In alternative therapy circles they don’t come much more famous (or controversial) than Deepak Chopra. The outspoken spiritualist uses quantum theory to explain his beliefs on everything from the nature of God to holistic healing. Scientists heavily criticize him, while others love him: he’s the author of more than 80 books read by millions worldwide.
Chopra’s approach to wellbeing combines the principles of mainstream medicine – the Indian-born American is trained in internal medicine and endocrinology – with ayurveda, meditation and yoga. Although not such a groundbreaking idea today, it was deemed radical in the early 90s when he gained much notoriety after appearing on The Oprah Winfrey Show.
Since 1994 guests have sought out specialists at his Chopra Center for Wellbeing at La Costa Resort & Spa in California to help them address their health concerns from a physical, emotional and spiritual perspective. Recommendations on diet, stress management, exercise and emotional wellbeing are offered alongside a wide variety of mind-body healing classes and ayurveda treatments, including a panchakarma detox programme.
Given Chopra’s popularity, it’s surprising he’s only put his name to one wellbeing centre in the last 10 years. That’s about to change, however, as he embarks on a project with Well Building Standard® firm Delos (see SB14/1 p28) and actor Leonardo DiCaprio. The partnership will see him open the Deepak Chopra Center for Renewal and Anti-Aging as part of one of the world’s greenest resorts that’s being built on DiCaprio’s private island, Blackadore Caye, in Belize (see p38). Here, he reveals details of the deal and what consumers can expect.
When and why did you first get involved with Delos?
A mutual friend introduced me to Paul Scialla [owner of Delos] about six years ago. We met for breakfast in New York and he told me about his vision for creating environments that support biological sustainability. I was immediately very interested. I’ve always believed that we need to look at the environment as something that’s a part of us, not separate, and that we should think of it as our extended body.
We had a wonderful meeting and kept in touch about the progress of his company and its work. At a certain point, I decided that Delos fitted in very well with what I’ve been doing my whole life. It’s essentially removing the schism between organism and environment and between nature and nurture. It was at that point that I became very involved with the company.
What does your role on the Delos advisory board entail?
I’m a very active advisory board member and Paul and I are constantly in touch about all of Delos’ endeavours. I’m very hands-on with many of the projects, including the Stay Well [healthy hotel rooms concept] and the Stay Well Meetings programme.
Why was Blackadore Caye the right fit for your second facility?
Blackadore Caye is the world’s first truly restorative island development, meaning that it’s powered entirely by renewable energy and designed to increase the biological health of species both on the island and in the waters around it. The entire project is centred on health, wellness and sustainability. It’s an honour to be a part of a project this powerful and to be able to contribute to the restoration of the people visiting Blackadore Caye in a very meaningful way.
What’s your vision for the Deepak Chopra Center for Renewal and Anti-Aging at Blackadore Caye?
As you can tell from its name, the centre will focus mostly on renewal and anti-ageing. We’ll teach visitors practical ways to change their behaviours and help decrease their biological age through things such as stress management and meditation techniques, pranayama breathing exercises, yoga, exercise, healthy cuisine, emotional wellbeing, restful sleep, mind/body coordination and detox procedures. We’ll also offer our SBTI (self-directed biological transformation initiative) programming.
Even though we all have genetic predispositions, it’s now known that biological ageing is influenced by lifestyle and habits and daily activities such as? meditation, movement, diet, emotions, stress management and quality of sleep. By making conscious choices and focused awareness we choose to have a joyful energetic body, a restful alert mind and lightness of being.
How will it differ from the original Chopra Center?
All of the programming, classes and experiences at The Chopra Center in La Costa integrate the healing arts of the east with the best in modern western medicine to help people find peace of mind, physical balance and emotional wellbeing. The centre at Blackadore Caye will do the same, but will focus more on renewal and slowing down the ageing process. This programming will be a great complement to the ‘restorative intention’ of the entire Blackadore Caye development.
Why focus on anti-ageing?
Only a few decades ago, conventional medicine viewed the body as a machine whose parts would inevitably break down until it could no longer be repaired. We were taught that random chemical reactions determined everything that happened in the body, that genes largely determined our health and lifespan, and that heart disease, many cancers and other illnesses were incurable.
Thanks to the groundbreaking clinical research of Dr Dean Ornish and many other pioneering minds in the medical community, we now know that through comprehensive lifestyle changes, we can prevent and reverse disease – and live longer and in better shape.
We’re eager to teach visitors practical ways to help decrease their biological age and live healthier and happier lives.
Will you be creating any new treatments and programmes?
Yes. But it’s too early to be specific.
What have you learned about ageing since starting this venture?
Since I began my work in epigenetics overall, one of the most exciting things I’ve learned is that only 5 per cent of disease-related genes are gene mutations that are fully penetrant, which means they’re unstoppable if you are born with them (ie guaranteeing a disease when inherited). The rest confer risk which can be offset by lifestyle changes. Some chronic illnesses including coronary artery disease, bronchial asthma, rheumatoid arthritis type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome and several autoimmune disorders connected to inflammation can even be reversed.
What excites you most about the new centre?
The goal of Blackadore Caye is to put life into perspective and remind visitors what it means to be alive and human and mindful. This is so important to our health, wellness and personal rejuvenation. There will be endless opportunities to engage in meditation, personal health and restoration programmes, while also relaxing on the exquiste beaches of one of the most beautiful islands in the world and enjoying time with loved ones.
Can you tell us anything about the facility itself?
It’s just one component of the larger Wellness Center at Blackadore Caye, which will be run by Restorative Islands LLC [under the subsidiary Restorative Hospitality]. It’s too early to share other details, but I can tell you that it will be built with healthy materials and that the architecture of the building will be inspired by divine proportions.
Will it adhere to the Well Building Standard® or other green benchmarks?
This will not be a Well Certified™ building. However, much like the entire facility, the centre will be built to promote the health and wellbeing of guests and residents in every way. Evidence-based wellness features will be curated by Delos and included in the architecture of the centre. These will include amenities such as water purification systems, which ensure only the highest quality of water is consumed, advanced lighting systems that use state-of-the-art LED circadian lighting and advanced air filtration systems which minimise allergens and deliver purified air, among many others.
What other new projects are you working on at the moment?
Right now, my current projects include research, education and the Deepak Chopra Center for Renewal and Anti-Aging. I’m personally very involved in research on epigenetics and research on the effects of the micro biome.
My main effort is a scientific study called self-directed biological transformation (SBTI). We’re doing a study that shows that a healthy lifestyle – good sleep, daily meditation and yoga practice, exercise, healthy emotions and a good diet – can change the expression of your entire genome at a cellular level. You can shift the markers of ageing into a more youthful direction. You can decrease cell inflammation. You can increase an enzyme called telomerase that can lengthen your life span (see SB13/1 p54). All this can be done in a matter of days. We’re collaborating with scientists from Harvard, Mount Sinai, Scripps, UCSD and UCSF on this study. I don’t think medicine will ever be the same again once it’s done.
What developments do you foresee in the field of complementary medicine?
We’ve already discovered that we can transform our own biology. The next frontier will be to discover how deep and lasting such changes are, how much control we have over them individually, and how they can be passed on to future generations through so-called ‘soft inheritance’, in which the parents’ life experiences and behaviour directly influence the genome of their offspring.