Excellent article in Men’s Journal from August 2012. I wish there were more doctors like this in the U.S. (and that I had access to him)!
Dr. Frank Lipman was working as a medical resident in the South Bronx when he first realized there was a better way to heal people. He’d walked into an acupuncture clinic a few blocks from his own chaotic hospital to find more than 100 crack and heroin addicts sitting quietly, with acupuncture needles in their ears. At the hospital, addicts didn’t sit – they shouted, yanked out IVs, or were so sick that they lay sedate in beds. “It was obvious that, for the most part, Western medicine wasn’t working – I wasn’t helping patients,” Lipman says. “At the hospital, we were more concerned with what the EKG or X-ray showed than with spending time with the patient to find out what was really wrong.”
After that, Lipman started going regularly to the acupuncture clinic, where he learned Eastern-based alternative medicine while continuing to practice hospital-based Western medicine. It was a radical move at the time for a doctor in a profession that placed little value on preventive or holistic care. “I’ve always been a bit of a rebel at heart,” says the South African native. “When you’re brought up in apartheid, you learn to challenge everything. It’s in my blood to question the system.”
Thirty years of questioning have made Lipman a leading voice in functional medicine, which focuses more on balancing the body’s systems than treating specific symptoms. At his Eleven Eleven Wellness Center in Manhattan, he primarily sees people whom he calls the “worried well” – those who aren’t critically ill but aren’t optimally healthy, either. Here, the 57-year-old shares what’s the matter with our diets, why we live at less capacity, and what we can do to wake up feeling charged every morning.
What’s wrong with Western medicine?
Rates of obesity, heart disease, cancer, and other diseases have skyrocketed in the past 50 years. We’re seeing more autoimmune disease like chronic fatigue and hypothyroidism – we’re even seeing these problems in kids. This is because we don’t have a health-care system in the U.S. but a disease-care system. We treat diseases – we don’t prevent them. Traditional doctors aren’t trained in diet, supplements, exercise, meditation, and the other therapies you need to stay healthy. So if you want to prevent illness rather than only treat the times when you’re sick, you have to go to an integrative doctor.
You’ve said that most people live at half capacity. What does that mean?
If you’re not bouncing out of bed with energy every morning, you’re not living at 100 percent capacity. If you feel tired during the day, your aches and pains are getting worse, you’re putting on weight, you feel you’re aging too quickly, or you’re not as strong as you used to be – these are all signs you’re not functioning at 100 percent. And you need only one or two of these symptoms to be living below optimum. These aren’t just signs that you’re getting old but that you might have an imbalance your traditional doctor isn’t treating, you’re eating foods that cause inflammation, you’re not exercising enough, or you’re living with too much stress. Basically, what we accept as normal is living at 60 to 70 percent of optimal function.
How do you live at 100 percent?
You have to ask yourself two questions. First, what are you putting into your body that may be harming you? This can include gluten, sugar, and chemicals like BPA and arsenic in your food, all of which are harmful to the body. Second, what are you not putting in your body that it needs? This includes tangible needs like certain nutrients as well as intangible needs like love in your life and community. Finding answers to these questions is much more important than getting a medical diagnosis. I can tell a patient he has irritable bowel syndrome, but that’s just a name. But if I tell him he’s eating too much gluten and dairy, or he’s not getting enough fiber and probiotics, that’s something actionable and helpful.
What about our great-grandfathers, who lived before the excess of sugar and chemicals in our food? Don’t you think they had a hard time bouncing out of bed every morning?
It’s hard to say what was happening 100 years ago. But I feel strongly that the conditions we live in today are more stressful and toxic than they’ve ever been. Everyone knows what emotional stress is, but environmental stress can be more overwhelming. There are so many toxins in our everyday environment that our natural detox systems are overloaded and our functioning decreases – our bodies can’t process them. And when function declines, it presents itself as weight gain, fatigue, or aches and pains. Diet is a big part of that stress – if you’re eating crap, you’re putting a huge stress on your system.
Which foods are “crap”?
Gluten and sugar are the devil. I take all my patients off them, even if they don’t have a wheat sensitivity, and everyone feels better. Sugar is obvious – most of us know that it stresses the body and creates inflammation. But I think gluten is worse. Gluten, especially wheat, acts the same way sugar does in the body: It triggers an immune response and creates inflammation, which can lead to illness and disease. The wheat our grandparents ate didn’t do that. But the wheat today, even whole wheat, is a different grain – it’s been so crossbred and hybridized to increase yields and resist weather and insects. It’s a shorter, sturdier grain that we haven’t evolved to eat. So when we do eat it, our bodies think it’s a foreign antibody and create inflammation, which can lead to fatigue, disease, and autoimmune conditions.
How do you deal with emotional and environmental stress?
The ultimate answer to stress is meditation. Meditation stimulates the body’s parasympathetic response, which is how your nervous system regulates your body’s chemical and metabolic functions. While most men won’t sit on a cushion or chair for 15 minutes a day, it’s the best thing you can do. I try to get my patients to meditate daily for at least that long. Everyone should be able to find 15 minutes in the morning or night to do that.
Doesn’t exercise relieve stress, too?
Exercise is a wonderful tool, but to use it to deal with stress, you have to get out of your head and into your body. So if you’re running and thinking about what you have to do that day or your date last night, you’re not relieving stress. You have to get out of your head and make it a physical experience, not a mental one. When you feel your feet on the pavement or feel your body moving, it becomes a form of meditation. That’s why we teach breathing techniques – they’re a way of getting out of your head. The beauty of yoga is that it’s a moving meditation.
How much exercise do you tell your patients to do?
Think about moving every day rather than undertaking a rigid workout regimen, which can cause additional stress. How much should you move? That’s difficult to say. I think people should move in a sustained way at least three times a week, but I also encourage people to move as much as possible every day of the week. For example, I always walk up the five flights of stairs to my office rather than take the elevator.
What about supplements?
I believe everyone should take at least four supplements: a multivitamin, vitamin D, omega-3s, and a probiotic. It’s almost impossible to get all the nutrients you need in food today – and our needs are higher because there are so many toxins in the environment. Find a multi with a good amount of B vitamins. You’ll have to take four to six tablets per day – you can’t get all the nutrients you need in one tablet. Most people are deficient in vitamin D and should take about 2,000 IU per day. Most people are also deficient in omega-3s, unless you’re eating tons of fish – and if you are, you’re also eating tons of toxins and mercury. A probiotic is necessary to boost digestive and immune health.
How do you live a long, healthy life?
The four keys are exercise, diet, supplements, and stress reduction. Then there are also the intangibles: meaning in your life, love in your life. These are touchy-feely subjects that men don’t seem to get, but when people feel passionate about what they do, they’re healthier. When they’re part of a community or go home to a loving family, they’re healthier. You can’t give a prescription for love or meaning, but they’re crucial to good health. My life’s meaning is to find out how to turn people on to the truth, how to help them see the light, how to show that they’re being hoodwinked – maybe unconsciously by the hoodwinkers – and not getting the best care and medicine. I’m a preacher. I’ve seen what’s worked and I want to turn the world on to it.
[An excerpt from Gururaj Ananda Yogi (1932-1988), the founder of the American Meditation Society]
QUESTION: Is it necessary to have flashy experiences in meditation?
GURURAJ: Flashy experiences are not necessary for a person’s evolution. A person can be very, very evolved and not have any of these experiences whatsoever, because they are not a necessary must.
The five senses (seeing, hearing, smelling etc.) have their subtle counterparts within oneself. Some people are born with those counterparts and through meditational practices those tendencies are activated. Therefore they have these extrasensory perceptions. But that has nothing at all to do with a person’s evolutionary status. So whether or not a person has these experiences, it is not important at all. A person can be at a far lower stage of evolution and yet have fantastic experiences.
I don’t know if I spoke to you about a meditator in Cape Town. This chap came to me and said, “Gururaj, I’ve got a problem: I sit down regularly like clockwork to meditate, twice a day, and nothing happens. When the half hour is up, I get up and I have experienced nothing whatsoever and meditations are an absolute failure. Am I doing anything wrong? Am I not meditating properly? I hear of people talking of fantastic kinds of flashes and visions and all kinds of things and I’m getting nothing. I am beginning to doubt meditation. Please check my meditations for me. If there’s anything that I’m doing wrong, please correct me.”
I said, “fine, sit down, let’s talk about it and have some tea together.” He felt relaxed and then we started talking about the various facets of his life, his work and working day life. He is a Sales Manager reporting to the General Manager.
He said, “before I used to get so mad that my General Manager has a habit of shouting this and shouting that and not a single day would go by where I would not like to punch him on the nose. But I need the job and therefore I continue with the job. But lately, even if he shouts, I just don’t take any notice and carry on with my work.”
And then the same thing used to happen with his sales staff. He said, “they used to make me so wild that I just felt like firing them all the time. But now I don’t do that. If something goes wrong, I go up to them and say, ‘look, try doing it this way or push this product in such and such a way, or if you haven’t done sufficient coverage here then try and do it in such and such a way.’ As a result, I increased my sales and a better relationship started with my subordinates. And when my sales figures increased, my General Manager started liking me more also. So there was a two-way benefit.”
Then we started talking about home and I asked him, “how’s your Mrs, and how are things with you?”, and all these little things because the guru’s duty is not only to teach meditation. He feels responsible for every hair on the meditator’s head, because the meditator is not apart from him; the meditator is part and parcel of him. So therefore every aspect of his life is of the utmost importance and concern to a true guru.
So he told me about his wife and said, “I love my wife very much but because things were so bad at the office, I used to get home and we used to get on each others nerves and have little fights and squabbles. It was not always very pleasant but lately we don’t seem to have these little fights any more. We don’t squabble. If she says something, I just don’t take any notice. Then if I say something, she doesn’t take notice either, and you know we can turn an ugly situation into a nice laugh. We both laugh over it and nothing happens. And before, with the Sunday meal, I used to love my scotches and what have you, and then after the Sunday meal, I’d love having a nap. But now I don’t go for the scotches before the big heavy dinner any more and instead I take the kids for a drive on a Sunday afternoon. Its so, so enjoyable.” And then he was telling me, “Last Sunday we saw etc, etc, etc.” Like that he went on. His quality of sleep has improved, he feels more relaxed. He seems to sleep more deeply and he told me of his daily activity. So then I asked him, “are your meditations not successful?”
It is not the one hour spent in meditation that is important, or the flashy experiences that are important. It is how the twenty-three hours of the day go, that is important. And if in that half-hour in the morning and half-hour in the evening, you have visions and flashes and all kinds of lightning, forked lightning, that’s not important. The important thing is how the twenty-three hours, the waking state and the sleeping state, has that quality improved or not? Now if that quality has improved then be sure to know that even if you experience nothing in your meditation, that something has worked and is working, because even without those experiences, you are setting up a harmonious vibration within yourself, because your mantra, to look at mantra meditation for example, is based upon vibration. And you are tuning all the various vibrations in your body into a harmonious whole, thereby making your life a symphony, a melody. An unheard melody is of no value, a melody must be heard melodiously and appreciated in the waking state of life. So when that happens to our life, if any kind of experience comes or not, it is not important. The greatest criterion is how our daily life is improving or not. And if it’s improving, then your spiritual practices are successful. (UK 77-26)
The best decision that I have ever made was to start meditating. Here is a recent article from The New York Times that shares some of the numerous benefits: