Warrior Monk Conversations 009: The State of Wellbeing in the Time of COVID-19 with Deepak Chopra
Updated: Jun 28
In this insightful episode, I talk to Dr. Deepak Chopra about wellbeing—career, social, physical, financial, and community—that are in rock bottom these days because of the coronavirus. Dr. Chopra also discusses the importance of virtual connectedness in the time of social distancing, the role of technology in work and education, and the shift towards wellbeing when this pandemic is over.
He also shares his very own best practices on optimizing physical wellbeing which includes yoga, meditation, and sleep among others.
Dr. Deepak Chopra is the founder of The Chopra Foundation, a non-profit entity for research on wellbeing, and Chopra Global, a modern-day health company at intersectional science and spirituality.
TIME magazine has described Dr. Chopra as one of the Top 100 Heroes and Icons of the Century. He is the author of over 89 books, translated into over 43 languages including numerous New York Times bestsellers. His 90th book and national bestseller Meta Human: Unleashing Your Infinite Potential, unlocks the secrets to moving beyond our present limitations to access a field of infinite possibilities.
Intro and Outro Music: Hearts on Fire by Immersive Music
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Warrior Monk Conversations 009: The State of Wellbeing in the Time of COVID-19 with Deepak Chopra
Welcome to Warrior Monk Conversations, a treasure trove of inspirational discussions in personal and professional development.
I am Poonacha Machaiah. Join me on this journey where I have immersive conversations with the most thought-provoking leaders and everyday heroes from our communities to inspire, educate, and empower you to build resilience and reach your highest potential. Join me on this mission to create a positive societal shift to the compassionate transformation of humankind.
Dr. Deepak Chopra is founder of the Chopra Foundation, a nonprofit entity for research on wellbeing, and Chopra Global, a modern day health company at the intersection of science and spirituality. He is a world-renowned pioneer in integrative medicine and personal transformation.
Dr. Chopra is a Clinical Professor of Family Medicine and Public Health at the University of California, San Diego.
He is the author of over 89 books translated into over 43 languages, including numerous New York Times bestsellers. His 90th book and national bestseller, Metahuman: Unleashing Your Infinite Potential, unlocks the secrets to moving beyond our present limitations to access a field of infinite possibilities. TIME magazine has described Dr. Chopra as "one of the top 100 heroes and icons of the century."
Poonacha: Thank you, Deepak, for joining my podcast. I guess, over the years, we have collaborated, and these are unusual times. I guess we are in the same state, same geography, and we are connecting online, and I guess this is going to be the sign of the times to come, and I wanted to kind of release, maybe unpack, today the future of wellbeing. So these are my thoughts.
I was thinking, I wonder maybe, you know, obviously, over the years, you know, you've been an advisor to Gallup, and you always talk about the five elements of wellbeing which are career wellbeing, social wellbeing, financial wellbeing, physical wellbeing, and community wellbeing. So what are your thoughts? What is the scorecard today, from your perspective, when it comes to wellbeing at a global perspective?
Deepak: Well, right now, because we are going through the pandemic, the wellbeing globally is at rock bottom, and hopefully, it will self-regulate itself, as existence always does, but as right now, I think we are paying a huge price for what is happening. And at every level, people's career wellbeing is being affected. They can't go to work. Their social wellbeing is affected. They can't engage with each other, at least physically. Physical, what do you call, social distancing is happening.
Physical wellbeing is suffering because of the illness, and people are agitated and immunocompromised, not realizing that panic is the worst thing that can happen, but there is panic. You know, there's a difference between fear and stress and panic. With panic, it could lead to very irrational behaviors, and also, it's contagious. All emotions are contagious. So, we are not doing very well on social engagement wellbeing, physically as well, because of compromising, the compromising of our immune status with all the panic, and the financial wellbeing is a catastrophe at the moment, with the markets melting down and people losing their jobs.
Even though very few people are investing in the stock market, the fact is that once you close restaurants, museums, and theatres, and all these public events, a lot of people are going to lose jobs, and that's going to create even more panic.
So, whatever the state of wellbeing in the world was, until a few months ago, it's at rock bottom right now. You know, we spoke about, according to Gallup studies, Denmark and Canada and all these countries will weigh up in wellbeing, but right now, this morning, Denmark is on a shutdown. So, you know, this pandemic certainly proves one thing and that there are no boundaries. You know, all boundaries are artificial and self-created by human beings.
And if there is anything that may come out as a positive at the end, if all human beings are able to learn from disasters, unfortunately, we don't learn, I mean, just the last century, we've had First World War, Second World War, Vietnam, Korea, Egypt, the neighboring countries at war, Iran-Iraq War, Yemen-Saudi War, India-Pakistan, Communist Rights, Bosnia, on and on. So we could have learned.
Poonacha: So I think, when you look at this, I mean, obviously, I have been collaborating with you over the years, I always hold your, in highest esteem, your ability to look ahead and, you know, everything from wellbeing to technology, you've had this kind of pulse, obviously, with Digital Deepak and virtualization. We've been talking about this. You've actually started building technology on this. So look at one specific area, and we will kind of go through this very quickly. If we look at career wellbeing, when you look at the future of work and the future of education, today, obviously, everything is just going online. We don't have a choice. Obviously, people are now not moving places. They want to start working from wherever they are, the gig economy. How do you see the role of technology in the future of work and education?
Deepak: I think technology is going to play a very important part in education and also, employment. A lot of universities were, in fact, shifting to technology and schooling through the internet, and we've seen innovations like the Khan Academy and so on. And right now, there are many schools that are offering education, even at the high school level and middle school level, through technology that's only going to get better. I personally feel our education is kind of misguided because it's all information overload, and I don't need that, you know. You don't want to look up information. You can get it on Google. So we need to rethink education as well, you know. How do you bring out---and the word education means "ed your core." Ed your core. To bring out what is already at the core of a human being, which means educating them about self-awareness, about intuition, creativity, higher purpose, insight, imagination, problem solving.
Those are the kinds of things that should be emphasized. They can be done very well through internet learning systems, through various kinds of technologies, through feedback, etc, etc. So as far as career and educational concern, we were seeing this shift anyway, and it's going to happen even faster now. And ultimately, it will find its reset for optimization. Definitely, education and work will be very different in the near future and in the distant future as well.
Poonacha: In fact, I already see it. My son, who is right now---my younger son who is in Bangalore, and I think in a 24-hour period, they shut down the schools, and very rapidly, they actually went all online, and he is now attending classes online. It's also good to see in this adversity, like CEOs, like Zoom CEO came out and said, he is providing the Zoom conferencing system for K-12 for free.
Deepak: I'm using zoom right now to, you know, engage with people on maximizing and optimizing their immune status as well.
Poonacha: Right. In fact, you know, you always push the limit when it comes to VR, we did this virtual reality meditation about a year and a half ago, and today, I think that with mixed reality, as we become socially distant, I imagine a world where we can actually get into VR, and can kind of have the shared going-to-a-park experience albeit connected across the globe, right?
Deepak: Right. Now, all that will happen. VR is for education. VR also is for reading, and wellbeing, and skills, and yoga, and meditation, and mental stimulation, the combining of VR-AI, deep learning and artificial intelligence, as I said, and also, augmented reality with holography, and combining that with things like biometrics, measuring breathing rate, facial expression, heart rate variability, once the mind does that, it create new algorithms. We'll be able to actually enhance our wellbeing through technology with instant feedback.
Poonacha: Right. So switching gears to social wellbeing, I remember you always talking about this Harvard study about a 30-year period longitudinal, where they study 12,000 people, and they found that the odds of being happy increased by 15% if a direct connection between you and your social network is they---if people are happy, and also, if there was connect---disconnected by one, it reduced by 10% and 6%. What are your thoughts now with social isolation and social distancing? How is, what can we do for social wellbeing?
Deepak: Well, the distance thing, what they call social distancing, applies to physical social distancing. So it doesn't mean social isolation. Social isolation means being cut off, and that's not necessary at all. Right now, actually, there is a bigger role for Zoom, FaceTime, any technology where we can engage visually as well as through voice, but visually as well. So we can see people, we can see their mood, we can engage with them on an emotional level, which brings about a phenomenon known as Limbic Resonance which means that when people feel connected in spirit of empathy and compassion, and love, that brings about bio-regulation, self-regulation and homeostasis, decreases inflammation. So, we can actually enhance the connectivity right now through technology.
Having said that, as mammals, you know, mammals, social animals, they also like physical touch. They engage in physical touch, and cooing, and cuddling, and kissing, and touching, and playing, and singing. Some of these things are obviously having to be curtailed. So there's no substitute for the healing that comes from physical contact as well, especially in healthy, intimate relationships. But we have to do with what we have right now. And technology can be used to engage people emotionally as well.
Poonacha: Right. I do agree with you. I think I'm actually, in a very strange way, since my, I am kind of distance, separated by distance with my family. I see myself spending more time with them nowadays, actually, using FaceTime. I've never done this. I saw my wife, and she was like, "Wow, at least I'm speaking to you for an hour now," you know, "Albeit on WhatsApp Video."
Poonacha: You know, I think, it is forcing, and I think it is this kind of innovation, right? With every adversity, there's innovation.
Deepak: Absolutely. By the way, people are doing yoga by looking at videos, and as you know, we're exploring VR for that.
Deepak: So, you know, certainly, a lot of innovation is happening right now.
Poonacha: And also, I think, you know, obviously, you know, you're on social media, doing the meditation, which I think is connecting and helping people. And I think this is going to, like I said, the conversation, conversation, obviously, face to face is ideal, but the next best thing is doing it, you know, virtual.
Deepak: Absolutely. And there'd be hybridization of technology in actual physical spaces as well, but right now, I think we have to socially distance ourselves physically without isolating ourselves.
Poonacha: Absolutely. Absolutely. In fact, I was looking at some technology yesterday on haptic feedback. So today, obviously, if I was able to look at a video and talk to my son, and imagine he was wearing a kind of a jacket, and he could actually feel me hugging him, right? That'd be like, it's almost like, can say hug, and he feels like this tightening of this jacket, right, like a hug.
Poonacha: It was used actually for kids who had autism because they need to feel that kind of a----so maybe there are ways to adapt this differently.
Deepak: Absolutely. You know, the fact is that thoughts, words, each, sensations, images, feelings, perceptions are all entangled with each other.
Deepak: And the more we can actually activate sensations through technology that mirror emotions, that'll be a huge innovation.
Poonacha: Absolutely. I think I definitely feel like, you know, these are times when we will probably see very creative innovative solutions coming out. Instead of building the next Angry Birds, I think, hopefully, I mean, the scientists on the front line, obviously, are working tirelessly. I see the world coming together. And maybe there'll be some moment, purpose for technology also being built.
Deepak: Yeah, also, we can unify and undo this challenge, which is an infection, and we can unify and handle other challenges like social injustice across the world, economic injustice, conflict resolution, war, terrorism, climate change, eco-destruction, suicide, depression, there are so many other challenges which are actually, at this moment, equally perilous. Although not equally acute, they're equally perilous. And if we can unify on one challenge, then we can unify on other challenges as well.
Poonacha: Right. So on financial wellbeing, this is obviously, I think trust is at all-time low, and in financial wellbeing, we look at two, I would say, stakeholders, the government and corporations. I don't know much about the government, I'd love to get your thoughts on what you think the government can do more to build trust and really build confidence because it is decimating people's lives. I know people who are very reliant upon massage therapists, trainers, who really depend on everyday jobs, who are kind of really, you know, being pulled out of jobs, of chiropractors and things like that.
When you look at corporations, you know, over the last week, I've also seen, you know, some people stepped up. Amazon just announced, they're going to hire 100,000 people to help out. Facebook just gave a $100 million program for small businesses. What do you think the government and corporations can do looking into the future?
Deepak: Well, right now, there seems to be a financial meltdown, and everybody is going to suffer as a result of that. We cannot be in denial of the fact that the financial meltdown of everyone. The rich will suffer, but the poor will suffer much more. And that's always the case. Unfortunately, those who are already marginalized, suffer a lot more. Now, I know that there are lots of efforts being made. The efforts you mentioned that Facebook and Amazon are doing. Those are very worthwhile. At the same time, today, the government did announce that they're going to, you know, basically, give people tax relief, and even paychecks without cutting on their taxes, and they're also going to infuse some money. The Fed has reduced its interest rate to zero. All these measures help, but they do so only in the short term.
And I think we now need to look in the long term. Financial wellbeing should be dependent, not so much on a few privileged people, 1% or 2% that invest in the stock market, or the big corporations, financial wellbeing needs to be combined with social and economic justice. And if any outcome can come out of this that I think is worthwhile, it would be, maybe, government's appointing cabinet ministers or secretaries for wellbeing, in the buckets of wellbeing that we've mentioned, which include career wellbeing, and financial wellbeing, and social and physical wellbeing, but also, you know, pay attention to the growth inequities that occur in our society that have been tolerated because of special interest groups.
We have lobbyists in Washington who make sure that the medical-industrial complex doesn't suffer, and pharmaceuticals are still the mainstay, when we know that only 5% of disease-related gene mutations are fully penetrant, and there's no emphasis on wellbeing and how to optimize your immune status, your endocrine status, through simple measures and helpful advice and technologies that help with sleep, stress management, exercise, breathing, yoga, and all things that can bring about self-regulation, nutrition, and even anti-inflammatory supplements, and so on. So I think there will be a shift in that direction. And financial wellbeing has to be tied to all the other different buckets of wellbeing.
Otherwise, it gets very lopsided, and they, kind of, disjointed because when we think of financial wellbeing only in terms of GDP, it really doesn't tell us what's happening to the average person on the street who doesn't have more than $100 to spare. You know, today, in America, most people, more than 95% of people, if they had a $400 bill, they wouldn't know how to-
Deepak: That's happening right now at this moment, as we speak. So we need a very drastic look at what financial wellbeing is, and it cannot be controlled by the privileged few.
Poonacha: Right. Absolutely. So when I, you know, when I, looking at physical wellbeing, you touched on the pillars of wellbeing which you talk about from sleep, movement, nutrition, but what I want to talk about today is, maybe, what are your advice in the, I guess, the times of COVID-19, what are your, I would say, best practices you want to share from a physical wellbeing perspective? What do you think your, what do you suggest to do?
Deepak: Technically speaking, I mean, you know, I'm 73 years old, I'm in very good health, you know, and, technically speaking, I'm at risk because people called me "elderly". I've never thought of myself in that way.
Poonacha: (chuckles) I don't think so, too.
Deepak: But, you know, by common standards, 73 is elderly. So, I'll give you my routine. I sleep before 10. I sleep eight hours always, and I keep a sleep score, and I'm very happy with that sleep score. I wake up about six o'clock, and I practice two hours, meditation and yoga and deep breathing, as a normal routine, which I don't think is necessary for most people, but I'm obsessed with perfection and perfect wellbeing and reversing the biological markers of aging.
So these days because I'm grounded, I do two sessions of yoga. One in the morning, one in the afternoon. I am very conversant with the Polyvagal theory, which we've talked about before, but there's more and more evidence that singing, chanting, deep breathing, yoga Asanas, which selectively stimulate different parts of the Vagus nerve, and meditation, and deep reflection, they all add to the whole Polyvagal stimulus.
The Vagus nerve interacts with facial nerve and laryngeal nerve. It influences everything from your facial expressions to the tone of your voice to heart rate variability, which is probably the best sign of resilience. It pierces the diaphragm and innervates every single visceral nerve, and if you do a complete set of yoga Asanas, which includes sitting, standing, lying, twisting, forward bends, and backward bends, a simple, complete routine that involves these different postures, you're selectively stimulating every part of the Vagus nerve, and if you combine that with deep breathing or even primordial chants like hommmmmmmmm or buzzing bee bread mmmmmmmmmmm, you're actually sending messages of healing to your entire body.
So I am spending, taking this time to perfect my practice and also taking this time to engage on social media with best practices or physical, emotional and spiritual stability. As we tackle this problem together, right now, our main goal should be to optimize our wellbeing through all that is available to us, whether it's sleep, management, movement, exercise, breathing, yoga Asanas, nutrition, anti-inflammatory products, if we can get them, and also, you know, if you believe that they work.
Deepak: Some are very skeptical about anything, it's not going to work for them anyway. But if you have the ability to quiet your mind and your internal dialogue, then you also have the ability to quiet the body, and when the body is quiet, it goes into self-regulation and homeostasis. I am not a believer in positive thinking which can be very stressful.
Deepak: A lot of people think very hard to be positive but feeling stressed out or actually causing more immunocompromisation because the positive mind can be a turbulent mind. You need a quiet.
Deepak: Therefore, taking breaks during the day, breathing breaks or just sitting quietly doing nothing, and choiceless awareness triggers maximum healing and homeostasis in the body. There is no drug right now, pharmaceutical agent, for this or hopefully there may be, but at the moment, there is none, and there is no vaccine at the moment as well. Hopefully, there will be. But as you know, these are temporary thing measures.
We cure one infection, only to see another one. In just the last decade, we've seen Ebola, we've seen SARS, not to mention AIDS, not to mention the chronic epidemics of malaria, tuberculosis, and cholera in so many parts of the world.
So, ultimately, remedial measures for optimizing wellbeing cannot depend totally, though in acute situations, anything that helps is very welcome, but so, you know, a pharmaceutical agent that works, a vaccine that works is very welcome, but as you know, epidemics tend to be either chronic and stay, or they're replaced by other epidemics.
Deepak: In the end, we need a new lifestyle. We need better hygiene, better nutrition. We need better social engagement, albeit at the moment, physically distancing ourselves.
Deepak: But we need education on how do we optimize those different buckets of wellbeing that you mentioned, purpose, career-driven wellbeing, social wellbeing, community wellbeing, physical wellbeing, and financial wellbeing, all as entangled aspects of wellbeing.
The world is entangled in every aspect right now. And so, you know, instead of engaging in trade wars, and power mongering, and influence peddling, and cronyism, and corruption, and lobbying in Washington for drugs that don't work or weapons that create more distress and violence in the world, if we put all our efforts globally, wellbeing as the number one, number one
Deepak: Effectively. Then, we will be able to achieve extraordinary results.
Poonacha: So, in my last question, I think, is going to just close out on the community wellbeing, right? So when, I mean, looking at, reading a lot, especially now, on the news and what's happening globally, there are two things which I see happening. One is, obviously, we saw unprecedented globalization, until now. I also see now, maybe, nationalization, closing boundaries, closing borders, looking at trade differently. What are your thoughts? Do you see this and, or am I just seeing more into these? Do you think there are these two conversations happening right now?
Deepak: Yeah, closing boundaries is still controversial, you know, because the virus has escaped. It's global right now in every country.
Poonacha: Yeah. It doesn't really matter. No wall, nothing is going to, you know, like, you know, instead, into the-
Deepak: Yeah, it's still controversial. I mean, there are two schools of thought. One is, you can still contain the spread by closing boundaries, national boundaries. That's one school of thought that you can contain it to some extent. We'll see if that works. The other school of thought that other countries are thinking about is allowing travel to occur and, ultimately, hoping for what is called herd immunity, which means, say, you know, at the price of some marginalized people. We'll, of course, pay the price through morbidity and mortality, but sooner or later, there will be some kind of herd immunity as well.
Poonacha: Is UK looking into this kind of a mob immunity?
Deepak: Yeah, but they're having second thoughts at the moment because there's data that says that may not work.
Deepak: So, actually, I think the best thing we can say right now is, it's totally unpredictable. At the same time, we can create communities globally that will help. You know, the eastern wisdom traditions have always emphasized Buddhism. They say, in times of stress, but even when there is no stress, you take refuge in the Buddha which means higher consciousness, expanded consciousness, higher calling, take refuge in the Dharma, which means purpose and helping each other, and you take refuge in the Sangha, which means the collective community of shared caring. There are other ways to phrase this: Sayba, service, Sak Sangha, Community, Zimron, Spiritual practice.
And this is what we can do socially, through the internet, and globally. To some extent, we're doing it with Never Alone, the campaign that you are heading right now. And I think we need to accelerate both community engagement. Through the internet, we can create communities of wellbeing globally and link them with each other with best practices.
Actually, I just got a call this morning from the WHO, giving guidelines on how to do that, and I'm going to start that process anyway through our Chopra Global community and through help from people like you and other people who are engaged in technology and community wellbeing. At some point when the epidemic is over, we need to replicate that with, you know, actual real time physical spaces where people can gather periodically to engage in shared self-care and shared support with best practices. And I see that happening already and will only get better.
Poonacha: So, thank you, Deepak. I think, in closing, I want to thank you again. I think over the last decade, I've seen personally how you kind of ushered in the age of integrative medicine, really bringing and bridging the eastern and western schools of thought. I think going into the next decade or decades, I do, now, see that how, whatever you said, you said preventive medicine but also lifestyle medicine. Well, lifestyle, we always said only 5% of disease-related gene mutations are fully penetrant. 95% is lifestyle.
So I do see, you, the whole area of lifestyle medicine, how we can kind of prevent, adapt, adopt new technologies to enhance our wellbeing, and I think every organization will probably start having a chief wellbeing officer as part of their core agenda, because no longer are people going to be sitting in one room, one office in one space, it will be a global distributed workforce, which will challenge how companies operate, and even healthcare is going to be very distributed, leveraging remote technologies. So, I look forward to it, and once again, I'm really really grateful for you today.
Deepak: Well, thank you for this conversation and this partnership. We have an adventure ahead and a lot of creative opportunities for everyone.
Poonacha: Thank you, Deepak.
Deepak: For the wellbeing of the world. Thank you.
Poonacha: Thank you.
Deepak: Thank you so much.
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Warrior Monk Conversations 009: The State of Wellbeing in the Time of COVID-19 with Deepak Chopra