A Wonderful Gift From Nature
An Insightful Interview with Dr. John Peterson
Dr. John Peterson has been practicing family medicine and obstetrics in Muncie, Indiana for almost a quarter of a century. Dr. Peterson has received training in Maharishi Ayurveda and has incorporated it into his practice since the early '80s.
Q: Welcome to our program, Dr. Peterson.
Dr. Peterson: Thanks for asking me to be here.
Q: Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
Dr. Peterson: I am currently a board-certified Family Practitioner in Muncie, Indiana, with my own private practice. I am also an assistant clinical professor at the Indiana University Medical School. I grew up in the northern part of Iowa and during the late '60s I became interested in natural medicine, herbal medicine, etc. I attended medical school at the University of Iowa College of Medicine, and during those four years I pursued the normal quest for traditional medical knowledge and also had an interest in alternative medical practices, because I thought that people deserved to have some choices. In the early '70s, my wife and I became interested in the ayurvedic tradition of India. I really couldn't find much information about it in the 1970s, but I kept asking about it, especially asking Indian doctors, who really didn't have much to say about it. Then in the early 1980s Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, founder of the Transcendental Meditation® program, met with a number of Vaidyas — masters of ayurveda — and brought this knowledge out, and then decided it was time to share this with the world. When these teams of Vaidyas came to the United States, to do consultations and to give lectures, I was able to sit in with some of the great masters of pulse diagnosis and ayurveda. After the first couple of sessions, I realized that this knowledge was so profound and so deep that I really had no choice but to learn it and to integrate it into my medical practice, because I had taken an oath to do whatever I could to relieve suffering for my patients. This offered such a deep understanding of medicine and of nature.
Q: That is fascinating. Until Maharishi Mahesh Yogi brought back the ancient healing tradition of ayurveda in its purity, much of it had been virtually lost for many centuries when India was mainly under Moslem and British rule. The tradition that Maharishi started has let us use science to show the West the value of ayurvedic techniques and modalities. The queen of the Maharishi Ayurveda program is Amrit. Do you take Amrit on a regular basis?
Dr. Peterson: Yes, I certainly do. I think it is an incredible nutritional product.
Q: Could you tell us more about that, because we would love to hear from a family practitioner's viewpoint why you feel it is a fantastic product.
Dr. Peterson: First, personal experience. I experience for myself on a daily basis the benefits of taking Amrit. So do many of my patients. Second, it has withstood scientific scrutiny on many fronts. And third, it is time-tested — there is very little in modern Western medicine that has stood the test of time. In fact, some things that were scientifically validated, say, 20 years ago, were scientifically invalidated 10 years later. So without the test of time, you really don't know about the true validity of something. Science is important, yes, but it's only part of the picture. The whole ayurvedic framework, of course, in general has stood the test of time and, specifically, Rasayanas like Amrit.
Q: Could you explain what a Rasayana is?
Dr. Peterson: Rasayanas are these ancient, somewhat complex, nutritional formulas that have been passed down from generation to generation, in families of ayurvedic specialists (Vaidyas). In addition, it is stated in ancient ayurvedic textbooks and charts that these nutritional supplements actually allow the psychology in the cells to vibrate with bliss.
Q: Herbal intelligence at its peak, so to speak.
Dr. Peterson: When I was in medical school, my pharmacology professor would start the class by asking "What herbs and roots would you students like to study today?" This is because all of the modern drugs are really derivatives from herbs. And what scientists have done over the last 100 years is to identify the active ingredients within the herb and then isolate the active ingredient and play with it chemically, trying to make it more profound and more effective. And they've really done that quite successfully, with a lot of money from the drug companies. The only problem with a lot of the drugs that we have derived from herbs is that the side effect profile sometimes is so high and dangerous that we have to be very careful about using them. In fact, many of the drugs we use can cause as much damage as the underlying illness that we are trying to treat with the drugs. I think with the herbs, the active ingredient is within the herbal preparation — there's a certain balance there and the antidotes for the side effects of the active ingredients are within the herb. So it's much less likely that you're going to see side effects from an herbal preparation. And yes, there is intelligence. I mean, the intelligence in our physiology is fed and restored by the intelligence in the food that we eat. There are intelligent organic formulations in the food that feed the organic formulations in our physiology. It's intelligence that's feeding our intelligence. And herbs are like concentrated intelligence. It's like a computer chip, or a computer software package. By inserting it into the computer, you create this huge knowledge base that allows you to do all sorts of things. Herbs are concentrated intelligence that triggers all sorts of wonderful physiological reactions that then bring balance to the physiology.
Q: Yes, and it's fascinating to see the depth of understanding of herbs and herb combinations these ayurvedic physicians seem to have had more than 5,000 years ago.
Dr. Peterson: When you talk about ayurvedic herbology, and ayurvedic formulations, one of the key points to note is what I just said — that the active ingredients within the herb and the other constituents of the herbs are left intact and the whole herb is used, so that any side effects that might come from the active ingredient can be neutralized by other substances within the plant acting as natural antidotes. Because of this, it is very rare to see any side effect of any magnitude with any Rasayanas. Every now and then I see some side effects from some of the single-ingredient herbs that are coming out.
Q: The rare person who has a sensitivity to pepper, for example.
Dr. Peterson: Right, but if the Rasayanas are actually prepared according to the purity of ancient knowledge, along with the purity of present knowledge of science, I think the result is a very powerful, but not toxic, product.
Q: Why is that so important for physicians in their efforts to bring support to, and nurture, their patients?
Dr. Peterson: I think our culture — and this is especially true of us baby boomers, getting older and feeling that the clock is ticking — is overly oriented towards the pursuit of happiness and fulfillment through the outer experience. In addition, life is so fast-paced and stressful, so oriented towards money and power, that we invest most of our energy and time into getting money for things like retirement programs. If we forget to think about investing in health, what kind of health are we going to have then? We forget that the true source of happiness and bliss is actually within us and not out there.
Q: You make such a good point. It's a pity that less than one percent of our healthcare dollars is currently being spent on anything that remotely supports prevention.
Dr. Peterson: Right, and what we know about prevention is definitely in its infancy.
Q: The modern lifestyle tends to generate stress freely — stress being excess wear and tear on the mind, emotions and spirit. In addition, one of the toxic side effects of stress is the production of excess free radicals in the physiology. Could you give us a sense of how you see excess free radicals? Of course, they are more than just these power-maniac molecules searching for an electron. They have impact. Could you explain that to us?
Dr. Peterson: If you look at it from a purely ayurvedic sense, these free radicals are classic forms of ama. Ama means impurities. Ama is the product of imperfect digestion. If we digest and metabolize food correctly, we have a smooth-functioning physiology. If we do not, then this sticky stuff, ama, clogs the channels of flow, not just the arteries, but all the channels of flow in the body.
Q: How long have you been taking Amrit?
Dr. Peterson: Ever since I became interested in ayurveda, in the '80s, when it became available from Maharishi Ayurveda.
Q: And what benefits have you noticed in yourself?
Dr. Peterson: Better energy, and support of the immune system, so I feel healthy in my upper respiratory tract. But the most important one for me is probably mental clarity.
Q: That is so important! Most Americans today suffer from being tense and tired. Tiredness seems to be the predominant physiological state of America. In addition, because everyone is walking around exhausted, people are not functioning at their best. The incredible thing about Amrit is that it helps promote that state of restful alertness, which is the exact opposite of tense and tired. That is, it allows for clarity on the level of the mind and that deep rest on the level of the body.
Dr. Peterson: It is almost as if it is a nutritional meditation of sorts.
Q: Yes, absolutely. In what way specifically do you think that taking it on a daily basis makes you a better physician?
Dr. Peterson: Well, obviously I am not very good if I am not very clear. In addition, there needs to be enough energy each day to be able to get things done, to make decisions, and to stay alert. Most of the people that I run into think I am about fifteen or twenty years younger than I actually am. I just turned fifty-three.
Q: Incredible. How often do you recommend Amrit to your patients and how do you introduce them to it?
Dr. Peterson: Well, there are two aspects to my practice. One is a more general, broad-spectrum practice where I see everyone and try to integrate everything I know. Every person I see gets some ayurvedic recommendations, including meditation and Amrit. Then we have a consultation service, my wife and I, where we see people mainly from out of town — those persons who are actively seeking the purest set of ayurvedic recommendations. In such cases we also do pulse diagnosis, and then I fill out a page or two of very specific, individually-designed ayurvedic recommendations. As far as Rasayanas are concerned, Amrit is an important part of such recommendations.
Q: And why do you think Amrit is so effective across such a broad spectrum?
Dr. Peterson: You know, I'm not really sure exactly how it works. I know that Dr. Sharma and other researchers are finding out more and more about it. But I think we're just scratching the surface. I really think it works at a very deep level. It works at that finest level of consciousness. And that's why it's so effective. If you take some of the constituents out of Amrit and study them, they're not really that effective. It's really in the context of the whole formulation that you see its incredible effectiveness.
Q: How do people that you see, in either your general practice or in your practice of obstetrics, respond to your ayurvedic recommendations?
Dr. Peterson: Well, I have a long waiting list of people hoping to get accepted into the practice, and these people are for the most part self-selected — people who are interested in getting not just a bunch of drugs, but trying to take more responsibility for their health. It is very rewarding. I feel that this is my Dharma — that I am doing that which I should be doing for my own evolution.
Q: Let us explain Dharma.
Dr. Peterson: It is doing that in life which is most evolutionary and most fulfilling, and gives you the experience of bliss. If a person wakes up in the morning and is heading to work, but does not really want to go, then that person is probably not in his or her correct Dharma.
Q: So tell us about some situations where you would recommend Amrit.
Dr. Peterson: Well, for someone who is suffering from fatigue problems, or recovering from some health challenge — Amrit is wonderful for that. People with digestive problems and joint concerns. For people who are just not having the mental clarity that they want — sometimes they'll describe some memory lapses or some fuzziness — I think that's a place where Amrit can play a role. People who say they have a strong family history of health issues. For patients who are undergoing conventional treatment for any health condition, Amrit is a wonderful way to help them get through that and to minimize the side effects of the therapy.
Q: So what do patients come back and tell you when you recommend Amrit, let us say for helping them with their fatigue or to give them energy? What are some of the things they say to you after they've used it for some time?
Dr. Peterson: They like it, they like the effects. Initially they may have some difficulty overcoming the taste (laughs) and the regimen of using it twice daily. But after they get used to it, they like it. They like the energy and they like the vitality that it seems to bring. People who use Amrit for any length of time invariably have something positive to say. Some people describe very specific benefits, having to do with an improvement in joint health, digestion or occasional constipation. And every now and then somebody will talk about it in a very spiritual sense. When patients go off of it, that's when they realize how important it was to them. They really feel depleted. And it's not like they've lost everything. But they know that the level of bliss that seems to come with Amrit isn't there.
Q: You also recommend Amrit to people who are just looking for ways to stay healthy, who don't have any medical situations as such?
Dr. Peterson: Sure, if people are interested in maintaining optimal health, there's nothing better. There's nothing better than Amrit, supplemented by the ayurvedic daily routine. Research shows that Amrit is an incredibly potent antioxidant and a scavenger of free radicals — free radicals that cause damage to the cells and to the lining of the arteries, for example. Amrit is an extremely potent antioxidant, maybe more potent than just about anything we know — more potent than Vitamin C and Vitamin E and all of the other commonly-known antioxidants. And Amrit is much more than just an antioxidant! I think that as an herbal formulation, there aren't very many that come close to it. There's a huge incentive to stay healthy these days. Because not only does loss of good health involve suffering and pain, but it's also extremely expensive. Sometimes generations get financially wiped out just from an illness in the family.
Q: Do you recommend the same amount of Amrit for everyone — is there any kind of standard you use?
Dr. Peterson: I usually tell all my patients to just take the standard amount. The only time I increase this significantly is if there is a family history of health issues. Then I really pump up the amount.
Q: What about the children you see in your general practice? How young do you recommend Amrit be taken?
Dr. Peterson: I have had some babies who take a very small amount diluted with some warm water. Babies that do not seem to thrive that well and who are prone to every health challenge that comes along, prone to ear and digestive problems. It really is helpful; I have not seen any problems with it.
Q: Can you talk about some specific cases that come from out of your practice, where you feel the results were exceptional?
Dr. Peterson: Yes, many cases. Many patients came to mind as you were talking. The difficult patients in primary care involve those with a persistent problem that's not well defined and where nothing else has helped them. The classic ones for me would be pain and fatigue for which there is no obvious cause. A good ayurvedic program, with the centerpiece being Amrit, has done wonders for some of these patients. You need to combine Amrit with a program that gets rid of the impurities, because these tend to be ama conditions.
Q: And ama explains the underlying reason why a person is experiencing pain or fatigue. Addressing the ama gets to the root of the problem, rather than just paying attention to only the specific disorders.
Dr. Peterson: Right, and with the ever-increasing knowledge of ayurvedic principles, you can really get at the location of the ama and do some very specific cleansing programs for ama that are involved with the neuro-muscular area of the physiology. The wonderful thing about Amrit is that not only is it globally helpful in a preventive way, but it seems to work as a cleanser and nourishing treatment for these muscles that have become fatigued. So especially for those kinds of cases it has been wonderful to offer something like Amrit.
Q: One of the major reasons why Amrit is effective, especially in those hard-to-define situations where we do not have anything else to offer, is that stress (ama) has accumulated over the years and produces a kind of toxicity that blocks the shrotas, or the channels, of the body. The excess free radicals that are produced can destroy the mitochondria — the energy centers of the cell. Amrit acts at the cellular level, recharging the body, mind and spirit in a holistic way.
Dr. Peterson: That is the other beautiful thing about the ayurvedic approach to health — that the whole division between mind, body and spirit just dissolves.
Q: So Amrit acts on the digestion, helping to clear out the ama that has accumulated in the system, even ama that is "frozen" in the physiology from being there for so long?
Dr. Peterson: Right. If you look at the herbs that are used in Amrit, it is interesting that many of them are bitter or heating herbs — they break this ice cycle that can dominate our physiology.
Q: Could you talk more about Amrit as a longevity promoter? You mentioned earlier that most people think you are fifteen to twenty years younger than your biological age.
Dr. Peterson: We know that aging has something to do with free radical production — excess free radicals in the body. If you can reduce free radicals with some kind of scavenger, like Amrit, theoretically you can prolong youthfulness.
Q: What would be some parameters of aging that you look at in your practice?
Dr. Peterson: Well, you can look at the general appearance, the skin especially. The clarity of the eyes, blood pressure, and vital signs. Things like mental clarity and memory are also a part of that.
Q: We are also interested in the response of your medical colleagues to Amrit — they must know by now that you have integrated Maharishi Ayurveda principles, techniques and products into your medical practice. What has been their reaction?
Dr. Peterson: I think in the 1980s, when there really was not as much talk about it, I think they thought it was pretty strange. I think since the early '90s, there is much more acceptance of alternative medical systems. Doctors in the community actually like to have someone like me around who is willing to take on the people who are interested in these kinds of interventions. Especially in the last five years, I think it has been very positive for people who practice conventional medicine to be able to have someone with a little bit more experience to sit down and talk about nutritional supplements and meditation.
Q: And of course this is a consumer-led revolution. More and more U.S. adults just do not want to be the pill poppers of past generations, but rather they are looking for more natural, holistic, health care options.
Dr. Peterson: No doubt. No doubt those patients now are much more sophisticated than they were in the '50s and '60s and the early part of the '70s. I think this generation of doctors that came out of the '60s and '70s like myself really tried to foster that — tried to in some way hold patients responsible for their medical plan and for their health. It's turned out to be very important — patients becoming actively involved with their workup and with their treatment recommendations. If they get behind it, 90% of the battle is won. I guess the old days of "Here are the recommendations, if you don't follow them, forget it." — I think that's really kind of going by the wayside. I think patients today demand more information, demand more in terms of the ability to make their own decisions. I think that's a very good thing. I always tell the residents when I'm teaching them that they should never get to the point with a patient where they say there's nothing more that we can do. There's always something you can do, and with this deep ayurvedic approach, you've got a lot of options that you can offer patients. I think that's the bottom line: being able to offer options to patients who have very difficult problems. Many patients have problems that we really can't address using the Western traditional medical model. And we should always be able to offer something.
Q: One thing we see a lot of is healthcare professional burnout these days.
Dr. Peterson: Right, I just attended a national medical conference for re-certification. One of the topics of discussion was physician burnout.
Q: It is worse than ever, because doctors are having to see more and more patients in less and less time. Of course, that leads to relatively poor practice of medicine, because it takes time to establish a doctor/patient alliance.
Dr. Peterson: That is right. I think doctors in general do not heal themselves and quite often do not walk the talk. Part of it, I really think, is not because they do not want to; it's just because the knowledge base isn't there. There is a certain level of ignorance as to the source of happiness.
Q: Exactly, and the source of health. Both allopathy and ayurveda have their place; allopathy is "acute" medicine, and ayurveda can help strengthen the source of health and vitality that is within us. We are self-repairing beings — they say 99% of stress is reversible. So it is never too late to really start self-care.
Dr. Peterson: I don't see really any problems with integrating allopathic medicine and ayurveda. I think modern medicine can really offer a tremendous benefit, especially in terms of salvage medicine. Medicine that involves people who are so sick that all you can do is try to salvage the physiology and give them life at a minimal level. Modern medicine also offers great benefits in terms of surgical techniques and in terms of intensive-care-related problems. But we don't seem to do very well with ongoing health issues, and this is where ayurveda and some of these ancient systems can sometimes do a much better job of offering insight into the root cause and guidance for creating balance. If a patient comes in with a major medical problem requiring some type of salvage, then I'll use traditional drugs and prescription medications. But if they come back and they're starting to improve and we really haven't gotten to the source of the problem — we're just kind of putting out fires at the surface — then I'll look at ayurvedic approaches, which really get at the root causes of these situations. One of the things I have had the most fun with, and has probably for me prevented burnout, has been to learn ayurvedic pulse diagnosis.
Q: Can you tell us a little more about it?
Dr. Peterson: Well, ayurvedic pulse diagnosis is a technique for getting a lot of information about a patient very quickly. You take the radial pulse with three fingers, which represent the three doshas: Vata, Pitta, and Kapha. These are different governing factors or mind/body operators. Vata represents space and air, quickness, lightness and movement, which is the first finger. The second finger is Pitta, representing fire and water. Where there is heat, digestive enzymes, metabolism, transformation — that is where Pitta is at work. The third finger is Kapha, representing water and earth — that would represent structure, heaviness, mucus and thickness. So when you take the pulse, you can press deeper and find out genetically where these doshas play into this person's physiology. Are they more Vata or more Pitta or more Kapha? In the superficial pulse, there are five sub-doshas for each dosha. You can feel these in different parts of the finger and that tells you how the doshas, which were inherited from their parents, have gotten out of balance. There you can get very specific with organ systems and emotional systems. The mid-pulse is the level of the dhatus, which are the actual tissues, and there you can determine the patterns of ama, or impurities. So from just a couple of minutes with the patient you can feel the pulse and get who they are genetically, and how their doshas become out of balance, which is usually the seed of a medical problem. Then you can figure out where the impurities are so you can make a recommendation on how to get rid of the impurities, how to bring balance to the sub-doshas and return the person to their original body type, that original nature, whatever that may be. So there is a huge amount of very intimate information that comes out with just a simple pulse diagnosis technique.
Q: Is Amrit appropriate for any disorder in the three different doshas?
Dr. Peterson: Yes, that is a really good question. The beauty of Amrit is that it is truly tri-doshic. It has all the different ayurvedic tastes and it works nicely for all the different doshic body types. With Amrit, we have herbs and all of the tastes — the balance is such that a person with a Vata disorder can really benefit. And so can people with a Pitta disorder or a Kapha disorder. So it is one of those things where we can be pretty easy with it in terms of recommending it for everyone. For a person concerned about blood sugar, you might not want to use the paste. Use the sugarless version instead. But that is about the only restriction.
Q: It is like finally in medicine we have a health tonic that is scientifically viable. If people are completely healthy, they would notice the effect with the first spoonful or the first tablets. But if there has been a lot of accumulation of ama, they are less tuned in to the subtle messages of their physiology. And so sometimes it will take people a month. Then you can look back — has it really impacted your health? Are your emotions lighter, your thinking sharper, your memory improved? Does your body just feel better to be in?
Dr. Peterson: I think I have seen that too; sometimes it takes just a little bit longer — give it a month or two.
Q: It is so fascinating to hear from someone who is involved with allopathic medicine and also ayurveda. Can you give us a couple of other cases of people who were not responding to allopathic care, but did respond to ayurvedic care?
Dr. Peterson: This is actually a fun one. When I was first starting to use some ayurvedic recommendations in the late 1980s, an older lady came into the office with complaints of back problems along with fatigue. I did pulse diagnosis and found out there was some problem with digestion; also with the downward movement of elimination, which we call Apana Vata. So I asked her if she was having occasional heartburn and she said "Oh my goodness! I do not even bring that up with the doctors anymore because it has been so horrible and no one has offered anything for me. I have been put on drugs and antacids and have gotten no place." Of course with ayurveda, digestion is very important, and I thought I would deal with the digestion problems first and then deal with some of her other problems. So I made just two recommendations: the first was Amrit, which was easy to recommend, and the second one was to sip hot water. She wasn't interested in anything too alternative. I asked her to call me after a month. In a month she called and said, "It is really amazing. I do not really need any of my medications right now. I am still having some problems, but I am not taking any medications." When she came in for the two-month check, she told me it was a gift from God. And all it took was hot water and Amrit. Her other problems — muscle aches, fatigue problems did finally go, although it took a little while longer.
Q: Because there was just so much ama, so much of an accumulation of what had become toxicity in her system. How would you introduce Amrit to your medical colleagues?
Dr. Peterson: I have to be honest; I wish I were more successful than I am. I think what is going to happen is that with all the clinical research that is being done on Amrit and other similar formulations, sooner or later more and more of my colleagues will have to investigate them in depth. I have actually seen this with a number of doctors who have integrated a number of alternative techniques. Many of them are interested in the Vedic approach.
Q: Even Hippocrates, the father of Western medicine, taught that food is the best medicine. And what Amrit consists of is fruits and herbs that are essentially foods. You are taking a food supplement twice a day when you are taking Amrit.
Dr. Peterson: It is a wonderful gift from Nature. I think both you and I realize how precious it is. It is endowed with nature's intelligence and, you know, we can only thank and appreciate the tradition and the seers who cognized this formulation — who were able to see the great value of these particular plants and this particular combination of herbs and plants. To have come up with a formulation like this that could have such catalytic effects in a positive way on our physiology — this is really something to give praise for.
Q: Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with us today about your experiences with Amrit and ayurveda. We wish you continued success and perfect health.
Dr. Peterson: Thank you.
The sole purpose of these articles is to provide information about the tradition of ayurveda. This information is not intended for use in the diagnosis, treatment, cure or prevention of any disease. If you have any serious acute or chronic health concern, please consult a trained health professional who can fully assess your needs and address them effectively. If you are seeking the medical advice of a trained ayurvedic expert, call or e-mail us for the number of a physician in your area. Check with your doctor before taking herbs or using essential oils when pregnant or nursing.