Exploring Mind-Body Connection with Dr. Shankardev: Yoga, Meditation, and Consciousness

In what is known as the mind-body connection, physical and emotional health are strongly connected. This week we welcome a returning guest whom I always enjoy speaking to, Dr Swami Shankardev Saraswati, to explore the mind-body connection.

Shankardev is a medical doctor, a Yoga Acharya (authority), and a Yoga Therapist. He is also a psychotherapist, an author, a teacher, and an astrologer. Shankardev's psychological practise combines Western and Eastern methods of psychotherapy, including yoga, philosophy, meditation, and other methods of awakening consciousness. He's been teaching yoga and meditation for, well, almost 50 years.

Join me as we discuss the deep connection between the mind and the body, yoga, meditation, conscious mind, mindfulness, and so much more.

Dr Shankardev Saraswati: Stress and the Mind-Body Connection Introduction 

Well, today we are going to be exploring the mind-body connection again. And I don’t think it hurts to revisit this regularly in the same way as we have a regular we have some regular guests like my cardiologist, Dr. Ross Walker. Well, today we have a returning guest who I’ve always enjoyed speaking with. 

He is a good friend, Dr. Swami Shankardev Saraswati. Shankardev is a medical doctor, a Yoga Acharya (authority), and a Yoga Therapist. He’s also a psychotherapist, an author, a teacher, and an astrologer actually. He uses mind-body medicine, including the use of medicine, herbs, and supplements combined with eastern systems of healing and self-development.

Shankardev’s psychological practise combines Western and Eastern methods of psychotherapy, including yoga, philosophy, meditation, and other methods of awakening consciousness. He’s been teaching yoga and meditation for, well, almost 50 years. It’s always good to catch up with him. I hope you enjoy this conversation I had with Dr. Shankardev Saraswati.

Podcast Transcript

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:00:00] I’d like to acknowledge the traditional custodians of the land on which I am recording this podcast, the Gadigal People of the Eora Nation, and pay my respects to their Elders past, present, and emerging.

Well, today we are going to be exploring the mind-body connection again. And I don’t think it hurts to revisit this regularly in the same way as we have a regular we have some regular guests like my cardiologist, Dr. Ross Walker. Well, today we have a returning guest who I’ve always enjoyed speaking with. 

He is a good friend, Dr. Swami Shankardev Saraswati. Shankardev is a medical doctor, a Yoga Acharya (authority), and a Yoga Therapist. He’s also a psychotherapist, an author, a teacher, and an astrologer actually. He uses mind-body medicine, including the use of medicine, herbs, and supplements combined with eastern systems of healing and self-development. 

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:01:08] Shankardev’s psychological practise combines Western and Eastern methods of psychotherapy, including yoga, philosophy, meditation, and other methods of awakening consciousness. 

He’s been teaching yoga and meditation for, well, almost 50 years. It’s always good to catch up with him. I hope you enjoy this conversation I had with Dr. Shankardev Saraswati. Shankardev, thanks for joining me again.

Dr Shankardev Saraswati: [00:01:38] Well, it’s a pleasure.

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:01:39] Always, always. We always do this live. And I said it challenges me. 

Dr Shankardev Saraswati: [00:01:43] I love it. I love the live.

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:01:47] Well, we get together live anyway. But to do this for the podcast is just great.

Dr Shankardev Saraswati: [00:01:50] Pleasure. It’s good.

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:01:50] Now, listen. I wanted to ask you, we’ve talked about connection before, yoga, meditation, indeed. But let’s just go back to some basics. What is the mind-body connection?

Dr Shankardev Saraswati: [00:02:04] Okay. So the mind-body connection in a simple term is the fact that there is in our conceptualisation of who we are, a mind that is somehow separate from a body and that the body influences the mind through particularly, you know, the gut now the gut-brain-mind axis. 

And so whatever’s happening in the physical structures affect the more subtle levels of our being and the mind, our thoughts and emotions they translate through the brain and the chemical structures back into the body. And the problem is what is the mind? And therein lies the rub. But the model that I prefer is a mind or body-mind consciousness model in which consciousness is separate from the mind and the mind is a tool of consciousness. 

So we are I like to think of us as aware conscious beings, and we have a mind which is a tool that we can use to perceive the world through the senses, integrate information, and at the same time there’s an internal process these things stored in the memory banks, which are both physical and subtle.

And so there’s this interaction between past wisdom and experiences with present experiences, and then the physical structures then integrate that and work in the world. And then as a result of working in the world and becoming, you know, engaging with the world, then we store those experiences in the storage banks of the neurons. But there are also potentially other areas that we can’t measure subtle parts of us, and that helps us to evolve ourselves as beings into wiser, more conscious beings.

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:03:58] It’s interesting, though, isn’t it, because this separation of the mind and the body has been something that we in Western medicine particularly have been grappling with for a long time. And now we’re kind of going there’s a lot of lessons from the past we need to learn because what you’re talking about is ancient wisdom.

Dr Shankardev Saraswati: [00:04:18] That’s right. Well, the work I do as a GP psychotherapist and, you know, the functional integration of integrative medicine as well, to some degree I have studied Eastern Systems and they’ve been profoundly beneficial for me personally. 

But also, I think trying to engage, you know, trying to develop a communication between the West and the East so that there’s an exchange of wisdom from both has been very useful. And for me, the consciousness model, which is, you know, something that has been part of Eastern philosophy forever, is now becoming much more appreciated scientifically and medically and so on. 

We know that the development of what they call mindfulness, which is really a conscious state, has incredible global repercussions over the whole system, whatever you want to call it. The problem is the words, the communication. We need words to try to communicate very complex and subtle internal processes. 

And we do need to say, well, the fingers, we have fingers and we have a hand. And where does one stop? And when this one, you know, where does one finish the hand? You know, it’s connected to the thighbone and the knee bone.

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:05:40] Yeah, yeah. I remember that.

Dr Shankardev Saraswati: [00:05:41] That’s right. So the problem is words. And then can we translate those words into lived experience so that they become meaningful? They have to have meaning. They have to be able to have the power to help us grow or change or make the world, our world, and the world of other people better. So the mind is an important concept. 

And I think what’s happened is that we understand that you can’t divorce the mind from the body. But the main problem for a lot of people is that they live in their heads. They live in a very conceptualised or intellectual approach to life, rational, and everything gets reduced down to that. 

And so we miss out on especially in the Western world where we’re very rational, we don’t have access to the non-rational, the irrational part of us or the deeper part of us that is hard to put into order and hard to understand, you know, and to make it very simple because it’s, you know, every time you reduce something down to a simple statement, you’ve reduced it to you’ve lost all the rest of it. So that’s the problem that. The mind-body thing is really essential. It’s probably the essential thing for the world today.

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:07:12] Yoga and meditation, though, are two words that bring connection, between the mind and the body. I mean, I want to talk about that conscious mind, too. But coming back to yoga and meditation, I mean, yoga is a great way of connecting mind and body, isn’t it?

Dr Shankardev Saraswati: [00:07:33] Yeah. Depending on what you mean by the word yoga. 

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:07:36] Well, let’s talk about that. What does that mean?

Dr Shankardev Saraswati: [00:07:38] Well, yoga is a Sanskrit word. Meditation is an English word.

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:07:42] Okay.

Dr Shankardev Saraswati: [00:07:42] So the two are often used together, but depending on the context. So in the West, they mean one thing. In the East they mean very different things. The word yoga means the connection of anything. Union. Yoking. 

So it would be in the highest philosophies of yoga, which is, you know, what is understood in the East is the connection of individual consciousness to some kind of universal consciousness and a liberation from constraint from the patterns, the constructed patterns of social conditioning that have formed who we think we are since we were young. At the same time, it refers to any form of connection.

Dr Shankardev Saraswati: [00:08:27] Meditation is a process in which is it’s an umbrella term for a number of different processes. But it is also a word that is used to describe a state of being of unbroken awareness. And it is a way of connecting myself to you. So, for example, if I’m meditating on you, I’m the meditator and you’re the object of meditation. 

And then I would like to use meditation to connect with you, because I want to understand you or to hear you. I want to know who you are. I want to know you more than just a superficial level. I want to know you at a very deep level because that is fulfilling. That’s meaningful, superficial relationships are not so fulfilling to me. Hmm.

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:09:18] Spoken like a psychotherapist.

Dr Shankardev Saraswati: [00:09:20] Exactly.

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:09:21] I mean, you’ve just described your professional brain. But it is for I mean, that’s just that it an extreme, isn’t it? Psychotherapy is an intense form of one person meditating with another to uncover something.

Dr Shankardev Saraswati: [00:09:22] That’s right.

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:09:22] But on a social, everyday level, being meditative with each another person is about meaningful interaction.

Dr Shankardev Saraswati: [00:09:43] That’s right. With the people you love. Your family, your kids. The concept of yoga is a concept of connecting two things. Now, you can connect, things that aren’t helpful. You can have what we call bad yoga, and you can have good yoga. So if I connect with something that’s not healthy, I’m connecting to that. But that’s not good yoga. That’s a bad connection. So you want good connections. 

You want connections that are healthy. So when I connect with another person and I get a response back, that’s, you know, help, you know, reciprocal mutual, then that’s ideal. And that’s very satisfying to the to the organism. If I connect with something that’s not good, then I through that connection, I go, this is not healthy for me. I’m going to separate from that.

Dr Shankardev Saraswati: [00:10:32] So the ability to merge with another being or another thing and get to know it and its nature and understand how it affects you and interacts with you, allows you to then say, this is really healthy for me or not healthy for me. And so that’s where yoga or connection is so important. 

And of course, in the West, yoga has become synonymous with stretching postures, breathing techniques, really wonderful what we call Hatha Yoga or Asana, you know, the yoga of physical, physical health, so to speak, preparation of the body for higher consciousness is the actual aim was the initial aim for that in the East. But it is incredibly healthy. 

It connects you into your own body. You get to feel your body. You spend time with yourself. You give yourself time and attention. And that time, if the yoga’s done well, it’s healthy. But I’ve seen people use asana in a very unhealthy way and end up, you know, not benefiting from it. 

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:11:37] For example, I mean…

Dr Shankardev Saraswati: [00:11:38] Yeah, I’ve seen people.

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:11:39] I mean, you’ve been teaching yoga just to practise this. You’ve been teaching yoga for almost 50 years.

Dr Shankardev Saraswati: [00:11:44] Yes, that’s right.

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:11:45] So, you know, this is a good time to ask somebody who probably knows. Well.

Dr Shankardev Saraswati: [00:11:49] I have certainly seen a lot. Yeah. In my time of, you know, different experiences. I’ve seen people push too hard, strain, trying to assume instead of being aware of what their body, the state of their body and what their body needs, and how to relate to their body, it’s often because they’re pushing against things and breaking things so they can. I’ve seen people separate their kneecaps.

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:12:11] Wow.

Dr Shankardev Saraswati: [00:12:12] Through trying to do the lotus pose when their hips and ankles were totally unprepared or back problems or you know, I’ve had people who’ve been in classes with someone, sat on them in order to approximate what’s an ideal posture in the book image and in the process the damage themselves and it’s often permanent damage and very takes, you know, a few seconds to break the body and it takes years to get it back into shape. 

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:12:43] I mean, this is one of the things about listening to your body. I mean, I’m a great believer in our body sends us messages all the time. So there’s a classic example of listening to what your body is capable of and not pushing beyond it.

Dr Shankardev Saraswati: [00:12:56] That’s right.

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:12:56] I mean, I think if we’re being elite athletes, that push is one thing. But for a person practising yoga, you’ve been teaching for a long time. Just give us a little bit of an overview of how many different areas of yoga are there. You’ve mentioned Hatha and you’ve mentioned, you know… Give us a bit of a 101, an overview of Yoga.

Dr Shankardev Saraswati: [00:13:15] So basically there are a lot of systems, a lot, a lot of systems, but we can break it down into personality types. There’s a system for intellectual… people who want to know the Jnana Yoga. There’s Bhakti Yoga for devotion. There’s Karma Yoga for selfless service. for selfless community, and social activism. 

And there is Raja Yoga for people who are kind of mystical, so they personality types. And then there are the classical types of yoga, the body yoga’s the Hatha yoga, which is basically about physical, the breath and muscle systems, your muscular systems. And then you’ve got mantras, you’ve got systems of absorption into the mind, you’ve got systems of meditation.

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:14:01] So this is where it kind of goes from the physical movement into the meditation. Is there a, is a continuum, do you think? Like yoga and meditation are almost like a, you know, once you’ve kind of done your physical engaging with your body and focussing on, I think breath is or I think in yoga the classic saying is life is in the breath.

Dr Shankardev Saraswati: [00:14:23] Yeah.

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:14:24] Which you know, which is all the what this whole programme is all about. But, but then the progression from that into mind, into meditation and the different meditative practises.

Dr Shankardev Saraswati: [00:14:36] Absolutely. And then they all support each other. So the more you start off with the basics and you work towards the subtle, then the subtle comes back into the basics and supports the basics going deeper so or the physical or the grosser. And the way I think about it is that the more refined our perception is or the more refined our awarenesses, our consciousness, the state of our consciousness, the more it is free from anxiety and emotional trauma and all of that. 

We can see the reality. We can see things as they are. So we very externalised in the world. We have to apply ourselves to work and family and all the good things in the life. Life’s full. It’s great. So much out there. But we often neglect it. We don’t look inside enough and that’s what meditation is. 

Dr Shankardev Saraswati: [00:15:31] And through meditation, what you do want to do is refine your awareness. And then when you come back out into the world, you can understand and feel more and experience more and experience at a level that’s more where you can make better decisions about what’s good and what’s bad for you and what’s good and bad for others. And, and, but that in, in terms of what you’re asking me before, you’d say that. 

Yeah. If you start with the physical usually and that helps you to begin to feel the grosser structures and then you work into the more subtle parts, you start to become more aware of the breath, then you become aware of the mind, the thinking and emotional apparatus. And then there’s also what we call a deep in mind, you know, an unconscious, which is obviously the realm of psychotherapy. And in that is where you find meaning.

Dr Shankardev Saraswati: [00:16:17] Meaning is found internally. Meaning and purpose are found at a deep level of self. Meaning is not external. Meaning is what we can give to something from within ourselves. Hmm. 

You see, so the ability to understand and have and to get me to say. What does that mean? You know, what is. What’s the meaning of life? Depends on your ability to access meaning within yourself. And that exists what we call a level of the deep mind. And some people would take it into a soul level or a spiritual level as well, whatever that is. For me, that is consciousness, that deep mind, and consciousness.

Dr Shankardev Saraswati: [00:16:57] So what happens is we get what’s called a conscious mind. The consciousness is connected to a mind and in yoga or meditation, in the deep practises of yoga, advanced practise as you separate the consciousness from the mind. And that’s what’s happening in mindfulness, even in psychological therapies today and in Western medicine. 

And you separate consciousness from the mind. And then when you come back into your mind, you can understand what’s going on in your mind, whatever that is. Well, basically, your thinking is the expression of the life force within the tissues of the body. Whatever that is. 

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:17:34] Mm hmm. There’s so much there. Because I want to come back to meaning, because part of our whole approach to thought is referencing the work of Martin Seligman and his PERMA Model. You know, PERMA – Positive, Engagement, Relationship, Meaning, Accomplishment or Acknowledgement. 

Dr Shankardev Saraswati: [00:17:53] Yes.

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:17:54] And the last one that he’s added, I think more recently is an H, which recognises you’ve got to be Healthy to be able to do those things. The search for meaning is why if someone was listening to this and going, look, you know what, I want to get going and you must do this all the time with people who are starting the journey of yoga and or meditation. What advice do you give them?

Dr Shankardev Saraswati: [00:18:19] It’s very individual. It depends on where they’re at in their lives and what the you know, what they want to do. Because I think each one of us has our own personality, biases, our interests and so on. It has to come from a place of interest. What I suggest to people who have that interest to begin the journey is to look within and say, Well, what feels right to you? Where is your energy going? What do you want? If I say look inside and tell me what gives you a sense of, you know, a desire? I’d like to go there. 

You’ll call that libido. Freud called libido, sexual energy, and Jung called libido the life force that moves you in the direction of your destiny. Where you have to go, where you’re meant to be. So if my interest is towards physical yoga, you know, like a lot of people who love that, you know, the members of AA, you know, Asana anonymous. They’re addicted to Asana. Like me. I’m a member.

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:19:24] Asana being postures. Postures. We’re talking about, you know, planting a bomb somewhere and let Arseal. No no, no. Asana. Okay. Now, that’s an important distinction, I don’t want people starting to become arsenal.

Dr Shankardev Saraswati: [00:19:36] Exactly. No.

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:19:37] Asana.

Dr Shankardev Saraswati: [00:19:38] But Asana means posture. Okay, we’ll spot it, though. So, you know, if that’s where your interest is, start through the physical. If you’re a very intellectual person, some people have you know, they want to read and they want to study. And some people are very psychologically oriented. Others just want to know they’re inspired by the lives of other people. They, you know, we see other people doing amazing things and we want to emulate them. 

And so that that interest, it’s following, you know, it’s having a purpose. It’s finding your own purpose, what feels right to you. But generally, the best place to start is with some kind of movement that, you know, helps you to keep your body flexible and strong and active and then practise a kind of meditation on the body.

Dr Shankardev Saraswati: [00:20:26] So meditation, you said before, you know, this meditation here and this here, no meditation is a state of training, your awareness to feel and experience what’s going on in each moment. That’s the mindfulness part of meditation. And mindfulness is only one part of meditation. It’s just one fragment of it. It’s like, I think of meditation as a diamond. 

And on that diamond many facets. And when those facets are well polished, then the diamond can shine. And that’s who we are. Diamond. So if I can relax this one, if I’m mindful, that’s the second. If I can concentrate, that’s the third. 

If I can put my awareness into something deeply, if I can penetrate my awareness into a subject, you know, whether it’s an intellectual subject or into a physical subject-object or whatever it is, then that’s another facet. And there are all these different facets that we can that makeup, give us skills and abilities that help us to live a more conscious and more and healthier life, a more integrated life.

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:21:31] When we think about work a lot of people are doing nowadays, many find themselves increasingly online and our bodies are becoming less involved in our work. And we spend a lot of time we actually finish the day physically exhausted. What do you think’s actually going on there? Why is that happening?

Dr Shankardev Saraswati: [00:21:50] So the reason we are online is because technology has advanced so much that it’s made our lives easier in one way, but it has repercussions and it’s not new that we are very sedentary, that we’re very sedentary, and that we like convenience, you know, those sort of things. Immobility, you know, is a big, big problem. 

You know, we know that exercise, proper exercise, and movement are essential for health. Fundamental the way we structure the world. Isn’t. It’s a pragmatism to it. There’s a kind of a need to fit into social structures. We created structures in which economies are very important and it’s essential. 

We need to make sure we have a healthy economy, that we’re working productive and so on. But do we sacrifice health for that? And I think I think we have. There’s not enough time in between to balance out that immobility. So even if we do a walk at the end of a long day, it’s not enough to get to iron out the wrinkles we’re building up, you know.

Dr Shankardev Saraswati: [00:23:03] Immobility. You build up a lot of metabolic waste products that don’t get flushed through the system, the muscles. Huge system. I mean, we are you know, this is basically I’m just a big muscle, not big muscles, in my mind, I have big muscle. But, you know, I’m just muscle and I’m using all my muscles to communicate my thoughts to you right now. I’m using my tongue and my body, but the muscles are huge system. 

And so the neuro, the consciousness, mind, brain, neuro muscular system is, you know, it’s a chain of, hmm, you know, cause and effect. And so we do need to be aware that we need brakes, we need to stretch, we need to move more. And I think for a lot of people, what happens is you build up a kind of inertia and that inertia makes you feel tired and that doesn’t and then you don’t want to move. 

And so that builds up a kind of negative spiral. And the key to that is to say, okay, since I feel this inertia coming on, since I’m mindful and aware enough to recognise that what’s going on in my body, I’m not going to just shut it down because I think I have to make more money than because I’m going to spend that money on my health or my disease. You know, I’m just, you know, spending money to look after my reputation, my career.

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:24:25] But I think that often we get so sucked into it. You’re putting even aside the money. I know that it’s so compelling online. You know, I’m just going to finish this. I’ll get up. No, hang on. I’m just going to do this. I’ll answer this email. I’ll do this. I’ll do that. Yeah. I mean, I’ve heard sitting described as the new smoking. Yeah. And I think we’re like kids in a sweet shop. We haven’t learnt to regulate that yet. 

Dr Shankardev Saraswati: [00:24:50] Yeah.

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:24:50] And I think that’s, I think that’s where we’re heading.

Dr Shankardev Saraswati: [00:24:53] I agree.

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:24:53] Yeah. I mean so the stress hormones, in our body is continually being triggered. Plus we’re sitting down all the time and this is happening on a regular basis. Well, I think we’ve talked about some of the stress hormones. Yes. Stress hormones and the effect that we’re having on our bodies and mind.

Dr Shankardev Saraswati: [00:25:11] Okay. So basically, we divided it into two parts. 

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:25:13] Yeah.

Dr Shankardev Saraswati: [00:25:14] Stress and a relaxation component, parasympathetic for rest and which is basically the stay and play response also called the rest and digest response. So that’s when you in downtime, have downtime and the stress sympathetic fight and flight. And so we caught up in fight and flight all the time and we’re constantly looking for stimulation because external stimulation because we can’t allow ourselves to switch off. 

We don’t know how to switch it off in a way that works. When we do switch off, what happens is we are confronted by the echo of our inappropriate lifestyle. We feel shit. You know, we feel bad. We can feel these chemicals. We don’t like it. So then we think, what do I do? You know, what do we have? Like, how do I what do I do with all this stuff?

Dr Shankardev Saraswati: [00:26:06] So basically becoming aware of the repercussions of your actions because it’s imbalanced. So the key is to learn to regulate the nervous system and, you know. Stress hormones, cortisol, adrenaline, of course, the acute hormone cortisol, the chronic stress hormone. It changes the whole balance of the neuromuscular brain neurochemistry, you know, sexual hormones. 

And so the whole system gets, you know, creates problems with sleep, you know, all of this. So learning to relax, become mindful, aware, and meditate has a global effect on the totality of the body and mind and makes you more aware of what you’re doing to yourself. So a lot of people who start meditating realise, look, I just can’t drink as much as I used to drink, you know, it just doesn’t. 

I can feel the bit, I can feel how much, you know, of the acids, the forming in my system and that I’m getting headaches and I don’t feel good or they think, you know, they can feel the old habits just not working. And so there is an intuitive impulse that arises from deep within us to make changes.

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:27:16] I think one of the things, too, is that as we get more stressed, we just go into this spiral and actually stopping and engaging the parasympathetic gives us a feeling of how good we can feel. That sort of benchmark out. So that’s why I think this is one of the most important things actually in our health journey. If you’ve been stressed all the time and you are feeling crap all the time and you’re not sleeping well all the time, that’s your normal. 

And I think part of drawing the line at some point in your life and saying, I’m going to see if I can improve things a little is a great way of benchmarking yourself. So you at least know what you are compromising. Yeah. Even though you know, that’s that’s the way you’ve been living your life.

Dr Shankardev Saraswati: [00:27:58] But the problem is you’ve got to undo a lot of the damage if you’ve been living your whole life, constantly stressed, hyper-vigilant, carrying traumas from childhood you haven’t worked through, and so on. 

Then you’ve got to understand what you’re doing. And because for a lot of people, they start to meditate and they think, Oh, I can’t turn my mind off. I can’t stop because they’ve been going at a million miles an hour and you just can’t put the brakes on. You’ve got to learn how to do it. 

That’s where the training and developing, having these courses that you’re running, for example, that we have on our website too, you know that it’s so essential we give you a progressive, systematic approach to slowing down, keeping the best of the old, whatever it is, bringing in these new habits in a way that works with an understanding of what you should expect and how to do it in a way that really is going to give you the best benefits. You know. 

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:28:56] And with that, because I know with meditation, maybe I’m being too hard on myself, but I find myself my mind drifting all the time and I’m kind of thinking I’m just not doing it right. What do you say to somebody like that? Well, what do you say to me? 

Dr Shankardev Saraswati: [00:29:11] Well, the mind should drift.

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:29:12] Okay. That’s okay?

Dr Shankardev Saraswati: [00:29:14] The mind has to.

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:29:16] …Has to drift.

Dr Shankardev Saraswati: [00:29:16] What’s your mind going to do? And you’re just sitting thinking, but the problem is that what would you expect the mind should be doing? What do you think? So when you say that, what? What’s your interpretation?

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:29:29] So my expectation of it is a focus whether it well, I know we’ve had this conversation before, whether it’s on the breath yet or on the body or on a candle or on a cloud or whatever, but a focus for an extended period of time beyond the 22nd that my mind works before I go on to my next thing. Yeah, my expectation is that I should be able to do that without my mind constantly drifting and then coming at me and having to drag it back. Is that part of the process? I should be just kind of with myself.

Dr Shankardev Saraswati: [00:30:05] Yes. Well, but it’s also understanding that that desire that you have for some idealised image in your mind isn’t something that you can achieve quickly. The ability for true focus, that kind of focus where you can, I mean, 20 seconds is good, Ron. I think you’re doing well.

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:30:23] Oh, okay. Well, see, that’s already an encouraging sign. And I think to people listening about meditation, go look after 20 seconds, okay, after five or 10 seconds, but 20 seconds, you know. Yeah.

Dr Shankardev Saraswati: [00:30:36] Okay, so let’s put it this way. So you’ve you’ve idealised focus. And so for all of us. I guess what happens is that we’re dealing with minds that are or thinking processes that are in overactivity, you know, that are processing a lot of information or worried about the future or anxious about family and what’s going on in life. The key is to understand that meditation has to be an exploration of what’s happening inside us in each moment. 

So every time you become more aware of the fact that your mind is rebelling against focus. It doesn’t want to focus. It wants to just wander around and do what it wants to do and you just let it happen. And that in itself is the key. And I think, you know, basically when you say what a lot of people mean by focus is that they can turn off the worry, the anxiety, the negative feelings that are associated with the thinking. 

More important is to say, look, I am going to sit quietly for a period of time. I’m going to calm my nervous system. I’m going to observe what’s going on in me. I need to know what’s really happening in me to be effective, to be able to plan and build the ability to focus and to understand that the world is dual. There’s a polarity. 

Focus is one polarity, the other polarity is just allowing the mind to drift. And that drifting state is the essence of creativity. It’s often when that when you can accept that as an as being okay that stuff pops into your head. You get these amazing thoughts kind of go, Oh, yeah, hang on. But then you’ve got to be careful not to lose the centre of the practise, which is self-awareness. 

Dr Shankardev Saraswati: [00:32:20] So for me, mindfulness is not the key. For me, my self-awareness is the key. There’s got to be a centre from which you operate internally, so you allow yourself to have that state of just drifting around with the mind that the thoughts, the endless thoughts that come, you know, the heart has to beat, the mind has to think. It’s its nature. That’s what it does. 

So let this little wander around, let it go to where it wants to go. But you as an aware centre, just stay present as much as you can. So the problem is not the focus is that you lose your presence, your consciousness becomes it’s like a flickering flame. It goes out and then suddenly you come back, you realise, Oh, and that was actually my consciousness is not stabilised. It’s not the mind that’s the problem. It’s the consciousness.

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:33:06] Right. Is that with the mantra-like, you know, when one notice is the mantra, it’s a mantra, an important part of meditation?

Dr Shankardev Saraswati: [00:33:12] It’s a useful tool.

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:33:13] A useful tool to bring you back.

Dr Shankardev Saraswati: [00:33:16] It’s a way…

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:33:17] …or to have you focus on?

Dr Shankardev Saraswati: [00:33:19] It so that mantras are used for much in the classical notation is used for creating a single thought that has no particular, you know, intellectual meaning so that you can hang yourself onto that thought and let all the other thoughts go by. So you’re not being so you just stay in that thought, in that mantra. It’s much as the thought. It’s a self-created thought. 

And you repeat that and you stay with that, and then that can take you to other levels as well. That has other benefits. But just in terms of what we’re talking about, it allows the other thoughts to just travel by and you just stay present with that one thought.

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:34:01] And does it make a difference whether that is said consciously, vocally? Vocalise it? Or is it enough just to keep it internally?

Dr Shankardev Saraswati: [00:34:11] All of these, everything has its own utility. So they have their own you know, they use for different purposes. If you chant a mantra aloud, it’s very calming on the nervous system. It has a very strong, usually parasympathetic dominant effect. It takes you into relaxation. In fact, one of my students just recently completed her Ph.D. in mantras in psychology, and that’s in getting a PhD on mantras in this day and age. 

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:34:38] Fantastic.

Dr Shankardev Saraswati: [00:34:39] Fantastic. Yeah, great, great work she’s done. But so chanting has this effect aloud. But if you wanted to go inward and deal with a more internalised thinking process, then you’d use it mentally. You do it mentally. So each, you know, these are all tools, just like learning how to use a hammer or you know, or all the different tools you have. 

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:35:02] Please don’t. This is… 

Dr Shankardev Saraswati: [00:35:03] Mate, you know, and you know how to use each one of those tools when you know, when I’m with you, you go give me one of those. Like, I thought you used to say this.

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:35:12] But listen, you mentioned mindfulness and we’ve spoken about meditation and people often use those words interchangeably, but they’re very different, aren’t they? What does mindfulness mean?

Dr Shankardev Saraswati: [00:35:24] Mindfulness means…in the present?

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:35:25] In the present.

Dr Shankardev Saraswati: [00:35:27] Mindful means just that I’m here right now with whatever’s going on. And so that’s fantastic. That’s one of the great skills. I mean, where else do you want to be?

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:35:36] Yeah, well that is one of the ongoing questions and that is how do you apply mindfulness into the workplace? And that’s a pretty important point that’s essential. Yeah.

Dr Shankardev Saraswati: [00:35:47] You don’t want to be thinking about holidays when you work and then you go on the holidays, you start thinking about that work? And so when you’re at work, you want to be present with the work that in the holiday, not thinking about getting away because then you’re not engaged. And sometimes we have to engage with stuff that’s not interesting or not, you know, it’s repetitive. 

I think for most of us, our work does become repetitive. And, you know, there’s these elements of it that are very satisfying. But, you know, it becomes we go through it again and we can drift off. You know, we can just be drilling someone’s tooth and suddenly we’re off walking somewhere in the desert and doing it. It doesn’t happen.

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:36:26] Doesn’t happen. It doesn’t happen, in fact. But actually, you know, but it’s actually interesting that you say that that it’s repetitive because one could interpret on a superficial level, everything we do is being repetitive. But I guess it’s the nuance of the variation or being mindful about what you’re doing and appreciating the nuance of it.

Dr Shankardev Saraswati: [00:36:49] Well, I think the truth it’s also about saying, okay, the skill I’ve developed has to have I have to apply that skill in a way. So for you, you help people. I mean, there’s a living being there that’s dependent on, you know, your being totally present for what you do. And you are. And that’s why…

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:37:06] Thank you.

Dr Shankardev Saraswati: [00:37:07] I, you know, look and look and let you retire. And but, you know. If you’re working in a factory where you’re just, you know, in an Apple factory somewhere or putting components together, you know, it’s very repetitive. And then mindfulness becomes then the purpose of it has to be that you are not that you’re maintaining the integrity of your own internal system in under conditions that are not ideal. 

You and I are blessed. I think we’re lucky. For a lot of people they’re not lucky. They’re really up against it. How do you stay mindful and not want to disappear from a world that is. 

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:37:49] Really repetitive.

Dr Shankardev Saraswati: [00:37:51] But that, you know, is demeaning or traumatic. 

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:37:58] Which comes back to meaning, which comes back to finding meaning in what we do. And I mean, I think this pandemic has created some challenges and some opportunities. And you as a psychotherapist, you know, dealing with people’s emotional health all the time. What have you observed about the pandemic? Yeah, about people’s. The people you’re coming into contact with and the effect that this has had on them.

Dr Shankardev Saraswati: [00:38:25] Look, I think the pandemic has had major repercussions for mental health, and it’s not a surprise. I mean, that’s we know the news is out there. We know that mental health was always underfunded and. Even in Australia, in a world which is, you know, extremely blessed and affluent, let alone in countries where there’s, you know, other more urgent priorities. I’d say that. It’s stressed our internal resilience to the limit so that a lot of people… 

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:39:02] As individuals.

Dr Shankardev Saraswati: [00:39:03] As individuals, as individuals, but as a society as well, with our resilience economically, you know, how much longer, how do we triage the situation? Before the vaccines, the world was into lockdown. The vaccines now have created a political, social, political situation where governments feel that they can now stop all those restrictions and allow the world to get back to a relatively new normal. 

But what we left with is, you know, people wanting not being able to say, well, you know, we’re no longer tracking the virus. We’re no longer aware of the variants fully. You know, we no longer have we did not learn the lesson about making sure that we have all the systems in place for the next pandemic, which is, you know, an Ebola or Corona virus combo, whatever, so that it’s not just, you know, devastating and highly transmissible, but it’s, you know, even more lethal, you know, and it can do terrible things.

Dr Shankardev Saraswati: [00:40:10] So we haven’t learnt those lessons because the economies that, you know, money has to go, the resources have to be triaged. But at an individual level, you know, a lot of us want to just get back to our loved ones and normal. And so we’ve been stressed to the max. 

And at the same time, we know in our unconscious that we’re living in times of great peril. We’re living in times where the pandemic still going with the virus is still rampant. Numbers double what we think. Hmm. And also that the economies have suffered, that the world has suffered terribly. 

And we are also in the midst of other crises that the compounding of which is not just the pandemic’s compounding of everything and the rise of certain types of social and political structures that create tremendous stress. So the rise of anxiety and depression and people trying to cope with that, putting on a brave face, but not dealing with the issues. 

So what happens is if you don’t deal with the issues, when they arise, at the moment they arise not going away, they’ll fester. And then you get chronic. So you get an acute problem, you get a chronic problem, and then that becomes more difficult to manage. So we are in trouble. 

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:41:24] Yeah. And I mean trauma. You’ve mentioned trauma a couple of times. And I mean, this is a traumatic experience for many social isolations. And that in itself is huge. One of the things about trauma is you end up being trapped in your mind. You talk about the conscious mind. 

Yes. And one of the problems, I think, with trauma is that we are trapped in that. Coming back to, aside from stop reading the news and focus on local, which is a theme that we’ve explored on this podcast many times.

Dr Shankardev Saraswati: [00:42:00] There are lots of positives out there that we’re not hearing about.

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:42:03] Yeah. Okay. The other thing. Yeah. Well, what would be some of those?

Dr Shankardev Saraswati: [00:42:06] Well, just I think the world there are a lot of good things happening, but we just focus on the tragedies and the news cycle and so on. But there’s a lot of positive and I think all the work you’re doing in supporting the dissemination of positive information and access to a multiple, multiple voices and opinions and, you know, helps us, especially within a certain context. 

I mean, you know, you’re interested in you have a certain bias, which is towards health and, you know, integrative medicines and so on, which is really incredibly important as a counterbalance of what’s going on in the world.

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:42:41] But that that being trapped because whenever we experience trauma, we somehow are just it just goes round and round in our head and it doesn’t really resolve in any way. And I once heard, well, we’ve not once heard we’ve done a few programmes on psychedelic therapy. 

And what I thought was really interesting in that some was an aha moment almost. I may have got it right. I think I got it right. And that is that the thing about psychedelic therapy is that it allows the default mode network within our brain to make connections.

Dr Shankardev Saraswati: [00:43:15] Whell, it turns it off.

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:43:16] Well it turns it off but that’s right. But it causes, it allows connections to be made within the brain, between our rational mind, our memory, our emotions, our trauma and that whereas when we’re in trauma, the default mode network locks it in and it just goes round and round. I’ve once heard it said that meditation does a similar thing.

Dr Shankardev Saraswati: [00:43:36] That’s right. Apparently, that’s right. A meditation does well. The highest states of meditation turn off the default mode network, and that’s called trance… That’s where you transcend the egoic or your identity, where you go. So you go past the early stage. So the early stages of thought reduction, you know, stress reduction. 

And then you get into a very calm, beautiful, calm, you know, feeling of just, you know, peace in a peace that does come. So thinking right. Is still going on that you can read your thoughts. Yeah, but the feeling states have modified because you turned on parasympathetic, you’ve turned off cortisol, you’ve turned on serotonin, you’ve turned on dopamine, and you’ve got all these wonderful things going on and you’ve developed that through regular, repetitive practises, dealing with your own personal issues that have blocked that state, hopefully getting it out of life into some degree of order to because that’s helpful because it’s hard to be calm internally. It’s really I mean, that’s mastery. Internal calm when the world around you is falling apart. 

Dr Shankardev Saraswati: [00:44:39] So you get and then you get to a stage where you start to experience a connection to what we call deeper mind and that. Turn. So then the wall, there’s a mental defence that’s between the conscious mind and the unconscious. Those are the mental defences, and in the unconscious is where meaning and purpose lie. 

And so when we’re very locked into the external world, the ego thinking complex, the identity complex, the default mode networks, which is holding this identity, that’s what it’s all about, makes it even when you’re not doing anything, you have the sense of who you are that disappears and suddenly possibilities emerge. You come into the intuitive, into the symbolic level of being. 

You access power, you access meaning you access, you start to discover that you’re much more than you thought you were and that all that in your identity, in your struggle, the ego struggle for supremacy is a. Mistake because you’re blocking yourself from all your own, from your own power. You’ve made yourself small. So so that that’s what happens. You see, we’re locked into thinking because psychedelics are being used, especially for depression, for facing death, you know, severe illness.

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:45:53] Post-Traumatic stress.

Dr Shankardev Saraswati: [00:45:54] Post-Traumatic stress with certain thoughts. I think that’s more with NDNAs,

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:45:58] It could be psilocybin or MDMA. Okay.

Dr Shankardev Saraswati: [00:46:02] Interesting. So I’m not quite up on it, but I would say that what happens is we’re locked into these thoughts, these concepts that we’ve read about, as concepts, but they’re not and so they live this kind of terror that, you know, sort of an imagined imaginary. We don’t know the truth, but we’re locked into this imaginary belief about, you know, and a fear because the disconnection, the greatest pain is disconnection. The greatest pain is disconnection from self and from others.

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:46:37] Yes, I was going to say… Yes.

Dr Shankardev Saraswati: [00:46:40] Self and others. Yeah. And the greatest joys connection yoga.

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:46:43] True.

Dr Shankardev Saraswati: [00:46:43] Yoga with self with your own self. Here, that is the key. Yoga with others who are loving like you. It’s a joy, you know? I mean, it’s always fun. It’s always a great joy. So. If we can connect to that deeper part of ourselves, then we discover all that that we’re much bigger than we thought we were. 

And we identified with through our conditioning. We haven’t had those experiences because we’ve been looking for them outside and we have it with others and social and real estate and kids going to school and, you know, and professional career and status. And we’ve been caught up in all of that, which is all good, but we’ve neglected that deeper part of self. And that’s without that deep part of self. You’re lost.

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:47:29] Hmm. And I mean, I imagine with depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress. We are disconnected from ourselves in that we’re kind of locked in and not really fulfilling our potential.

Dr Shankardev Saraswati: [00:47:44] We’re hanging on to our identity. Yeah. Who am I? What’s this? You know, we’re trying to. So. But just in says the default note that what happens is that as you go into those, there are trans egoic states, states that transcend the ego structure. Then you have access to you get freedom. You still have the trauma. You still have whatever’s going on. But you have access to that as well. 

So the trauma no longer is everything. Trauma is not everything, you know, but also what? And so then because what happens, we get into these loops where we keep feeding neurologically and psychologically that, you know, we kind of we’re stressed. We have to kind of contract it down into dealing with that. That needs to be attended to and yes. But also, if you can get this other state, then you have you go. 

Okay. Hey, I see this now in relationship to something bigger and a bigger experience of who I am and what the world is all about. And therefore, it becomes it doesn’t become everything. It becomes part of something that you have to deal with. You come out of a psychedelic experience, but you still have to do something. You have to work on your trauma. And meditation is one of the best things you can do.

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:49:00] Hmm. So much of our programme is about identifying and minimising as many stressors as we can, so that’s okay. So this programme is about identifying and minimising as many stressors as we can and we define stress as anything that promotes chronic inflammation and reduces immune function and at the same time building resilience by focussing on the five pillars of health — sleep, breathe, nourish, move and think. 

And I know that you and so, you know, one of the nice parts about our advisory panel is that, for example, if someone wanted to go off and do a breathing retraining course, you know, we have the perfect person to partner with on that. That’s right. And for you, you’re doing a lot of online programmes. Can you tell us a bit about what you do online? Because I know you’re a psychotherapist is your day job.

Dr Shankardev Saraswati: [00:49:57] That’s right. So what we’ve got on our site, Big Shakti. Shakti means creative power. So that was the, you know, trying to amalgamate east and West with that western world. And in the eastern world. We teach a variety of methods from the foundations of relaxation, stress reduction, and mindfulness training. Through two intermediate practises of yoga. You know what I call yoga, just meditation. Yoga and Meditation are synonyms, basically. 

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:50:28] Mm hmm.

Dr Shankardev Saraswati: [00:50:29] So the ways of connecting to deeper parts of the mind. We have particularly one course called Healing The Mind. That is the foundation of all the psychotherapy work I do. It’s a technique that I think is essential for rapid recovery from psychological illness and mental illness. And in combination with whatever, you know, anti-depressants sometimes. 

And if we ever get the psychedelics into work, you know, let’s, you know, fantastic for when it’s appropriate. So the combinations of things. But this technique in particular is amazing for mental illness. It’s the foundation. And then we have, you know, advanced really advanced training for teachers and professionals who want to understand the philosophies and the psychologies, the Eastern psychologies and how the East has created these wonderful templates for understanding who we are. 

You know, these maps, we call them maps of consciousness. And by exploring those through meditation, you act. You act. They give you the capacity to put all the internal bits of you into a kind of an order, a categorisation. So you can see how this affects this bit. You know, if I can this bit strong, this bit in these work, polish that up now connect that two yoga those two together, then put that together with something else, you know, so that we do that in-depth training. 

Dr Shankardev Saraswati: [00:51:52] At the moment, we’re doing a big training course on Chakras. Right. A one-year training on depth psychology. You know how to really develop transpersonal experience. We’re taking people through that experience, putting everything into order, and giving them the capacity. That’s right. 

Okay. So when I was doing all that tripping out on acid and then I met a yogi at university who was teaching yoga classes and he introduced me to yoga. And then I went off and I did advanced training in India. And when I came back, I was still a medical student and I was practising those techniques and I was having better psychedelic experiences than I had on acid. 

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:52:35] Wow. Interesting.

Dr Shankardev Saraswati: [00:52:36] But I was doing 4 hours of meditation every morning from 4 to 8, and then I was going to uni and I was having incredible experiences. I mean, that really changed my life. And it was the recognition that there are that this technology exists. And so what the work that we’re doing, a lot of it is to help people in society who don’t want to go to that extreme that I was interested in. I mean, I was, you know.

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:53:01] 4 hours of meditation.

Dr Shankardev Saraswati: [00:53:04] It is a lot.

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:53:04] That’s a lot.

Dr Shankardev Saraswati: [00:53:05] But it took me that time to break down my default brain network and then get into, you know, into the states to access those deeper states. But I was young as well. I didn’t have the experience I have now. Now I think when I meditate, I can access more of those states more easily and it’s more available to me. 

So I can take a holiday just every morning and go meditation. I can get out of myself for a while and come back in and then I can come back to work and bring hopefully bring some of that inspiration to my patients and to my students and so on. So that’s what we’re doing with this course. 

This course is about teaching people how to have those, you know, to turn off the default brain network for a period of time and, to experience deep self for brief periods. But the main work is relaxation, mindfulness and breathing, and lifestyle. Because what happens, a lot of the people who want to go into the deep stuff, they’re not doing the five pillars. So I say to them, Go to Ron. 

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:54:08] Well, this I mean, the thing about our programme that I’ve always loved to dovetail into what you’re doing is because ours is very it’s a high-level entry point. We’re so into health and have been for so long that we kind of assume everybody’s health literacy is pretty up there anyway. 

And this is what, we’ve taken a step back from that and tried to sort of go very high level and introduce people to what the issues are and build a community around that. But it’s why we love to, you know, point people in to a deeper dive with you if that’s where they want to be. 

Dr Shankardev Saraswati: [00:54:42] Sure.

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:54:43] Shankardev. Thank you so much for joining us today.

Dr Shankardev Saraswati: [00:54:45] Ron, as always, a pleasure. Thank you for the invitation. 

Dr Ron Ehrlich: [00:54:51] Well, whenever we have Shankardev on, in fact, whenever I talk to him, I always enjoy it and I always find it insightful and stimulating and I hope you did too. So many issues there about mind, body, connection, and about getting in touch with both and connecting the two and using and understanding what potential there is within mindfulness practise, meditation practises, and yoga. 

And of course, yes, Shankardev has got some fantastic online courses which I’m very proud to encourage you to visit, and that is and I have a great deal of confidence in them. Doctor, it’s called Big Shakti and we’ll have links to that on the show notes. So I hope this finds you well. Until next time. This is Dr Ron Ehrlich. Be well.



This podcast provides general information and discussion about medicine, health, and related subjects. The content is not intended and should not be construed as medical advice or as a substitute for care by a qualified medical practitioner. If you or any other person has a medical concern, he or she should consult with an appropriately qualified medical practitioner. Guests who speak in this podcast express their own opinions, experiences, and conclusions.