When Werner Hebenstreit met Dr. Ornish, the seventy-one-year-old had suffered two heart attacks, four failed angioplasties, and had an intense disdain for doctors. When Dr. Ornish called and asked Werner to consider being part of the original experimental program on heart disease,
Werner said he wasn’t interested.
“I was a miserable old man, an invalid. I had always been active physically and mentally. Now I couldn’t walk across the street without chest pains. When Dr. Ornish said, ‘You really have nothing to lose, Werner, give me a four-week commitment to the program,’ I entered the program.”
Werner walked through the door of the Preventive Medicine Research Institute in Sausalito, California, a complete skeptic. “Yoga was not new to me, I had lived in India decades ago. I had no interest in yoga or meditation, but I wasn’t a stranger to those sciences,” recalls Werner.
Dr. Ornish’s program is a drastic departure from other heart disease ideologies. It required Werner and the thirteen other heart patients to practice elementary yoga postures, relaxation, and meditation, along with strict dietary changes and mandatory group discussions at the end of each session. Spouses were encouraged to attend the program.
Preventive Medicine Research Institute
900 Bridgeway Sausalito, CA 94965 (415) 332-2525
“The first time the yoga instructor told me to lie on my back, I was sure I would never get up again. In retrospect, the hardest part of the program wasn’t the yoga or meditation, but talking about feelings. I realized that I didn’t know a thought from a feeling. To sit and grapple with feelings in a group was much more difficult than stretching my body forward or calming my mind. It took a lot of prying to open my heart. Today, my wife and I travel all over the world lecturing for the Ornish program. I guess you would say I’m an Ornish convert. I even speak on national television, and when the yoga teacher can’t teach our weekly yoga class, I’m the instructor. Life, at eighty-four, has never been better or healthier.”
A recent study tracking a two-year follow-up of the eight-week stress reduction program at EI Camino Hospital found a 51 percent reduction in visits to the doctor and a 54 percent reduction in use of medication.
Source: Robert Stahl, Ph.D.
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