In 1998 Dean Ornish published the book Love and Survival: The Scientific Basis for Healing Power of Intimacy. In it he showed how diet, exercise, medication, and intimacy can slow, halt, reverse, and prevent many chronic illnesses, diseases, and dysfunctions. This included heart disease, type 2 diabetes, early prostate cancer, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity, early-stage dementia, autoimmune conditions, depression, and anxiety. Quite an amazing finding, in fact hard to believe, but forty years of work and study has proven it to be true.
He has written six very popular books but his new book, "UnDo It!" brings it all up-to-date and shows the practices to make the necessary changes and achieve remarkable results. I don't often promote books or programs but Love and Survival changed my life and set me on the road to recovery, and the second book is really frosting on the cake. Both books show how to create a lifestyle that makes life much healthier and happier. It's not often fast, easy, or painless but so very worth it.
Because a systems approach is used, changes can lead to major improvements across the board. Like most things in life, the harder you work at it the more improvements you'll see. Besides the diseases listed above, the program also helps emotional stress, depression, lack of sleep, arthritis, Alzheimer's, dementia, and the microbiome of the gut. Stress is rampant these days, and bad news because chronic physical and emotional stress can cause up to 90% of chronic diseases including heart attacks and strokes. There is good news though, as stress comes not just from what happens, but how we react to it.
Many people try to escape the stress, depression, and loneliness through social media and other apps, but unfortunately they are addicting and lead to even more unhappiness, loneliness, and stress in the long run. Ornish recommends stretching, relaxation, guided imagery, meditation techniques to relieve stress from the body, mind and emotions. At Cowboy Dharma we leave the exercise, stretching, and yoga to others who specialize in those fields, but we are very big on Prayer and Meditation so please check out those Sanity Files.
As a side practice in benefits of meditation dr. Ornish mentions accessing the inner voice, also of utmost importance at Cowboy Dharma. We see the still small voice of our Higher Power as the center, source, and access to all the love, peace, joy, beauty, and wisdom of the universe. We are all children of God and so heirs to this birthright. The other inner voice is our True Self, also hard to hear among the barrage of busyness and bullshit of the world.
To protect ourselves from the abuse, abandonment, and other abuses a false self arose within us and took over. It's time to take ourselves back and be the big, bright, brave, bold, and beautiful person we really are. To help you access the infinite power of the universe check out the Higher Power Sanity File. And to at last recover the True Self that was lost and stolen as a youngster check out the Inner Child and True Self Sanity Files.
After detailing the importance of 1. eating well, 2. moving more, and 3. stressing less, dr. Onish moves to the most important point of all, loving more. Why? "Because love, intimacy, and positivity are healing. Loneliness, isolation, and depression are deadly. Loneliness and depression exert negative influences through every organ system and biological mechanism. In fact people who feel lonely, depressed, and isolated are six times more likely to die from all causes."
Anything that brings us closer together in authenticity and vulnerability is healing. We find it in romantic love, family or friends, even a pet. This love can be transcendent, as we realize deep connection that tells us we are all in this together. In the past intimacy was practically forced upon us as we lived with extended family for many years in the neighborhood where everyone knew us and all our secrets, we had jobs that were secure and long term, and worshiped together with many of the same people. For most of us those days are long gone. Families are fractured, jobs come and go, we move often, and worship attendance is way down.
"Group support allows us to directly experience how good it feels to be authentically and deeply connected with others, and is often a transformative experience and profoundly healing. It creates a safe place for us to talk intimately about what is really going on in our life, and to express our authentic feelings without fear of being judged, abandoned, or criticized. Although this part of life is one that many people have the most difficulty with and believe to be the least important, we find it to be the most important, meaningful, and transformative of all".
Social support helps us not only live longer but much better. We are hardwired to love and be loved but somehow got short-circuited. It's time to make the connection again. Now that you hopefully have a better understanding of why intimacy is so healing it's time to ask how and where do we find it ? Many areas have support groups and counseling available for a fee. This is great if you can afford it and highly recommended, but there are many other choices available at basically no cost. This is the incredibly helpful and powerful 12 step programs. No one knows the alcoholic better than another alcoholic; all of their secrets, difficulties, and shame.
This has now expanded to over a hundred different programs to help all kinds of addicts, smokers, overeaters, children of dysfunction, workaholics, even clutterers anonymous, and many more. Regular meetings are available throughout the week in person, by phone, or teleconferencing. People meet to share their feelings and thoughts openly, authentically, and intimately. This is just what we need to heal. If you want to recover your true self, make awesome friends, heal your life, and have fun again check out the Twelve Step Recovery Sanity File.
The next practice dr. Ornish recommends is gratitude, as it is an antidote to overwhelm, irritation, impatience, and exhaustion. Hear we can turn the tables to take the focus off of the negative and instead focus on the things that really bring us joy and happiness. This can create a self-perpetuating cycle as we realize more and more things to be grateful for. We can do this by making a gratitude list or writing things out in journals, another very helpful practice. For more inspiration look to the Attitude of GratitudeSanity File.
The next tool outlined in the book is forgiveness, and with that comes loving kindness and compassion. A Tim McGraw song says "We've been holding in and holding on to all the pain, it's like carrying around the past in a hundred pound sack, I'm gonna Let It Go!" It really comes down to doing whatever it takes to realize love for ourselves first, then others. Cowboy Dharma covers this all-encompassing and hugely important topic in the Love Is The Answer Sanity File.
To show just how connected we are dr. Ornish quotes a Harvard study of 12,000 people that found if one of your friends is obese you have a 45% higher chance of obesity, if they have a friend that it is 20% higher, and if they have a friend you still have a 10% higher chance! This pattern is also seen with smoking, depression, happiness, and altruism.
When we slow down and quiet down enough we can realize the transcendent connection with our Higher Power, others, and all of life and creation. As we learn to keep the vision of this "One Life" in mind amidst all of the division, polarity, and strife, we are much better be able to enjoy life as it is. He quotes Einstein as saying "A human being experiences himself as separated from the rest. This delusion is a prison for us. Our task must be to free ourselves by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures in the whole of nature and its beauty".
Another study of a 148 million tweets showing language patterns reflecting negative relationships, disengagement and negative emotions, especially anger, predicted heart disease mortality better than risk factors including smoking, diabetes, hypertension, and obesity. "This way of viewing the world is the antithesis of love, compassion, and healing. When we hurt others, we hurt ourselves. For the same reason, when we help others, we help ourselves.
Compassion naturally flows when the divisions that separate us begin to fade, and it helps to free us from anger and chronic stress. The connection with one another and with our soul and spirit is already there behind the drama of our lives. When our hearts begin to open, we are able to feel it, like opening a window shade and letting in the sunshine that's been there all along, waiting patiently be revealed" (All quotes by dr. Dean Ornish unless otherwise noted)