( By Dr Ramesh Kapadia )

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The middle of January 1988 turned out to be a veritable watershed in my career as a cardiac physician. I met a like-minded physician from U.S.A. , Dr. Larry Dossey. He was on a brief visit to Indian to deliver a talk on ' Medical Science and Non-Violence ' under the auspices of Gandhi Peace Foundation, Delhi. He also visited Ahmedabad and delivered two lectures on the same subject under the auspices of the Kamalnayan Bajaj Memorial Trust. In April 1991, Dr. Larry Dossey wrote a letter to me and also sent a gift of book entitled 'Dr. Dearn Ornish's Program for Reversing Heart Diseases without Drugs or Surgery.' On reading the letter and studying the book, I decided to meet and if possible, to confer with Dr. Dean Ornish, the author of this path-breaking book. It was my great fortune that on a lovely summer day on June 25,1991, I had an opportunity to meet Dr. Ornish at San Francisco. I was amazed to see 40 American patients with severe coronary heart disease experiencing tremendous benefit from a program of progressive deep relaxation and meditation which Dr. Ornish had undertaken fort the last four years.

Coronary heart disease has so far remained a great enigma. Various research projects have been undertaken to unravel the mystery of this disease ever since the first study undertaken at Framingham, Massachusetts, U.S.A. as early as in 1930. Fat restricted diet had shown some improvement in the progress of this disease. Exercises like walking jogging, etc. have also proved helpful. Mental relaxation techniques, avoidance of alcohol and tobacco have also been taken up in certain projects to prove their beneficial effects in the treatment of coronary heart disease. However, this program of Dr. Dean Ornish was in more ways than one unique, and it impressed me with its totality of approach.

Diet, the first facet of the program, was different from all the previous studies. The fat content was restricted only to 10 % ( in previous study : 15% to 20% ) avoiding not only meat but also chicken, fish and sea foods. Even milk was considered non-vegetarian. Only a small amount of yogurt from fat-free milk was allowed and the white of the egg was permitted. This, according to Dr. Dean Ornish, was necessary if the coronary heart disease was quite advanced. According to him, such diet along with other aspects of the program, led to the reversal of artherosclerosis in the coronary arteries. Dr. Dean Ornish studied the benefit of the program by positron emission tomography - PET Scan. The program, consisted of diet, modest walking on the level ground for about 40 minutes, progressive deep relaxation, meditation , group discussion and sharing of feelings. One interesting observation of Dr. Ornish was that the meditation motivated the participants of the program to change their life style, that is, to become strict vegetarians and give up alcohol and tobacco altogether.

We started our program here on these lines on 2nd October, 1991, incidentally coinciding with Mahatma Gandhi's birthday. We meet regularly from 6 to 7 p.m. on Tuesdays and Fridays every week. During this short span of about a year we have very satisfactory feedback from the participants of our program. The capacity for exertion involved in their daily routine has increased, frequency of chest pain has decreased, and the dosage of drugs has been reduced. In many cases Treadmill ECG test has become normal and left verticular function as studied by 2-D echocardiogram has also improved significantly. More than that, almost all of them admit to a feeling of relaxed attitude towards daily stresses of existence. There is also a feeling of connectedness and brotherliness amongst the group. Seven of our participants were given EEG test. All of them , after only two minutes of meditation , showed a very prominent alpha activity in their EEGs. During alpha activity, a sympathetic activity, the activity of flight and fright response, is at its minimum and health-giving neuro-peptides andendorphins are secreted, resulting in healing.

The technique of progressive deep relaxation and meditation as taught in this program is extremely simple and yet very effective. The concept of achieving perfect relaxation of the mind is evolved as follows :


  1. It is difficult to relax the mind even for six seconds.


  2. Relaxation of the body makes relaxation of the mind easier.


  3. Even relaxation of the body is not easy to achieve on its own. However, if a muscle is stretched and then relaxed, the relaxation becomes easier.


  4. In the progressive deep relaxation, groups of muscles of the body are stretched and relaxed one by one, leading to the complete relaxation of the body from head to foot. We call it ' Shavasana.'


  5. Another very important aspect of stretching and relaxation exercise is to keep one's awareness in the present, that is, on the very parts of the body which are being stretched and relaxed.

It has been observed that during 16 hours of our waking time, our awareness is in the present for hardly 10% of our waking time, i.e. one and a half hour only. Most of the time our awareness is in the past or the future almost in the following strain :

" I should not have done that ... " " I hope things turn out that way ... " "I wish that had happened. .. " and so on ...

Maximum emotional stress occurs when our awareness is in the past or the future. Shavasan performed in this manner prepares the participant for meditation. The technique of meditation is again very simple.