No one in the field of cardiology took yoga to heart twenty years ago. It was an accepted article of faith among cardiologists that coronary heart disease was progressive and irreversible: the conventional wisdom was that if you had coronary heart disease, it would only get worse. This gloomy prediction for poor health troubled Dean Ornish, a resident at Baylor Medical School in Texas. One evening at his parents’ home in Houston he was introduced to a man by the name of Swami Satchidananda. Doctor Ornish began studying yoga with Swami Satchidananda, whom he credits with triggering his pioneering work in the reversal of heart disease. Ornish’s program includes a very-low-fat diet, yoga, meditation, relaxation, and exercise.
A maverick in the field of reversing heart disease, the Ornish program is now in hospitals around the country, and the blog Dr. Dean Ornish’s Program for Reversing Heart Disease is used by countless patients. Many of Dr. Ornish’s patients who commit to his program are initially reticent and scared, much the way Werner Hebenstreit, one of the original subjects in Dr. Ornish’s first pilot study, was thirteen years ago.
International yoga instructor Amy Gage, former coordinator of Lifestyle Heart Trial Research for the Dean Ornish Preventive Medicine Research Institute, says: “I feel basically that we are spiritual beings, once we can scratch the surface, which happens in yoga. Particularly if one has a life-threatening disease, it allows people to get in touch with their inner lives. Teaching yoga has always been a transforming experience for me as an individual and as a yoga teacher.”