Meditation and Success with Dr Ornish's Program/Diet?

Hi all,

I am reading through Dr. Ornish's book "Program for Reversing Heart Disease". The diet alone looks like a huge change for me but I am willing to try it to feel better.

Have any of you tried this program? If yes, do you have recommendations/hints?

Wish there was a group near me as it sounds like it is more successful with support.

Thank you!

Edited December 9, 2011 at 6:07 am

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I admire Dr. Ornish's work. I actually followed his diet for a few years, although I was already vegan so did not use the low fat dairy stuff. Doing the daily walking and the meditation/social support he advocates will do as much as the diet, though the diet is what get's people's attention. When I was doing this, I was a bit carb heavy and protein light, but with more careful attention to food choices that needn't be a problem. I lost 80 pounds during this time period, though gained back after having a serious accident which limited activity for a while and loosening dietary restrictions. I now think the plan is a bit too restrictive for me in the long term.

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Hi Yarn Kitty

Thank you for your response. You did describe the benefits outside of the diet to a tee. I was walking daily until my cardio told me to not walk! Since that time my health has suffered. I think I need to walk each day again. As for social support and other activities within the program... I am trying the meditation as this is new. Seems to me there is much benefit to find that support system which I don't have where I live.

I was vegan in the late 70s but found I did not do the protein correctly at all with health consequences. So since that time I mainly eat fish and love cheese (don't know why but I do).

What I have a hard time with in the book is the recommendation to forgo eggs, milk, etc, but then there are recommendations to eat pasta (this is whole egg), and also bread. I am trying to decipher the diet, have looked online for a more straightforward menu with recipes but have not found. I understand the concepts but the effort seems extreme.

I am also trying to find mindfullness meditation groups that are non secular to participate in this type of effort.


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I think one can take the gist of the diet recommendations while making changes that are appropriate for our own situation. I have not read his guidelines lately so don't remember it all, so correct me if I say anything wildly divergent. I would stay as close to whole grain as possible. There are many more 100% whole grain products available these days as far as breads and pastas if you like that stuff. There is also the option of making your own. I think leaning heavily on fruits and vegetables, not eating excessive amounts of grain products (they are pretty dense nutrition and easy to get more calories than you need), avoiding meats and full fat cheeses or milk/yogurt, and discrete use of nuts and healthy fats (again the caveat about caloric intake) puts you on the path. Seeing a vegetarian friendly dietician can help you with figuring out how much protein is appropriate for your particular situation. Once I got to liking tofu and tempeh that helped me get better protein intake. I also found if I was not careful to include a protein source at all meals I tended to have blood sugar crashes that made me feel pretty lousy.
Wow, all this talk makes me want to be a vegetarian again. My husband just can't imagine life without meat and though I do frequently have vegetarian meals, I don't want to eat all separate food from him. I enjoy sharing meals.

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Hi Ladies, I just bought Dr. Esselstyn's book, Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease. I believe he and Dr. Ornish are on the same path, and supposedly the two of them helped Bill Clinton switch to a vegan diet. I bought the book because I just found out I have a seond coranary artery with a 50-60% blockage, having had a massive heart attack two years ago, 100 blocked LAD, stent, anterior wall and apex of my heart not working. I'm scared. Statins cripple me, and I'm taking all the drugs they give me that I can...Plavix, losartin, metoprolol, spironolactone, nitro as effexor and ativan for depression/anxiety, neoronton...not sure what that's for.

If all those pills are not helping, and CAD is progressing regardless of my medication efforts, then I think I need to do something drastic. The vegan diet thing sounds logical. I hope someone posts who who has had experiences with it either good or bad. It's nice to read real people's opinions and not just the ones on the back cover of the book.

Good topic, thanks!

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Hi Hopefully Searching!

We have had the Ornish/Esselstyn threads going here previously, so if you search in the search field, you'll find them. Some people have done very well with them, and I can also say it's a great way to go. Personally, although I have incorporated much from these books, in the end, calories and fat and sugar all need reducing, but I have not been doing well the past 3 or 4 months since we have had our twin nieces living with us. They are accustomed to all the "regular" foods and if they're around, I'm in trouble. I am going to really give strong attention and effort from Monday onward. Today is their 12th birthday, so it's a last hurrah in general and we're really going to focus on eliminating the wrong foods. I know eliminating sugar and unhealthy (and minimizing or eliminating as much added fat as possible) is important for reducing inflammation - which heart disease and "attacks" are related to.

All the best, Mary

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Hi Hopefully Searching and all,

I can respond to both the diet question and the question re meditation. In 1990, due to severe allergy/asthma symptoms and related health issues, I made the decision to change my diet and to start meditating to reduce my stress. Over the course of several months, I eliminated all the foods I was allergic to, plus sugar and corn syrup. Since I'm allergic to wheat and all other grains except oats and rice, a nice benefit was no longer eating breads and other baked goods. I went organic and whole grain on everything I possibly could. My diet was (and still is) primarily vegetables and fruits, beans and legumes and whole grains. I did continue to eat low fat dairy, but could not eat nuts and most seeds due to the allergies. I've recently cut out cheese and yogurt, but am going to bring back in greek yogurt because it is 0 fat and higher protein than other forms of yogurt. Cutting out all sugars other than very sparing use of organic maple sugar and occasionally, some honey, really made the big difference for me.

I also then took a 5-day meditation class and began a practice of meditating 20 minutes, twice a day - and continue to meditate to this day although now, I meditate once a day for 45-60 minutes. I also began doing simple yoga stretches. I already had been doing walking or jogging a few times a week as well as weights 2-3 times a week. The regular meditation made it possible for me to get off anti-depressants, to sleep better, to have less impatience and in general feel more at peace within and without.

These two changes - diet and meditation - transformed my life on every level, and for 20 years, I was in excellent health. Then last year, I came down with a thyroid infection and this summer, had a series of heart attacks due to spontaneous coronary artery dissection (my arteries are totally plaque-free - so no atherosclerosis). I also had, this past 4 years, a number of very stressful events in my life - deaths and serious illness of loved ones, financial crises of my children, a cross-country move, etc. So my theory as of now is that a combination of the thyroid infection, stress, and natural aging compromised my immune system such that everything that worked for 20 years no longer worked as well. But I also look at it as, by making those changes 20 years ago, I bought myself 20 good quality years.

So, re meditation, you mentioned you were looking for a non secular mindfulness meditation group. Group support is very helpful, but one also can derive the health benefits of meditation from an individual practice. I have taught meditation for years, and so would be happy to answer any more specific questions you might have re types of meditation techniques and traditions. Mindfulness is actually one of the harder techniques to learn when one is new to meditation. I've always felt and taught that meditation needs to be customized to the needs, interests, beliefs, etc of the individual. In any case, feel free to message me through my profile if you'd like to discuss this further with someone.


ShantiHeart aka Lynda

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Forgot to say in my first post that the diet I follow is closest to Dr. Ornish's, although I also have incorporated elements of Dr. Esselstyn's since my heart attacks (eliminating dairy, eliminating all oils). I've recently made the decision to re-introduce olive oil, but in much smaller quantities than I used before, and as mentioned, to bring back yogurt also (0 fat).

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Hi Willowbark,

If you like we can be partner's in crime so to speak, if you find good things with that diet please share. I don't have that book yet so am not familiar with the differences between that and Dr Ornish... sounds like it is the non fat yogurt? I love dairy, that will be one of my hardest good byes - cheese, yogurt and butter (just a tad butter)...

I think for me it is the mindset of letting go of the dairy and salmon (love salmon). I just have to let it go and find other good stuff I guess. I do think for me omega 3s are important so will continue with that.

What are your thoughts?

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Hi all,

First of all Hi and big hugs to MaryLG! You were a life saver to me when I needed a friend... I will pay if forward. How are you?

Lynda, thank you for your offer of advice on meditation as I truly need it as I am reading through many books that don't offer the same interaction a class does. Do you suggest a class, tapes, or a book? I hope to focus on the basics and don't know that a class is for me at this time.

The books I am reading talk and talk and talk and don't get to the point!

Both books I am reading are by Jon Kabat-Zinn: Wherever You Go There You Are, and another of his books: Full Catastophe Living.

He is a lovely writer but I just want to meditate! Any advice?


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Hi Hopefully! I am SO GLAD that I could help you (whatever it was that helped) It's why I come on this site ~ because I want to help others who are as perplexed and alone as I was. Thankfully, I feel better now in all respects, but the "experiments in living" are what helped pull me up.

In the journey to functioning with and without chest pain, I have done and tried a few things. Some successfully and some not so much, but they all help. I have gone from feeling day to day that I wouldn't make it through the day, like the most depleted and fragile piece of glass, to now, running after 12 year old twin girls (different grades and abilities) that are living with us this year (well, not running...) but coping and doing well for the most part, and with help from my Mother-in-Law once or twice a week, and of course, my sainted husband.

So, aside from meds and diet in order of how I would rate my modifications:

1) EMDR - to resolve trauma and mitigate the fear and feeling of dying that consumed me.
(combined with learning to avoid/minimize the emotionally stressful contributions)
and bongo back thumps from my husband when needed...

2) Clonazepam on days when it's needed (baby dose) to pre-empt the stress that triggers symptoms & a handicapped placard.

3) Rehab at my local hospital and an 8 week mindfulness meditation class through my local hospital. Also using the Belleruth Naperstak Mp3s for meditation.

4) EmWave software training, to learn to bring my heart into "coherence".

5) Accupuncture (no herbs due to my meds) - a tie with Esselstyn & veg juicing (I learned the basics of that nutritional approach.

6) Tapping EFT training when experiencing symptoms (recently, with a therapist friend).

7) Facing a big challenge like the kids, being grateful for the help that is offered and learning where my limits are and being mindful of them.

Wishing you lots of success in your journey and efforts, too. Mary

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Hi Hopefully Searching,

Jon Kabat-Zinn is great but I agree those books don't really help someone learn how to meditate. Believe it or not, one of the best meditation primers out there is Meditation for Dummies! Offers lots of techniques to try as well as lots of other helpful and/or interesting info.

But here are some tips that can get you started right away, without buying another book:


1. Figure out where in your home you will meditate that will be the easiest place to control for noise, interruptions, comfort, etc. Best to be a room without a phone - or turn the ringer off when you meditate. It's easier to establish a daily practice, esp. in the beginning, if you meditate in the same place. I meditate in my bedroom.

2. You do not have to sit cross legged (unless you truly are comfortable/enjoy sitting that way). Sitting up in a chair or even propped up against pillows on your bed is fine, or in a recliner, or on a cushion on the floor with your legs out in front of you and a cushion between you and the wall, etc.. (In some cases, people do better lying down but there is more tendency to fall asleep that way.)

3. Before you meditate, take care of body needs like bathroom, thirst, hunger ... it's best to not meditate on a full stomach, right after a meal, but if you haven't eaten for several hours and hunger pangs will distract you, a small snack first is fine. Make sure you are comfortable in terms of clothing and temperature. I always tell people you do not have to suffer to meditate haha! Make it easier on yourself to succeed!

4. Plan for 15-20 minutes as a minimum - once a day to start. Morning is good, as is evening, before dinner or a couple hours before bedtime. Find the time that seems best for your schedule and body clock. If you need to finish by a certain time, you can have a clock or watch within view to glance at to gauge the time, or, you can set a timer. if the latter, put the timer under a pillow or blanket so the sound of it going off is not too jarring.

Shifting Gears:

1. Once settled into your space and in your body, close your eyes and take 2-3 nice "sighing" breaths, where you breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth with an "Ahhhhhh ...." as you breath out. You can whisper that Ahhhh or say it out loud. These kinds of breaths release tension in the body and really help you shift gears.

2. Next, let your breath return to its normal pattern and just be aware of that pattern. Just notice it coming in and going out. Notice if you are breathing from your belly or from the top of your chest. If the latter, try to breath down into your lower abdomen (you can put your hand on your lower abdomen and breath "into" where your hand is). Also, see if you can breath a little slower, if your breath seems very fast. None of this should feel forced or uncomfortable. it's simply that breathing from the bottom of the lungs (lower abdomen breathing) and breathing at a slower pace triggers the relaxation response in the body. It's the change in breathing pattern that does the most to slow the pulse and respiration rate, relax muscles, lower blood pressure, release the good hormones and chemicals rather than the stress ones, etc.

3. This whole shifting gears thing doesn't have to take more than 5 minutes, but it's important to do it, as it can really make a difference in your meditation experience.


In my 20 years' experience teaching meditation, the easiest technique for most beginners is to have one thing to focus on and to keep returning to, when you realize you've stopped focusing on it. That's the whole process of concentrative techniques: focus on one thing, and when you notice you are not focusing on the one thing, start focusing on the one thing again. Over time, this process "trains" your mind much like one trains a puppy. You put the puppy back on the newspapers again and again until she gets the concept. Same with the mind. You return it to paying attention to the one thing again and again until it gets the concept. It will always wander off the papers, so to speak; that's the nature of the human mind. But how often and how much it bothers you is what will change, with practice! :-)

So here are my suggestions for some "one things:"
- a short statement, phrase or word that inspires you, such as "I am at peace," or "Breathing in peace, breathing out stress" or, if you are religious/spiritual, something like: "Let go, let God" or "Peace, be still ..." A favorite one I use often is a peace chant that uses words for peace from the primary languages of the main spiritual traditions of the world: "Peace ... Om shanti ... Salaam ... Shalom ..."
- if you are a very visual person, choose an image that you can hold in your mind's eye and return to over and over ... a flower, a sunset, a mountain peak, the ocean, etc.
- if you are a very auditory person, you can use a CD of soothing music (one of my favorites is Chuck Wild's Liquid Mind Series, the "Serenity" CD). I also really like indigenous flute music for meditating to. Or you can search online for meditation CDs you can sample the sound of before purchasing.
- the breath. You can use a counting system with your breath as your one thing. The easiest one I know is to silently count each out breath, starting with 1 and going to 4, then beginning over at 1 again. When you realize you've lost count (and you will!), you just begin at 1 again.

Once you've begun focusing on your one thing, just keep doing that until your allotted time is complete or you feel ready to end your meditation.

Shifting Gears Again

It's important to not just jump right back into activity etc from your meditation session. When you feel your session is complete, take a moment to silently offer a thank you - to your body/mind/spirit/healing/heart/whatever works for you - and then notice how you are feeling. No judgment, just noticing. Then, take a couple of those sighing/cleansing Ahhhh... breaths again, then gently move and stretch as guided, and then ease back into your day.

So, I hope this is helpful. And do feel free to be in touch if you have any questions about any of this...

Warmly, ShantiHeart aka Lynda

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Thank you Linda.

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Wow Lynda - thank you so much for taking the time to share your knowledge with me and all of us!

I will start immediately. Is the objective to give your mind a rest?

One question about your last sentence at the end under Shifting Gears Again - you mentioned gently move and stretch as guided. What is meant by "guided"? Is it self guided?

I love Chuck Wild's Liquid Mind music. I don't have Serenity but I will have to try it out. Please share hints on finding indigenous flute music (how to find on iTunes).

Again, thank you for sharing your experience and knowledge.


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Karen, I used to have a CD by Carlos Nakai (not sure I am spelling the name right) with lovely Native American flute.

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Hi Karen,

Glad you found my email of help! Here are replies to your questions:

1. Music. Yarnkitty's suggestion of Carlos Nakai is a great one - anything by him would be good. Another one I really like, which is a 2-CD set, is called Quiet Heart, Spirit Wind, and is by Richard Warner. Also, Coyote Oldman's Tear of the Moon is lovely. You can search these out and hear samples via either iTunes or ... or you can google the titles or artists and hear samples on their websites.

2. Regarding the objective of meditation. There are many reasons to meditate, but for those of us living with heart disease and/or other chronic health conditions, a big motivator is to benefit our physical and psychological health. There have been thousands of studies the past several decades that have conclusively shown that meditation creates changes in the body's physiological response that are healing and restful for the body. These changes happen during the actual meditation process itself, and then, if one practices meditation daily, over time the changes sustain for longer and longer in between the meditations. Eventually, some changes can become permanent. For example, it's well documented now, that people with high blood pressure can reduce their blood pressure through twice daily meditation so effectively that (with their doctor's guidance), they can reduce the dosage of or even eliminate blood pressure medications.

Meditation also relieves, through these physiological changes, the effects of chronic and acute stress on the body - and as we know, stress can be a huge factor in both causing and exacerbating illness and disease.

As to your specific inquiry - whether the objective of meditation is to give your mind a rest - it's more about giving YOU a rest FROM your mind. I used to teach a meditation class called "Change your relationship with your mind" in which I spoke about "mind-is-me" thinking. Most people confuse their mind with their self-identity. But it's more accurate to see that you have a mind, but you are not your mind, just as you have a liver, but you are not your liver. It's a vital part of your body but not the totality of who you are. Similarly, your mind is a vital product of your brain function, but it is not the totality of who you are. So when I said that meditation is about training your mind kind of like how one trains a puppy, it's really about establishing who is in charge - you or your mind. So if it's about getting a rest from your mind, then the tendency could be to still give your mind the power. But if it's about helping you to begin to watch/witness your mind's patterns without getting entangled in them, and about using your mind in a particular way (concentrating on the one thing) in order to enable your body to more easily shift into the healing mode of the relaxation response (See Dr. Herbert Benson's research on this), then it's about YOU seeing that you don't have to suffer because of what your mind does.

What will happen, as you meditate regularly, is that you will have moments of a quieter mind, and you will notice how good that feels. But it's important to not be frustrated when your mind is not quiet - and meditation teaches you how to just notice what the mind is doing without judging it or getting pulled into it. You use the one thing to help you not judge or get pulled in. You notice you are having thoughts about what your sister said to you on the phone last night, for example, and instead of going down that road, you bring your awareness back to your one thing. Your mind goes back to the phone call again, you bring it back to the one thing again ... over and over, if necessary ... and without beating yourself up about it going back there over and over. This process trains you to be more detached from your thoughts/mind at the same time that it reinforces new neural pathways in the brain for choosing a different response pattern to thoughts that create/sustain stress.

3. Re gently moving and stretching as guided, I simply meant to listen to your body for what it wants, after sitting for that period of time. In one of the many Chinese chi gong traditions, called Wuji Gong, they teach people a set of specific movements, followed by a "free form" period of movement in which you let your body's natural life force (chi) tell you how it wants to move. I've practiced this form of moving meditation, and it is a wonderfully freeing and relaxing feeling to just intuitively, in the moment, move different parts of your body. I'm not suggesting you do chi gong, but it's the same idea - that by tuning into your body again at the end, just as you tuned into it before you began your meditation, you have another chance to honor its innate healing wisdom.

4. Finally, you did not ask about this, but in rereading my previous post, I realized my instructions for the breath meditation focus might not be clear. When I said to count the out breath from 1 to 4, I meant to count 4 out breaths in a row beginning with thinking silently, "one" on the first out breath, then "two" on the second one - and so on until the 4th out breath - and then beginning again with the next out breath as "one," etc. So repeating that sequence over and over - or starting it over if you realize you got lost in thoughts or just in peace of mind! :-)

Have a peaceful day!


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I suggest that this thread's title aptly be edited from Dr. Ornish as a theme, to Ornish & Meditation. It's extremely valuable information on meditation and I would hope that people searching for meditation advice (excellent!) be able to find it easily.

Best, Mary

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Thank you, Mary and Dina. I was thinking earlier this evening, that perhaps I should do a series of journal entries on meditation, that could consolidate what I've shared here, along with links to helpful resources, along with step by step instructions on some other techniques, and then also answers to meditation questions that anyone may have. Either that, or I could begin a blog somewhere else and link to it here like some others in our community do.

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Hi all

I agree the meditation info provided by Lynda is invaluable and so very much appreciated. Does anyone know how to rename a discussion? I will do that if anyone knows how so the meditation advice easier to find.

What I like about Dr Ornish's program is it combines diet, meditation (thank you Lynda for filling in what was missing for us), excercise, and other basics I know I have forgotten in my everyday busy life. Then add on the threat of heart issues in the mix - it was like I was on a different planet where I was afraid to excercise (actually had a cardiologist that told me to STOP exercising), afraid to eat anything... I guess just filled with fear.

I hope the meditation start will provide me with the peace of mind to be able to focus on the other stuff I must do.

Thank you again Lynda for your expert advice!

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I wanted to add something that I found to be VERY interesting on the subject of meditation!!! (Tie in at the end..)


From the link:

But the neuroimaging results showed that Buddhist meditators engaged different parts of the brain than expected. Kirk, Downar, and Montague explained that "The anterior insula has previously been linked to the emotion of disgust, and plays a key role in marking social norm violations, rejection, betrayal, and mistrust. In previous studies of the ultimatum game, anterior insula activity was higher for unfair offers, and the strength of its activity predicted the likelihood of an offer being rejected. In the present study, this was true for controls. However, in meditators, the anterior insula showed no significant activation for unfair offers, and there was no significant relationship between anterior insula activity and offer rejection. Hence, meditators were able to uncouple the negative emotional response to an unfair offer, presumably by attending to internal bodily states (interoception) reflected by activity in the posterior insula."
The researchers conclude, "Our results suggest that the lower-level interoceptive representation of the posterior insula is recruited based on individual trait levels in mindfulness. When assessing unfair offers, meditators seem to activate an almost entirely different network of brain areas than do normal controls. Controls draw upon areas involved in theory of mind, prospection, episodic memory, and fictive error. In contrast, meditators instead draw upon areas involved in interoception and attention to the present moment. …This study suggests that the trick may lie not in rational calculation, but in steering away from what-if scenarios, and concentrating on the interoceptive qualities that accompany any reward, no matter how small."


Emotions stem from the insula (there are multiple areas specific in the insula that modulate our bodies. The amygdala (seat of emotion - very primal) touches the insula - and the insula manages not only disgust as mentioned, but helps to modulate and regulate our body responses too, such as to heat, cold, exertion, emotion - everything that is known as "demand". That includes vasoregulation, dilation, constriction, etc. This report seems to indicate that the PRACTICE (much like exercising) of detachment and distancing from everything (the mind, the emotions) can pay off in training the brain to better regulate the body and emotions. The payoff for this is that the body is not so "sensitive and reactive" to the day to day stressors. Much like a muscle burns energy more efficiently when it is toned, a brain that is trained also operates more healthfully and supports the body better.

I hope you enjoy this evidence and consider meditation as one of the most important arrows in your quiver, as you conquer the state of heart dis-equilibrium.

xoxo Mary

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Mary shared from the scientific study link:

"The payoff ... is that the body is not so "sensitive and reactive" to the day to day stressors. Much like a muscle burns energy more efficiently when it is toned, a brain that is trained also operates more healthfully and supports the body better."

That is exactly it. Training the brain/mind is the "work" of meditation practice. Becoming more peaceful, less reactive, etc is the "fruit" of those labors, so to speak, along with the very real physical health benefits that also can accrue. And, in cases where physical conditions can't be changed - or can be improved, but not necessarily "cured" - meditation practice/mind training helps us come to a place of peace/acceptance with what is.

Thanks for sharing this, Mary.

And I agree, Hopefully Searching, that Dr. Ornish's program is the most comprehensive. Dr. Esselstyn provides some compelling support for the diet piece, but it's nice to have all the elements in one package, so to speak, the way Ornish's approach does it.

This thread is motivating me to consider how I can share more info re meditation and stress management here, and so I will explore that and let you know what I come up with.


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