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A Heart Attack Changed My Life, Part 2: “Yoga & Integrative Medicine”

Posted Jan 28 2010 11:47am

yoga matsDr. Dilip Sarkar suffered a heart attack on his 52nd birthday. He was a student of Western medicine, a vascular surgeon and, overall, very healthy. His heart attack forced him to re-evaluate. Eight years later, he practices yoga asana (postures), pranayam (breathing exercises), and teaches yoga therapy. In the first part of this series, he narrates his experience having a heart attack and making big changes in his life. Here, he answers questions about his new vocation and what he wants people to learn from his experience.

Anu Kaur: What is yoga therapy? And what type of yoga therapy do you teach?

Dilip Sarkar, MD: Yoga therapy is a state of empowering an individual toward wellness and health by the application of the philosophy and practice of yoga. The philosophy we teach is “Yoga Sutra of Patanjali” and the practice is “Patanjali Ashtanga Yoga.”

AK: As an advocate of yoga, how do feel yoga changes a person physically, mentally and spiritually?

DS: Yoga by definition is the union of the mind-body-spirit. It cures a disease and maintains health through self-realization. You look inside yourself, atman darshan (introspection), and observe what is bothering you and hurting you. Yoga tradition believes that, you are the cause and cure of your disease. By doing yoga, you achieve overall wellness and protect yourself against the progression of disease.

AK: How should conventional medicine and integrative medicine play a role in people’s lives?

DS: Traditionally, chronic diseases are first diagnosed in the acute phase, and that is when we start our customary evidence-based medicine of tests and treatment. By also incorporating integrative medicine into evidence-based medicine, we can add personal lifestyle modification to the treatment of disease. In time, if that personal lifestyle modification helps, then your doctor can cut down or take off pharmaceutical medicines slowly.

AK: Given your 40 years of experience in conventional medicine and extensive knowledge of integrative medicine, where do you see society headed in this information-filled world?

DS: The evidence-based physician is looking for and finding more and more data and information about integrative medicine. I believe that conventional physicians are going to change their modalities, in particular in chronic disease, because we have failed in the treatment of chronic disease arena.

A beautiful example of the integration of Western and traditional medicine is this: In the 1920s, the Chinese government began to accept Western medicine and ignoring traditional Chinese medicine. In the 1950s, new political forces who were pushing for universal health care did not have enough Western-trained physicians in the country, so the government relied again on traditional Chinese practitioners, putting them back into practice. Both the systems became integrated, as is evidence today. For any acute health care issue in China today is treated with Western medicine, and chronic health care issues are treated with traditional Chinese medicine.

AK: Any last bit of advice to our readers?

DS: Lifestyle modification is more powerful than taking medication. Lifestyle modification is a strong but slow medicine, so people need to stick to it. Remember, body, mind and spirit are not protocol-driven. It is an individualized response that can take up to six weeks or up to six months, depending on what is happening for the individual.

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