Fitbit has tied up with the doctor-author-speaker on integrative medicine, and how to embrace bio-regulation in the age of wearable tech
“Stress is the number 1 epidemic of our time,” says Deepak Chopra, on his promotional video that talks about his Mindful Method series, now on Fitbit Premium. Those who own the device and subscribe to the paid, personalised service, can now access 10 audio clippings ranging from three to 16 minutes. These span subjects including rest, sleep, breathing, and emotional health such as ‘How to let go’, ‘Bring harmony and peace to your day’, ‘Fall asleep with Deepak Chopra’s guided beach visualisation’.
Chopra, an endocrinologist who studied at AIIMS, Delhi, and is currently a voluntary clinical professor at the UC San Diego School of Medicine, has propagated integrative medicine from the 1980s.
With Fitbit, he taps into the deepest concern of our time that also impacts the largest number: stress. The sessions will be built up to 30 over the next few months.
Read More | Deepak Chopra’s partnership with FitBit
Chopra says thanks to his meditative practice, he has a sleeping heart rate of 50 beats per minute and a resting heart rate of 65 beats per minute. “My biological markers are in their 30s right now,” he says, adding that he is not on any sort of medication, at 74.
Excerpts from an interview:
People can access you across many media already. Why this new partnership?
When I started writing in 1980, there wasn’t much conversation around mindfulness or meditation, even spirituality, but now we have the ability to measure every experience that you have — whether it is a mental, emotional, physical. There is a record of it in the brain and the body that translates into biometrics in real time.
With Fitbit, the advantage now is that you have this on your wrist and you can, in real time, look at your heart rate, your heart rate variability, your breathing, your oxygen saturation, and many other features which instantly inform you of the state of your body-mind in the moment, and then [have] real time intervention with these practices…
The era of biofeedback was a decade ago; now we are entering the era of bio-regulation. First you get the feedback, and it is done through technology, but then bio-regulation is done through the mind.
As someone who is interested in tech, what would you say is next in personal health tech?
I remember when I was training as an intern, it would take me all night to read an EKG. Now that is done automatically through AI in less than five seconds. VR will be the next revolution. You will be able to change your biology through VR in real time. For example, if you have a burn, you can have an experience of ice through VR and the burn pain disappears.
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We are entering a new era when it comes to technology and the future of well-being. What we are doing with Fitbit is the basis where medical treatment will be personalised, preventable and predictable. It will require your participation, and it will be a process. Instead of pharmaceuticals, you will be getting electroceuticals through your handheld device.
Of all the data that is currently available on my device, what is the most important number?
Heart rate variability (HRV) is the most sensitive, and it is the best indicator of health and well-being. Also, now we know that chronic illness, except for 5%, is associated with low-grade depression, low--grade anxiety, and low-grade inflammation in the body, to the point that the person feels something is wrong but cannot identify it.
Heart rate variability indicates the opposite of what your sympathetic nervous system does. When your sympathetic nervous system is in overdrive, it causes inflammation, compromises the immune system, causes metabolic syndrome, is associated with diabetes, heart disease, inflammatory disorders, Alzheimer’s, many kinds of auto-immune illnesses…. When you stimulate the vagus nerve, either through deep breathing, chanting, or singing, or through mantra, or different types of pranayam, you actually override sympathetic stimulation, and stimulate homeostasis, which is self-regulation.
In addition to sleep, nutrition, emotional regulation, exercise, and developing a mind-body connection, you also talk about grounding. Why is that so important?
Three years ago, the Nobel Prize in Medicine went to the discovery of what they call biological clocks. Our biology monitors four rhythms: the first is called circadian rhythm, which is the cycle of night and day. [The other three are] seasonal rhythms, the earth going around the sun; lunar rhythms, that governs the menstrual cycle; gravitational rhythms, the effects of gravity on the ocean.
What we have discovered through our studies is that through direct contact with the earth, negative ions come from the earth into your body. They interact with the free radicals that build up in your body as a result of stress, and decrease inflammation. So one of the best ways to get over jetlag is to take a walk for 20 minutes on the beach, or on grass, or the earth. You’ll balance your biological rhythms.
America being America, and technology being technology, I am right now sitting on a grounding mat. If you go on the Internet, you will find all kinds of grounding devices.
The aim of meditation is to withdraw from the senses and still the mind, but doesn’t an app or device take you outward?
In the eight limbs of yoga, there is one called pratyahara. That, in biology is referred to as interoceptive awareness (perception of the inside world). Yogic practices expand interoceptive awareness. You can train a person to regulate their autonomic nervous system, their breathing, their heart rate variability, enhance interoceptive awareness, so you actually control your autonomic nervous system, which in western physiology is not even a notion...
Advice for allopathic doctors?
- I [recently] gave a keynote speech to the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, my alma mater. And the doctor asked me the question: ‘Should we now be giving Ayurvedic training to our students?’ I said, ‘No, what you should do is, find best practices, find whatever works, evidence-based, and when you look at evidence, then traditional allopathic medicine is extremely effective in acute illness. If you have pneumonia, I’m not going to send you to a meditation or yoga teacher. You need an antibiotic. If you break your leg you need to see an orthopaedic surgeon. But that’s where it stops. For chronic illness, you need integrative medicine that works, and there’s a plethora of these that work at different levels of human biology.
Right now, we can enhance the experience of pratyahara, which took you years to learn — now you can accelerate this to less than a few weeks. I am an enthusiast for technology, for the simple reason it is part of our evolution. We can’t stop it. That is one of the basic ideas of evolution — either you adapt or you become irrelevant.
It is time for us to use technology and see how we can actually expand on the traditions of the East, which have been ignored even by biologists. Now when we have science backing it up, there cannot be any more ignoring of these traditions.
Would you say of all the specialisations, it’s most obvious for an endocrinologist to understand and promote emotional and spiritual wellbeing?
Yes, because when I started, there was no idea about this. I had a colleague, Candace Pert – she later became the head of brain chemistry at the NIH. Unfortunately, she died prematurely. One day we were in the lab, and we were looking at these molecules – serotonin, dopamine, oxytocin – and she said to me, ‘Deepak, these are the molecules of emotion’. Somehow that stuck with me, and I realised that these are also immune-modulators, and it took 30 years to prove that.
Now we know that the molecules of emotion are not just in your brain, they’re also in your gut, in your heart – they’re everywhere. Your whole body is a mind. This is a fundamental understanding in the Eastern wisdom traditions, that the body-mind is a single unit of consciousness — just like space-time is a single entity — regulated by consciousness, or awareness, or what we call in our tradition, chith.