Can changing your thought patterns actually improve your ability to heal?
Once you sift through the research, the answer is undeniably yes.
Today we’re here with Dr. Roy Vongtama, a Board Certified Cancer Specialist, experienced meditator, and man of many talents.
He’s the author of Healing Before You’re Cured—a great book, I’ve got to say—and you may even recognize him as an actor from the TV show 24, and many more.
Dr. Vongtama has done more than, get this, 7,000 hours of silent meditation and today he’s going to talk to us about how changing your thought patterns can actually rewire your immune system and your brain.
On this show with Dr. Roy Vongtama, you’re about to learn:
- Games you can play to relax and decrease stress
- The link between your thoughts and your body’s ability to fight disease
- How to turn the laws of motion into your secret weapon
- How meditation helps rewire the immune system
- And tons more…
Let’s go hang out with the Doc.
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Dr. Roy Vongtama: How Meditation Helps Rewire the Immune System
Abel: Alright folks, Dr. Roy Vongtama is a Board Certified Cancer Specialist with degrees in Biological Basis of Behavior from the University of Pennsylvania, a Medical Doctorate from the University of Buffalo, and post-graduate training at UCLA.
His additional work includes authorship in 14 peer-reviewed scientific papers, hundreds of hours of study in nutrition, positive psychology, emotional wellness, and meditation techniques.
Roy is also an actor in film and TV, including 24 and The Bucket List. Welcome to the show, doc.
Hey, how’s it going, man?
Abel: Really good. So I was just saying before we started recording, you might have set one of the records for the book with the most dog ears that I marked while reading through it.
Abel: I marked it up. So much is because of your background as a physician and someone who heals people, but also you live this double life.
I love how in the book you work in your story about how that wasn’t always a successful journey. You weren’t always encouraged.
In fact, you got a lot of people saying, “Maybe you should keep your day job.”
So I’d love to hear you just kind of explain that story because you don’t often meet physician-actors.
Well, yeah. I appreciate you loving the book, first of all. Thank you so much.
And my story, yeah. I grew up in a family with 2 doctors—my parents are both doctors.
And my dad told me, you know, Asian parents are like, “Oh, you can do anything you want after you finish medical school.”
So, I was a good son, I was like, “Oh, okay.”
But I always had this desire to do creative stuff, as well.
And to bring into the mix of that dynamic was the fact that my family is Buddhist, and I went to Catholic school my whole life.
So at home, I got this one kind of thinking which was all about reincarnation and karma.
And then in Catholic school it’s like, “You got one life. You got one shot. You’ve got to go through Jesus or you’re in big trouble.”
You know what I mean?
I was like, “Whoa.”
So when I was in high school, I actually petitioned to get out of religion class.
I met with the priests and they’re like, “Why do you want to get out of religion class? No one gets out of religion class.”
It’s every day, it’s an hour a day.
I was like, “Well honestly, I have a lot of questions.”
And they’re like, “Oh, that’s great.”
I’m like, “Yeah, but you guys aren’t giving me any answers. You keep telling me everything’s a mystery.”
You know what I mean?
And so they laughed and they’re like, “Well, what’s the question you have?”
I was like, “Well, I want to know—Jesus left when he was 13 and then he came back and he was 30. He was the son of man, he was this everything. Where’d he go?”
And they were like, “It’s a mystery.”
I’m like, “No, it’s not a mystery. You just don’t know.”
And they laughed and they’re like, “Okay, thanks for the meeting.”
And I was like, “Alright.”
So I went out and my friends were like, “Dude, how’d the meeting go? Did you get out of class?”
I’m like, “I don’t think so. I didn’t get out of class.”
Two days later they called me back in, and they were like, “Okay, we thought about what you said and we’re Jesuits, and this is why we get in trouble with the church.”
“You can get out of religion class for the rest of high school, but every 2 weeks you have to write a report to tell us the answers to the questions that you have.”
“And so your first report is you have to tell us where Jesus went.”
And so I was like, “What?”
I walked out and I was like, “Whoa, I’m out of class, every day.” You know?
I’m 16, that was one hour every day for two years.
But the other side was like, “Whoa, I have to do this report.”
So that really started me going, because I went to the library and couldn’t find any information on that.
I went to four different bookstores, and finally found this book called Jesus in India.
I read it in the store. I read it really fast because I was a really good reader. And I was 16 and didn’t really want to pay for it.
So I was like, “Oh, I think this is where he was.”
I went back to the priest, and I was like, “Wham, here he was. He was in India.”
And the father was like, “Oh that’s awesome, that’s great. Okay, your next report is on Buddhism.”
I was like, “Wait a minute, wait a minute. I just told you something. You should look into this.”
And he’s like, “Oh okay, we will, we will.”
And I was like, “I can’t believe it, you’re not listening to me.”
So I got really upset about that, and that was my first taste of how—I wouldn’t call it indoctrination, but I would we have to be open. You know what I mean?
We have to be open to other points of view or else we’re stuck. It doesn’t matter who we are, if your message isn’t alive, you get stuck.It doesn't matter who we are, if your message isn't alive, you get stuck. Click To Tweet
So I went from there to medical school and I started secretly experimenting with creative stuff on the side.
I went to an acting class in my first year residency, and I was horrible.
But the coach was like, “What do you do during the day?”
And I was like, “I’m a doctor.”
He goes, “Well, maybe you should do that.”
And I was like, “Oh is that what we’re doing? Oh we’re gonna do that?”
I’m a big athlete, so I was super competitive. So I came back every single day. I was like, “Give me more, I’m gonna prove this to you.”
And then I fell in love with it.
To the point where when I was applying for residency for cancer radiation oncology. I had interviews at MD Anderson, which is a really big cancer center, probably the best in the United States, next to Sloane Kettering in New York. And I had UCLA right before that.
So I went into the Chairman and he’s like, “You know, I have friends at MD Anderson. They told me that you’re going there in a few days. Why do you want to come to UCLA? We’re not as good as MD Anderson.”
I said, “Well, to be honest, do you want to know the truth?”
And he’s like, “Yeah.”
I was like, “I want to be an actor.”
And he goes, “What? I wanted to be an actor, but my parents wouldn’t let me.”
He goes, “If you come here I will protect your time. As long as I’m the Chairman, you can take vacations when you need, when you have jobs, as long as your residents cover you and you do all your work and you do your research. I think that’s awesome.”
Abel: That’s cool.
And I was like, “Well, if you give me a contract today, I’ll sign it. I won’t even go on to the interview at MD Anderson.”
And he’s like, “Are you serious?”
I was like, “Yeah.”
So later that day he gave me a contract.
I signed it that day, I was hooked into UCLA for the next four years. I was able to do my cancer training, and at night do this creative work.
So, of course, all the way along the way I had a lot of people—I won’t say who they are—at UCLA that were like, “What are you doing? Seriously, you’re not going to be a good doctor by exploring your creative side. You need to focus on the science.”
But, what I found was that acting, actually, was really the way that allowed me to be a good doctor because I would go in the room and I could listen.
Because acting is reacting.
And the patients would be like, “What medical school did you go to?”
And I would be like, “Oh, I didn’t learn that from medical school.”
Also, I found that I had a lot of emotional stuff growing up in a community that was basically all white. I got made fun of a lot.
I had a lot of anger, but I would suppress it because it wasn’t okay.
Being Asian, we don’t do anger. Anger is not done. You know what I mean?
Everything is like, “Are you happy?”
“Yeah, I’m happy.”
“Are you sad?”
“Yeah, I’m sad.”
You know, it’s kind of the same thing.
And so, when I got to playing these characters, I couldn’t play people who were angry. I couldn’t do it.
I would actually cry. When I was supposed to be angry, I would cry. I couldn’t access it.
One coach was like, “You don’t need an acting class, you need therapy.”
And I was like, “What, what’s that?”
She’s like, “Someone who helps you with your emotions.”
I’m like, “No. I’m not going to do that.”
But then, what was motivating me was that I was trying to get acting jobs and I couldn’t get them because a lot of them involved having anger.
So I had to do this work, and I was like, “Okay, well, I’ll go do therapy.”
And I found out that, “Whoa, I have a lot of stuff that I need to work out, a lot of trauma from the way I grew up.”
And that’s basically how I came to this book, really.
It’s like the spiritual stuff, the quest for knowledge, the acting training, and of course the medical training.
Abel: Yeah, it’s the whole enchilada. And you don’t usually get that.
One thing I love that you bring up in your book is you kind of describe the white coats.
I don’t want to say the “normal doctors,” but the doctors we’re unfortunately accustomed to.
Abel: Can you explain the difference between that and kind of what you recommend in your book?
Yeah. I call them white coats. And I don’t even wear a white coat when I’m in a hospital. I don’t wear one.
There’s a lot of research showing why you shouldn’t do that because people get really triggered by seeing the coat, and their blood pressure goes up and they have this perspective of who you are.
And I think in Western medicine, a lot of doctors want you to feel that they know what they’re talking about, and you don’t.
It might be subconscious, it might be part of their ego structure or whatever it is, but I don’t want that.
If you’re coming to see me, I want you to feel that you are in control.
My mentor, Dr. Julliard, at UCLA used to say, “We can’t treat you without you.”
Abel: Yeah, that’s good. I like that.
So, I really took that to heart.
And I will walk in, I’m like, “Hey how are you doing?”
And I also don’t like to take the perspective of, the person is sick.
I’m not going to walk in and I’m not going to be like, “Hey, how are you? Yeah, this is really, really hard, isn’t it?” I won’t come in like that.
If you’re there, I’ll connect with you on that space, but I’ll walk in, “Hey, how’s it going?”
I come in, I want to talk to the part of you that’s living, that’s loving, you know what I mean?
And I’m sure if there are doctors listening and thinking, “Oh that’s foo foo.”
I’m like, “Well, guess what? The people who do this, who are able to connect to patients, they have less lawsuits. They have less malpractice claims.”
So it’s not just a foo foo thing. This is like a hardcore practical thing.
If people trust you and they feel you have your best interest at heart, you’re going to do better for them, and you’re going to do better for yourself, in that way.
They can look that research up if there’s anybody looking, it’s just plain. And what we’re really talking about is empathy.
We’re talking about connecting in the spaces where people are, but also seeing them. There’s empathy and then there’s compassion.
Empathy is the feeling of the space that, “I know how you feel right now. I know how you feel.”
Compassion is the space of, “I know how you feel, and I want to help you.”
That’s that space.
And so, if you have that component in your ability to communicate—whether you’re a personal trainer, you’re a musician, you’re an actor, you’re a doctor—that is the key.
And actually, if you look into research on therapy—on Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Psychodynamic Therapy—the only thing that’s consistent, if you look in the research of a good therapist, is they’re empathetic.
It doesn’t matter what approach they are, the person will make their gains based on the fact that you have empathy.
And if you think about what that really is, it’s really like the person themselves is discovering and they just need someone there to discover with them.
And that’s kind of my underlying thing—it’s just to help people uncover the truth about themselves.
Abel: Yeah. And if you look at other cultures, especially ancient ones, then usually they would think or say that most illness starts in the mind or the spirit, and it kind of trickles down from there.
It’s not this one problem that you walk in with and then they slap this label on you, right?
Going Beyond Labels & Meditating with Cancer Patients
Abel: You definitely deconstruct that in the book and it was just a pleasure to read. Because having these labels slapped onto things, it does seem to kind of help, but it doesn’t solve the problem.
Not at all. The one I have in the book is called ITP—Idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura.
And I had a patient, like, “Oh I have ITP. I feel so much better.”
And I’m like, “Okay, do you know what that means?”
And they’re like, “No, but they told me I have it. Now I know what it is.”
So there’s an aspect where there’s a relief, “Oh, someone knows what it is.”
But all that word, idiopathic, means is, “We don’t know why it’s caused.”
Thrombocytopenic means that you have low platelets. Purpura means you have purple spots.
So we don’t know why you have low platelets and purple spots. That’s the disease we told you you have.
Abel: That’s what it means.
And I’m like, “That doesn’t help.” You know what I mean?
It’s just a label, and now you’re walking around, “Oh, why are you sad?”
“Well, I have ITP. It’s really hard.”
And I don’t want to be mean to anybody who has ITP, but my whole point is like, “Okay, they described it, but do they know what to do about it?”
Yesterday, I had a patient. She came in and she had really aggressive breast cancer, like really aggressive.
She’s 54 and she had about a 6cm tumor in her left breast—really big, lymph nodes, everything.
So she had to get pre-operative chemo. She had surgery and she was coming to us for the radiation.
But even in that case, it was still not a lock step that she was going to do well.
In fact, it’s unlikely that she will do well on Western medicine alone.
So I said to her, “Are you open to doing other things?”
And she’s like, “What do you mean?”
And I was like, “Well, to be honest with you, your cancer is really aggressive.”
I never ever, ever talk about numbers because that just impregnates the person with this mental structure. At the time I had a nurse in this room with me.
So I said, “Listen, has anybody talked to you about nutrition?”
And she’s like, “Well, they told me it doesn’t matter.”
I’m like, “Okay, well, that’s wrong. I’ll talk to you if you’re open to that, let’s talk about that.”
So we did some talk about that, and she’s like, “Well, what else can I do?”
I was like, “Okay, do you know what meditation is?”
And she’s like, “No.”
And I was like, “Would you like to learn?”
And she’s like, “Well, yeah, I’d like to learn. Maybe I’ll take a course.”
I’m like, “Well, I’ll show you right now.”
She’s like, “What?”
I’m like, “Right now.”
And I told the nurse, I’m like, “Let’s sit down, let’s go. We’re going to meditate, lock the door.”
And so, boom! She got nutrition, she got meditation.
And then she’s like, “Oh my gosh, this is amazing. I can do all this myself.”
I’m like, “Absolutely, absolutely.”
And we did even more stuff. We did some stuff based on yoga practices, and she was really into all of it.
And I was like, “This is it. This is what I want to help people create in themselves.”
And so she walked out, she hugged me. And I’m like, “Well, you’re not supposed to hug me, but that’s okay. I love hugs, so that’s cool.”
And she was like, “Wow, I feel like I have some things.”
I walked her to the door and I’m like, “Listen, okay, what did we go through?”
She said, “We did nutrition, we did meditation, we did this technique to help heal my nerves, and you gave me some stretches. And the we’ll come back and get the planning session for the radiation.”
I’m like, “Yes! That’s it.”
It was like East and West. It’s both.The answer isn't the seven trillion dollars of research. The answer isn't the 7000 years of experience. It's both. Click To Tweet
Use both. Go to the buffet, go to both sides. You know what I mean?
Abel: Yeah, and I don’t know why it’s so rare. Maybe you can explain why it’s so rare.
But there is this thing. I’m just imagining that white coat coming up to me, because that’s what happens, and saying, “Diet doesn’t matter.”
And then me getting really sick because of it, and taking a bunch of drugs. That’s not healing.
Well, I’ll tell you another story.
I decided, “Wow this is cool stuff, and I’m really excited about it. Let me go talk to my doctor friends at the hospitals that I work at.”
So I scheduled it with this CME lady and she’s like, “Let me get you in the schedule.”
And then there’s all these doctors coming, it was like 75 doctors, they’re really excited.
So I went up and I started talking. Imagine this.
These old bunch of doctors, most of them over 60, they’re practicing this certain way.
And I was like, “Well there’s research on the mind and how if you do affirmations… ” And I used the wrong word, I used affirmations, I should have just said positive statements.
But I used affirmations, and I was like, “This research on the board here, it shows that thinking affects your gene structure and your immune system. So let’s do some positive thought exercises. Let’s do some now.”
And I had them repeat, I said, “Okay everybody, repeat. I am whole and I am healed.”
And they are like, “I am whole and I am healed.”
I’m like, “Alright, again, again, with a little more gusto. I am whole and I am healed.”
And one guy immediately stands up and says, “This is a religion talk. This is not a science talk. This is a religion talk.”
And I was like, “Religion talk? Can you tell me what study is on the board there, what journal it’s from?”
And he’s like, “Cancer.”
I’m like, “That’s a pretty big journal, right?”
And he was like, “Yeah.”
I’m like, “Is that a religion journal?”
And he was like, “No.”
I’m like, “Well then, why is what I’m saying religion?”
And then another doctor, actually my friend, goes, “Well, how do you know that’s a true study? How do you know they didn’t fake the study?”
And I was like, “What?”
He was like, “Yeah, I mean, they could have faked the whole thing.”
It was like I walked into a conspiracy room, you know what I mean? It’s like we’re talking about flat earth now.
And I was like, “Well, you can say that every study in that journal is fake then.”
And really, what we’re talking about is confirmation bias. It’s like they’re only open to what they already know.
And to prove the point is, I had 75 instructors in medical school, I had 275 classes on different subjects. You tell me how many were on nutrition.
Abel: I don’t want to guess. It’s too depressing.
Take a guess, take a guess.
Abel: Come on.
Zero, zero, man, zero. So that’s why they say it doesn’t matter, because they were never trained in it.
From my perspective, it has nothing to do with being a doctor, an MD, it’s not that.
They won’t do it. They just weren’t taught an integrative approach, you know what I mean?
And so, that’s just one aspect of it. Once you start to see that what you’re doing gives you respect and gives you this sense of like, “I am somebody,” it becomes really hard for you to break out of that mold.
Abel: Right, it’s like an identity thing at that point, and you’re so deep into it, there’s no way out. There’s no alternative at that point.
No, and that’s why when people are lying, they lie and they get into these situations, then you’re like, “Well, why isn’t he just telling the truth?” He can’t.
And that’s something I talk with people about. I tell them about the laws of motion.
I don’t know if you’ve got that point in the book, but the one that I really like is momentum.
An object in motion stays in motion, an object at rest stays at rest.
So whether you’re building a good habit or a bad habit, that momentum will create something in your brain, an energy that it gets going forward.
And this isn’t a theory, this is a law. It’s the law of momentum.
So if you’re creating this momentum that’s great, it’s going to be really good for you. But if you’re creating this momentum that’s not great, it’s going to be really hard to stop that snowball.
Abel: Yeah. It’s kind of like a habit change. I like to bring everything down to, “What can we literally do today to make things better?”
Abel: And that’s where things like meditation come in. Or the very simple act of going for a quick walk outside. You mention most of these things in your book.
It’s very holistic, and it really looks at the whole person, the whole spirit, and everything that goes on.
Like right before this interview. I’m doing six interviews today. It’s a busy day, and I don’t like being in front of these lights and stuff.
But I just went outside in the sun for a couple of minutes between interviews. I feel so much better.
Before my first one, I meditated for a bit. I think I’ll probably do that again during a break in the afternoon.
So this is what I’m literally doing today, and that’s one of the things I just love about your work is the most complicated stuff is not necessarily better.
It’s about “it doesn’t matter if it’s complicated or simple, let’s do what works.”
Yes, and that’s something I’ve been talking with some guys in the clinic about.
It’s cool if you’re inspired, like Abel there on the podcast, you’re listening. That’s cool.It's great to be inspired, but how do we really get you to change? Click To Tweet
As somebody in this field, I’ve thought about a lot, because if I can’t get you to walk out the door and be different, then I’ve failed.
It’s like, how do we access this stuff right now? And that’s really the key.
So for example, the main thing is, you get my book, you read it, it doesn’t matter what it is, you pick one thing, you pick one thing.
In martial arts you say, “Put an iron around it.”
You put iron around it. It means you vow that you will change this one thing. And make it really small.
I say commit for 7 days, that’s all you’ve got to do. You got to do 7 days, and if you do 7 days, you can do another 7 days.
But do 7 days to…
Abel: Get that momentum going.
Yeah, get that momentum going.
For example, one that I give people a lot—and I’ve found it has really good compliance actually. Now I’m going to doctor words—Compliance is gratitude.
So I tell people, especially if I see they have a negative mindset, I say, “Look, here’s a journal.”
And a lot of times I give them a little journal. I have these 50 cent journals.
“Will you raise your hand and commit right now to write 5 things in there that you’re grateful for?”
And they’re like, “Well, I don’t know if I have the time.”
And I’ll be like, “Okay, I just said it’ll take you one minute. So you’re telling me you don’t have one minute for yourself. That’s what you just said.”
A lot of times, they’ll say my next line, which is, “Wow, explains why I’m sick.”
I’m like, “Yeah, it does, because you just told me you don’t have five minutes, you don’t have one minute to go through this practice.”
So then they’re like, “Okay, I’ll do it.”
And I’m like, “Okay, great. So go home, I want you to think of five things, anything. In fact, let’s do the first journal entry right now.”
And it can be anything. I call it five stars a day. So put five stars, write five things, like, “I got to talk to Abel for an hour about my work.” Great.
“I got to wake up early, earlier than I had been, and I saw that the sun coming up.”
And then number three, “I went outside, and I live in an area that has clean air.”
In LA, that’s like a miracle.
Number four, “I got to practice my meditation.”
Number five, “My light switch works, and the power is on, so I could do this interview.”
We’re not even at 9:45am, and I can go on and on and on.
And that’s a practice I like to give people right away.
So if you’re listening and you’re like, “I don’t have time for any of this stuff—meditation, whatever,” start with that, start with gratitude.
The research on gratitude’s really big.
It improves your immune system, decreases anxiety, decreases depression, it improves the functioning of your brain.
Gratitude is actually experienced in the prefrontal cortex, in the front of the brain. And they found that if you practice gratitude, it starts to enhance that area more and more.
So that when you’re in situations that are neutral, you will actually choose to feel gratitude rather than other things.
And if your only reaction up to that point has been to victimize yourself based on like, “Oh, I can’t believe this happened to me,” you might have a new choice.
Your brain, because of this habit you created, this momentum you created of gratitude, you might be able to think, “Well, that’s pretty cool that there’s traffic right now because then I can listen to the rest of this podcast.”
And then, “Oh, that’s really great. Actually, I’ll have time to listen to this song.” You know what I mean?
The ubiquitous one is traffic.
Instead of saying, “I can’t believe this happened to me. This always happens to me. Now they’re going to be mad at me.”
The gratitude research actually found that it’s actually not the positive thought, it’s actually the fact that you’re not thinking negative things.
They actually looked in the research, and they found that if you’re a neutral thinker or a positive thinker, it’s the same.
Yeah, it’s really, really interesting if you look at the research on positive versus negative thoughts.
They found that people who are negative thinkers—which can be defined many ways—they have a positive-negative thought ratio that is actually positive, 2.5 : 1, positive to negative.
And why is that the case with a negative thinker? Well, because negative thought is more impactful than positive thought.
Abel: Like losing money. It hurts more than making it.
It hurts more. It’s visceral. And so to become a positive thinker, you have to be over 4.5 : 1.
But optimally, they found that the people who are 10 : 1 are the most healthy in their minds.
They have a better immune system, less depression, better socioeconomic status, less disease rate. It’s huge.
So the science now is coming back to what they’ve known for thousands of years everywhere else, that the mind is the originator of everything.The mind is the originator of everything. Click To Tweet
Abel: And it’s crazy how entrenched the people who don’t believe that are into their own ideology, right?
Even the concept that there might be a little bit more than the material reality is infuriating to them and flips them out. Like flat earthers, almost.
Oh, yeah. Well, you know what I like to bring up is, with medical people, is the placebo effect.
And they’re like, “Oh yeah, that’s placebo effect.”
I’m like, “What’s the placebo effect on blood pressure?”
Like, “That’s 25% to 35%.”
I’m like, “Oh, so you’re saying that it’s not a big deal that they’re getting 25% to 35% better just by believing that they’re being helped?”
“You just told me without any training that these people are 25% to 30% more likely to have lower blood pressure because they believe that they’re going to be better.”
“And you think that’s nothing. Yeah, that’s nothing.”
Abel: It’s a fake study.
But think about that. That’s without any training. Now, what if you add in training?
What if you add in intentional thought? What if you add that in? What do you see?
What if you add in meditation?
When you look at the studies that are coming out now about positive thought—actually, this is what I give.
If you’re a negative thinker, I’ll be like, “Do you want a prescription from me? That’s what you want, right? You want a prescription?”
And they’re like, “Yeah, I want a prescription.”
And that’s that attitude, right, that “I need something from you.”
I’m like, “Okay.”
If I get to the end, and I can’t convince them that ownership is the key, then I’ll say, “Okay, you get a prescription. Here’s your prescription: 3 times a day I want you to think this positive thought.”
And they’re like, “That’s not a drug.”
I’m like, “Oh, it is a drug. It’s absolutely a drug.”
And this is another thing that these people listening can do—you can do it right now. I learned this technique. It’s called tense and relax.
It’s real simple. And this is the entry point to everything because disease is really a lack of ease.Dis-ease, it's a lack of ease. Click To Tweet
It’s in the word. And if you think about that, you have to create ease in order to create healing.
That’s your gateway.
And so, I know, I looked you up, man. I’ve been stalking you, Abel.
So I know you’re in a great relationship and everything.
What if you got in a fight, and you told your girl, “Hey, honey, relax.”
What’s gonna happen?
Abel: Meh. Do the opposite.
Right. Oh yeah, you’re smart. So, I’m going to do the opposite of that. I’m going to tell you to tense.
So you inhale, tense the body, exhale.
Your body will react to tension by relaxation. So you tense and relax.
You can do that now as you’re listening. Tense and relax, and you’re automatically in a state of calmness, of ease.
If you want to meditate, if you want to say something positive to yourself, if you want to access that, that’s the key.
It doesn’t matter if you say positive things to yourself, if you’re tense, it won’t impact.
Abel: Yeah, just rolls right off.
Yeah. It does. So you have to access it correctly. So that’s what I’m talking about training.
If you train yourself to actually be relaxed by forcing your body to go to tension, you automatically go to relaxation.
So if you have a big event, if you have a big speech you’ve got to give, if you have a concert you need to give, if you just, before you go on stage, you tense and relax.
You see basketball players, all the time, if you watch them at the foul line, they’re doing it. They do it naturally.
And I’m sure they’ve been trained. I’m taking that, so now we have two things.
You can do a gratitude journal, you can do a tense and relax, you can do a positive thought.
It depends on what faith you are. If you’re Christian, you can use a prayer. If you’re a Hindu, you can use a mantra.
You can access it any way, anything that speaks to you.
And instead of rolling through your mind with these—I call it the chain gang. It’s this chain of negative thoughts that you’re running through your head.
Instead of doing that, give yourself a choice.
I’m not telling you to think positive, I’m saying you have a choice.
And by adding another choice point, you went from 100% negative to possibly 50% that you could choose something positive.
Abel: Yeah. We have more control than we realize. It’s just that we need to start using it now. You can’t do it later.
You can’t be like, “I’m going to get better or think differently later.”
You have to start now because it’s literally changing your brain, like you said, when you have these thoughts.
And I mean, the 25% to 40% placebo effect—how long have people known about this and slapped a label on it?
Pretty much forever, right? They knew about it before it had that label, I would think.
Yeah. It’s really powerful. And I follow a yogic path of meditation, and they talk about a term they call maya.
Maya means—Not a girl, I’m not talking about that—Maya means delusion.
In Thai, they actually have the same word—maya. It means a play. In Thai it means like a cosmic play.
And if you think about the web that is spun around you by social media, by the news, by the advertising that’s coming through, telling you that you need to take this drug, you need to do this, you need to do that, in order to feel healthy—well they just want you to buy something.
And everything I talk about in the book is free. It’s free. The only thing you have to do is own it, and you have to do it.
There’s something that I want to share with people.
People get real excited about change once they hear and they get inspired.
But if you look at the research on change—there’s this really interesting study with men who are smokers that had a heart attack, were admitted to the hospital, very serious, they could have died.
They’re given three recommendations: To stop smoking, to exercise, and to eat better.
All 100% of everybody in the study agreed to change.
Some agreed to do one, and some agreed to all three recommendations.
At six months, how many were doing one of the three? What do you think?
Abel: Am I supposed to answer? I remember five percent from one of them.
Okay. If you do one of the three, the chances of you doing one of the three was 30% actually. It’s pretty high.
Abel: Okay. But just one, that wasn’t all three.
How about all three?
Abel: Was that the five percent?
It’s three percent.
Abel: Three percent, jeez.
Okay, so that’s like, “Aah.” But okay, this is how you turn things, like lemons to lemonade.
This is the thing, is that 30% did one. So you have an access point here.
And I’m like, “I have a way to help you, because pick one thing.”
Abel: Yeah. Eat one carrot today.
Yeah. Just start. Look, if I’m in the room with a patient and you want to hear some stuff, like, “Yeah.”
And I’m like, “Okay, let’s start. You should eat a salad.”
They’re like, “Salad?”
If they’re on salad, we’re not getting to meditation, you know what I mean? We’re starting with salad.
So I’m like, “Great.”
They’re like, “Well, what do I have to take away?”
I’m like, “You don’t have to take anything away. You don’t have to take anything away. I want you to add a salad.
Can you commit to having a salad for 7 days?”
They’re like, “What kind of salad?”
I’m like, “I don’t care. If it’s green, that counts.”
They’re like, “What about a carrot?”
I’m like, “Okay, carrot counts.”
Literally, what you just said, that was something somebody asked me.
Abel: Yeah, I’m not surprised.
Right. “Does a carrot count? Because I don’t like spinach.”
I’m like, “That’s fine. I never said spinach, I said salad.”
And so, that’s the thing—the research shows 30% of people will maintain at six months one change in activity.
That’s under the threat of death, though.
So, I would think that would be lower if it were people who are healthy, that are listening.
But if you have anything going on that’s affecting you, illness-wise or disease-wise—I almost don’t even like to say those words—but if you have something going on in the body that’s of that pattern, you put a new pattern in.
You don’t have to try to change the old one. Put the new one in, and once it builds momentum, it will change the old patterns for you.
That’s actually Native American teaching, they call patterns.
So then, you change this pattern just by putting a new cycle in, putting a new pattern in.
Abel: Yeah. Well, I was going to ask you, because you had patterns running that you described throughout several stories in the book, and the one—I don’t want to spoil it—but can you tell the story of Ray from your book?
Oh yeah, okay. So there’s a guy I know, Ray, I know him really well.
Ray, he was at a summer camp that he did and for years, he was at this camp and he’d always get hurt playing sports.
And for years, this is what always happened. He’d play a sport and he would get hurt every time.
At this particular camp, he was trying to compete to get up this telephone pole, to get across this wire at one of these wilderness camps.
He’s trying to compete with this other guy that was actually an Italian Olympic cross-country guy.
And so Ray was climbing up the telephone pole and he looked down to see this other guy behind him, and there was a nail in the telephone pole and he smashed his face into the nail, and he had this puncture wound in his face.
So he went to the medical doctor and they’re like, “Well, there’s this nail in your face, but we can’t do anything. We’re in the mountains. Have you had tetanus shots?”
He’s like, “Yeah, I’ve had them.”
They’re like, “Okay, we’ll skip that, we’ll super glue your face.”
Well, Ray went right from there into a water polo game, and then he hurt his shoulder trying to throw the water polo ball around.
And his shoulder had come out, subluxed his shoulder. And so they sent him to this yoga-healer guy.
The yoga-healer guy said to him, “Why do you like getting hurt?”
And Ray was like, “What are you talking about? I don’t like getting hurt, I just get hurt. That’s what happens when I play sports, I get hurt.”
And he goes, “Oh, that’s interesting. Hmm.”
He started working on Ray’s shoulder to try to get it to go back in place. And it got in place and Ray asked him, “What do you mean like, why do I like to get hurt?”
He’s like, “Well, you keep doing it to yourself, don’t you?”
And Ray thought about it, and Ray was like, “That’s interesting. The only time my mother ever hugged me or physically touched me was when I got hurt.”
So, Ray either wins or he gets hurt. That’s what happens. Those are the only two outcomes that are acceptable in the emotional body of Ray.
And obviously, I already ruined it because I said, “I” both the times.
Ray was me. I had this, kind of, a need to feel this physical love and I didn’t even know that pattern was in me.
And that’s the thing about it is, we don’t have to try to change things. We just bring awareness to them, and then they shift.
After that I started to become a lot more aware of how I was playing sports. If I was losing, I would start running into people, like literally.
I love to play basketball, scored like 20 points a game and was on all these teams, but if we started losing, man.
I remember this one game, we were losing. We were down by nine and this guy was guarding me too close, so I just shoved him into the bleachers.
I literally took him and threw him into the bleachers and the rest of the team tackled me.
And I was like, “Ahh!”
And my friends were like, “Holy crap.”
This is at medical school, mind you.
And actually, what’s interesting was, I hit three 3-pointers right after that in a row.
In my mind, I was like, “Oh, I needed that adrenaline boost to get me going.”
But I could have been punched, I could have been hurt.
They could have broke my back when they tackled me, anything could have happened and that was the only acceptable thing to me.
You know what I mean? It was to win or to get hurt. And that’s what I talk about in The Emotional House.
This stuff that I would call trauma from childhood is very, very impactful in people’s lives, and I’m case in point on that.
Abel: How do you find out when it’s running?
Yeah. Good question, good question. Well, there’s something that we do.
We have a free email course we’re doing with people.
Maybe we’ll give them the link later, but basically, I have a quiz I have people take.
And in The Emotional House quiz, there’s only four questions and the questions are:
- Relationships: How are your relationships now? How are your intimate relationships? Are they harmonious? Are they a peaceful?
- Trauma: Have you ever had any trauma in the past? Any kind of abuse in the past?
- Loss: Have you had any loss—death or loss in the past?
- Emotional Reactions: Are you prone to mushrooming?
And so that’s the term, I looked it up. No one has ever used that term for this.
When I said mushrooming before, they’re like, “That means something different to me.”
I’m like, “Oh okay, okay.”
Mushrooming, to me, is when you have an inappropriate emotional reaction to an event, like road rage.
Someone cuts you off, you’re like, “What the heck? I can’t believe this. Who are you to do that to me?”
I’m like, “Okay, wait.”
Number one, you don’t know who they are. They didn’t really do much to you because nothing happened.
Abel: And it’s L.A.
And it’s L.A. Right, you should expect it.
So, if you’re a 10 out of 10 on anger, because of a 1 out of 10 event, that’s called mushrooming.
If your intimate relationships are not good, if you had trauma in the past, if you’re prone to mushrooming, and if you had abuse in the past.
If you answer “yes” to any of those questions, I’ll almost tell you that you have a pattern running that hasn’t been dealt with.
So, to kind of expound on that, if you’re listening right now, look, you could take the email quiz, and you can go through find out which house you actually fit in: Emotional, Physical, Mental, or Spiritual.
So most people who are into health, they’re usually into a nutrition or exercise.
But if you look at change, it’s actually a dose-response curve. Dose-response means that it starts low, swings up steply, and goes flat at the top.
If you’re doing really well on nutrition, you’re already 90%, 95% there.
You don’t need to change your diet anymore, because you were going to take the same effort to go from 90% to 100% as you are to go from 20% to 80%.
And it’s the exact same energy, but the change is much bigger.
By finding out what area you are actually at 20%, where you have one or two questions negative. You want to focus on those areas first because you can get the most benefit.
And, if you’re already really healthy and you’re exercising, and the physical house questions are… The data points are four hours of exercise a week, that’s the point.
Are you doing that? Are you eating 50% of your diet green?
There’s all these simpler questions, if you’re scoring positive on those, you don’t need to be in that house.
You don’t need to be working with the Physical House.
Now, if you’re on the Emotional House, you’ve been divorced six times, you grew up in a broken household. You know what I mean?
I talk a lot about patients with that, and they’ll say, “Well, but I’m making a million dollars a year, Dr V. How could I have emotional problems?”
I’m like, “Well, can you tell me the names of your children?”
And they’re like, “Umm, yeah, one is Jim, and one is…”
Literally, I had a doctor come in, he had to think about the name of his kids.
And I was like, “I can’t believe I’m hearing this.”
It was a simple question, I just was asking. I was trying to ask another question about his kids and about love, but he couldn’t.
It should be like, “Jim, Jane, Jake, Carl.”
And you can’t distinguish between them. That’s what love is as a parent, right?
And you add in the dog sometime. “Jim, Jane, Jake, Carl, Spot.” You ever do that?
That’s usually what love is, but if you can’t even remember the name of somebody in your life, that’s a big thing.
Trauma is Linked to Higher Health Risk
And if you look at the research on trauma, there’s a big study called ACES, Adverse Childhood Experience Study.
This is a 15,000 person study coming out of Kaiser, Kaiser Permanente.
And they found that if you have a “yes” to any of the 10 questions that they asked these people, you have a higher likelihood of depression and cancer.
If you had four questions positive, you had double the risk of cancer.
With trauma. People listening, “Oh, I’ve got to take this test.”
Yeah, if you search for ACES, you’ll get the quiz right away.
So basically, the trauma that they’re talking about is physical abuse, emotional abuse, mental abuse, sexual abuse, emotional neglect, physical neglect, incarcerated person in the house, witnessing domestic violence.
If you had any of these things, then you got a mark on this test.
If you had four of those positive, you doubled the risk of cancer in the future. This is an independent risk factor.
People are like, “Well, it made them smoke, and then the smoking caused the cancer.” No. Alright? No.
Yes, cancer is caused by smoking, but they found that trauma is an independent risk factor.
So, if you don’t become aware of it and start working on it, what was interesting is there was an significant increased likelihood of suicide.
There was increased risk for heart disease, increased cancer, increased stroke, increased depression, increased suicide, increased risk of being abused later on in a relationship, decreased socio-economic status, decreased income, shorter life expectancy.
Everything was affected. People poo poo getting therapy or doing work in the Emotional House, but man, if you look at this study, you can’t ignore it.
Abel: Yeah, well people probably poo poo it because it does take work. It takes a lot of courage to admit that you’re broken or hurt or imperfect in some way, doesn’t it?
Yeah, man. I think that’s really true.
If you’re listening and you’re like, “Well, I’d rather just start a new diet. I’m going to add kettlebells to my routine. That’s going to be my new thing this week, 7 days of kettle bells.”
Okay, fine, that’s great too. But you’re not hitting the house that you have the most problems in.
Now, it might be your Mental House, too.
You may be a really negative thinker. We already talked about that earlier.
If you go through and you find that it’s a Mental House thing, then it’s your choice though.
I did this with some employees at that hospital I was in, and one lady scored really poorly in the Emotional House.
And she scored kind of moderately in the Mental House. And she’s like, “I want to change my mental. I want to get my mental from two to three.”
And I was like, “Okay, that’s fine. So, you’re committing to changing this one habit you have in the Mental House for seven days?”
And she’s like, “Yes.”
And I was like, “Okay, well, write it down then. Write it in this little book.”
I gave her a little journal and I’m like, “Write in this book what you’re committing to. Write the thing you’re going to do for seven days.”
And she’s like, “Okay, okay. I’ll write it down.”
And once you’ve written it down, it’s put out in the physical world, it’s put on paper.
They found a research that if you write down the thing that you’re trying to change, you’re 50% more likely to do it.
Abel: It’s magic. It really works. I’ve been doing that for a long time.
Really? What do you do?
Abel: It’s some combination of just letting whatever come out, come out, just free-writing, journaling and gratitude journaling.
I did it for a long time physically writing it out until it was enough of a habit to do it mentally at the beginning of meditation or even just when I wake up.
But yeah, I write in my notebook at the beginning of the day. Then sometimes it’s spills into the rest of the day, right?
Abel: But it’s the writing things down. In junior high, I think it was, a teacher told me that if you write it down, you don’t have to remember it anymore. Not just because it’s written down and you can go back to it, but because your brain actually registers it in a different way.
I find that to be very, very true. I rarely go back to what I wrote down, but once it’s down there, it’s kind of in.
You make a really good point actually, that I was thinking about before—writing it down though, not typing it down.
Abel: Yes, oh yes. It’s physically writing it.
Yes, so there’s a kinesthetic, and this is, “Oh, we’re getting to foo-foo again.”
No, there’s actual research showing that if you write versus typing, your memory retention, your ability to integrate the knowledge is double.
So actually, in a lot of, I think it was Harvard Medical School or Princeton, they outlawed laptops in the actual learning environment.
Yeah. I can’t remember which, I think it was Princeton or Harvard, but the research on kinesthetic memory writing versus typing, it came out of Princeton.
I think it was Colorado, too, actually. I think it was both of those.
But that is true, so it’s the actual act of writing, physically using your hand, something about that registers in the brain and allows you to integrate more solidly.
Abel: Yeah, so that’s some good homework for anyone listening or watching right now.
Where to Find Dr. Roy Vongtama
Abel: I can’t believe it, but I could talk to you all day. We’re almost out of time, but before we go can you tell folks where they can find your work and a little bit more about your new book?
Okay, yes. The book is called Healing Before You’re Cured: An Evidence-Based Guide to Taking Control of Your Body and Mind.
It’s on Amazon right now. It’s doing really well. When we launched, we were #1 in free download for a period in nonfiction.
And you can find that in print, ebook and audiobook—which I actually narrate because of my background in acting.
Abel: Oh, cool.
So, you’ll be able to hear me talking if you want to do that.
If you want to get on the free email list, you can go to www.RoyVMD.com you can join the email list.
Or you can text HEAL 345345. It’ll give you a prompt, you’ll see my name, and you can put your email in there, and you can get on free email list.
It will get you a link to the quiz or you can use the book Healing Before You’re Cured.
You can follow me on Instagram @RoyVongtamaMD, Facebook, LinkedIn, and we’re starting a new YouTube channel, as well.
Abel: Oh, sweet.
Yeah, man. I really appreciate you having me on.
Abel: Absolutely, yeah. This has been really fun. We got to talk about a lot of things that I haven’t really covered, at least not recently.
Abel: So Dr. V., thank you so much for coming on.
Thanks, man. I appreciate it.
Before You Go…
Here’s the review of the week. This is from Amanda. She says:
AWESOME book and philosophy! Abel James, the Fat-Burning Man, has dared to say what people have been thinking for years. We are what we eat.
I watched Abel and Kurt last season on ABC and it was Kurt’s journey to a healthy lifestyle that truly inspired me to check out The Wild Diet for myself.
Like Kurt, I am in my late 40’s, numerous injuries that prevent extensive exercise, and a lover of food and beverage. I needed to find a diet that wouldn’t deprive me of the things I loved to eat and cook, find an exercise program that I could reasonably commit to without further injury, and a plan I could stick to – a healthy lifestyle change, not just a quick fix. Abel had it all!
I started the 30-day meal plan and was able to eat delicious cheeseburgers with cookies for dessert. I began walking with my husband on all the local trails, short distances at first and now up to 3 miles in under an hour!
And instead of just grabbing whatever I could find at the local supermarket, I started buying organic meats from local distributors and vegetables from the Farmer’s Market. I have never felt better!
Gone is my lethargy, and late in the day gloom. I look forward to finding new trails, explore new recipes and tasting natural and delicious foods. I feel like I have my life back.
Oh yeah, I also lost 8 lbs during that first 30 days. I know it’s not an enormous amount, but I know it’s a healthy, steady loss that will stay off. And I’m still losing while eating bacon, drinking whole milk and enjoying real butter!
Bringing natural organic foods back into our diet has made a larger change than I ever expected.
Thank you, Abel, for speaking up and sharing your knowledge with the rest of us. I love your simple explanations and lack of fancy descriptions. You appeal to the every man (and woman).
Read the Wild Diet, check out Abel James online, and become part of the Fat-Burning Tribe today! You won’t be sorry. It will change your life.
Amanda, this is one of my favorite reviews I’ve received in a long time. Thank you so much.
I really like what you said about the healthy, steady fat loss that will stay off. And it’s really great that you’re shopping at the Farmer’s Market, and enjoying the food you’re eating.
And of course, who doesn’t love healing their bodies and dropping weight with cheeseburgers and cookies?
If you’re out there and you’re getting results, or you have a question, don’t be shy.
Sign up for my newsletter, reply to my email with your question, and I answer as many as I can.
And who knows, you might even wind up on this show.
As a bonus when you sign up, I’ll send you a free 7-Day Meal Plan with some of our favorite recipes. You’ll get beautiful color photos of each recipe, step-by-step instructions, and even tips for prepping your meals ahead of time.
If you’re into that, and you have a little bit of fat to lose, or you want to get back to your high school weight, or you’re looking to get in the best shape of your life, then we can definitely help you, especially this year.
Now, when you join our online coaching community, The Fat-Burning Tribe, you’ll get Wild Meal Plans every month. You’ll never have to worry about what you’re cooking for dinner again.
You’ll get workouts, exclusive giveaways, live Q&A sessions with me and much, much more.
So if you’re ready to start eating delicious food and shedding stubborn fat, check out the Fat-Burning Tribe for a limited time discount.
And if you’re already a member of the Tribe, thank you so much for your support. We have a lot of fun announcements coming up for you.
And if you’ve already been a member, then why don’t you join back up? There are a lot of familiar faces and friends in there.
And of course, we’re basically sponsoring our show so we can keep it indie and cool for you guys.
So if you’d like to support us and get our favorite health supplements at the same time, then go to wildsuperfoods.com, sign up for the subscription, and you’ll get access to the Fat-burning Tribe coaching community completely for free, on us, as part of your subscription.
So that’s a really new exciting thing that we’re doing.
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What did you think of this interview with Dr. Roy Vongtama? Drop a comment below to share your thoughts!
Alyson Rose says
Great interview. I really like the positive statement Dr. V shared with the group of doctors by having them repeat, “I am whole and I am healed.”