Craig Bromberg
November 15, 1993 12:00 PM

Deepak Chopra has a guilty little secret. For six weeks this year, the author of Ageless Body, Timeless Mind would sneak weekly calls to a special 900 hot line to find out what position his book would occupy on the upcoming New York Times best-seller list. “I’ve always taught that you should be detached from the outcome of whatever you do,” says the man who claims that aging can be reversed by eliminating toxic behavior. Chopra, 47, was so unnerved by his own behavior that he asked the phone company to block the line to those calls.

Few writers in the field of alternative medicine have so dominated the best-seller lists. Since his debut with Creating Health, Chopra has had three other hits, though none as big as Ageless Body, Timeless Mind. Within 24 hours of his appearance on Oprah last July, retailers across the country ran out of the book, which has sold 700,000 copies to date. Numbers like that have some wondering whether Chopra—whose message combines Western knowledge of stress with ancient Eastern wisdom on longevity—has found the fountain of youth or a road to riches. Bui Chopra, who became chief of staff at New England Memorial Hospital by the time he was 35, says that what sets him apart from the rest of the new-age pack is that he can turn the abracadabra of healing into “a language that fascinates people.”

The basics of that language are simple. The secret to long life, says Chopra, isn’t just good genes but the way we live. “Get rid of toxic relations, emotions [and] foods,” he says, “and you can influence your life span by 30 years.” Indeed, Chopra claims that such “bio-markers of aging” as blood pressure, bone density, heartbeat, muscle strength and body temperature can be controlled by our minds. With “meditation, exercise, dieting [and] nutritional supplements,” he says, we can live to be 120, as he claims the ancient yogis of India did.

Not everyone agrees. Dr. Gene Cohen, deputy director of the National Institute of Aging at the National Instilutes of Health, says that while the mind can play a crucial role in the body’s health, some of Chopra’s theories seem “misleading, inaccurate or just plain fantastic.” Nor is this the first time Chopra has inspired controversy. In 1991, the Journal of the American Medical Association charged that Chopra, the principal author of an article on the ancient Indian school of herbal medicine known as Ayurveda, had engaged in “a widespread pattern of misinformation, deception and manipulation” because he failed to disclose to the journal that, as president of the American Association of Ayurvedic Medicine, he had close lies to the company that distributed the prescribed herbs. Chopra’s response? The charges were “hilariously comical,” and Ayurvedism was the target of “ethnocentric, racist and bigoted” accusations.

Deepak, the son of Krishan Chopra, a prominent Indian cardiologist, attended medical school in New Delhi, as did his younger brother, Sanjiv, now 44 and an associate professor of medicine at Harvard. In 1970, Deepak came to the U.S. and interned at a New Jersey hospital. Over the next decade, he distinguished himself at hospitals affiliated with Harvard, Tufts and Boston University and established a thriving endocrinology practice in Boston.

By 1980, though, Chopra says he had begun to feel “like a legalized drug pusher, dispensing antibiotics and sleeping pills” to his patients. Then he read a primer on transcendental meditation written by its founder, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. For the next few years, Chopra immersed himself in TM while continuing to practice medicine. In the mid-80s, he met the Maharishi, who asked him to bring Ayurveda to America. Chopra became Ayurveda’s main rep here but had abandoned that role by 1991. “People saw me as a spokesman,” he explains. “I didn’t want to be the leader of an organization.”

Now Chopra is a movement of one who, with his wife, Rita, divides his time between homes in La Jolla, Calif., and Boston. He also periodically circles the globe preaching the gospel of reverse aging. No doubt he has found a way to turn back his own biological clock. “I expect to live way beyond 100,” he says, “with creativity and enthusiasm.”

CRAIG BROMBERG

JOHNNY DODD in San Diego

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