By AMERICAN HEART ASSOCIATION NEWS
Monk Yunrou’s family is full of innovators in cardiovascular medicine. Yunrou is making his mark on heart health, too.
As a third-generation heart-helper, he promotes healthy lifestyles based on ancient Taoist philosophy and the smooth, flowing movements of tai chi. He teaches about the mind-body connection, fitness and stress reduction.
“Stress is your response to the outside world,” he said. “This is a core message of Taoism – you can only control you.”
Formerly known as Arthur Rosenfeld, Yunrou witnessed his family’s involvement in medicine before incorporating his own studies into his personal battle with heart problems.
Arthur Master, M.D., his grandfather, helped develop the first cardiac stress tests. Yunrou’s father, Isadore Rosenfeld, M.D., now retired, is a renowned cardiologist and longtime American Heart Association volunteer in the New York City area. The family’s Rosenfeld Heart Foundation supports heart disease research through donations to the AHA.
Yunrou, 59, studied literature at Yale, natural history at the University of California at Santa Barbara and veterinary medicine at Cornell. He also found wisdom in Eastern cultures and was ordained a monk, with approval of the provincial government, at the Pure Yang Temple in Guangzhou, China.
His own experience with heart disease emerged on Memorial Day weekend in 2010 when he awoke feeling ill. He was having a heart attack. Yunrou recalls medical personnel at a Florida hospital saying he was a “time bomb.” Doctors inserted three stents to open blocked arteries.
Yet, a couple of weeks later he still felt poorly. Yunrou contacted his father and ended up at New York Weill Cornell Medical Center.
A doctor there thought coronary bypass surgery was needed because it would be too difficult to insert more stents. Yunrou emphatically urged him to “try harder.” The doctor managed to insert two additional stents, avoiding the surgery.
Yunrou was later diagnosed with irregular heartbeats, including atrial fibrillation and faster, more dangerous beats.
“I was constantly being rushed to the hospital,” he said. “It was destroying my life.”
Doctors ultimately performed two different ablation procedures to burn the tissue causing the irregular beat so that a normal heart rhythm could return.
“The second surgery did the trick,” he said.
While Yunrou is thankful for the doctors who helped him, he believes that Western medicine must be balanced with methods that have existed thousands of years, such as meditation, tai chi and the breathing practice of qigong.
“I’ve tried to bridge East and West a little bit in this area,” he said.
A 36-year master of Taoist arts, he has written novels, nonfiction books and screenplays, and has hosted instructional videos and a national public television program on tai chi. One of his books, which explains the practice, is Tai Chi, the Perfect Exercise: Finding Health, Happiness, Balance, and Strength.
Tai chi helps reduce stress and instills balance that research suggests can prevent debilitating falls. Studies have shown tai chi and other forms of traditional Chinese exercise can lower blood pressure and cholesterol.
Yunrou teaches tai chi workshops internationally to men, women and children, and at the Phyllis Sandler Center for Living Well at the Christine E. Lynn Women’s Institute at Boca Raton Regional Hospital.
“Tai chi practice is often described as ‘moving meditation,’ and I like that description,” said Rodney Cohen, M.D., who has known Yunrou 13 years and is one of his several physician students. “Daily practice can look like a few minutes of specialized movements, standing, sitting or even daydreaming, as well as an hour or more of more formalized exercises.”
Specific tai chi and Taoist principles helped Cohen recover from surgery for a progressive spine problem and “shifted how I do everything, from decision-making to relationships to having conversations with patients in the office,” he said.
The Taoist approach recognizes that a host of environmental factors affect a person, and that mind and body are always connected, Cohen noted.
Yunrou explains the mind-body benefits of tai chi and human anatomy so that students understand why tai chi works, said Robin Mautino, program director at the Sandler Center.
“Yunrou threads his Taoist philosophy all through his tai chi teachings,” she said.
Yunrou’s story and teachings bridge centuries and continents. “You have to start changing and growing,” he said. “We have to take responsibility for our own bodies and our own lives.”
Video courtesy of Angela Alvarez Videography; photos courtesy of Monk Yunrou