3 Paths to Vitality with Pedram Shojai
3 Paths to Vitality
Jonathan: Hey everybody, Jonathan Bailor back with another bonus Smarter Science of Slim show. I am very excited about today’s show because it’s with an individual who I recently had the pleasure of meeting, and I am so excited to continue to collaborate with in the future because he is really coming at this critical mission with a unique and amazingly passionate approach. He is an author, filmmaker, physician, lecturer and world adventurer. He creates wonderful documentaries, and he is actually an ordained Taoist Priest as well as a key – Pedram how do you say that?
Pedram: Qi Gong.
Jonathan: There you go. He is a master at that, and he is the founder of well.org which is just a wonderful website. We are going to talk about him, all the great stuff he has got going on as well as his upcoming movie. Dr. Pedram Shojai, welcome to the show brother.
Pedram: Hey, good to be here.
Jonathan: What again was that thing you are a master of?
Pedram: Qi Gong. It’s basically Taoist energy yoga. It’s the stuff you see Bruce Lee doing with the deep breaths before he start beating on people or what the old masters would do before they heal people. I use it as an internal healing energy enhancement practice that I have been teaching for – oh God, long time and just kind of helping people optimize their energy by understanding the flow of it within their own bodies and their own consciousness and all that cool esoteric stuff that I spent a lot of time traveling the world, studying for a bit.
Jonathan: Pedram speaking of all that good esoteric stuff, you really do have a unique angle on wellness. So, before we get into that, can you tell us your story? It was fascinating to me, and I know it will be fascinating to the listenership. So, just how did you get into all this?
Pedram: Yes. I was pretty mad at UCLA. Graduated top of my class, just kind of fast track, I am going to be a doctor. And then I started working with a bunch of doctors and saw how miserable they were and how the system was just not working very well, and this was particularly in a pain management setting. And I just got a glimpse of some of the broken side of the medical system at a very young age and said you know, this isn’t for me. There just wasn’t any life in that house. And so through my martial arts training, I started to just kind of get into the Jedi stuff. And just the more I studied, the more I realized that it was just this rabbit hole of just powerful, amazing stuff. Ironically I ended up back in medicine, but coming in through the perspective of oriental medicine and then functional medicine and all this other kind of different understanding of how lifestyle interfaces with health. And then I became actually tremendously effective at helping people because the lenses that I was wearing were a bit more accurate than waiting for something to break and then hitting him with an intervention that was hopefully going to correct things but cause other side effects.
Jonathan: Pedram, just to back up for the audience here a little bit. Having seen both sides, often this sort of eastern versus western thing is presented as just that eastern versus western. Is that your perception or is there strength in each?
Pedram: Anytime there is versus, it’s because someone’s got a vested interest in establishing themselves in some way, and I think that there is one medicine. Right? There’s different ways of looking at it, but I use protocols from naturopathy, from allopathy, from Chinese medicine, from Ayurveda. Basically, I use what works. Because when people start talking in medicine about saying well, I don’t know if I believe in that. I say leave the belief for church. If we are talking about belief, we are not being scientists. Right? So, I don’t believe in n acupuncture; I experience acupuncture. I see it work for thousands of people in clinical settings all the time, so for me I know it works. So, you show me something works and as a good scientist I’ve got to look at that and say it worked. I might not understand it, but that did what they said it was going to do. And now we’ve got to figure out the how and the why, but that’s not – that’s where the science really breaks down in our system. People aren’t willing to look at things objectively because their definitions of self or their financial interests are really tied to some of the stuff, and to me that’s primitive.
Jonathan: Pedram, I love that you used the word “primitive” there because it seems that this pragmatic approach which you talked about is really how anyone could ever argue with that is rough, but it really does seem to be argued about. If something unequivocally works, there is no better example than a lot of individuals in the lower carbohydrate community who just – they, for example, give up whole grains and they go see their physician, and their physician is like what you are doing is wrong despite the fact that every indicator of your health is getting better. What? How can a medical practitioner or anybody who is in the business of helping people see individuals getting good results and then tell them that what they are doing is wrong?
Pedram: Again, when have – when we draw a line around ourselves then when something challenges that, then our ego faces annihilation, and a lot of the training that was just for the old guard guys. Look, I am friends with everybody. So, I am not a campy guy, but I will see a lot of the old guard people have a very strong position that they dig their heels in because it’s like their identity and they’ve got to uphold it because it’s us versus them or the barbarians are at the gate. And all this kind of weird psychological stuff that gets them to stop critically thinking and stop growing as physicians. And that’s I think when it’s time to retire. I don’t care if you are 40 or 80 at that point, but you are no longer being an objective doctor. And I agree with you. It’s all over the place, and these doctors are not practicing the science of medicine anymore. They are getting campy, and that’s not in the best interest of the patient.
Jonathan: Campy is another great thing to dig into because one of the things that you do a really good job of is not picking sides, but focusing on results. But Pedram, one of the things that breaks my heart so much about some of the – because there is a one percent let’s say that get it when it comes to wellness. However, they seem to spend more time arguing with others in the one percent about subtle nuance rather than just simply helping individuals live better lives. What do you think is going on there?
Pedram: Totally man. I think it’s a lot of same and when we were going through the cuts of this movie Vitality – there are two and half hours of just pure genius in there. And I had to – basically in film we call it killing your babies – I had to let go of so much content that I thought was really compelling to water it down to basically teach America the basics and the core principles of lifestyle and get it to the foundation. I got into an argument with some of the guys that were working with me on the movie from the start and they were trying to talk about some devices that can cure AIDS that the government does not want you to know about and all sorts of kind of hippy dippy conspiracy stuffs and I said if I could just people to eat vegetables. You’re missing it. The healthcare debate in America isn’t this really abstract thing about kilocalories and what kind of Paleo abstraction and all these kind of stuff. That’s just for – that’s for people in these communities that are just kind of duking it out on really high-level stuff. And I appreciate that, that’s academic. But for the most part Americans have so many – not just Americans, the western world, have so many just minor changes that they can make that would make drastic changes in not only their lives, but in the health of our country as a whole. That’s the fight I am picking, I am going after the big changes that we can get with millions and millions of people that are morbidly obese and have diabesity and heart disease and all these other kind of secondary health risk factors and they are dying. They are leaving widows and children behind because they are being mismanaged, and they are being miseducated by big food and a medical system that doesn’t really have time to talk to them.
Jonathan: Pedram, I love that mission and it seems like it’s exactly that audience that sometimes the other thing that – the other disservice they experience is they will be concerned with let’s call them minor things. For example, is drinking water out of a plastic bottle the best thing to drink water out of? Probably not, but should you worry about that if you are getting 60 percent of your calories from processed garbage and not eating vegetables? May be you should worry about that other thing first.
Pedram: Right. Yes, it’s big; it’s a lot of stuff. When are you going to start looking at the labels on the cosmetics and the lipstick and the house and fire retardants on the sofa. We live in really kind of complicated times where our environment is poisoning us and our foods are making us less healthy one meal at a time. We need to get a beachhead, so people start to really – and that’s really where I kind of draw the line and kind of put my foot down in the space to say look, as you enhance your vitality, as you increase the vitality of the system, then you will have more available energy to make better decisions and to go for that run and run outside and throw the ball with the kid, or whatever it is that you have been unable to do because of the compromises in your health and your energy system. So, really the premise of my work is to help people liberate energy in their lives by cleaning up lifestyle a little bit, and as they start feeling better, then it becomes kind of a foregone conclusion that they would continue and wake up to more things. And then one day the plastic thing will make sense. But you can’t see the plastic water bottle because you are probably drinking Coke, if that’s – if you are eating Cheetos too. It’s just how foregone they are and where we got to kind of pull them out, and that’s the good fight. We are all fighting it.
Jonathan: Pedram, that’s an excellent point and it gets back to something I always talk about on this show which is the old Greek distinction of two definitions of the word “time.” One was Chronos and that’s what we think about currently, but then is Kairos which is quality of time. And you touched on something there which is so important and it’s if we can help the 99 percent to feel what it feels like to have vitality as you call it. For example, these concerns with oh this costs too much money, this takes too much time. When you are fully alive, you will be shocked at how much stuff you can get done and how much money you can make because you are operating at 100 percent, not 20 percent. Right?
Pedram: Bingo, bingo. But you know – and on that continuum, I agree with you 100 percent. But I would say on that continuum, when you are operating at 20 percent, you are so hard up to get through your day that if we could even eke out 5 percent, you are feeling so much better than everyone around you is noticing, and as you start heading up that thing, it’s like you look like a saint in your community. And so, it is that quality of time and it is that quality of life and it’s hard to even know what that is under the burden of disease, under the burden of a compromised health system and a compromised health state. And people think that they are so far away from it, but just changing the way you eat has such profound effects that it can snap – even the person that’s so far gone. I deal with very ill people in a clinical setting all the time. I mean complicated fibromyalgia, rheumatoid arthritis, and just really nasty stuff people coming with like 10, 12 sets of medications that we are sitting here trying to sort through. We just change their diets around and we do the stuffs that we know how to do, and they start getting better and it’s not something like magic potion that I am trying to sell out of the back of my snake oil thing. It’s just – I think the commercial interests have changed the way medicine runs too and the supplement industry too is like oh well, this is the magic supplement that’s going to fix me up. Not if you are eating the Doritos dude. And that’s really what it is. They have to understand that people that we engage with have to understand that they are their primary healthcare interface. Mark Hyman (??) says that the 8,800 something hours in a given year, how many of those hours do you spend at a doctor’s office – two, three, four, five? For the rest of it, you are out there busy living your life, what are you doing then? That’s where the vitality comes or gets compromised.
Jonathan: Pedram, before we get into this amazing movie you have coming out called Vitality which is going to encapsulate much of what we talked about here and provide just a wonderful narrative along with it, what are some of those top level things that in your travels around the world and your very diverse studying that you found for example just one, two, and three. These would be where I would say people should start?
Pedram: Sure. I would say the first one which is kind have been really up front and center in my universe right now is get off that desk. Get a standing desk, do not sit around all day. It just crushes the body’s posture, it puts all this energy into the postural muscles, the brain trying to process it, shuts us off and it gets us to basically break down. So, one day when we wake up two months from now, we realize we are 20 pounds overweight, and we decide to start playing basketball in our forties, we don’t kill ourselves and sprain an ankle and tear ligaments because we have been sitting around for ten, twelve years. So, that’s number one. I would say number two is caloric restriction is this weird thing that all these people talk about. For me, I just say listen, clean up your diet, get organic produce. I am a big fan of CSA and local farmers’ markets. If it has a label on it, don’t eat it. Right? If they could clean up the quality of their food, obviously there are lots of schools of thought on how to mix stuff, this, that and the other. I just get them away from the processed junk, I get them away from the GMOs, and I get them away from lot of the gluten and the casein and the stuffs that people have high allergies to, and it’s just like black flip city. Then the third one I would say is an epidemic in the western world and that’s stress. If you don’t understand how stress impacts you and what stress is doing to you and how to manage that stress, all the other systems get compromised very easily because of it, and so I am a big – look, I traveled and studied with the Dalai Lama and I got to – I have had a very blessed life in studying with a lot of masters who know what’s up, and those guys have gifts for us. There are pearls in the ancient wisdom teaching us how to use our breath to kind of down regulate the nervous system so that it’s not firing and putting us into adrenal stress and all these things that modern culture is now suffering from. So, my third would definitely be stress management. There are a lot of ways to do that, a lot of ways to skin that cat, but for me Tai Chi, Qi Gong, meditation, yoga, these are all ways up the same mountain, but you’ve got to do whichever one gravitates to you, you got to start, you got to do it.
Jonathan: Excellent. I love this and I can imagine that your upcoming movie here Vitality is going to give us just a great visual narrative example of this. Can you tell us a bit about what the mission behind this movie is and then what can we expect?
Pedram: Yes. The mission is primarily to have people understand that health is about vitalism. It’s about supporting the body’s ability to support itself, and in doing so, the body rewards us with energy, good mood, clarity, more money, all the things that we talked about earlier. All these things are byproducts of living a life with abundance, and you do that by allowing the body systems to thrive. And we break it into this kind of superstructure of diet, exercise, sleep and mindset. And those four spheres on the wheel of vitality all need to be turning, and as they are turning and generating more vitality for us, the system gets better, we start moving from that 20 percent closer to the 100 percent, and as we do so, we start – you become kind of like a hot knife through butter, just working your way through the world, all of life’s little obstructions and all these stupid problems that we always face and then we can’t get over, these insurmountable things start to really become laughable as you increase your personal power through your vitality and the interface with that is always through your body. It’s how you eat, it’s how you move, it’s how you sleep, and it’s how you see your world, and that’s what this movie does. That’s the promise of this movie and that’s why we made it is to really become a foot in the door into that world. Then we have this huge archive of content and stories and all kinds of wonderful stuffs we do through well.org to support people with that. But the movie is really about just saying there is a different way to look at this, and this healthcare debate in Washington is a joke; it’s a healthcare finance debate. You want to talk about healthcare reform? Healthcare reform starts with you, not about who pays the bill. Right? We are looking to really change that dialogue.
Jonathan: Pedram, you are a doctor. So, what inspired you and what went into creating a film? That is an interesting career, not move, because I know you still do both; you are just a really busy guy. But what inspired that?
Pedram: I got to tell you Jonathan, I kind of got tired of repeating myself. It’s every single one of these different types of cases from different walks of life would walk in, and eventually, I would end up talking to them about diet and exercise and sleep and mindset and I said God, there is such a universal appeal to all this, and every single person that I put on this program gets better regardless of diagnosis. In understanding that, then I realized that – actually it happened one night – my wife likes to watch TV, I think TV is mostly a joke, but she said listen, you don’t hang out with me and I am watching my show. So, I grabbed my laptop and I sit down and I just kind of goofing off on my laptop while she was watching her show, and I counted eight pharmaceutical commercials in a half-hour show. And that’s when I realized that we were in a propaganda game and there’s billions of dollars being spent out there to convince people that they need products because they don’t feel well, when all the while what they really needed to do is just know how to live better. It’s how we live. Right? Just clean up their lifestyle little bit, and they wouldn’t need any of that crap. So, for me, once I realized that that’s when I knew I had to get into media because the doctors were losing that battle.
Jonathan: Pedram, we are definitely cut from the same cloth because you absolutely need to in some senses fight fire with fire. We can have all the esoteric discussions we want, but until we can have that, it’s almost like those videos we saw back in the maybe 90s where it’s like this is your brain, this is your brain on drugs, or the truth campaign around tobacco. We need to kick off those but just around sleep and stress and eating it sounds like.
Pedram: Amen brother. That’s it, and that’s why we are all fighting the good fight, that’s why we are out here just locking arms and being of service to humanity because listen medicine – it’s a noble profession and that nobility has been compromised through profit motive and just the education being compromised and just all sorts of things. We can get into the history of why the industry has been messed with, but the fact remains people trust their doctors, people trust their physicians, their community leaders, and what we are trying to do is get the doctors to kind of step back up and be the leaders they are supposed to be. If your doctor is 60 pounds overweight, then maybe you need to go to another physician because they are not understanding how to take their of themselves. So we are really calling out the doctors and calling on them to step up and be the healthy people that can be the ambassadors for real health and this type of messaging as well because I have met plenty of cardiologists that chain smoke. Right? It is hard to take them seriously.
Jonathan: Certainly, the message of being the change you want to see in the world is one what I know resonates with our audience. So, Pedram this is all gold. Where can the audience go to learn more about you and the upcoming production?
Pedram: Well.org. So, well.org is where I hangout. That’s our neighborhood. That’s where we do a lot of our philanthropic work and all that. If you do well.org/vitality, you will find the movie and if you could just go to well.org and poke around you could find it. My esoteric stuff is on taoistpath.org, but you could find it all on well.org. Just land there and cruise around, and see what we’ve got. We just do a lot of stuff to help people, and I sleep well at night because I was living a very comfortable life as a physician, but it wasn’t enough because my world around me was feeding me back news of calamity and feeding me back news of illness and suffering. And I realized that it’s time to draw your sword. When it’s your calling, you get up and you do it and so, I feel really great about everything we do at well.org every day, and we are making a difference.
Jonathan: Certainly for good reasons. It’s an excellent resource and listeners if you haven’t checked it out, do go over to well.org. Dr. Pedram Shojai, I thank you so much for joining us today and I cannot wait to watch Vitality. I know it will be ethic.
Pedram: Awesome. I will send you a copy as soon as we get off and thanks for having me, this was fun.
Jonathan: My pleasure. Well listeners, I hope you enjoyed this wonderful conversation as much as I did. Again, today’s guest is the ever delightful, Dr. Pedram Shojai. Learn more about him and his upcoming film Vitality over at well.org and remember, this week and every week after; eat smarter, exercise smarter, and live better. Chat with you soon.