Living Healthy — Interview with Keyvan Golestaneh
CHI: What is holistic natural medicine? Is it able to replace “conventional” medicine? Is it enough for our needs?
Golestaneh: Natural medicine has a very long history; it isn’t new. There are some forms, such as Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine, which go back approximately 5,000 years, and in Western naturopathic tradition going, which go back about 150 years. Basically, we can define it as the use of natural means to treat disease and prevent illness. But more importantly, these systems point to a possible approach that would not treat symptoms or cure disease. In modern times, it typically refers to the use of herbal remedies and dietary recommendations, as well as homeopathic medication, as well as the use of modalities like massage used individually or in conjunction with each other. I use it in a broader sense to also include exercise, lifestyle changes, energetic techniques, and even mind- and consciousness-altering practices. Disciplines like psychotherapy can be included as part of this larger approach that I take.
“Natural medicine becomes truly holistic or whole when it treats the whole person, when the mind, body, emotions, and spirit are not considered separately from each other and from the non-human environment.”
“We would no longer focus on disease and symptoms, but on facilitating change, transformation and creating health and wellness.“
So natural medicine becomes truly holistic or whole when it treats the whole person, when the mind, body, emotions, and spirit are not considered separately from each other and from the non-human environment. It assumes a different view of nature and the human body, one that has an innate intelligence functioning as a whole. Nature self-organizes itself. This has radical implications for how we look at disease, illness, social and psychological problems. Understanding how this self-organizing intelligence works enables us to affect it in order to create the conditions for health. We would no longer focus on disease but on facilitating change, transformation and creating health and wellness.
Biomedicine or conventional medicine (sometimes referred to as allopathy) separates the mind, body, and emotions. As part of a scientific endeavor, biomedicine takes an analytic quantitative approach. It views human beings as complex material biological object, which can be isolated and reduced into parts and physiological, genetic, and chemical processes. Biomedicine is very different from, for example, the Asian medicinal paradigm (acupuncture being one modality), which models humans in terms of qualities, elements and energetic relationships. Each has a very different model of nature and the body. Biomedicine treats disease and the symptoms of disease, not the causes. A truly holistic approach would also treat the causes of illness as well as looking at the context in which it occurs.
One of the great strengths of conventional biomedicine is its ability to treat emergencies: heart surgery, appendicitis, broken bones, as well as its use of technology for diagnosis. It has a very sophisticated understanding of physio-chemical processes and working parts of the body, but not the whole in itself: its connection (interdependence) to the social, non-human environment and non-material realm. Holistic natural approaches have proven themselves more effective than conventional medicine in the prevention of illness and treatment of chronic health problems. Because the focus of some systems of natural holistic medicine is on what health is as opposed to disease they are better suited to educating people in how to create health and therefore prevent disease and illness.
“If people live in a healthful manner and, especially, maintained a diet appropriate to their body, they wouldn’t have to turn to medication in the first place.”
CHI: You are interested in helping people learn to live a healthier life and about natural ways to heal. But there are many people that don’t know or really accept an approach other than conventional Western medicine and pharmaceutical drugs.
Golestaneh: The approach to health and healing I am talking about doesn’t completely replace the conventional medicine, although in many cases it is more effective. For some people it will complement conventional medicine, what I call biomedicine. In most cases, natural remedies and methods can replace pharmaceutical and technologically-based medicine, except in extreme cases and where diseases has progressed to an advance stage. In most areas of the United States, Canada and Western Europe, it is now possible to find the expertise and resources, like natural products, needed for a natural holistic approach.
The principle point I want to make is that a truly effective “whole” or “integral” medicine must be based on any accurate understanding of natural laws of life and how to create health, not just treat disease. To accomplish this, medicine must also be oriented towards education. If people live in a healthful manner and, especially, maintained a diet appropriate to their body, they wouldn’t have to turn to medication in the first place. In most cases, the health problems that are currently treated by pharmaceutical drugs can be prevented or treated naturally through dietary means, lifestyle changes, and natural-based supplements and herbal medicine. It’s really a matter of education and transforming how the medical system works.
We should also understand that if a person who has the resources cannot make the appropriate changes to create health for themselves, then it is likely that they either do not want to do so or that there are emotional and psychological factors preventing them from doing so. This is truly “Pro-Life!”
CHI: Can you give us some key suggestions for creating a healthy life?
Golestaneh: Well, that could take up the whole interview, but I could point to what I consider some of the most important areas: diet, stress, mental, and spiritual health. First, in order to remain healthy and prevent diseases, diet and proper nutrition are of PRIMARY importance. We are a FOOD BODY. I cannot over state this. No other single human activity affects people and their health as much as what we eat. Excluding geography, socio-cultural, and economic factors, for the most part we can control our diet. Most health problems and illness can be avoided and/or treated directly through dietary means. Given the opportunity and means the body will self-correct (heal) itself; the correct diet help facilitate that process.
Most disease develops because of the body’s incapacity to function properly. The body becomes overwhelmed from over-stimulation, toxicity, stress and enervation and starts to break down. This can be avoided by preventing toxic buildup and overstimulation of the nervous system. Even genetic predispositions to particular diseases can be prevented through the right diet. Diet also directly affects our emotional life and mental health, which in turn affects how we feel about our world. This shows how the mind, body and psyche are intimately connected and part of a greater feedback loop. Stress (both mental and physical) is the other key factor that affects our health. People underestimate the impact of stress.
Stress can be both internally generated, or outwardly initiated. In either case it has the same impact depending on how a person responds to it. All sorts of activities come into play here, like sleep and relationships. If stress can’t be avoided, then people should find ways to effectively manage it. We also must consider the spiritual dimension. What transcends the individual person (the “transpersonal”), the non-material realm, is what gives life meaning. It is the context within which humans exist. It is our connection to each other and the greater universe. (This is what “religion” is supposed to provide.) This dimension can also be felt, it is not just a psychic and mental connection. People do not exist in isolation and without this connection life becomes dis-eased. So maintaining a connection to the “transpersonal” is also key to health and wellbeing. These are the keys to a healthy life: if they are considered and taken into account in how we live our lives, then most health and even social problems can be prevented or at least lessened to a great extent.
“The public has been educated through schools, mainstream popular media and government institutions into thinking that “fat” is bad and that we need a lot of protein to be healthy. That is scientifically inaccurate.”
CHI: Could you say more about diet and its effect on the body. What should we keep in mind? How do we know what are the right foods to eat?
Golestaneh: There are many diets promoted in our society. People no longer grow up with a diet passed down to them from a long cultural tradition—past generations. In my experience, it’s important to know that no single diet fits all people, even though there are many diet trends, fashions, and books available that claim otherwise. How can every diet on the market be correct? That’s logically and scientifically impossible. The reason I believe you find people claiming that one diet works so well for them and others do not is exactly because different people have different needs. We have different body types, genetic backgrounds, different metabolisms—all of which mean we require different diets. There may not be one diet good for everyone, but there are basic principles we can all follow that apply to everyone. First, you have to have a good balance between proteins, carbohydrates, and fats (the macronutrients). The proportions will vary from one person to another depending on their metabolism. When this balance is individually selected and maintained, our body functions optimally.
Many people in the United States overemphasize protein and carbohydrates and think that all fats are “bad.” This is an example of how society and popular culture influence our beliefs and behavior. It is also an example of how the mainstream medical establishment misleads the public based on the authority it has acquired. The public has been educated through schools, mainstream popular media (which dominates most Western culture), and government institutions into thinking that “fat” is bad and that we need a lot of protein to be healthy. That is scientifically inaccurate, and the belief is perpetuated through cultural habits and economic factors.
The foods we eat also need to be easily processed and the waste eliminated in order to prevent toxic buildup in the body. (Remember what I said about toxicity and disease?) Processed foods are very popular in so-called “developed” economic systems. Unfortunately, much of the world is moving in this direction. Processed foods have little nutritional value and cannot be easily metabolized by the body, which results in toxic build-up.
Another key factor in health is the pH levels (the balance between acid and alkaline in the body). Many of the foods people eat create a highly acidic internal environment. High acidic pH levels interfere with cellular function and further toxic buildup. This is especially true if one eats de-natured or processed foods. To use a mechanical analogy: just as a oil or air filter in a car or home needs to be cleaned or changed on a regular basis, so too does the body need to be cleansed on a regular basis. A cleansing process naturally occurs in the body as long as it is not interfered with. In order not to interfere with that process we need to consume bio-available whole foods, which makes digestion, assimilation and elimination easier. Water is a natural cleanser and hydrates the body. It’s VERY important, since the body is over 70% water! Unfortunately, most people don’t realize the importance of drinking enough natural water.
CHI: Cooking is a very popular topic. What about how we prepare or cook our food?
Golestaneh: People are very concerned with taste and because of many people’s lifestyle, speed and ease of cooking have become very important. What most people don’t realize is that taste is acquired, not pre-given or pre-determined. Our bodies often crave certain tastes and foods because they have adapted to them and because of internal physiological imbalances people crave certain tastes and textures. Our body is essentially an adaptive organism. That is how we became what we are as a species. Just as we’ve adapted to certain foods (because of culture, geography, and history), people can also un-adapt or re-adapt to other, more healthy foods.
“There are many important benefits to eating uncooked foods, such as better elimination, more nutritional value, increased energy, and it’s a great time saver! People eventually find that they even consume less food.”
Most people think that cooking foods is necessary in order to eat and digest, but that isn’t the case. We are the ONLY species that cooks its own food! So what does that say? It doesn’t mean that we are better than other species. Cooking food is an acquired cultural habit and taste—an example of adaptation. There is a downside to cooked foods. All chemical reactions in the body depend on enzymes. Digestion, for example, cannot occur without enzymes. Processed and de-natured foods have little or no enzymes. When foods are cooked over 104 degrees, the enzymes are destroyed. Cooking also creates toxins. We can only get enzymes from uncooked and unprocessed foods if we take a supplement, so it’s better to include raw foods in our diet. Cooking foods also depletes them of many essential vitamins and minerals. But if you are used to a mostly cooked diet it takes time to adapt to uncooked foods.
There are many important benefits to eating uncooked foods, such as better elimination, more nutritional value, increased energy, and it’s a great TIME SAVER! People eventually find that they even consume less food.
CHI: What about meat and animal products?
Golestaneh: Eating too many cooked animal products isn’t healthy for a number of reasons: it increases acidity (pH) in the body, they have high levels of saturated fat, and they can contribute too much protein in a diet. Red meat in particular has high levels of iron and the iron oxidizes in the body. It’s just like metal that will rust. The body will rust and age faster. If a person is set on eating meat, one option is to eat raw animal products, but you have to know the source and quality, which is not always easy to do. Most people also think that you can only obtain protein from animal products, and that’s really not true. You can find your protein requirement from specific vegetable products (hemp seeds and micro-algaes are among the best examples).
Another factor meat eaters should consider is the social and ethical dimension of meat eating. Is it really necessary to kill so many animals for nutrition if you can live on non-animal foods? And what about the ecological and social dimensions of meat based diets? I recommend a vegetable-sourced diet.
People should change their diet, and while this can take a lot of time, it will ultimately save time and money in the long run, than people don’t have to spend so much money on health problems, including doctors, therapies, medications, laxatives, and stimulates for more energy.
“No other activity affects people and their health as much as what they eat. There may not be one diet good for everyone, but there are basic principles we can follow that apply to everyone. “
CHI: What is your opinion about nutritional supplements (vitamins, minerals, enzymes, etc.)? This industry is growing quiet rapidly.
Golestaneh: It is preferable to obtain one’s nutrition from the foods one eats, but this isn’t always possible in today’s world, especially given environmental depletion. Much of the soil in the United States and Europe has been depleted of minerals. Minerals are often under emphasized in nutrition. Fertilizers are still the norm in agriculture, which can further deplete over-cultivated soil. Organic food is of course preferable, but even if you can find it, nourishing supplements are sometimes necessary because of the lack of minerals or specific deficiencies in the body. In some cases, we may need to supplement our diet even for everyday nutritional needs. It is best to consult a professional about what supplements we actually do need, rather than following what advertise advertisements recommend. If you choose to take vitamins, you should take whole food-based ones and not the synthetic supplements.
So-called “natural” supplements aren’t as bio-available (absorbable by the body). The body has to be able to use what it takes in. Whole food-based supplements are more bio-available. In many cases, you are literally throwing your money away by taking non food-based vitamins and mineral supplements. When is comes to mineral supplementation, ionic solutions are more easily absorbed by the body. You should always take the things you really need and not be misled by “hip” advertisements, popular media and health fads—including those from the so-called “green” health industry. For that, you need the advice of professionals and specialists. The health food and supplement industry has become compromised through misleading information and economics or marketing.
CHI: Addiction is a very widespread problem. For example, smoking still seems to be very common, especially in some European and Asian countries where it is increasing. How can we deal with these problems?
Golestaneh: Addictions are fundamentally physical, social, and emotional problems and need to be addressed on all three levels. Addictions are actually both a symptom of and a solution to a social psychological and biological problem. If someone doesn’t want to quit an addiction, nothing can make a person change his or her mind. If they do want to change, then diet and changing the chemistry of the body make overcoming addictions much easier and more effective. This is not typically addressed. Dietary and physiochemical changes should be done simultaneously with emotional psychological and social work. Acupuncture and herbal medicine can be very useful in eliminating the side effects of withdrawal from addictions. Moral and emotional support is essential. Studies have shown that yoga, for example, helps significantly for those who want to stop an addiction. Early education and establishing healthy ways to process emotions and manage stress are essential long-term solutions for our addiction-prone society. This is also an example of how culture, society, and the media create the context for future health problems that are lifestyle related.
“Early education and establishing healthy ways to process emotions and manage stress are essential long-term solutions for our addiction-prone society.”
CHI: How important is the environment for health and adopting a healthy lifestyle? Can we do anything in our home or work environment in order to improve our physical and mental health?
Golestaneh: Its absolutely VERY important! This is often a very overlooked aspect of health and illness. You cannot separate people from their environment. Environmentally induced health problems (like asthma, for example) are increasing dramatically in the United States. It’s obvious that fresh oxygenated air is necessary but not always available. This situation can be changed through better design of our homes and work places, through governmental regulation, and new technologies like ozone and positive ion machines. Putting more plants indoors can greatly help improve the quality of air and the feeling in an environment. The solutions are available; it’s a matter of economic, personal and political will. Here again we can see that health is also a political issue. In our homes, we have all sorts of products from carpets to building material to cleaning solutions that release toxins into the air. Some enclosed spaces are highly toxic. New non-toxic products are now available if people just look for them. The tap water which is chlorinated and contains fluoride is not conducive to a healthy body. I don’t recommend that people drink water that isn’t filtered. Common aluminum pots and pans represent another danger because metal particles from them will eventually find their way into the body and potentially weaken the immune system and toxify the body, especially the brain. This creates the conditions for faster degeneration and potential disease. Most popular commercial deodorants people use contain chemicals that are directly absorbed into the body through the skin. Recent research done in the United States shows that deodorants with certain chemicals can be linked to cancer, especially breast cancer. We have many illnesses that didn’t exist a hundred or more years ago. Why? This is a result of changes in the environment, driven by economic and technological development.
“Most people are looking to feel better because they are not happy! They seek solutions or distractions, which our market consumer economy thrives on. But this is not obvious to most people. They don’t see the underlying motivation in their actions and the programming of their desire through mass media.“
CHI: Everybody seems to be looking to feel better. What can we do to feel better in general?
Golestaneh: Commercial media is totally oriented towards the ideal of “more is better,” and fast-paced change and stimulation. We live in a consumption oriented and driven economy, fueled by pleasure and desire. Long established cultures are being destroyed through popular media. But our health depends on taking control of our lives and what we believe. The mass media does not have that interest. On a practical everyday level, we should always have pure, clean water, and drink at least six to eight glasses a day (depending on body weight), especially if you don’t eat a lot of fruits and raw veggies. (Look at your pets: they drink water all the time because they are not disconnected and desensitized from their body!) Exercise on a regular basis and eat foods that are right for your body type and can be easily eliminated. Reduce stress and stimulation. Breath deeply. Have satisfying personal relationships and stay connected with what transcends our individual existence. These are the easiest things one can do for one’s health. If you follow these suggestions, you will find that even your emotional life balances out and you’ll be happier. Most people are looking to feel better because they are not happy! They seek solutions or distractions, which our market consumer economy thrives on. But this is not obvious to most people. They don’t see the underlying motivation in their actions and the programming of their desire through mass media. They think it’s either a matter of free choice, personal desire, or bodily necessity; they think that reality is unchangeable, pre-given and obvious, but it’s not. In fact desire is socially generated! Reality is constructed and more and more it’s constructed by corporations and popular media. Unfortunately, people don’t see and feel the underlying emotional motivation behind their actions and lack self-control. So I think that people must first of all come to terms with the fact that we are feeling beings and social beings, and not just independent bodies in motion. The self is intricately involved with others in a network we call society and our desires are mediated by others. We can no longer afford to be disassociated from our bodies and the non-human environment, while continuing to think that politics and culture have nothing to do with our health and wellbeing.
CHI: There are many popular practices on the market these days, like aromatherapy for example. What’s your opinion about them?
Golestaneh: Aromatherapy has become quiet popular. Essential oils are very effective topically and internally for bacteria and viruses, but aromatherapy itself only treats symptoms. So, by itself it is not enough and is not the solution to illness and diseases. People should look at the specific benefits of specific oils. The quality of the oil is very important. The effect varies based partly on the quality of the oils used. You don’t need to be a specialist for that. What is most important is to FOLLOW YOUR INSTINCT. If you are attracted to a particular scent, use it: your body has its own intelligence. There are a lot of excellent books available that can tell you what to do, but they won’t necessarily heal you of any specific illnesses, despite some popular claims. For example, I had a patient who suffered from insomnia, agitation, nervousness, and bad headaches. One time I gave her some very high quality pure essential rose oil. After she inhaled for about five minutes, she relaxed and her headache disappeared.
“The common element that exists between meditation and prayer is that they bypass the mind. Our mind can solve problems, but it can also create them, and much of the stress we experience is emotionally and mentally induced.“
CHI: What about practices like homeopathy, Reiki, meditation, and prayer?
Golestaneh: Science has of course in the past ignored these practices, but is now paying more attention to them, partly because so many people are using them. Homeopathy is based on the idea that similar substances at extremely lower concentrations (dosages) can heal similar causes or effects. It is a benign, safe practice. It is very popular in some countries (like India, France and England.) It can be very effective if an experienced practitioner has accurately diagnosed what remedy to use. But I believe that not teaching people what the cause of a health problem is and not recommending changes in one’s actions or lifestyle means that the problem will likely return or a new one will develop. Along with diet and exercise, I consider meditation one of the most important practices for people’s health and wellbeing. The less stressed a person is, the happier they are and the less likely they are to become ill. Stress burdens the body, complicates the mind and weakens the immune system. Remember, stress doesn’t just come from the outside; we produce our own stress. The idea of “positive thinking” (a very fashionable topic these days) is obviously helpful, but not thinking at all is sometimes even better! Meditation helps with this. The body naturally balances itself chemically and energetically when the mind becomes stilled and our awareness drops down into the body. Who says we always have to always be thinking? Meditation can be used as a method for calming the mind and stilling our thoughts and transcending our separate sense of self. Prayer in its original form was a type of meditation. Research conducted on people who pray on a regular basis shows they have stronger immune systems and get sick less often than those who do not pray. I’m not talking necessarily about praying in a particular religion or as part of a church; you can pray in other places besides a church and don’t have to be part of a religion. We think about prayer as a form of “appealing to God” or a higher power; this is a limited popular concept of prayer—one that is very much culturally determined and perpetuated by mainstream institutional religions. The common element that exists between meditation and prayer is that they bypass the mind. Our mind can solve problems, but it can also create them, and much of the stress we experience is emotionally and mentally induced. When someone is happy, his mind is naturally relaxed, his attention is free, and his body chemistry changes for the better. When somebody is in love, the chemistry in his body is totally opposite from someone who is not, especially from a person who is nervous or anxious.
CHI: You are also a psychotherapist. What does that mean and what techniques do you use? Can it be helpful to all people? Golestaneh: I don’t practice traditional talk therapy. I developed an experiential method I call “Internal Processing” that is body based but seamlessly integrates mind, imagination, and spirit. Psychotherapy is a broad practice and is composed of an eclectic mix of methods. It developed in Europe, out of psychoanalysis, which was basically founded by Freud. It’s essentially a Western approach to the “soul” and to managing mental health and life problems. Since its development, it has undergone many changes and has moved away from the medical-based (psychiatric) model to a more humanistic and, in some cases, spiritually-based method. Many important new developments have occurred in psychotherapeutic practices, especially in the United States. The somatic or body-based approach to psychotherapy, which started with Freud’s colleague Wilhelm Reich, is an especially fruitful development that I have integrated aspects of into my work. A lot of people have old, stereotypical ideas about therapy, which do not fit the reality of how it is currently practiced. For some people there is a heavy cultural and social bias against using it, but it is no longer what most people think. Essentially, it started with the idea that talking about your past, your problems, and how you feel could make you feel better and even solve your problems. It could even affect positive physiological changes in bodily symptoms. And in many cases it can relieve people of their personal burden. In most cases, however, talking doesn’t create long-term solutions or changes in oneself or life. Problems that people wanted to change didn’t necessarily go away. It’s my experience and observation that only a change in consciousness and behavior (action) can do that. So my approach involved the body, consciousness and behavioral changes. People are basically looking to be happy, looking to change a situation in their life, and heal emotional and physical traumas and phobias. People are also looking to maximize their perceived success in life. That’s why they go to a counselor or therapist. But a traditional psychotherapy approach has important limitations. Most therapies focus on the interior life of the mind, personality, and emotions—and therapy is basically “problem” oriented. But the context of a person’s life also needs to be evaluated and changed. The “transpersonal” or spiritual dimension of life has in the past become neglected. That is now changing. We can’t artificially separate the body from the mind or from the social and non-human environment. So psychotherapy must also become holistic and become part of the WHOLE, as we have defined it here by engaging with other disciplines and approaches in order to transform it self.
CHI: You’ve emphasized the impact of stress. Are there any effective methods for preventing and treating stress?
Golestaneh: The most important thing to do, of course, is to prevent stress, but if you can’t do that, it’s important to do all you can to at least reduce stress. There are many ways to do that. How we respond to life and stress makes a big difference. Many things in life can create stress, from chemicals to relationships; it’s not something that is just outside a person. For example, if you have interpersonal problems with someone then it’s better to resolve them. If you don’t, then stress will likely continue. Aerobic exercises, deep breathing, yoga, Tai Chi, and most physical exercises are all useful activities for reducing stress. Just find what best fits your personality and body type and do it. Just having a walk (especially in nature) or even lying on a beach can do miracles. Meditation and prayer have proven themselves most effective in reducing bodily and mental stress. It’s just as important to avoid certain activities and certain environments if at all possible: avoiding noise or giving up habits like watching too much stimulating television and over use of computers. I always recommend to people to find time for deep relaxation on a daily basis if possible. In the same way people need to find time to eat and sleep, deep relaxation should be part of your life. It should be an essential part of life.
“Children should develop emotional intelligence and be taught from a young age how to manage and process stress, and how to guide their lives according to healthy principles.”
CHI: Is there a certain age at which we can start applying the principles for a healthy life?
Golestaneh: The sooner you start cultivating healthy life habits the better. Of course, childhood would be best. The sooner one become “emotionally aware and intelligent,” the better one can handle one’s life and live in positive ways. In fact, the ability to manage stress goes all the way back to the mother-baby bonding. It is easier to develop good habits when we are young, because this is when our “core beliefs” and our “self ” is formed. But even older adults can develop new healthy habits. I have had clients in their 70s start taking up new practices, who after a couple of months felt much more physically and mentally healthy. They started taking yoga classes and their body changed in a short time. So anything is possible given the will and knowledge. The body and world are plastic and can be changed. Children should develop emotional intelligence and be taught from a young age how to manage and process stress, and how to guide their lives according to healthy principles. Children should not be exposed to too much stimulation at an early age. Nowadays, most children watch TV and are connected to the computer for many hours throughout the day. This diminishes their power of concentration, affects their conception of the world, and manipulates their desire. The overuse of computer games is, in fact, a potential danger for young minds. The natural development of the brain in children is interfered with by overstimulation. ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder) is on the rise in the United States, and can be correlated to the overuse of television and computers at a very young age along with a diet high in sugar and carbohydrates. Put together overstimulating technology, bad eating habits and an inability to handle emotional stress and you set the stage for adult life and health problems.