The Doctor lies Within: A conversation with my dad, Paramjit Dhiman
I have studied health and healing for what seems like my entire life. Growing up in our household, my family and my grandparents always discussed health, food, the season, herbs, roots, spices, and karma or energy: what you put out into the world will come back to you in the form of health and abundance. Growing up with chronic illness and immune system dysregulation, this set the stage for my future and current career in an epic quest to heal myself.
I have always had a fascination with “old”. I appreciate and love modern day amenities but I have always had a deep pull to learn how life was lived without technology. I had a deep sense of longing to have grown up as my dad did because his life journey is so fascinating to me. I am envious of it, and my hope is that you read this article with an open heart.
My Dad’s name is Paramjit Dhiman and he was born in Phillaur, a town in the district of Jalandhar in Punjab (North India). He is 69 years old although his exact birth date is not known, his passport date was chosen to be the date of Vaisakhi – the festival of harvest. He is an entrepreneur and works 6 days a week with passion for a profession requiring acute intellect. His energy is incredible; he has run the Sun Run 16 years in a row without missing one year, training 6am prior to work; he is an avid golfer; loves the Canucks; and has adapted to many different worlds. This article is an exploration is of the old world, the traditional world, the world of connection and oneness. My Dad is the generational bridge, the last remaining connection in our family from the old world, to the modern world, his dance interweaving between both has been nothing less than fascinating.
My dad was born at home with a midwife, and is the third eldest of 7 siblings. My Bibi (Grandma) breast-fed all of her children. He can’t recall ever going to the hospital because there were none and there were barely any doctors available. Two or three different vaccines were FIRST given around age 7 upon enrolling in school. He recalls two: Polio and Cholera. He says there may have been a third. Seven years of age – no doctor, no hospital, and no vaccines until entering school. This was one of the reasons I am so drawn to my Dads stories of how he grew up. How is this possible?! By the age of 7 my file at my doctor’s office was inches thick due to frequent visits. I now know key reasons for how this was possible.
Growing up in Phillaur and most traditional cultures allows for natural development of the immune system, the digestive system and natural immunization. The definition of Immunization is to make someone immune to something.
There was a garden in the backyard, which would grow plenty of veggies; there were several fruit trees. All vegetables and fruits were seasonal and local. My dad said his dad loved the garden and he would always try to make it look beautiful. They all contributed and worked in the garden for upkeep and to maintain the crops. There was never meat in the household and all of them grew up vegetarian. My Bibi was really strict about eggs and would never eat eggs. I recall even when she visited our house if we made eggs she would run out of the kitchen covering her face. She was hilarious, and totally dramatic. My dad remembers that they would occasionally purchase eggs and have them but I’m pretty sure whoever ate eggs would not be in Bibi’s good books that day.
Wheat is a big staple in the Punjabi diet and this was another point that is so fascinating. My Bibi would purchase a 500kg bag of wheat grains for the year. They would take about 40-50kg of the wheat grains to family members who operated the grain-grinding mill to make wheat flour. The electric mill was two stone plates rotating on top of one another to grind the grains between the stone into fresh flour. The fresh flour was then stored in an airtight container lasting about a month until the next batch had to be ground.
Growing up there was always one cow and one buffalo in the back yard. Some years there would be a baby calf for several years until it was older and then it was sold. In the summer the buffalo and cow would sleep outside, and in the winter there would be a covered room where they slept. My Bibi would wake up at 5 am, take the cow and buffalo out of the room and tie them to the post on the grass and give them a mix of greens and hay. The room they slept in would be cleaned of cow dung and urine and place fresh hay down for in preparation for the next night. If there was a baby calf the calf would be fed milk first in the morning and this also stimulated the cow or buffalo giving milk. They were milked twice a day morning and night. At lunch they were fed hay and a mixture of the hulls of cottonseeds. At 4pm for dinner they were given a mixture of grass and greens and hay. I asked where they got all this? Someone would come around selling grass, also hay.
The cow and buffalo were bathed once or twice a week and they would massage the hides of the animals and the face with mustard seed oil to help maintain their health and prevent disease. Once a week they would also take the animals to a larger field where they could walk and graze and sit in a field of grass and shade where 20-30 other cows were also taken. At night before bed, my Grandpa would put a mixture of boiled fennel seeds, cardamom seeds, and a mixture of herbs, cool it, open the cow’s mouth and feed it to them in order to prevent any disease. It would keep their eyes healthy and the quality of milk was really good because the hygiene of the inside of the cow and buffalo was so good. When my dad tells me of how they cared for the cow and buffalo it is really touching, he speaks about it with so much care and love and attention. I asked him if they named the cow or the buffalo and he said no they didn’t.
In the morning my Bibi would milk the cow and in the evening they would milk the buffalo. The morning milk was used to make yogurt, butter, buttermilk, and lassi. Unlike yogurt in North America, Desi yogurt is naturally very sour which also makes it a digestive aid and it is very cooling, especially for hot Indian summers. My dad remembers fighting to help my Bibi churn the butter because of all the effort it required with the pulling. The desire to help was not entirely selfless, because they knew when Bibi knew they helped, they would get a bit extra . The energy to make fresh butter alone several times a week by churning is astounding to me!
After a few days if the butter still remained, it was heated and separated from the milk solids to make Ghee, which is shelf stable. Nothing went to waste. In the evening the buffalo was milked to drink warm after dinner. Whatever they were able to milk they would drink. Some months the buffalo and cow didn’t give the milk so they would purchase it which was all raw and unpasteurized.
Bibi would wake up 5am and first take care of the animals and the garden. Then the family would start to awaken and there would always be a minimum of 8-10 people to feed for breakfast – with no refrigerator! All food was made fresh for about 10 people for breakfast, lunch and dinner. There were no leftovers, there was no meal preparation, no option of take-out and how I think of it, no safety net. There really was nothing to fall back on because meals had to be made daily and all finished within the day. Foods had to be fermented to become shelf stable and homemade Achaar, fermented lemon pickles, were a staple in the home. Food made fresh per meal, also meant no snacking. It also meant when cooking for ten people was finished, it was finished even if my Dad and my Uncles would want more.
My dad said they had a small kitchen with a cement floor and there my Bibi would make meals cooking over a fire from dried cow dung patties. The fuel for the fire was a dried cow dung patty because there was no electric coil stove or oven. I believe frying was done in the markets for specialty foods.
Cow dung patties have been used in India for centuries. My dad said they would mix the cow dung with mud and hay and dried would be used for cooking. Cow dung was used as the fertilizer for the garden. Fresh cow dung was also used for mixing with mud and dehydrating into bricks and this is what my dad’s house was made of. It was called a raw house and the walls were made of cow dung bricks. Once made, they were hard as cement and the house my dad grew up in is still there; I have visited it and it looked awesome. My dad remembers that everyone in the house would help clean the house floors using fresh cow dung patties once a week. He said that it would keep the house free of worms and bugs. I asked, how is this clean? Doesn’t this smell? He said it didn’t smell because cow dung is free of bacteria, is antibacterial, odorless, and a disinfectant. He said it made the house so clean that they could even sleep on the floor if they wanted.
When I think of travelling to India, one of my first thoughts and concerns is polluted drinking water. However, when my dad grew up the water was fresh groundwater from a pump in the back yard at a time where water was not yet polluted.
My dad said that they grew up without hot water which is a huge shock to North Americans as we have lost our adaptability to the elements, including excess heat and cold.
Despite the warmer temperatures, India gets quite cold in the winter. Without heat, the houses get very cold, and living without hot water was just something they had adapted to. Instead of having hot showers, they would fill up buckets from the pump in the backyard and use it for their daily bathing. My dad said that about twice a year they would heat up water and mix it in the bucket to bathe with. Imagine that, a warm bath as a treat! The boys bathed outside and then they brought buckets inside for the girls to bathe in private in a room. As nothing was wasted in India, the bathwater was dumped on the ground and it would funnel into different sections of the garden.
I was in awe as to how much work went into running a ten-person, “old-world” household. My dad said that they composted the vegetable scraps, milk was stored in clay pots to keep it cool, and water was stored in copper pots to kill contaminants. No toilet paper. It was essentially a zero waste home. There was electricity in the home, but obviously no Internet and no electromagnetic frequencies from technology. What does this say? This was a non-toxic home. It was respectful and connected to the environment. There were no toxic containers, non-toxic foods, all cleaning products were natural. Much like Bibi’s dramatic ways, my dad would run out of our living room covering his mouth when my mom used to spray “Pledge” on our wooden coffee table. Non-toxic = anti-inflammatory. All disease arises from inflammation in the body. My dad’s home was the epitome of anti-inflammatory living.
When asked what they did for fun, my dad said that Bibi was really social and that there was always family over. He played sports without shoes and always had fun in the schoolyard with lots of friends. The family had a bike and one radio. He said that if they ever wanted cookies, Bibi made a mixture of flour, ghee, and sugar into dough and they would drive the dough to someone in the market with a fire oven and have them bake the cookies. If you recall, there was no refrigerator and no oven in the house. Once or twice a season they would get cookies. When asked if there was sugar in the house, he said early on there was “gourd” at home for tea. Gourd is unrefined cane sugar. In the later years, he remembers the sugar switched white refined sugar for tea.
Grounding to the Earth, they touched the ground, they played sports without shoes. My dad grew up completely grounded to the Earth. “Grounding” and “Earthing” has tremendous health benefits and extremely important to ward off inflammation in our system.
Circadian rhythm – we have a natural body rhythm that is internally linked to sun rise and sun set. I asked my dad about how they slept and what their day looked like, he said they would wake with the sunrise. And in the summer they would put their beds in front of the house and sleep under the stars with sun set.
Hearing my dad speak about how he grew up, I just feel all the love and intention and connection in the house. The home was an extension of Nature. There was complete connection to the Earth. I asked my dad his Philosophy of health and he said, “If eat good food, I will stay healthy. In reasonable amount, do some exercise. Stay in focus, don’t allow for distractions. It’s important to always have goal. The next 15 years of your health is made today. If I do Sun Run now, I will benefit in 10 years. Health is prevention. When one complains their knees are bad – they are not bad now; it happened 10 years ago.”
Boom, there it was! And that is why I am partially the Naturopath I am, why I help to fight for restoration of their health at a deep level. Restoration and development of natural immunization that can happen even in the modern world. The way my dad grew up is the picture perfect way to naturally develop immunization. We can’t go back to that time, but with awareness we can bring those elements of immune system and prevention to modern day. It may come from a different path, but we can bring it back. And I couldn’t agree more with his Philosophy. Each patient I see I’m helping to correct and balance what happened in the past, but more so to heal so deeply today that we are practicing prevention for 10 years ahead.
This past Feb, 2017, I had a full circle moment. I had the opportunity to experience off-the-grid living, very similar to how my dad grew up. I attended a Breath Practitioner Training module in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. Within three days of camping in the desert on this land, my circadian rhythm restored. I slept at sun set, and work at sun rise, my skin was glowing, I ate vegetables picked from their farm, I had cold showers, there was no electricity, no refrigerator, only solar powered and no wifi. I returned to the connectedness with nature. By the end of my 8th day there, I felt amazing; I got a glimpse of what I would feel like growing up as my dad did. But I also saw just how quickly my body bounced back to this natural state. Three days; the cells of our body always remember our original state.
Interpreting the Steps and Stages involved in developing a “Natural Immune System”
- Vegetables and fruits were local; only in season; naturally organic; naturally non-gmo
- Grains were not sprayed and fresh stone grinding ensured that the flour was not rancid; grains have oils and pre grinding them and having them sit on shelves in stores, generally means rancidity. Freshly ground flour, means the oils are fresh and not rancid. This is anti-inflammatory. The gluten was not GMO, and therefore easier to digest.
- Probiotic rich fermented foods such as yogurt and lemon pickle – Gut healthy; aids digestion; gut protective bacteria
- Raw unpasteurized grass fed milk – so much to say on this topic; I have written many articles on the benefits of raw milk. All of our milk is pasteurized.
- Ghee is a superfood, is anti-inflammatory, a healthy fat, fuel for gut health, does not go rancid, contains fat soluble vitamins such as A and D, and can be used indefinitely for cooking, it does not turn into trans fats, and it is shelf stable
- Foods were made fresh daily per meal; and logistically – there could not be an endless food supply at their fingertips; such as the case for most of us in North America.
- There was no refrigerator. One of the many life changing books I read was, “The Maker’s Diet”, by Jordan S. Rubin, who details his journey of turning around life threatening inflammatory bowel disease. He states that one of the biggest downfalls of the health of the gut is the introduction of the refrigerator. He turned his entire health around with fermented vegetable, fermented grains and fermented dairy, a diet based on the teachings of the Bible.
- No processed foods. There was minimal sugar in tea, and a sweet treat once or twice a season. This is also a habit I have for myself, if I want something sweet; I have to want it bad enough to make it myself. Intention over convenience.
- Cooking by fire is a huge part of what led to the development of our brain and teeth and digestive system. It is recognizable at the DNA level from Hunter Gatherer to cook by fire. The fire was also fueled by an extremely clean natural source of dried cow dung. Not toxic. Versus coil heated stoves and even worse is the modern day introduction of the Microwave.
- Water is the most abundant chemical compound on the Earth, and it makes up about 75% of the earths surface. Everyone is aware of how important water is and we cannot survive without it. Drinking water is an endlessly confusing topic. When my dad grew up, they had a water pump in the back yard and the water was fresh groundwater. Fresh ground water is full of minerals and naturally alkaline. Alkaline pH helps to decrease inflammation in the body; minerals in the water are essential for bone, teeth, cardiovascular, and adrenal health.
- Of late I have been researching much more into the “domestication of humans.” Meaning we live in warm houses, drive warm cars, to our warm workplace, etc. We are quite far removed from living connected to the earth. I love the teachings of Dr. Sussanna Czeranko, she an ND from Portland and teaches of the healing benefits of cold water, and “hardening children.” She says she did it with her own children, and they can jump into a cold water river and not even flinch. Cold water builds the immune system, it improves circulation, it improves lymphatic flow, improves mood and the part of the brain that holds fear, overcoming the fear of cold will help dissolve fears in other areas of our life. It also results in a huge amount of energy! Wim Hof is also a modern day breath practitioner and a pioneer of human potential. He refers to the cold as our merciless but righteous teacher. Immune system hardening; hardening is a response to a natural stimulus.
- They were in constant contact with the Earth, they unknowingly practiced “earthing” or “grounding” multiple times per day. I believe in North America some of us can go weeks, perhaps months without touching the earth or some form of nature. All of our modern day technology, computers, phones, tv’s, video games, appliances, electronics – all emit, electromagnetic frequencies (EMF). Our bodies are a closed electrical circuit and pick up these positive charged electrons. Since our bodies are closed circuits, there is no where for these electrons to go. This can result in a hyper stressed nervous system, high cortisol levels, high inflammation, high anxiety, mood dysregulation, disrupted sleep, high blood pressure, muscle tension, headaches, and disrupted hormonal cycles. However, the Earth carries negatively charged electrons, and when we walk on the earth without shoes or socks – we quickly recalibrate to the rhythm of the earth and it can restore a tremendous sense of calm, regulating all rhythms of the body and calming internal inflammation. Many of us feel amazing on sunny vacations; it’s not just that we are away from the grind of our daily lives; we are also likely to be touching the earth multiple times a day! In modern day living, “grounding” must be part of the prescription.
- Touching soil, has naturally occurring probiotics, again supportive gut health
- They had naturally balanced circadian rhythms and sleep-wake cycles. We have artificially created sun via usage of lights in our house. So we can stay up at all hours of the night and confuse our circadian rhythm or our natural state of our body. Following the laws of circadian rhythm, balances our hormones, our mood, our heart health, our gut, our neurotransmitters and yes, again it is anti-inflammatory – not to mention, tons of energy!
- In the home, there were no toxic chemicals in the form of pesticides, or home cleaning products or plastic storage containers, or gas. There was minimal toxicity as compared to modern day.
- Each step of the way starting from conception – you can see there is a respect for the digestive system. Each step of developing natural immunity is via treatment and support. A highly developed gut = natural immunization.
Albert Einstein once said, “The intuitive mind is the sacred gift and the rational mind is the faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift.” There were no double blind scientific studies verifying how my Dad grew up; there were no step-by-step raising a “natural family,” handbooks; there were no Internet articles. However, there was a connection to the land and an openness of intuition that comes with this connection. There is a use of the part of our brain called “the Cerebellum”. This part of the brain elicits gut feelings and action prompted by intuition. Our modern day brain often overrides intuition with “thinking” which is often the dominant voice when our world is “distracted”. When our world is distracted we cannot hear or feel our intuition. This is actually the path to healing…quiet the chaos, to go within. Within, lies the doctor.
I hope you enjoyed this exploration back to my Dad’s home. The real take-home is that our cellular make up; our DNA does not change with technology. These illustrated points to develop the immune system naturally are all points I consider in each and every one of my patient visits. We can bring it to our modern world. My wish is that we start to reaffirm trust in nature cures. My wish is restoring trust in the laws of healing, many of which my Dad and grew up with, and they still apply today. My wish for this series is that it reignites trust in the wisdom of our bodies. The real doctor is within. My wish is also, for a little glimpse into where we at Brio originate from and why we passionately do what we do day in and day out.
My goal is to thank our dedicated patients who put their trust in us. Stay tuned for Brio celebrates ten years. #april2018
In health, Dr. Neetu Dhiman, ND