27 June 2011

Ian Gawler Blog: Who is pulling your strings?

“Roxon rejects plea on drugs.”

MS Australia blocks access to lifestyle therapy.

The first headline actually came from the front-page of The Age, 21st June 2011. Have not seen the second one yet, but the first made me wonder why? How come the drug companies are so good at getting widespread coverage, when non-patentable things like therapeutic lifestyle changes are ignored?

Maybe it is because of a perceived lack of evidence. Well, consider this. The published research that evaluated the outcomes for people with MS who attended the Gawler Foundation’s residential program Prof. George Jelinek and I established, demonstrated results that no known drug comes close to matching.

This research re-tested people one year and 2.5 years after attending the program. Over this period, the normal expectancy for people with MS is that their mental health and physical health would both steadily deteriorate. Whether on drug treatment or not, and in the absence of a definitive meta- analysis of the wide number of studies that have examined this question broadly, it seems reasonable to suggest that the average deterioration in physical and mental health over this time frame would be about 5%.

So what did our people show? After one year, the specific MS mental health composite figure (a figure that aggregates a number of relevant psychological assessments) had improved by 13%. Was it all in the mind? How about this? The physical health composite figure actually improved by 15%!

What about at 2.5 years? Better or worse? Did the benefits stick? Well no, they got even better! The mental health composite was now up by 15%, physical health by 17%.

There is no known MS drug that has shown these levels of benefit. In our study, the people did not get worse, they got statistically significantly better! Can you imagine the front-page news that such a break-through drug would produce? So what happened with our research?

Well first, it was quite hard to even get a medical journal to publish it. Then, no front-page news. Not even any page 17 news. We were fortunate that the ABC’s 7.30 Report ran a good story on George and the results; but then no other media took it up.

And MS Australia? Well the Gawler Foundation had arranged with their Blackburn office to recommence presenting the 12 week lifestyle based program that was presented there back in the early days when we first commenced the residential programs. But that was cancelled.

MS Australia to their credit used to hand out copies of George’s book to any newly diagnosed MS patient that asked for it (many of these books were actually paid for by a private benefactor). That service was also stopped.

It would be nice to think there was some sound reason for these two cancellations; but they did cause me to wonder. If a drug was blocked or withdrawn that was as effective as this program, we would have the headlines like at the heading of this blog.

Are the drug companies so good at convincing the public, the health professionals and the media that health solutions are their exclusive domain and the only thing worth taking seriously?

Surely it is obvious that Nicola Roxon rejected the new drugs requested for the PBS because the Government simply cannot afford them. Surely it is obvious that lifestyle related disease is lowering life expectancies generally and fuelling the explosion in chronic degenerative diseases. Surely it is obvious that the treatment of chronic, degenerative, lifestyle related diseases starts with a healthy, therapeutic lifestyle. Surely it is obvious that a lifestyle program is relatively cheap and very cost effective. The MS research demonstrates the potency of such a remedy.

What is missing is widespread support for the uptake of a therapeutic lifestyle – as a treatment. All too often we still hear of people with MS or cancer who are taking their lifestyles seriously being dismissed by their friends. “There, there dear, a little bit of this won’t hurt you”. Rubbish. Do it often enough and it may well incapacitate you if you have MS, or even kill you if you have cancer. How often do we hear of well-meaning, but one has to conclude uninformed doctors dismissing the therapeutic benefits of lifestyle changes?

It is about time families, friends, health professionals and the media gave the therapeutic benefits of lifestyle changes their due recognition and active support.

For the doctors, anyone diagnosed these days with either MS or cancer needs to be counselled at first diagnosis regarding their lifestyle, just as would happen for anyone diagnosed with heart disease or type2 diabetes. I contend that given the evidence, not to do this probably constitutes professional negligence. If there was a drug with the same benefits, and it was not recommended, that would be negligent, so why not with lifestyle intervention?

For the media – for goodness sake, get past the incessant publicity machine of the drug companies and support people in need. A healthy lifestyle offers so much, yet making personal change is not so easy and I suspect many people do not even know how potent it can be. Here the media has the potential to be a driving force in improving recovery rates from major illness, and to preventing them as well.

For friends and family? Recognise the importance of what someone with MS or cancer eats and drinks, whether they exercise or not, the quality of their relationships, the state of their mind, whether they meditate or not, their spiritual views. These things do affect their health, their state of mind, their mobility, even their survival. Making lifestyle changes and sustaining them for life requires good and active support. The best way to do this if you really care about someone, is to share in the changes; to actually make them yourself. Of course to do this has a potentially major side effect, chronic good health for yourself!

Finally, a disclosure of interest statement. I no longer work for the Gawler Foundation or present the MS programs. George does, along with staff from the Foundation. I do continue to actively promote a healthy lifestyle and support people actively working on their health and wellbeing. So my vested interest here is in the health and wellbeing of people with MS and cancer. My concern is that the media and the system are letting them down and we all need to do something more about it. I do recommend anyone with MS or cancer to attend the Gawler Foundation’s programs. In my informed opinion, there are no residential programs anywhere else in the world that have such a body of experience to draw upon, have such a high quality or are as truly comprehensive in their scope. Let your friends and your politicians know.


1. This blog was written initially for George Jelinek's website Overcomingmultiplesclerosis - see below for the link. As it touches on issues that may be of interest to a wide audience, it seemed like a good idea to post it on my blog too.

2. Last weekend's Darwin workshops were well attended by a wide range of people from  the local and far reaching communities, including a very keen oncology nurse who flew from Alice Springs to attend. The organiser Alex, had me laughing more than I have for a while when, being a long-term, recovered patient himself, as well as the organiser, he was interviewed on ABC radio. At first I was a little apprehensive when he said he personally offered a guarantee for the weekend. Then he said if people did not feel better when they left compared to when they arrived, he would refund their misery at the door. It still makes me laugh!

3. Bunbury all day Wednesday, then Perth for workshops on the weekend, July 2nd and 3rd - details on the website - click here.


RESEARCH   click here


Recovery from MS is possible

Eating for recovery


Overcoming Multiple Sclerosis; George Jelinek

You Can Conquer Cancer; Ian Gawler

The Mind That changes Everything; Ian Gawler


For Prof Jelinek

The Gawler Foundation

For Ian Gawler


The Gawler Foundation

Residential:  Overcoming Multiple Sclerosis – healing program for MS

                                         Life and Living - for people with cancer

Non residential - see the website

20 June 2011

Ian Gawler Blog: What sort of old age are you planning?

If you are in your twenties, maybe this question is not big on your agenda. If you are in your sixties, maybe so! Either way, if you are not attentive, you could be in for a really crappy time, whereas with a little planning and wise action, you could look forward to a vibrant, healthy and meaningful future.

Our current generation of teenagers may well be the first generation in recorded history to have a lower life expectancy than their parents. Also, what recent research has clearly shown is that currently people are living fewer disease free years than just one decade ago, and they are living longer with disease and disability.

20 year old men currently will average another 43.8 years without cardiovascular disease, cancer or diabetes, the big three of the chronic degenerative diseases. This is 1.2 years fewer than 10 years ago. For 20 year old women it is 48 yrs now compared to 49.2 ten years ago. This tells us people are getting sicker earlier, being sick longer; having a potentially miserable time for longer.

We all want to be healthy and happy. Modern medicine is wonderful. Break a leg, surgery is fantastic. Pneumonia? Antibiotic pills may well save your life. But there is no surgery for happiness; no pill that ensures long term good health or an active old age.

What decides your long term good health is your lifestyle. What you eat and drink. Whether you smoke; how much exercise you do. The quality of your relationships, the state of your mind and your spiritual view.

These things that we collectively describe as our lifestyle, these things are most affected, most determined, by our mind. Our mind decides what we do. What we eat and drink, whether we smoke, how much exercise we engage in. The people we hang out with, what emphasis we give to spiritual matters; all these things are determined by the choices our mind makes.

What to do? Amidst a busy world, full of wonder, yet full of complexity and bombarded with information, what our minds need most is clarity and inner peace.

With inner peace comes a deep, natural balance. With this balance, good physical health, healthy emotions, a naturally positive state of mind and a sense of connectedness and a desire to help others.

With a calm and settled mind, with inner peace, comes clarity. With a clear mind we become more aware, more mindful. We start to notice more clearly what it is that works against us, what is helpful. We gravitate towards healthier foods. Exercise seems to make more sense, to be more appealing, more do-able. A clear mind leads to excellent results in all we do; business, sport, study, relationships, healing, wellbeing; everything goes better with a clear mind and good decision making.

You know what leads to inner peace and a clear mind. Meditation is the reliable path. So how is it going? Many people I meet fluctuate. Times when they practise regularly, times when they fall by the wayside. Times when the practice seems to flow easily, times where it is flat.

The key thing is to persevere. Even a little meditation regularly brings potent benefits. Take a few minutes. Have a moments peace. Maybe get into the habit of it. Maybe do a little more. Maybe have a vibrant, healthy and meaningful old age. Maybe have a great life.


1. Darwin workshops on June 25 & 26
    Bunbury: June 29th
    Perth: July 2 & 3.   Still time to book: click here. Ruth and I look forward to catching up with people at these events. If you are a blog reader, do come and say hello.

2. Dalai Lama in Melbourne for teachings. What a treat this was. His Holiness was really vibrant, really clear. Talk about a healthy old age; as well as a great spiritual leader, he must be an inspiration to geriatrics everywhere!

One powerful insight he offered (amongst many). The destructive emotions, like anger tend to come spontaneously and rapidly. Most people do not need to develop them, they are just there. The constructive emotions like love and compassion, and especially altruism, tend to take time to develop, particularly when we attempt to direct them to the wider community. But they can be developed and when they, are they tend to stay. Likewise we can train our minds to reduce, even supplant anger and its tough friends, if we put our minds to it. Worth contemplating.

3. Had the book launch for “The Mind That Changes Everything”. The publisher, Mark Zocchi of Brolga Press has been a delight to work with and now the book should be in “all good bookshops”! It certainly is available on line through the Foundation if you cannot find it elsewhere.


The Mind That Changes Everything

Meditation in four easy steps


BOOKS: The Mind That Changes Everything: Ian Gawler

             Meditation - an In-depth Guide: Ian Gawler & Paul Bedson

CDs and DVD: Ian’s series on meditation

06 June 2011

Ian Gawler Blog: Slow down and go faster

How busy are you? Most people I speak with feel that their lives are becoming busier and busier. So imagine this – maybe with a little help, it is possible to slow down, relax and actually achieve more!

How might this be possible? I was thinking of the role model the Dalai Lama provides. He will be in Melbourne again this weekend for talks and teachings (how good is Australia’s karma that he comes so regularly?). He seems so relaxed, happy and at ease, yet if you consider his schedule, his responsibilities as the spiritual leader of a country under occupation, his life in exile and all the good works he does; if anyone has a right to be a little stressed or worn out, the Dalai Lama does. Yet well into his seventies, he remains energetic, very effective and prodigious in his output. He does a lot!

From all accounts, His Holiness gets up very early and does 3 – 4 hours of study and practice before starting his day. For us mere mortals, maybe we can receive a good deal of benefit without quite such a routine.

Speaking personally, I came home from a great meeting last week. A lot had been achieved, good ideas developed, new possibilities explored; all in a great atmosphere. Keen to tell Ruth about it, we then went to do what we do each evening, and that is to meditate together.

As I settled into my posture, I noticed this buzz in my body. A fine trembling, tingling sort of a buzz. It occurred to me that this excited energy, left over from the meeting was a good thing, but how it might lead some people on into drinking too much or some other excess.

It seemed to be in contrast to what it would be like to come home from a tough day, feeling depleted, despondent, even exhausted. Such a state, left unnoticed or unmanaged, could lead to other unhelpful activities, not the least of which may be being in a poor state of mind for partner or family.

Meditation offers this wonderful promise of being able to let go of the busyness and regain our balance. Whether we are up or down, balance is better. With our body and mind in balance, we think more clearly, we react more appropriately, we are in a better state to relate well with others. We are likely to be fresh, vital and at ease.

In such a state, there will be no compulsion to talk, but an ease with doing so. We will have no compulsion to be spoken to, but an ease with listening. We will be free to relax in a healthy way, or energised to take up something new when the time is right.

Remember the keys to meditating in a way that reliably brings these benefits. Four steps. Preparation, Relaxation, Mindfulness and Stillness – the essence of Mindfulness-Based Stillness Meditation.

Put very simply, having prepared well, we relax. Relaxing deeply, we become more mindful. As our mindfulness develops, stillness is revealed; naturally and without effort. We rest in open, undistracted awareness. This is Mindfulness-Based Stillness Meditation.

Oh yes, and at the great meeting last week, we began by sitting together and meditating. Two of those who gathered had never done such a thing before. They were guided very simply to aim to let go of whatever they had been doing earlier and to bring their attention to what was going on right now.

To assist this, there was the suggestion to be mindful of the sounds around about us, then the breath and that natural feeling of relaxing with the out breath. Then we simply rested quietly for a few minutes. Finally we reminded ourselves of our motivation, to help as many people as possible through what we were addressing at the meeting.

Having done this, the atmosphere in the room was transformed. Peaceful, calm, clear. One of the group said that he was really preoccupied with the busyness of what had been happening earlier, that he had felt his mind was all over the place. He said he actually had been concerned that he was in a poor state of mind to give the presentation he was required to do, but now, after that short quiet time, he felt clear and ready.

Just by being able to have a conversation like that, it seemed to me that we began our meeting on a very real and open level. The meeting rapidly developed into one where everyone went away feeling we had achieved a lot, deepened friendships and become energized.

So maybe it is possible. Slow down and accomplish more.


1. Meditation retreats coming soon

i) Germany, July 8-15. 

 I have been invited by monks from Thich Nhat Hahn’s centre to help lead a therapeutic meditation retreat. The monks wish to expand the meditation they currently offer to include a focus on healing. So this retreat is on at their retreat centre in the woods near Cologne and you can click here for details. Maybe you know someone in Europe who may be interested. EIAB

ii) Yarra Valley, October 7-9.
The same monks will be visiting Australia and combining with me to present a training and personal retreat for health professionals. Full details will be advised soon, but keep the dates free if you are keen.

2. Melbourne workshops

Had an enjoyable weekend presenting workshops in Melbourne. The next Melbourne workshops are on the weekend of September 17-18 and will be run with the Foundation. Again, full details will be on the websites soon.

3. Book launch, Tuesday evening, June 14th from 6.30pm.

There will be an event to mark the launch of The Mind That Changes Everything at Bertha Brown, 562 Flinders St, Melbourne. You are welcome to attend; you just need to reply to admin@brolgapublishing.com.au , or phone 96004982, it promises to be fun.


1. Meditation in 4 easy steps.

2. The Mind That Changes Everything.

3. Relaxation in everyday life.

4. Meditation – how much is enough?


1. Dalai Lama In Australia

2. Books:  The Mind That Changes Everything, Ian Gawler

                 Meditation – an In-depth Guide, Ian Gawler and Paul Bedson

3. Meditation Courses: The Gawler Foundation