Review of Rangan Chatterjee Feel Better in 5

It usually takes a person from science who has called out its limitations and turned to ancient wisdom, presenting it in a modern stylish way, for us to sit up and take note. Though there is nothing in Feel Better in 5 that I hadn’t read thirty five years earlier in books such as The Advanced Course in Yogi Philosophy that I found one day in that beautiful near extinct creature the second hand book shop, it is still a pleasant enough artefact.

The colours are lovely and bright, there is lots of light on the pages, photos are arranged to give us a tantalising taste of what the life of someone who has all their stuff together looks like.

Fair enough, if that lights you up for a moment. But it is just that moment, generally just when you have the book in your hand, that you can be inspired by such a thing. I tend to avoid books, videos, and people when what they present seems to imply that my life is not good enough, or that I am not good enough. Absolutely it is excellent to look after your well-being turn things around so that you are living with ease and vibrant health, arrange your environment so that it supports your efforts at every step, assess and re-asses your thoughts, feelings, and needs on a regular basis. That is all brilliant. Everyone should be encouraged to get the most out of their life. Everyone can benefit from images that inspire them too. For me I think it is a bit like the slim gorgeous models in magazines that people object to, because it is thought they might encourage anorexia. I’m not sure they necessarily do. In most cases I found the images something to aspire to in terms of keeping myself fit and relatively pleasant looking. It’s the same kind of ambivalence I feel with books like Feel Better in 5. Part of me thinks great, it gives us something to aspire to. It kick starts a re-think about our approach to life. Aspiration always sells doesn’t it? Another part of me thinks these images are staged, like all expert Instagrammers and all seemingly gorgeous models in fashion magazines. They ultimately probably make us feel worse for not continually having our houses, clothes, food choices, and lives arranged with such a flawless aesthetic.

I don’t know about everyone else, but my life is so messy. I shamble from one activity to another with ridiculous spontaneity, usually running on intuition, hardly ever planned, hardly ever poised, and certainly never picture perfect.

Hold on though. Rangan Chatterjee does say some good things, I would love the book if the photos were less prominent (although I do enjoy the pictures of Rangan doing yoga in his garden) and reflected the true chaos of life. Indeed most of the things Chatterjee says have always chimed with me and I appreciate him for encouraging everyone to take a more holistic, more proactive less palliative approach to health.

Our genetics are not our destiny. When I heard Dr Rangan Chatterjee say this it struck a chord. A long term advocate for epigenetics, I know that we can change our course by optimising our environment and habits. It is one of the basic premises of Kundalini Yoga that we can change our genetic expression up to seven generations back and seven generations forward. Astro physics, quantum, and mathematics say it is more difficult to travel back in time than forward, but they are yet to prove that it is impossible.

Epi-genetics is where the ability to time travel counts. Our destiny is up to us. It is the destiny of all beings on the planet, and if we can be healthy, happy, and whole, then so can the planet. Rangan Chatterjee is that rare thing a modest doctor who admits he does not know everything. Humility was a tough lesson in his case – he tells the story of how he suddenly found himself in a position where he feared for the life of his baby son and could do nothing to help him as a doctor and as his father. It turned out his son was suffering from vitamin D deficiency. It was not something Chatterjee knew anything about even though he was a doctor.

The experience struck him so deeply that he went on to research and study to conclude what yogis and Ayurvedic practitioners have been saying for centuries, that the root causes and individual needs of each being must be addressed before things get out of hand, because by the time you are expressing a chronic disease, conventional doctors have fewer answers. A medicine may work for dealing effectively with an acute disease, such as pneumonia (antibiotics) but a chronic disease such as diabetes, dementia, Alzheimer’s, depression, is a slow build up of many elements, some more salient than others in any particular person: diet, exposure to environmental toxins, sleep quality, stress levels. Obviously continual sugar use will eventually cause insulin resistance in some people, but it is also the case that a night without sleep can equate to the insulin resistance caused by six months on a junk food diet. High stress levels, work stress, or emotional stress will raise cortisol levels, which in turn releases sugar and insulin. Depression can be caused by inflammation or an imbalance in gut microbiome. The most successful way for doctors to treat chronic diseases is to trace back the root causes in each individual and deal with them one by one.

It is sound advice: It is mainly the title that I object to. I don’t think we should feel pressured to be continuously productive. We need times when we do absolutely nothing, that is natural, but 5 minutes implies we have to be quick about our self care. “Do something you love for five minutes a day” F#** that, I’ll spend two or three hours doing what I love thanks, and if possible all day every day. Yes time is running out. But time is running out whatever you do. Most people would tell you if they have a regret it would be not having pursued what they love to do, regret for missing out on things they might have liked if they’d had the time to try them – live in a rented room and forget about acquiring a big place or scrabbling after cash. I have heard that from people many times. Keep it real.

Feel Better in 5 has a lot of white space on the pages, large inspirational photographs, lists of ways to tackle daily existence, and that generic look typical in this sort of motivational book, if you can get past that without smirking, of course his basic advice makes sense. It always has done, for centuries. The problem for most beings is that life is messy and however beautifully you arrange your kitchen or your desk, accidents occur, loved ones die, we run into problems from all directions. There is always something that will throw a spanner in the works. Let’s hope we have all the systems in place that Rangan Chatterjee suggests, and we might just be prepared for them.