Luke Coutinho on the importance of sleep and the surprising cure to a broken heart

The holistic lifestyle coach gives us 62 lifechanging habits in his book The Magic Weight-Loss Pill  
Luke Coutinho
Luke Coutinho

Luke Coutinho makes getting healthy easy enough to do in your sleep. Chew more to prevent acidity, for instance. Who knew? Try a water fast to age slower. Or clear two hours of sleep debt with 20 minutes of a practice called yoga nidra. His habit swaps are tactical, simple and fresh. And he has a massive list of 62 of these (habits) that you can browse through in his book The Magic Weight-Loss Pill in collaboration with actor and former yoga instructor Anushka Shetty, which came out recently. Ahead of a wellness session in Chennai next week, the holistic lifestyle coach, talks us through everything from hypertension to heartache. 

Excerpts from the interview:

We're excited about your session in Chennai! Give us a gist of what you will be covering.
I’m excited about my session in Chennai too. We will be addressing holistic lifestyle and disease, covering topics like immunity, cancer and how poor lifestyle choices is causing most of the health complications today and how can we fix that gap using nutrition, exercise, sleep and emotional detox. This session is mostly from the angle of preventative healthcare.

Give us a quick tour around the chapters of your new book in collaboration with Anushka Shetty.
The book starts with a bit of mine and Anushka’s individual journeys as to how we discovered that lifestyle changes are the way forward with regards to health and well-being. There are two parts to the book — part one talks on breaking down lifestyle into four pillars that I always emphasise on, namely Balanced Nutrition, Adequate Exercise, Sleep and Recovery and Emotional Detoxification. Part two talks about the top 62 lifestyle changes that we have observed in our practice that has helped people lose weight and keep it off. 

Could you share about five of those 62 life-changing habits in the book with us — that enable people to live happier and healthier lives?
The power of chewing:
The power lies in the chew. There are so many who have lost weight only with making sure they chew their meals well. With proper chewing, acidity reduces, digestion improves, portion sizes reduce and satiety increases. 

Acidity: Acidity is the number one root cause of most diseases known today and millions are plagued with it. It can wreak havoc with regards to inflammation, immunity, digestion and everything else. An acidity environment is an oxygen-depleted environment whereas an alkaline environment is an oxygen-rich environment. So, eradicating acidity should be one of the primary steps to a healthier body and life.

Fasting: It is not always about what you can add to your diet. Sometimes it’s also about what you can delete from your diet. Just by adopting a simple lifestyle change of water fasting and giving that planned break to your digestive system, we have noticed remarkable changes in the way people felt about themselves — right from immunity, inflammation to aging, skin, hair and digestion.

Breath: The power of breath cannot be underestimated. Breath is prana and one cannot live without it at all. Most of us are not even breathing to our maximum capacity. Not only does shallow breathing deprive our cells of the vital prana, it also tricks our body to believe that it is in a fight and flight mode, which is a stressful mode for our body to be in.

Visualisation: Healing starts from the mind. We are what we imagine to be. So, visualising health and healing also has immense benefits. It helps train our subconscious mind to think positive thoughts and that goes a long way in manifesting that into our physical self. 

You talk a lot about the importance of rest and sleep. In fact, it was one of your core messages in an article you wrote on Alzheimer’s prevention. In a world where late nights and night shifts are the norms at the office — what are some practical ways to ensure we sleep as much as we need to?
Sleep, like any other process is inbuilt to our body and cells. It is when the real magic of healing, repair, recovery, detoxification, recycle, rebalance occurs. Without that, we cannot function well the next day. It is one of the most important aspects in an Alzheimer’s case because sleep is healing to the brain. It is when we sleep that our brain detoxes and repairs. 

Most of us, in order to keep up with our social calendars and competitive world want to do more and more during our waking hours and deprioritise sleep. We skimp on sleep over the week thinking that we will make it up for it during the weekend. However, there is nothing called as sleep debt. Our body needs sleep on a daily basis since it also undergoes stress and strain under daily basis. Hormones need to balance, immune system needs to be regenerated, muscles need to repair, body and brain needs to detoxify on a regular basis.  

Firstly, it is important that we discipline ourselves because we may have the best of sleeping gadgets, aids and other tools, but without self-discipline, all of this is useless. The others are:

• You should reduce the blue light (artificial light) exposure in the evening and increase bright light during the day.

• Avoid eating heavy meals right before your sleep. Leave a minimum of two hours gap. 

• Do not take caffeine late in the day. Wind down with an herbal tea if you wish to have a warm beverage before bed. 

• Limit your screen time just before going to bed.

• Exercise regularly but do not exercise just before going to bed.

• Practice deep breathing to shift your body to a relaxed and calm state.

Also, in an age of uncertain work hours and thereby uncertain sleep hours — how does one combat insomnia?
Apart from all of the above, it is necessary to learn time management. Most of us bring home our office work because we haven’t been able to complete the tasks within the time frame. If we reflect on a day, we surely do find pockets of time that we might have wasted and could have invested that in something productive. 

Secondly, ensure you aim for quality sleep, even if it is five hours of sleep. After all it is not about how much you have slept, it is also about how well you have slept. Deep breathing, gratitude practice before bed, praying, decluttering your mind — are powerful ways to ensure deeper quality sleep. 

Explore yoga nidra which is one of the deepest forms of meditation known. Even 20 minutes of yoga nidra is as powerful as two hours of deep sleep. So, this is help for people who have less time to sleep in hand.

A lot of what has been passed down to us by our parents and grandparents about what is healthy doesn’t fully serve us in the world as we know it today. Could you share with us a handful of misconceptions around good food or habits?
Most of the health practices that our parents and grandparents have followed in the past continue to serve us well, if done in a balanced way. In fact, it is time we bring back these rituals because it carried a lot of wisdom. However, there are certain instances where we may go wrong.

For example: Overdoing on carbohydrates.

Rice and chapatis were an integral part for our ancestors and they managed to digest it pretty well because their level of physical activity was at its peak. They could eat rice in all meals and still maintain a lean physique. The same practice may not be valid in today’s times because even though we believe that rice and whole grains are healthy, most of us are living a sedentary lifestyle today. So, it is necessary to moderate carb consumption in today’s modern age. 

The same is the case with adding ghee into one’s diet. In olden times, it was the only fat consumed along with main meals. But today, we consume fat in various forms and various ways. So, while fat is not the problem, overconsumption is. 

A day in the life 

Take us through a day in your life — your meals, morning routine and all of the little habits you implement through the day to keep your energy levels up.

I like to wake up early and spend some time to get in aspects of yoga like meditation, asanas that my yoga teacher has taught me. I then wake my daughter up and we spend some time together; have breakfast and I drop her off to school on my way to work. 
As for meals, if I am intermittent fasting, I skip my breakfast otherwise it usually starts with warm lemon water or a concoction followed by fruits, eggs and the like. It really depends on my mood and what my body is trying to say. I never follow a diet. I listen to my body and hence every day is different for me. 

The little habits that I implement through the day are: 

• Meditation in between every two hours.

• Deep breathing as it takes me less than two minutes to do.

• Sitting in malasana (garland) position in between my day.

• Workout during the day so I get a break from consults and patients. It also helps me recharge for the next set of my patients that come during the second half of the day.

• I don’t compromise on seven to eighthours of good sleep in any case, unless I’m travelling.

• My meal times are sacred. I eat really slow, mindfully and fully extract pleasure from my food.

• My entire day is with the patients and once my daughter is home from school and I home from work, its only family time until she goes to sleep. Then maybe one hour of spending time with family, reading and finally, go to sleep. 

You’ve said in the past that one cannot divorce physical health from emotional health. Can you share emotional patterns that are common to people with conditions like cancer, diabetes, and hypertension?
When we spend time diagnosing and reflecting back into the lifestyles of people who have cancer, diabetes, hypertension, autoimmune disease, we find emotional stress as one commonality amongst 90 per cent of these cases. Whenever we delve deeper into their lives and go six months back or the time when they first diagnosed the issue, we find that each of them did have some kind of stress or emotional downfall in their lives. Whatever the cause of this emotional distress is — ranging from loss of a loved one, financial stress, relationship issues, bullying and so on — it all manifests into the physical body in some or the other way. This is precisely why we spend a lot of time diagnosing before even planning their line of treatment. 

If emotions and physical health have such a symbiotic dynamic, we have to wonder — is there a cure to heartache?
Everyone’s cause of heartache is different so their way of healing may also differ from person to person, but what’s most important is to feel the emotion. Emotion, be it positive or negative is real and we are allowed to feel them. The more I see cases of heartaches, the more I see people trying to be good and suppress their real feelings because that’s what the spiritual and meditation books teach us. Too many of us want quick fixes and immediate results or else we give up and continue to be locked in a vicious cycle or never healing or dealing with our emotions. And the more we use coping mechanisms like socialising, shopping, alcohol, drugs, extreme spiritual parts – the harder the journey gets.
So firstly, allow yourself to feel it, run it out of your system by feeling and riding the emotion completely. We have to allow emotions to be felt and expressed in a civilised way. The reason you may be hurt and suffering is because of your loss of love or mean things that were said to you. So, if you are hurt but are trying to show the world that you are okay then you will never feel better. Yes, spirituality, meditation prayer, etc, helps us find inner strength to accept, let go, know us better, live more mindfully. That’s a journey and continuous process- but in the meantime, if you feel the need to truly feel your negative emotions – please feel it, express it and know that you are allowed to do so. Side-by-side, you can always start your journey to self-healing and get better.

At the end of it all, everyone is different. Some need medication as a crutch, some don’t. Some meditate and get spiritual and it works, but for some it doesn’t. Find what suits you but know there is a better world out there always.

And we have to ask, how do you manage to sustain it all — especially around food — with all of the travel you do?  
I head to US every 45 days to two months and make trips to Dubai or wherever my work requires me to travel. There is a lot of travel within India as well, but I manage. I never compromise on sleep so I try to insist on flights in a way that I get full sleep and I can avoid waking up early or late nights, as much as it is in my control. 

I spend a lot of time at the airports so I try to fit in walks, steps and find ways to remain active. I think being busy is just a lame excuse. There is always a way to remain healthy and active if there is a will to do that. My job is also sedentary because I’m consulting patients throughout the day, but it is how you prioritise and manage it.

I try to keep my trips short and productive so my trips to New York and Dubai are for two to three days, so I can get back to family as its extremely important to spend time with a growing child like mine. I can extend my trips to adjust jet lags but spending time with my daughter and family is my priority at the moment.

Get better vision with Beta carotene-rich foods namely carrot, pumpkin,
sweet potatoes and cantaloupes

Heal yourself

Give us one natural how-to with food or a lifestyle practice to:

Lose weight:
Self-discipline! With nutrition, exercise, sleep and emotional health automatically comes in. 

Get clear skin:
Hydration and a clean gut. Most of us are dehydrated at a cellular level. Lack of hydration leads to most skin issues. Also, skin is the reflection of our gut health.  Hence, its necessary to stay hydrated and focus on your gut heath. 

Get over PCOD:
quality sleep. It’s a case of hormonal imbalance and sleep is crucial for the health of your hormones. 

• Soothe stomach cramps during a period: The good old remedy of sesame seeds and jaggery works very well. It could be in the form of a laddu or mix powder.  

Fight dandruff:
Apple cider vinegar rinse. Mix one partof apple cider vinegar to thr parts of water and use it to rinse your hair and scalp. Leave for 10-15 mins and wash off with plain water. Use it once or twice a week. 

Remedy for an upset stomach:
Focus on probiotics (rice kanji, kimchi, fresh A2 cow yogurt or buttermilk, sauerkraut, homemade pickles) — as an upset gut begins from an imbalance in the ratio of good and bacteria in the gut. 

Get rid of a headache:   
Soak three to four black peppercorns for three to four hours. Bite into them and swallow empty stomach.

Get better vision without glasses:
Beta carotene-rich foods namely carrot, pumpkin, sweet potatoes, cantaloupes. Spending less time staring at screens and just giving adequate rest to the eyes is important. Our eyes aren’t designed to stare at screens as much as we do today.

You’ve covered every topic most people can think of around health on your YouTube channel — is there an ingredient or practice that you recently discovered or found novel recently?
Information is everywhere. The problem is not availability of information, it is about how people use that wisdom and putting it into action that’s effective. I particularly like talking about topics like fasting, both dry and intermittent as it has changed lives of my patients and most people. I emphasise on emotional health a lot because many people settle with the fact that stress is a part of their lives and do nothing about it. I am big on talking about simple lifestyle changes with respect to nutrition, exercise, how not to complicate things by following fad and get people back to living simple lives. Most of my content is decided on how my day is going. So, on a particular day, if I have met patients with a lot of acidity and it’s something, I need to educate people on, then that becomes my content for the day. 
What new projects are you working on?
We are working on a couple of them, like the wellness markets all over the country that aims at giving our farmers and fair trade a platform and is a step towards resetting the existing food chain. 
We are also focused at enhancing and improving the nutritional status of rural population and combating malnutrition.

Luke Coutinho will be speaking at ITC Grand Chola. On September 18. Time:10.30 am to 12.30 pm. Register online. | @brightasunshine

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