In conversation with
MAURICE WERNESS, ND, tells the story of his own journey of healing and evolution, and shares some tips on how we can take back our health and become the person we ought to be.
Q: I recently had the pleasure of hearing you speak to a group of healthcare professionals at a conference. You spoke about the general state of health in America, which is not so good, and about the role that food, meditation and consciousness plays in our health. And you had all of us laughing while you served up some pretty bitter truths.
What was it in your own life that generated such passion about naturopathy and helping others take back their health?
MW: I learned from the school of hard knocks. I started out as an average American boy raised by a single mom with too much to do and not enough time to fix proper meals. I ate what every American seems to eat – fast food.
I did okay when I was younger. I was a pretty good athlete and traveled the world playing professional tennis. But by my mid 20s, my body began to break down and I had no idea why. I didn’t know what kind of fuel to put into the tank to perform at the level I was asking it to perform. So here I was, 25 years old, a professional athlete, and I couldn’t get out of bed.
By that time my mom had remarried a medical doctor and I thought everything would be fine. I would just go see the Wizard of Oz, he would give me a few magic pills and off we go.
Q: How did that work out for you?
MW: Well, I started going to see those guys in the white coats and they gave me everything from steroids to antibiotics to painkillers. I got sicker and sicker. As a last resort, I went to see a naturopathic physician who used nutrition and lifestyle medicine to assist people. He told me, “Maurice, if you learn how to manage your stress and eat more fruits and vegetables, you may be okay.”
I was thinking to myself, “Man I’m really sick and this guy is telling me to eat more fruits and vegetables and manage my stress!” But my back was against the wall, so I did what he told me. I began eating a vegetarian diet. I learned Yoga, although at first I thought it was just for people who sat around in tights all day. And I began meditating even though I kept telling myself, “I have too much to do, I’m sick, and I don’t have time for all this.”
But I did it anyway. Day by day I got better. And after six weeks I was totally well. My plan was to go to medical school but after I healed myself with fruits, vegetables, relaxation and mindfulness, I thought, “That’s not what I’m supposed to do. I’m supposed to be the kind of doctor that shows other people how they can heal themselves.” So I went to Naturopathic Medical School and I’ve spent the last 25 years showing people how they can take back the power of their own health.
It’s not complicated.
Ram Chandra of Shahjahanpur explained it beautifully:
“Live simply and in tune with nature.”
After 25 years of practicing medicine,
I now realize that this is the simplest stuff in the world,
but just because it’s simple doesn’t mean it’s easy.
Q: It sounds like conventional medicine wasn’t the right fit.
MW: There’s a place for both. Conventional medicine is really good at acute situations and diagnostics, like MRIs, CT scans and blood work. But what complementary medicine is extremely good at is treating chronic diseases like cancer, heart disease, arthritis and autoimmune disorders. Chronic diseases are the number one killer in this culture. Unfortunately, 75 percent of us will get at least one chronic disease and die from it. The problem with treating chronic diseases with synthetic medicine is that synthetics don’t speak the same biochemical language as our bodies. Natural, organic food, herbs etc. communicate beautifully with our bodies.
Q: That statistic is shocking – 75 percent of Americans will die from a chronic disease. How is it that we have such an abundance of information about the perils of stress and a poor diet, yet our health continues to decline?
MW: We have made what’s really very simple into something complicated. It’s not complicated. Ram Chandra of Shahjahanpur explained it beautifully: “Live simply and in tune with nature.” After 25 years of practicing medicine, I now realize that this is the simplest stuff in the world, but just because it’s simple doesn’t mean it’s easy.
We aren’t being straight with people. That’s what I see. We keep the truth from them and blind them with science. I don’t tell my patients that I am going to fix them. I give them the tools they need to fix themselves. Because the most powerful force on the planet is the force that runs through us called life – that self-correcting, self-awakening force of nature that is more powerful than any drug. When we are in tune with nature, that force not only heals our bodies but allows us to wake up as human beings.
Q: At the conference, you talked about 9 or 10 places around the world called longevity hotspots. What are longevity hotspots and what can we learn from them?
MW: Longevity hotspots are places around the world where people have a 300 percent better chance of reaching the age of 100 than we do, and almost zero chronic disease. They’ve been well researched by the Smithsonian National Institute of Health, Duke University, the US National Institute on Aging and others.
About 10 years ago, a colleague and I traveled around the world to visit these places: Nicoya in Costa Rica, Bama in China, and Okinawa in Japan, to name a few. What we found is that they share 5 principles that make the difference between their health and ours.
1. They eat a mostly organic plant-based diet with vegetables from their own gardens. And they typically eat a fermented food with every meal. The microbes that make up the fermented food are the same microbes that are in our gut, so they’re replenishing the microbiome with every meal. As a result, the digestive tract works really well because the microbes help break down the food into the size, shape and form that our bodies can assimilate. If our microbes are all whacked out because of taking antibiotics or using antimicrobial soap, well, you can see how we’re killing ourselves.
2. They relax. None of them are on a 24/7 news cycle. They have a big meal at lunchtime, then they close up shop at 2 p.m., take a nap, open up shop again later, and visit with a few people, all nice and easy.
3. They live in community. They’re not rich enough to die alone like us. They realize they need one another. I’ve seen five generations living under one roof. You can’t believe the effect that isolation and loneliness has on our immune system. We’d rather be alone with our smartphones than have to work at developing connections that are meaningful.
4. They move their bodies. No one joins a gym in a longevity hotspot. They move their bodies. Great grandmamma isn’t just sitting around. She’s chasing after the children and the chickens. You either move it or lose it.
5. They live their life with purpose. In these longevity hotspots, when you get older, you are revered and respected. Younger folks want to know what the elders learned from their life experience so they can learn without needing to repeat the same mistakes. In America, we ship our elders off to the retirement community, so we don’t get to learn. We’ve got to make our mistakes over and over. Now that’s a crazy way to live.
Q: What’s your biggest takeaway from spending time with these people?
MW: They know how to be still. They’re not experiencing a virtual life on a computer screen. They’re experiencing life and death and all the highs and lows that come with this experience called life from within. When you look into their eyes there is somebody at home. They aren’t worrying about the future or dwelling in the past. They are right here in the present moment. And because of that they are able to integrate their life experience. And when you can do that, you can learn from it.
Meditation helps you to be present within your own body.
In the stillness, you learn to pay attention
and listen to your physiology,
because it is trying to tell you something.
But if you don’t listen all bets are off.
Q: It sounds like what happens during meditation – we learn from the stillness.
MW: Exactly. Meditation helps you to be present within your own body. In the stillness, you learn to pay attention and listen to your physiology, because it is trying to tell you something. But if you don’t listen all bets are off. It took me a long time to get this. I would sit and have a great meditation and I’d feel all blissed out. And then the next morning I’d say, “What in the hell happened to me? Here I am right back into the garbage.”
Q: So what changed? What did you do differently?
MW: I learnt how to E-M-B-O-D-Y. I learned to pay attention to my physiology. Did you know that 80 to 85 percent of all the neurons in your body are going up? They go up from your gut and your heart to the cranium, which is the nerve center of your ability to think and make changes. Why? Mother Nature isn’t stupid, she’s communicating, she’s saying, “Maurice, listen to what I am trying to tell you about your experience. Because if you can hear and integrate what I am trying to tell you about that great meditation you just had, your life will change. You will become a different person and you will begin to wake up.”
Meditation helps us to integrate higher frequencies, higher states of being. That’s what waking up is about – embodying higher vibrational frequencies and doing so consciously. At the end of the day, there is no difference between the body and the mind. There is no vibrational distinction. That’s why Ram Chandra said that when you meditate in the right way, your body becomes divinized too.
Q: I think that even experienced meditators attend minimally to the body in the endeavor of transcendence. But embodying higher vibrational frequencies still has the word ‘body’ in it. Consciousness doesn’t expand without it. We can’t skip over it.
MW: Consciousness is the most powerful force in the universe, but what happens when we habitually, compulsively live in ways that push consciousness outside of us?
I’ll give you an example. A 2016 AC Nielson report1 tells us that adults in the USA devoted about 10 hours and 39 minutes each day to consuming media, including tablets, smartphones, PCs, multimedia devices, video games, radios, DVDs, DVRs and TVs. So for 10.5 hours a day, on average, Americans are vacating their bodies.
In cases of toxic stress or trauma, we tend to leave the body as a way of coping or attempting to survive. In the process, we leave behind all the instrumentation that is supportive of our process.
So you can practice meditation all you like, but meditation offers transient relief at best if you are unconsciously, compulsively training your attention to exist outside of yourself when you are not meditating. You can see why the body gets confused. It thinks, “Maybe I’m supposed to attack this thing,” and the immune system starts attacking because nobody’s at home. Now you have autoimmune disease. Why? Because the intelligence and the consciousness we have are no longer infused in the cells.
Q: That’s deep. If we’ve pushed our consciousness, our cellular intelligence, out of the picture, then change really can’t be sustained.
MW: Yes. It’s called cellular memory for a reason. Our experience registers in the body. It’s always monitoring, registering and integrating. But our minds are typically distracted with the past or the future, as we’ve been talking about. Therefore we can’t register what’s happening.
If you say something hurtful to me and I’m not able to feel it, locate where it is, acknowledge it and maybe even say, “That hurt,” then the experience has to be repeated again and again. Until then, it exists like an energetic cyst, a deep samskara. But our habit is to avoid feeling by numbing ourselves with food, caffeine, electronic stimulation, isolation, etc. I wouldn’t be overstating it to call this madness.
Q: Some may read this and feel a little hopeless.
MW It’s never hopeless. Look who you’re talking to! I’ve reached the highest peaks and the lowest lows on this spiritual journey. It needn’t take anyone as long as it took me to understand this. Remember that physiological sensations are the way that cellular memory expresses itself. It can feel like constriction, pain, trembling, numbness, heaviness or gut-wrenching fear. All the research shows that simply by bringing our loving awareness into the body will allow it to integrate even the most traumatic experience.
All the research shows that simply
by bringing our loving awareness
into the body will allow it to integrate
even the most traumatic experience.
And we help things along by paying attention. Get out of bed consciously, meditate consciously, and eat consciously in order to support your body’s natural ability to integrate your experience, whatever it may be. Paying attention creates the possibility for consciousness to reorganize itself in ever-higher expressions. Because the higher you rise, the more essential it is that you attend to your body’s well-being.
The remedy we seek begins with stability and develops into strength. And where does stability come from? On this planet, it comes from the earth. Develop a relationship with the earth, with the planet. Why do you think the Heartfulness Relaxation begins with, “Feel your feet on the ground and feel the energy of the earth coming up through the feet”? Because the place where we have agency is in the human body, which is right here, right now where the body is – in the present moment. Strength and stability will infuse us with sanity. Have faith in that.
Q: Last question. What bit of wisdom would you most like to share with current and future physicians?
MW: A wise mentor once asked me a question: “Why do you think your patients come to you?” He then responded as follows: “They come to you for who you are.” So how do we become who we need to become? We can begin by coming home, into the body, by paying attention to our biological sensations, our physiological clues, and the feelings of our heart. We’ve been given a body for a reason, so we ought to learn how to honor it, appreciate it and learn from it. Not as a form of worship, but as instrumentation for us to navigate this beautiful journey called life.