Sunday Lecture with Dr Deepak Chopra

Deepak ChopraLast Sunday, I had a rare opportunity to take part in a lecture delivered by Dr Deepak Chopra, who came to London to share a bold new understanding of our genes and how simple changes in lifestyle can boost our genetic activity. For decades medical science has believed that genes determine our biological destiny. Now the new genetics has changed that assumption forever claiming that we possess a super genome that extends almost infinitely beyond the old textbooks and theories. This super genome is made up of these components:

  • The roughly 23,000 genes we inherited from both parents, together with the 97% of the DNA that is located between these genes on the strands of the double helix.
  • Epigenome, which acts as a dimmer switch allowing for every strand of DNA to be turn on and off. It is as dynamic and alive as we are, responding to experiences in a complex way.
  • Microbes, which are a tiny microscopic living organisms like bacteria and inhibiting mainly in our intestines, but also in the mouth and skin. It is estimated that we harbor 100 trillion gut microbes, which are helping us with healthy digestion of food and resisting diseases.

All three components of the super genome are us! They are the building blocks managing the operation of our bodies. The present day genetics is currently exploring how super genes get together to form the body and mind system.

One of the most important findings is that our longevity is not only influenced by the DNA inherited from our parents, but also by our lifestyle. Looking at the complete DNA sequence of human genome, we learnt how to find genes and mutations associated with the risk for disease (including cancer, diabetes, heart disease and Alzheimer’s disease). We have also learnt that only 5% of these mutations guarantee disease onset – the vast majority (95%) only increases our susceptibility by interacting with the environment and lifestyle. Nothing is more remarkable than human body, which changes dynamically with every experience and responds with perfect precision to life’s challenges.

Dr Chopra beliefs that the journey for all wellbeing consists of two simple steps:

  • Finding out what’s good for you and what’s bad – acquiring the knowledge
  • Doing what’s good for you while avoiding what’s bad – applying the knowledge

He highlights six pillars of wellbeing that have a positive effect on our epigenome, microbiome and the brain itself, these are:

DIET – the biggest enemy in people’s diet is inflammation, which in its core is necessary to the healing process (the immune system rushes chemicals known as free radicals to flood the wounded or diseased area). Let’s take the symptoms of flu as an example – fever, aches and pains are not from the flu virus but from the body’s recovery activities and the inflammation that comes with it. Often the internal signs of inflammation can go unnoticed, which creates a real issue to our overall wellbeing. Choices we can add to our diets to feel the anti-inflammatory benefits right away:

  • A gluten-free diet
  • Anti-inflammatory foods (fatty fish, berries, nuts, seeds, whole grains, soy, mushrooms, peppers, tomatoes, beets, cherries, ginger, turmeric, garlic, olive oil)
  • Cutting down on refined white sugar
  • Daily probiotics supplements and multivitamins
  • Eliminating fast foods, processed foods and ready meals
  • Eliminating wheat & switch to whole-grain foods
  • Fatty fish at least twice a day (fresh salmon, mackerel, tuna)
  • Fruit or cheese for dessert (sharing desserts when eating out)
  • Limiting red meat (or eliminating it altogether)
  • Mediterranean diet
  • Organic foods
  • Pastured eggs with high omega-3 fatty acid
  • Probiotics with soluble fiber (oatmeal, pulpy orange juice, bran cereal, bananas)
  • Probiotic foods (active yogurt, kefir, kimchi)
  • Reducing alcohol to one beer or glass of wine a day (or eliminating it altogether)
  • Side salads eaten with lunch and dinner
  • Stop snacking and eating when you’re not hungry
  • Vegan diet
  • Vegetarian diet

STRESS – which in general is what we nowadays call the modern life. There is no escape from it but Dr Chopra proposes a list of choices we can take to minimize the negative effects of stress:

  • Avoid multitasking and dealing with one thing at a time – manage your workload
  • Become more accepting
  • Daily meditation
  • Decrease boring and repetitive work – seek meaningful work you can find
  • Deal with long-standing psychological issues through therapy
  • Deal with your negative emotions (anger, anxiety, depression, fear)
  • Enjoy nature every day
  • Find a coach or mentor
  • Include time-out and downtime in your daily routine
  • Leave work at work and leave it on time
  • Minimise background noise and distractions at work
  • Plan for the future (be insured)
  • Retreat from stressful situations quickly
  • Spend time with people who are meaningful to you
  • Stop unlading your stress on family and friends
  • Take up a hobby or a physical outlet to unwind from daily stress
  • Utilise your holiday allowance

EXERCISE – the secret to exercise can be told in one single phrase: keep going, don’t stop! The good news is that the more you keep on moving your body, the more you’ll want to. Physical activity becomes a habit you adapt very quickly, not to mention that it also helps creating new pathways in your brain. Here’s Deepak’s menu of choices:

  • Acquire more-active friends and join them in their activities
  • Devote half of your lunch hour to exercise – take a walk in the park
  • Do some of your housework yourself
  • Exercise while watching TV or listening to music
  • Get up and move around once an hour
  • Go outside few times a day for as long as you can
  • Take a walk after dinner (maybe take a dog for a longer and brisker walk)
  • Take stairs instead of the elevator
  • Take up gardening, golfing, or a similar activity that you actually enjoy
  • Take up yoga
  • Use a trainer at the gym or exercise with a buddy

MEDITATION – the more you do it, the better the results. Modern medicine looks to meditation for physical results, including lowering blood pressure, regulating heart rate, minimizing the stress-related symptoms and anti-aging activities. Dr Chopra suggests making meditation the centerpiece of our total wellbeing and using it as a mean for getting something we want very badly. Here is the list of the choices to consider:

  • Find a friend to mediate with or join a meditation course
  • Go on a meditation retreat
  • Learn a simple breath meditation 10 / 20 minutes in the morning and evening
  • Make mediation a shared practice with your partner
  • Practice 5 minutes of Pranayama (breath technique) before meditating
  • Take 10 minutes at lunchtime to sit alone with your eyes closed
  • Take inward time whenever you find it helpful, at least once a day
  • Take up a simple mantra meditation for 10 minutes twice a day
  • Use a mindfulness technique several times a day

SLEEP – nothing works as well as getting a good night’s sleep. Medical science still hasn’t determined what sleep does, but we know that lack of it is linked to many issues, including obesity (hormones ghrelin and leptin are thrown out of balance by lack of sleep). Sleep is also related to mood, but strangely enough, too many or too little of it can make us feeling hyper and agitated. The recommended amount of sleep is 8 hours per night. Here are some of the choices we can take to improve our sleeping pattern:

  • Avoid reading or watching TV half an hour before bedtime
  • Be regular in your sleep routine, go to bed/get up at the same time every day
  • Buy more comfortable mattress
  • Drink a glass of warm almond milk before bedtime
  • Experiment with herbs and herbal teas traditionally associated with good sleep (chamomile, valerian, hops, passionflower, lavender)
  • Explore Ayurvedic herbal remedies
  • Get a massage from your partner using few tablespoons of warm sesame-oil massage
  • Make your bedroom as dark as possible (blackout shades, wear sleeping mask)
  • Make your bedroom as quiet as possible (or wear earplugs)
  • Make sure your bedroom is comfortably warm and draft free
  • Meditate for 10 minutes sitting upright in bed
  • No alcohol in the evening
  • Remove the TV from your bedroom – keep the bedroom as place for sleeping
  • Take a warm bath before bedtime
  • Take a relaxing walk before you go to sleep
  • Use the evening hours after work as time to relax

EMOTIONS – the most desirable emotional state is happiness, a mental state deeply affected by our moods. Chemical messages tell every cell how to feel: be happy or sad, agitated or content, joyous or despairing. Have you ever felt your stomach tightening from fear? That’s your ‘gut brain’. Every emotion has its unique center at a specific part of your body, which then influences the genome’s activity in a positive (meditation, love and affection, satisfying work, creative outlets, hobbies, success, being appreciated, being of service, healthy food/water/air, setting long-range goals, physical fitness, regular routine free of stress) or negative way (stress, toxic relationship, boring and unsatisfying work, being ignored and taken for granted, constant distraction during the day, lethargic habits, negative beliefs, pessimism, alcohol, tobacco, drugs, eating when you are full, processed food and fast food, physical illness, anxiety and worry, depression, unhappy friends). Here are some of the choices we can take to improve our emotions:

  • Do one thing a day that brings someone else a moment of happiness
  • Don’t unload your negativity on others – seek sympathy and compassion instead
  • Explore the time in your past when you were happiest and learn from it
  • Express gratitude for one/five thing a day – keep a journal
  • Express appreciation for one person every day
  • Find something to be passionate about
  • Fix a weekly date night with your partner
  • Learn to deal with negativity after you calm down, not in the heat of the moment
  • Make leisure time creative, go beyond watching TV and surfing the Internet
  • Set a ‘good news only’ policy at mealtime and cut back on exposure to bad news
  • Set a worthy long-range goal and pursue it
  • Spend more time with people who are happy and less time with people who aren’t
  • Whenever a situation makes you unhappy, walk away as soon as practically can
  • Write down your personal vision of higher life

The super genome is not the end of the story, it is definitely work in progress. Dr Chopra strongly beliefs that by lovingly taking care of ourselves, we will be able to positively change our genetic infrastructure, and subsequently live a more mindful and fulfilling lives. It will also mean that the next generation will inherit even better genes from us – we will give them the best flying start possible.

For more information please visit The Chopra Foundation and The Chopra Center

Super Genes: The Hidden Key to Total Well-Being by Dr Deepak Chopra & Dr Rudolph Tanzi