(Advances in science and public health are increasing longevity and enhancing the quality of life for people around the world. In this series of interviews with the Milken Institute Center for the Future of Aging, 14 visionaries are revealing exciting trends and insights regarding healthy longevity, sharing their vision for a better future. The Longevity Innovators interviews highlight new discoveries in biomedical and psychosocial science, as well as strategies to promote prevention and wellness for older adults. This is the fourth in the series.)
Deepak Chopra, founder of The Chopra Foundation and co-founder of Jiyo ( a “well-being service provider” app) and The Chopra Center, is a world-renowned pioneer in integrative medicine and personal transformation. Time magazine has described him as “one of the top 100 heroes and icons of the century.” In an interview with the Milken Institute Center for the Future of Aging, Chopra spoke about his lifestyle choices for well-being and healthy aging and how people can use their brains to achieve health and happiness.
Milken Institute Center for the Future of Aging: Why did you decide to launch the Jiyo app? What is the mission and your vision for its impact?
Deepak Chopra: I launched Jiyo to create a global community for total well-being. I refer to Jiyo.com as the “internet of well-being,” a platform for people all over the world to get knowledge from experts in multiple areas: physical, emotional, professional, social, financial, and spiritual.
The experts are personally chosen and curated by me, and online courses are offered on everything essential to enhanced well-being and personal evolution — self-awareness, higher consciousness, sleep, stress management, meditation, movement, yoga, breathing exercises, nutrition, love, relationships and grounding.
My hope for Jiyo is to help create a critical mass of people engaged in personal and social transformation. Only then can we achieve what everyone desires, a more peaceful, just, sustainable, healthier, and joyful world.
How can we strive to find purpose and meaning in our lives?
Finding purpose and meaning in our lives demands that each of us reflect on fundamental questions: Who am I? What are the core values of my life? What do I want for myself and the world? And what am I grateful for? If we really investigate and are committed to these questions, life has a way of providing the answers.
What lifestyle choices have you made for your well-being and healthy aging?
I’ve adopted the things that I recommend to anyone who wants enhanced well-being:
- I sleep 8 hours every night.
- I practice meditation and yoga daily.
- I walk 10,000 steps every day.
- I cultivate healthy emotions like love, compassion, joy, gratitude and equanimity.
- I make sure my diet has a maximum diversity of plant-based foods. I avoid food that is manufactured, refined, processed and high in fat and sugar.
- I take a week of silence every year.
- Lately, as an experiment, I also ground myself to the earth through devices when I am in urban settings and am not in direct contact with nature.
In our society, where some people do not get enough sleep, how important is having a restful night to the practice of meditation?
A good night’s sleep of eight to nine hours for the average adult is very important for experiencing the full benefit of meditation, beginning with inner stillness and alertness but also physical enhancements like improved self-regulation. If we have not slept properly, meditation generally turns into naptime.
Sleep, therefore, comes first. Along with [Next Avenue Influencer in Aging] Rudolph E. Tanzi at Harvard Medical School, we have created a brain entertainment device called Dream Weaver that helps people who have trouble falling asleep by getting them into the brain wave frequency that induces both the dream and deep sleep states.
How can people properly use their brains to achieve health and happiness?
The human brain has three components — the lower or instinctive brain, the emotional or limbic brain and the cortical or intellectual brain. By practicing meditation and self-inquiry, by cultivating healthy emotions, and by not being impulsive and reactive, we can integrate our three brains — this is conscious evolution.
Homo sapiens alone have the capacity to transcend genetic programming, which controls physical evolution. By pursuing evolution in a conscious way, we also enhance our capacity for insights, intuition, imagination, and creativity.
Are we missing key information about improving brain health?
Brain health was an obscure field 20 years ago, and many findings are still provisional. For example, it is strongly suggested that low-level chronic inflammation and treatable infections in the brain may be vital to preventing and perhaps curing Alzheimer’s disease —only time will tell.
In the meantime, the recommendations for brain health don’t vary greatly from general wellness practice:
- Healthy sleep habits
- Stress management
- Healthy emotions
- Healthy nutrition
- Remaining curious, alert and mentally challenged throughout life
What is brain plasticity and what impact does it have on disease prevention?
Brain plasticity means that the brain isn’t fixed and static. It has the capacity to increase the number of neurons, known as neurogenesis, and also the connections between neurons, known as synaptogenesis. Rehabilitation from strokes, for example, has been revolutionized since my days in medical school thanks to this new knowledge.
But for healthy people, brain plasticity can be enhanced through mental practices. I call these practices metacognition. Metacognition is conscious awareness of experience as it is happening, along with mindful awareness of our choices as we make them. These possibilities are discussed in Super Brain, coauthored by Rudy Tanzi.
How would you advise people who are going through difficult times?
First, recognize that all experience is impermanent. The only invariant or non-changing factor in every experience is awareness. Cultivating self-awareness through a daily spiritual practice helps us navigate difficult times.
But everyone is different, and we have to be realistic. Advising someone suffering from chronic depression to be more self-aware is probably impractical when what’s needed immediately is to improve their symptoms and relieve their mental pain.
The real secret to happiness, however, is universal: seek your source in pure consciousness, and you will find that happiness is included in the ground plan of existence. Such an agenda is a tall order, I know, but this has been the ultimate cure for centuries and hasn’t worn out.