I was working from home, convalescing from pharyngitis brought on by painful strep throat. I was pumped full of penicillin when I got an email from the Kimmel Center that Deepak Chopra was bringing his live show, "The Future of Wellbeing" to the Merriam Theater on Thursday.
The talk, based on his latest book, The Healing Self: A Revolutionary New Plan to Supercharge Your Immunity and Stay Well for Life seemed perfectly timed. And not just because of my general malaise. Sickness is everywhere. Do you know anyone who hasn't had the flu this winter, or who is still trying to get over a cold?
We aren't down just from physical ailments, either. Whatever your leanings are, the political atmosphere likely has you down. And then there is the general uncertainty of the future of health insurance, as in: "Of course I want to go to a doctor, but what if I can't?"
And because none of us is getting any younger, there is no better time than the present to learn how to heal from within.
"I turned 71 last year, and I started to think about the fundamental connection between [my] life and death," Chopra recently told me by phone. "Chronic illness is what gets us as we get older. So I wanted to explore preventive disease from the deepest level of our consciousness."
Chopra is the godfather of meditative healing and mindful thinking. His teachings are one of the reasons there are so many new yoga studios popping up in your neighborhood and why we can't stop extolling the virtues of clean eating.
A physician for 40-plus years, Chopra started his career in internal medicine and neuroendocrinology. In 1989, he published his first book, Quantum Healing: Exploring the Frontiers of Mind Body Medicine, about how our thoughts and actions affect our health on a cellular level. In other words, how bad thoughts (especially about ourselves) help make the bad cells that make us sick. This is what Chopra calls the mind/body connection.
Chopra has written 85 books, including 25 New York Times best sellers. He's Oprah Winfrey's spiritual guru — and continues to partner with her; their next 21-day meditation starts March 19. He founded the Chopra Center, a Southern California yoga center and spa. He is estimated to be worth more than $80 million.
Chopra's work has been criticized because many people interpreted his teachings as a replacement for the doctor. That's not quite right. Once you get sick, he has written many times, by all means go. He says he's just giving you the mental, emotional, and physical tools to avoid getting sick in the first place.
"Well-being is all about prevention," Chopra said. "Doctors are a part of the process. But they aren't the whole process. You, we, are the whole process."
He doesn't get to Philadelphia often; his last public appearance was in 2013 at the Free Library.
"We have a constant barrage of information, and we are asking our body to do and take in so much," Frances Egler, director of programming and presentations at the Kimmel Center, said about the timeliness of Chopra's talk. "It's no wonder we are breaking down. Why not talk about these mindful solutions now?"
The reason I vibe with Chopra so much is that whether he's talking about healing from cancer, the common cold, or a broken heart, he puts the onus on us. Not in a "shake your finger, you were a bad little girl" way. But in a healthy, be kind to yourself, trust in the good of people and the universe and all will work out kind of way. And, frankly, I find that comforting in this dog-eat-dog world, where it feels like success is defined by what everyone else does rather than by following your bliss.
Most of Chopra's tips in The Healing Self are pretty basic: Eat a balanced diet packed with whole grains and limited processed food, get at least seven hours of sleep a night, and exercise — ideally we all should be walking 20 to 30 minutes several times a day.
But it's the not-so-obvious ways of living, the ones that take you down a spiritual path, that were the most eye-opening. I was raised in the Catholic church, but these more inclusive messages have touched me because to me they are based on goodness for the sake of goodness, not because I was afraid of the fiery alternative.
Fear, in fact, is one of the emotions that will eventually make us sick, Chopra said, as are our core beliefs around aging. Do you believe that your age, whether it's 25, 45, or 65, means your number is up? If that's the case, Chopra says, you might as well start digging your grave.
"The nature of who we are is nestled in our spirituality," Chopra said. "That gets to the core of our well-being. This is something that's very important to me. It's something I want to cover."
I first heard of the idea of healing from within about five years ago, listening to the audiotape of The Secret by Rhonda Byrne. I had gone through a nasty breakup and felt broken. From Byrne, I graduated to the late Wayne Dyer, and then Eckhart Tolle. Although I'm still a work in progress — In the Healing Self , Chopra said you are never really done with this work — I have learned to stop blaming others for my saltiness. Instead, I try to look inward and change my core beliefs and expectations. I'm great, even if I'm not married with 2.5 kids at 40. Suddenly, life became easier. Not perfect, but easier.
But a broken heart is one thing. Can I apply this to my health?
Take my strep throat, for instance. Up until then, I hadn't had a cold in about 18 months. But in the weeks leading to my bacterial take-down, I had been on constant deadline. I didn't make it to yoga. I was feeling bad about myself for being inadequate. I was eating too much processed peanut butter. One night, I pulled an all-nighter to get a story written before leaving for vacation. I was stressed out and my defenses were down. I got sick.
Now that I think about it, I'm glad it was just strep.