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Road to Wellville 

by Suzanne Schreiner


The Body, Mind & amp; Spirit Expo is back at the Spokane Convention Center for its 15th year. On tap are lectures, workshops, and exhibits on past lives, palmistry, holographic structural realignment, the I Ching, life assessment, Voyager Tarot, communicating with animals, the history of essential oils, astrological influences, numerology, the shamanic journey and something called, intriguingly, Thoth the Atlantean. Plus, if you are one of those who "listen to the beat of a different drummer," you can finally find out if you are one of the Indigo-Starpeople.


But there's more.


Deepak Chopra, the one-man mind-body enlightenment juggernaut, is back as featured speaker. Apart from the odd hermit sequestered on a misty mountaintop, just about everyone has at least a passing acquaintance with the books, the tapes, and the PBS specials that Chopra has put forth at regular intervals for the last 20 years.


He's a mind-body phenomenon who's sagging under the weight of recognition and awards -- or he would be, if he weren't such a model of bloody well-being. The honors run the gamut, from Time's Top 100 Icons and Heroes of the 21st Century to Spa Finder Inc., which presented him with its 2004 Visionary Award, honoring him for his work in "bridging Eastern and Western medicine in the spa environment." Noble work, indeed.


Dr. Chopra has a remedy for whatever ails you, based on Ayurvedic medicine and philosophy. Our bodies have a natural tendency to perfect health, he says, if only we can awaken the wisdom within. We each hold the key to our own health "because what we think and feel can change our biology."


In Journey Into Healing, just one of his nearly three dozen books addressing nearly every bump on the road to perfect health, Chopra says that "the cause of disease is often extremely complex, but one thing can be said for certain: No one has proved that getting sick is necessary." Self-indulgence, perhaps, or some sort of moral laxity on our parts?


Never mind. Dr. Chopra is here to help.


Trouble getting enough shut-eye? Restful Sleep offers the complete mind/body program. Carrying a few extra pounds? Perfect Weight will help you shed them. Chronic fatigue? Boundless Energy shows you the Ayurvedic way to overcome it. Gray hair and crow's-feet? In Ageless Body, Timeless Mind, Chopra demonstrates how we can transcend aging through meditation, yoga, diet and exercise.


In fact, this infinitely adaptable combination turns out to be the prescription regardless of the issue, whether it is insomnia, addiction, aging or pregnancy. Ayurvedic medicine is built on the notion of doshas, or three body types - vata, pitta, kapha - one of which is dominant in each person. When these are out of balance, mischief ensues.


Though born and raised in India, Chopra came to Ayurvedic medicine rather late, and only after he had immersed himself in Western medicine. The son of a cardiologist, Chopra came to the States in 1970 to do a residency in New Jersey, eventually becoming chief of staff at New England Memorial Hospital.


But as he explains in the autobiographical Return of the Rishi, his first night on the job in the New Jersey hospital was a dark night of the soul for Chopra, whose idealism was shattered when he realized the machines were in the room but the family had been cast out. Worse, the patients weren't whole people to him, only nameless bodies harboring disease.


"Western medicine is very technical," says Chopra, and the "fact is, Western doctors are good technicians," who regard the body as a machine.


But if the patient has a tumor, say, and "you just fix that problem and don't look what's happening in the mind, the problem will recur."


Asked what treatment he would recommend now for his grandfather, who died of advanced heart disease when Chopra was young, he shoots back, "Coronary artery bypass graft." But then, "I would follow up with Ayurvedic treatment," including "sensory modulation and removal of emotional toxicity. I would look at the environment, look at relationships, look at diet, look at sleep patterns, digestion, quality of inner life and herbal remedies."


But the guru of perfect health admits that when it comes to serious illness, such as cancer, "There are situations where we have no control." In that case, the only resolution is "ultimately coming to peace with what we have."


Of course, skeptics are on Chopra like scent on an aromatherapy candle. The debunkers at QuackWatch.org have assailed what they call Chopra's "Ayurvedic mumbo-jumbo." They point to some of the more outlandish claims, such as yogic flying, which promotes the idea that, with practice, meditators can levitate, as Chopra claims to have done himself in his book Return of the Reishi. They also charge that "Chopra has neither published nor personally conducted any scientific studies testing whether the methods he promotes help people become healthier or live longer."


Whatever your take on Chopra -- hero or quack - you can test your assumptions at the Body, Mind & amp; Spirit Expo this weekend.





Publication date: 06/02/05

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