factor in morbidity and mortality from the infection.
Our science has not emphasized the opposite of the fight-or-flight response, which is actually the name of your show Reset — the reset response, the reinvent response, the digest response and the relaxed response — which involves the parasympathetic nervous system. Many things like yoga, tai chi, qi gong, vocalization, chanting, singing and breathing exercises can actually override the sympathetic response.
What do you want people to take away from your new podcast?
Chopra: [People] have an immense amount of resources in their being for intuition, insight, inspiration, creativity, a higher calling and transcendence. Life can be a celebration instead of a disaster, which is the way we’re seeing it right now.
I had the opportunity to look at social demographics and what people call happiness. Only 10% [of happiness] depends on situation, circumstance and what’s happening in the world. The remaining 80% is dependent on how we see the world and what we interpret as a problem or a disaster. The choices we make every day, are they only for ourselves or also for others? Do we have the capacity to give other people attention, affection, appreciation and acceptance? That is probably the most healing element that could create all sorts of joy and happiness for ourselves.