YOGA’S THERAPEUTICAL ASPECTS
One of the greatest contributions of India is the metaphysics of self knowledge called Samkhya, which says the knowledge of an object, the object itself and the process of knowing is all one. This is the essence of wisdom and experientially accessible for anyone through the practice of Yoga. Yoga thus is the methodology to test this hypothesis of samkhya, just like we do the lab experiment to prove a theorem in modern physical sciences.
Yoga And Ayurveda
Yoga is theoretically similar to the “ayurveda”- the ancient indian “science of life”. In the Vyasa Bhashya of the Patanjali Yoga Sutra its is said “Yathaa chikitsaasasthram chathurvyuham” Just like the medical science Yoga also has four parts. Samsaara, Samsaarahethu, Moksha, Mokshopaaya. Samsaara is this very world in front of us, which is full of suffering and pain. Yoga promises to destroy the root cause of misery which is desire and give us liberation or Moksha. Yoga sets out the goal, the stages of the journey and the obstacles clearly that the ultimate stats of Sidhi or self mastery seems realistic. It’s no armchair philosophy or belief system that we have to blindly accept, It’s a very competent hypothesis anyone is welcome to test for its validity. The very first scientists of Yoga taught their discoveries and experiments to their students and the knowledge ripened over generations through testing and experience, refining the methods. It was during Patanjali’s time it was codified as a science of the highest order.
Yoga – the source of modern Medical terms : Now let’s check out if yoga’s scientific rigour is as thorough as it was claimed in the last paragraph. Let’s look at the practical aspects of Yoga in a therapeutic sense for daily ailments as well as for more serious, acute or terminal conditions that some of us may have to face in life.
The apex point of evolution is considered to be samadhi according to yoga which requires certain psychological and cognitive abilities described by the yogi’s who were also excellent educational psychologists of the ancient world. You don’t need to believe in it, just need the capability and interest to try it or test it out after developing perfect concentration and expelling the projections and illusions from the mind. Yoga uses the word Sarjana- for such an expelling. It means “cutting away or removal of the vikshepa as some diseased parts. Probably the english word surgeon came from this sanskrit word. The one who does sarjana is still called a surgeon in modern medicine! The churgeon in Latin and surgeon in English are from this ancient Sanskrit word.
The sarjana is done with the power of concentration and a sharp and fully conscious mind, which is sharper than a blade of knife. By this process the braanthi (illusion)that the body is athma is removed and the truth grasped by intellect. Again the Sanskrit word “anathma” – is from which the english term “Anatomy” originated in modern medicine!
Yoga An Analytic & Systemic Approach
The knowledge of the physical and subtle bodies in Yoga makes room for a much richer explanation for our physical and mental ailments, and brings together the best of both worlds of systemic as well as the analytic traditions of thinking. The physical anatomy and the subtle anatomy is considered important and studied equally because of the interdependence of the body mind complex. Each part is not considered in isolation unless of course when required like each asana works on each aspect or part of the body while enhancing the overall coordination to calm the mind as well.
The fundamental premise is that by influencing our physical body with a conscious alignment of breath and movement, we influence our psyche deeply. It is a clear analytical and logical approach while considering the total psychosomatic nature of human beings. The reductionist thinking or a systemic thinking alone will not be able to see this dialectical truth of our being. The issues with the modern medical approach in spite of its glaring achievement is the blindness to the truth of the total being, due to the mechanical and bias for a reductionist thinking.
The free flow of energy through the channels called Nadis, is studied thoroughly through the junctions called chakras and its relation to the physical functions of breathing, digestion, etc. for a full understanding of the concept of health. The symptoms of the physical body are only treated as such, only symptoms of something deeper a person is always looked at as an interconnected system rather than as a mechanical part as in the modern medical specialism.
The ultimate goal is to take charge of our physical and subtle bodies so that we can transcend them and realise who we really are. This might sound like a romantic aspiration, however if you look at the process laid out in 8 steps starting with social and ethical discipline to cleansing the body and mind of toxins to finally training the psyche and the body for a higher self mastery, it will become clear how much research and development has gone into this topic over thousands of years!
Physical Postures Of Yoga
Physical postures and asanas were really designed not to create an acrobatic world champion but to provide more elasticity to musculature, to regulate circulation, to direct energy to move at will, and to relax the body. Inelastic muscles present obstacles which do not allow the mind to become calm. When one follows the step by step practices, a certain mastery over oneself ensues and will find himself or herself in a meditative state while being neither inert nor inactive. This is the pinnacle of Yoga- Samadhi- inner and outer perfection, poise and fullness of our being through enhanced awareness. This is nearly impossible if there is wholesome development of our physical and mental infrastructure. Yoga is possible for anybody who has a spine, two nostrils, good concentration, and the power of visualization. Physical postural perfection should not be skipped unless of course there is an exceptional quality or circumstance that demands a person to transcend the physical limitations.
Eighty-four postures are described in Hatha Yoga, each posture is prescribed to achieve a specific goal or fix a problem. There are postures which are used for meditation, for controlling the breath, and for the practice of mantra japa (sound repetition). In these postures, the rate of breathing changes, becoming slow and deep. There are also sequences that increase the power of endurance in the body and give complete workout and health like the surya namaskara. By practicing various postures, the body is cleansed of toxins and we learn to get to know our own body. How many of us are aware of their posture and its effect.
Posture & Yoga
Yoga forces us to understand our most important tool – the spine and how to use it by keeping it straight, the head and neck are erect and in alignment, and the body is comfortably motion-less. Achieving the correct posture has an equalizing effect, stilling the forces present in the body and slowing the breath rate and blood circulation; it makes one firm and steady, it facilitates meditation, and it helps to cure diseases and fickleness of the mind. Some asanas activate various nerve centers and help the body to secrete growth hormones and produce antibodies. The Shandilya Upanishad says that all sicknesses of the body are destroyed by practicing postures (asanas), and even poisons can be assimilated.
Prana – A Science Of Energy
Although our body draws vital energy (called Prana in Yoga) in through our nostrils as we breathe, dynamic prana energy is not based on the physico-chemical system of the body; it operates super-physically through a “wireless” system rather than through the nervous system.
Our body exists at two levels. The gross material level is composed of the seven dhatus—flesh, bone, clay, blood, fat, marrow, fluids—and the five elements—earth, water, fire, air, and akasha (the void or space). The subtle level is composed of the vital life force (prana), mind (manas), intellect (buddhi), ego (ahamkara), and the feeling self (chitta). Prana is the means by which the subtle and the gross in the human organism are connected. It activates all of the systems in the body, including the nervous system, and helps them work together as they should.
Prana is distributed throughout the body by Nadis, channels of energy. The Nadi transport system belongs to the subtle body and the chakras are connected to the main Nadi of this system, the Sushumna, which operates within the vertebral (spinal) column. Chakras thus do not belong to the material body and cannot be described fully from a materialistic standpoint. Just as a painting cannot be described merely from the standpoint of its lines, curves, or varying shades of color, even though these can be said to form its basic structure, chakras cannot be defined physiologically, or through any physical science such as neurochemistry. However, chakras are not imaginary centers; they are subtle centers that can be activated by very sophisticated techniques learned from adepts over a long period of discipleship.
The trinity of prana, tejas and ojas exists within the microcosm of the body and the macrocosm of the universe. “In a human being, prāṇa is defined as “cellular awareness,” tejas is defined as “cellular digestion and intelligence,” and ojas is referred to as responsible for “cellular immunity”. Though these concepts are not an exact translation, they are similar enough to compare in a useful way for health considerations” (Lad and Durve, 2008) There is an inexhaustible source of potential energy within every living being but with a limited time and opportunity to manifest it. This potential energy is called kundalini, literally the pit of energy. The awakening of that energy is the ultimate healing as it makes whole within the body healing every aspect and taking us to the highest level of happiness. The wholeness of our being becomes a source of healing for others too. This human potential and possibility is the master contribution of Yoga to the world!
In the Yoga Kundalyupanishad it is said:
Kundale asyah stah iti kundalini
Muladharasth vanhiyatm tejo madhye vyavasthita
Jivashakti kundalakhya pranakarath tejasa
Mahakundalini prokta parabrahma swarupini
Shabda brahma maye devi ekoanekakshara kriti
Shakti kundalininam vistantunibha shubha
One which is a coiled form [kundal]is the Kundalini. In the Muladhara she stays in the form of fire, which is surrounded by luminosity. She is the Jiva Shakti [individualized consciousness] and is known as Kundalini. She is full of luminosity [tejas] and is the cause of prana, the vital life force. When she is in the Supreme Being, the Para Brahma, she is called Maha Kundalini. Devi Kundalini is of the form of Shabda Brahma [shabda – sound, brahma – god without name and form]. Goddess Kundalini herself is the Supreme Being as sound and has a form of one and many alphabet characters [she ex-
ists in mantra form]. The auspicious Kundalini Shakti exists in every particle in her own way.
Yoga Therapy & Its Future
Yoga Therapy is ideally used for health care, not sick care, to optimize health of the individual on the levels of the physical body, biochemical constitution, and organ levels of the body, as well as emotionally and spiritually. Both models for wellness also shift one’s relationship to his/her environment and the world at large. It is not intended to be strictly pathology-based models, and, yet, the statistics and research generally minimize the findings and effectiveness based on specific pathologies.
On a global level, medicine, traditions, and modalities continue to evolve. The majority of people in the field of Yoga Therapy are offering one-on-one care for a variety of issues beyond what is commonly offered in a group āsana class setting. The future of Yoga Therapy in application will likely take on a path similar to that of acupuncture and other Eastern health/clinical sciences. As is stated by Chinese Medicine scholar Dan Vercammen,
“People who still practice medicine in an ancient way are fewer all the time, and certain traditions have disappeared or are officially discouraged or condemned as superstition. Chinese medicine—as it is practiced today—is no longer based on Chinese fundamentals alone; changes and adaptations through history have made it more cosmopolitan”Vercammen, 1997
Will Yoga Therapy become regulated and pieces of the practices become utilized separately from other facets of Yoga Therapy, such as acupuncture getting utilized as a separate component of Western practice, separate from its parent science of Chinese Medicine? Only time will tell !