Welcome back to our series on Amrit. Today we introduce one of the leaders in the world on the treatment of women's health disorders using ayurveda: Dr. Nancy Lonsdorf. Welcome, Dr. Lonsdorf.
Dr. Lonsdorf: Thank you. It is a pleasure to speak with you today.
Q: Tell us a little bit about yourself.
Dr. Lonsdorf: I am currently Medical Director of the Maharishi Vedic Health Center at The Raj in Vedic City, Iowa. I have been using Maharishi Ayurveda in my practice since 1987, first in the Washington, DC, area for 13 years and now at The Raj, which is a fabulous in-residence ayurvedic health spa. I am very much enjoying practicing here, where people can come for Panchakarma or Maharishi Ayurveda treatments. In just a few days, guests begin to be transformed from a state of fatigue, stress and illness to radiant, blissful good health. It is very fulfilling to see the healing power of Maharishi Ayurveda at work.
Q: We are curious what it is like for you, being trained in the first part of your professional life as an allopathic physician, and gradually going deeper and deeper into the practice of Maharishi Ayurveda. How has that changed your sense of fulfillment as a physician?
Dr. Lonsdorf: I started my training in the field of psychiatry. Back in the 70s when I was just contemplating going to medical school, I first read about Transcendental Meditation® and its use in psychiatry. Learning about this technique as a teenager really inspired me to want to become a doctor and use TM® in a practice to help people. It was obvious that when you add Transcendental Meditation to the practice of psychotherapy and medications for psycho-imbalances, you can treat the whole person and promote real healing — get rid of the underlying mental stress and emotional stress that is at the root of people's psychological and emotional problems.
The field of ayurvedic medicine includes the deep understanding of diet, lifestyle, and how to use herbs. What we do with the herbs, diet and lifestyle is create wholeness again in the individual. It is a very comprehensive approach that addresses the root cause of whatever problem a person may have. I find Maharishi Ayurveda completely fulfilling, because there aren't any gaps in the approach.
Q: What, in your opinion, are the top five health concerns for women today?
Dr. Lonsdorf: Heart disease is number one, for both men and women. It's the top killer. By age 55, 50% of women have high blood pressure. Experts say that high blood pressure is not just a risk factor for cardiovascular disease; it's actually an indication of some cardiovascular disorder happening already. Cardiovascular disease often includes both heart disease and stroke, because it's not just the vessels in the heart that can be affected but vessels throughout the body, especially in the brain and heart. Also important are cancer and osteoporosis. I think mental health is also a big one for a lot of women — depression and anxiety both. And last, a big concern for middle-aged people today is maintaining their mental clarity and brain function.
Q: How do you think lifestyle affects these problems or brings them on?
Dr. Lonsdorf: From the Western medical point of view as well as the ayurvedic point of view, lifestyle is at the root of all these problems. And at the basis of bad lifestyle is essentially stress, mental stress. Ayurveda calls it pragya aparadh, "the mistake of the intellect." It means that the mind is so caught up in all the activity of life and thinking and feelings and emotions that its connection to the inner silent level of life gets disturbed. That creates an imbalance, which is expressed as wear and tear on the body. And wear and tear on the heart system creates heart disease. Wear and tear on the immune system along with toxins and other things creates cancer. Wear and tear, or lack of proper nutrition and excess stress, creates low bone density. Modern medicine describes the same thing. Research indicates that improper diet and exercise and stress are creating 80% of our health problems. Ayurveda is completely in accord with what we've learned in modern medicine about health. It's just that ayurveda gives us much more detail and a deeper understanding than we have gained so far in modern medicine.
Q: How so?
Dr. Lonsdorf: Allopathic medicine looks more at the physiology of the woman, in isolation from her lifestyle and from her stress level or her mind and emotions. Allopathy looks more at the organ systems, so the woman's health issues are confined to a limited gynecological context — for example, what is happening to the functioning of the uterus, ovaries and hormones. It does not really look at those organs and functions in the context of the woman and her life as a whole.
Q: And that is a pity, because so often the end point of, say, suffering on the emotional and relationship level can lead to gynecological difficulty.
Dr. Lonsdorf: Exactly. While there is some appreciation in Western medicine that mental stress influences physical health — it is common sense — there's not really much integration of that knowledge into treatment. The understanding of how certain types of stress, whether they be related to wrong diet or wrong lifestyle such as improper sleep habits — and how those actually impact the body and translate into painful periods or low back pain, stomach problems, constipation — that understanding is really not there in Western medicine. There is an appreciation that the mind and body are connected and so we have to take care of both, but the real detail of how to support health — taking that connectivity into account — is still vague.
So modern medicine deals with what it does know well, such as biochemistry and hormone levels — things that can be measured. So it gives symptom-oriented treatment, which aims to improve conditions biochemically — a pain reliever or an anti-inflammatory for your menstrual cramps, or hormone replacement therapy for relief from hot flashes, or a drug to improve your bone density. The problem with such an approach is that when you treat one part of the body — one hormone, or one tissue, for example — in isolation from the whole body, it is highly likely that you are going to get some side effect. What that tells us is that we are not really making the person healthier: we are simply manipulating the physiology and improving the signal of a disorder without really healing the disorder.
That is the real difference between allopathy and ayurveda. With the Maharishi Ayurveda approach, we look at the whole person. For example, ayurveda understands the details of a woman's menstrual pain — why she is experiencing that pain and how it is related to her lifestyle. One woman may have menstrual cramps because she is eating all the wrong foods, and another may have cramps because she stays up until 2:00 a.m. every night studying. With ayurveda, the root cause of the problem is eliminated, so the health problem is really cured, not simply coped with or covered up.
Q: So it is a holistic approach, yet highly individualized.
Dr. Lonsdorf: Yes. Ayurveda is based on the concept of balance. If the body is functioning in its normal and natural state, its natural state of balance, then the person enjoys good health. But if something has been disturbed in that natural functioning, some health problem will come up. Ayurveda has the ability to analyze what the exact nature of that imbalance is, before it actually manifests into a disease. Ayurvedic imbalances can be Vata, Pitta or Kapha based. Or they can be from ama (waste and impurities) building up in the system. Because we know what aggravates Vata, Pitta or Kapha, we can treat imbalances without having to resort to drugs.
Q: Does ayurvedic diagnosis focus on a patient's history, or are there also elements of physical examination?
Dr. Lonsdorf:: We always use history, but also an ayurvedic technique called pulse assessment, which gives us tremendous insight into the state of balance in the body: what is not functioning properly in the body in terms of the three doshas, the state of basic functions like digestion, how the nervous system is functioning, the state of the emotions, the strength of muscles and tissues and whether the joints are lubricated or in the process of drying out. It gives us a lot of information about imbalances in the physiology.
Q: We have also heard a lot about the ayurvedic science of herb combining — how herbal combinations are superior because they are balanced and tend less towards any kind of side effect.
Dr. Lonsdorf: Maharishi Ayurveda always formulates its herbs in combination, because herbs in isolation may result in side effects. If you took just that one herb, you might get the predicted benefit. But if you took that herb day after day, month after month, and maybe year after year, it might tend to increase a certain dosha or decrease a certain dosha. Over a long time it could actually have some imbalancing effect. Ayurveda by definition is always aiming at creating balance. So ayurveda always combines herbs.
Take for example, a massage oil like the Youthful Skin Massage Oil. Its purpose is to increase circulation and calm the nerves. Herbs in the oil that have those effects are the primary herbs. Then you have secondary herbs that support those effects. In other words, you have the engine — the primary herbs — and then you have the train — herbs that support and give momentum to the primary herbs. You then have bio-availability herbs that are primarily to help the other herbs absorb better, and balancing herbs that help to cool the system if some of the herbs are hot; for example, herbs that balance the whole formulation and minimize the chances of side effects.
Q: Americans these days are perhaps more Vata and Pitta imbalanced than at any time in our history, and this is not only hurting the individual; it's constricting the flow of love within the family unit as well. It is showing up in our school systems and all of our other social structures. People are scampering about more and more, looking for balance outside of themselves, rather than looking within. More specifically, the gentle approach of Maharishi Ayurveda can be used to regain that sense of natural balance.
Dr. Lonsdorf: Yes, and when they even entertain the idea, usually it seems impossible because they are caught up in this pattern of seeking a quick fix to all their problems. When people learn TM, or do the Panchakarma treatment, or even something as simple as taking Amrit, they begin to feel a state of balance and realize that they do not need to have all that stress in their lives. Amrit helps to reestablish wholeness and gives the body whatever it needs to correct what is wrong or "off" in the physiology. Amrit helps to bring the body back into balance. It is an amazing product, and it is the one herbal product that I recommend for which I receive the most immediate feedback: "wow, this is wonderful stuff," "so powerful," "it has really helped me." People often list off two or three things right away. It helps improve digestion, elimination, elevates energy during the day, promotes calmness and the feeling of well-being fairly soon after people start taking it. Then, as they take it over a period of some months or years, their immune system gets stronger. People who would get two or three colds every winter now report that they hardly ever get one.
Q: So it could form the cornerstone for a holistic approach to health?
Dr. Lonsdorf: Absolutely. Amrit is a premier combination of herbs that acts in a very holistic way in the body to enliven its inner intelligence. Amrit is one formula a person may take for some general weakness or if the immune system isn't working well or perhaps they feel tired all the time. Often such individuals notice, after they've been taking Amrit for some time, that many different things get better. The inner intelligence of the body is strengthened and the body is better able to repair itself. You also don't have to take one supplement for this and one supplement for that and end up with a cupboard full of supplements. I think, in general, Amrit is a good place to begin when taking care of your health.
Q: We spoke about the top five health concerns for women today. How would ayurveda in general and Amrit in particular help with those concerns? What about cardiovascular health, for example? What are the major factors that make heart health such a serious issue today?
Dr. Lonsdorf: We know that stress plays a big role in the development of cardiovascular problems. Mental stress, emotional stress and chronic depression, chronic anger, chronic impatience, chronically feeling pressured all have all been associated with higher instances of cardiovascular disease. The second big contributor is diet: bad fats, trans-fatty acids, hydrogenated oils, excessive saturated fats, not enough fresh vegetables and fruits which have natural antioxidants and lots of vitamins and minerals in them, and not enough whole grains. Inadequate exercise is another important factor. When people exercise regularly, they can cut their heart attack risks by a significant percentage.
Q: How would you say ayurveda approaches heart health?
Dr. Lonsdorf: Basically modern medicine and ayurveda are very much in line with each other on all these issues related to cardiovascular health. I would say that modern medicine is just beginning to appreciate the role of pure versus impure fats and the fact that certain saturated fats that are not oxidized and are not trans-fatty acids actually do have some essential roles to play in the body and should not be left out entirely from one's diet. From a modern nutrition point of view, a diet to prevent cardiovascular disease would be low-fat, with less meat and lots of vegetables and fruits and legumes and whole grains.
Ayurveda would agree that a healthy diet, lower in fat and not as heavy, would be ideal. Also, for people who are accumulating a lot of clogging in their arteries, a Kapha-pacifying diet would be good. Ayurveda recommends balance in exercise as well as diet. We've all heard of people who are training heavily, seemingly strong and healthy athletes, who have had heart attacks or have collapsed in the middle of a golf game or a tennis match. Ayurveda says that too much exercise can create stress on the body — balance is everything. Exercising to about 50% of your capacity is best. To be able to continue to breathe through your nose throughout the exercise routine is a good measure of whether you're exceeding that capacity or not. Yoga exercises and stretching are a part of everyday fitness in ayurveda.
Q: Amrit, of course, would be the ideal nutritional supplement, because it scavenges free radicals and helps combat the effects of day-to-day stress.
Dr. Lonsdorf: If you look at the tradition behind this formulation, its purpose, as described in the classical ayurvedic texts from where it was derived, its purpose was to create perfect health — physical health, mental health, emotional health and spiritual health. I do not find it surprising when my patients tell me that when they take Amrit they just feel more well-being and more happiness and more resistance to stress. Amrit works at many levels in the physiology, but at the deepest level, it cultures and supports the development within the physiology of the ability to support an inner silence at the same time as activity: simultaneous high energy and deep calm. That's the best immunization against stress, and therefore against any kind of disorders that come from stress. When you take a formula like Amrit, originally designed to create perfect health, and test it in modern laboratories, it's not surprising to see extraordinary scientific properties validated. For example, some researchers maintain that Amrit is, if not the most potent antioxidant, certainly one of the most powerful antioxidant substances ever tested.
Q: Are antioxidants useful in maintaining cardiovascular health?
Dr. Lonsdorf: It's interesting to note that even an antioxidant substance, taken in an isolated fashion, can sometimes cause more harm than good. For example, beta-carotene is a great antioxidant, but some studies have actually found that beta-carotene alone, given in isolation, increases cancer risk or the risk of cardiovascular disease. On the other hand, if you look at people who eat beta-carotene naturally in their diet, they are found to have a much lower risk of heart attacks. What this is telling us is that when you take something in its natural form, as for example when you eat carrots and dark yellow squashes and dark leafy vegetables, you're getting these antioxidants in a natural balance that is very healthy for the body. However, if you take that "active" substance out and you isolate it, you concentrate it, and you put it in a tablet, and you take just that tablet day after day, it can actually create imbalance in your body and you can be worse off than if you had never taken the supplement at all. We do not have this problem with Amrit, because Amrit is not made by taking isolated substances out of herbs. It's prepared using the whole herb — the whole plant — in a balanced way. I think that as modern medicine is researching the whole field of nutrition and supplements and antioxidants, it's finding that nature is perfect. If we live and eat the way nature intended, we can be much healthier.
Q: Tell us a little more about Amrit and balance.
Dr. Lonsdorf: Amrit has been found to be 1,000 times more powerful at scavenging free radicals than vitamin C, for example. Taking equivalent amounts of vitamin C would probably give a person a bad case of heartburn and excess acid in the body, because it's not a balanced substance. It has strong properties in one direction. Amrit is a very balanced formula and therefore does not lead to side effects. The herbs in Amrit are not just thrown in haphazardly. They're put together like one would build a pyramid. You start at the top with a few very key herbs that you know are going to help longevity and the immune system. Then around this core, you put in some herbs that help the brain and the mind and the nervous system, and then around those you add herbs that help balance any kind of sharp effects of the primary herbs. Finally, you have another layer of herbs which support all the rest by helping them be absorbed and assimilated and used by the body. So the formula is created in a very intelligent way, and the final outcome is that it is very gentle on the body; it's very holistic in its action. Amrit is something that can be taken by individuals for a very long time, even years and years, without creating an imbalance. Amrit is a Rasayana — an overall rejuvenative that can be taken on an ongoing basis to support health over the long run. Rasayanas are foods and are part of a naturally-balanced ayurvedic diet for good health and longevity.
Q: Speaking of diet, do you think Americans in general are eating for good health these days?
Dr. Lonsdorf: Unfortunately, I think nobody is eating well in America — neither men nor women. I see people in my practice every day, and I ask each one of them to write out his or her diet. There are very few people who have not yet seen an ayurvedic doctor who are really eating properly or eating well. For one, our culture doesn't facilitate eating properly. We learn some basic things in school about eating more vegetables and fruits. But as we grow older, we're very oriented towards our careers and material achievement, and we put cooking and eating very low on the list of priorities of the day. This means that people are grabbing food on the run, they're eating in their cars, they're having business lunches with sandwiches and chips provided, and they're drinking soda with lunch — whatever's convenient, whatever's simple, whatever's readily available, that is what people are eating. At night, if they actually have a good home-cooked meal, often it's at 8:00 at night. Even if the food quality is good, they're not going to digest it well because it's too late in the day to really digest the food properly. So in short, what happens is that most people starve during the day and/or they put a lot of toxic substances like sodas and fast foods into their bodies. Then at night they're starved and come home and eat a big meal with heavy foods at 7:00 or 8:00 at night and go to bed a couple of hours later. What occurs is that food sits in the body and isn't digested properly and results in the build-up of waste called ama. This is worse than not having eaten at all, because ama blocks all the channels in the body and promotes problems like higher cholesterol, weight gain, joint problems, sinus problems and fatigue, and waking up with a puffy face and an achy back.
Q: You said earlier that Amrit is food for the body — part of a balanced ayurvedic diet. How does Amrit help provide elements missing from the daily diet of most people? Can it make up for poor eating habits?
Dr. Lonsdorf: According to ayurveda, diet is a fundamental pillar of health, and eating wisely and well is a basic prerequisite for health and longevity. Amrit can be a really big help, because the typical poor diet is generally devoid of antioxidants. It also tends to be low in anti-cancer nutrients. If people are not eating well, they generally are not having many vegetables and fruits every day, and their immune system isn't getting all the nutrition it needs. If they're not eating a lot of whole grains they're probably not getting enough of the trace minerals that help their immune systems. Amrit has many of these natural nutritional substances in it. Of course we know Amrit is high in antioxidants. There are other research studies on Amrit that show that it reduces the oxidation of cholesterol, which is one of the steps in the process of cholesterol getting set in your arteries. People who smoke or drink a lot of alcohol create tremendous amounts of free radicals in the body, and these toxins get into the bloodstream and promote narrowing and constriction of the arteries and the development of heart disease. Amrit, because it is a powerful free radical scavenger, can help to counteract some of this fallout. Of course, the best thing would be to seek the help of a physician to give up the smoking or excessive intake of alcohol.
Q: You obviously recommend Amrit to a lot of people who come and see you for various problems that they may have. What are some of the conditions where you would definitely consider recommending Amrit?
Dr. Lonsdorf: Any kind of mental stress or problem would be one condition. Another would be any condition associated with lack of immunity or reduced immunity. For example, a patient just yesterday was telling me how Amrit has improved her life dramatically in the last four years. She started Amrit when she first came to see me four years ago. At that time, she would get a sinus infection three or four times a year, and she would get colds an additional three or four times a year. She traveled on airplanes a lot; she was exposed to a lot of bad air and was getting these respiratory infections consistently. She started Amrit , and she said yesterday that in the last four years that she's been taking Amrit she's had only four colds. Also, she hasn't had any sinus infections at all. This was very remarkable for her. She said her husband has also had dramatic improvement in his health after taking Amrit regularly. We find that Amrit really helps people with a weak immune system and people who get infections frequently. It promotes better immunity and increased resistance to infections.
Q: That's wonderful. Are there any other patients that you can tell us about? You spoke about mental health. Can you talk a little about that?
Dr. Lonsdorf: I have a patient who takes Amrit every night before he goes to bed because then he sleeps much better. This person had a chronic insomnia problem. He found that the Ambrosia tablet particularly was very calming for him and helped to settle his whole mind down to go to sleep. I have another patient who has had chronic constipation and started Amrit and found that now she is having regular easy bowel movements every day. Constipation had been a problem for her for many, many years. Other patients have found that chronic pain, as in fibromyalgia, is alleviated. One lady with pain in the breast and other parts of her body on a monthly basis found that those kinds of aches started to become much less with Amrit. In situations where there are free radicals or toxins stuck in the body, Amrit helps get rid of the toxins and helps to clear ama and blockage.
Q: Do you take Amrit yourself?
Dr. Lonsdorf: Yes, of course. I often have the thought when I'm running low on my Amrit, that if I had to choose only one formula that I would personally take, it would always be Amrit. It gives me such an incredible sense of wholeness and well-being! No matter what's going on, if I feel any subtle sense of stress or strain or fatigue in the body, it's Amrit that I always reach for, because immediately it starts working on whatever needs to get balanced. It is imbued with inner intelligence. It supports your body's own healing response. I can just feel that whatever needs to happen in my physiology at a particular time, Amrit can do it.
Q: Ayurveda emphasizes the inner intelligence of herbs as a way to heal the physiology. An understanding of the way nature works is crucial to the understanding and practice of ayurveda.
Dr. Lonsdorf: Yes. It becomes more and more obvious, as one delves into ayurveda, that life was designed for perfection and that if we as humans simply live life in accord with the laws of nature that uphold health, and we live in accord with the natural rhythms of the body, there is no reason we cannot be perfectly healthy all the time. For instance, when the body starts to feel tired in the evening around 8:30 or 9:00 as melatonin starts being secreted to put us to sleep, if we just say: "Oh, I'm sleepy. My body wants me to go to bed now." If we just go to bed and get a few hours of good sleep, the immune system will stay strong and we wake up feeling fresher and looking younger, with better mental clarity the next day.
We reap all these benefits because of something as simple as obeying the laws of nature for good sleep. Basically what I'm trying to say is that the key to health is just living in accord with natural daily and seasonal rhythms. We need to consciously organize our lives so that our routine supports that natural functioning of the body and is trying to keep the body in perfect balance. Not following these natural rhythms creates imbalance and disease over time. We're meant to be perfect, we're meant to have perfect health. Ayurveda teaches us how to live in a way the supports the body and will help give us this natural birthright.
Q: Do you think Amrit has the inner intelligence of herbs and somehow understands the body's needs more than we can probably feel or articulate ourselves?
Dr. Lonsdorf: I think so. Within every plant contained within Amrit is the full intelligence of nature. That individual intelligence is magnified many times over through the combination of many such herbs and the way the herbs are processed. Amrit is made in a way that really perfectly resonates with the human physiology. The purpose of Amrit is to enliven the wholeness of nature's intelligence within the body. I think it's really very lively and fully endowed with that intelligence.
Q: If you had to describe Amrit in just one word, what would you say it is?
Dr. Lonsdorf: Perfect balance.
Dr. Lonsdorf: Amrit is perfect balance in a jar, and it helps create perfect balance spontaneously in the human physiology.
Q: Are there any last words you'd like to leave us with?
Dr. Lonsdorf: I think the two most common things people see after they take Amrit for a while are signs of overall increased vitality and health. The immune system is stronger, and their increased energy is not false energy such as with caffeine buzz. It's not a stressed kind of unnatural, imbalanced energy. It's genuine, lasting vitality. More real energy, because the cells are getting more nutrition that they need from Amrit. There's less ama and less blockage and less toxins in the physiology because Amrit helps the body get rid of the toxins and the accumulated ama.
Q: Thank you, Dr. Lonsdorf, for sharing with us your experience with ayurveda and Amrit.
Dr. Lonsdorf: It was a pleasure.
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