By Swami Vidyananda
Pain gets a bad rap in our culture. Actually, pain has many positive functions, one of which is to say, “Stop here. Don’t go beyond this point. This is the point where you are going to hurt yourself.” Pain also tells us that we have an illness. The brilliant function of pain is to help us focus the mind so that we can send prana, or energy, to parts of the body that need healing. The mind, by thinking about that part of the body that hurts, knows exactly where to send healing energy even if we don’t have a diagnosis. In fact, the mind can control the flow of prana in the body if we choose to exercise our mental mastery.
Once, at satsang, a student said to Swami Satchidananda, “My mother has crippling arthritis. She cannot do Hatha Yoga poses. She can’t even get on or off the floor. Is there something that she can do?” Swami Satchidananda replied, “Yes. Have her do simple alternate nostril breathing and divert the flow of prana, the life force, onto the spine where she feels the pain. Have her dissolve the arthritic congestion in the breath and breathe it out on the exhalation. Have her do that again and again. And she will see, in some period of time—if she does it regularly—that the arthritis itself is starting to be relieved.”
At that time I was teaching at our Integral Yoga Institute in Montreal, Canada. One of our students had arthritis in his hands so severe that he had to give up his job as a professional house painter. He was only about forty-two years old. I called him at home and told him what I had just heard Sri Gurudev advise. So, Alan started using this visualization technique of directing the flow of prana. His hands at that time were so crippled that he could barely bend the fingers to practice nadi suddhi, alternate nostril breathing. He was already a vegetarian, and he cut inflammatory foods out of his diet. After some time, he found that his hands were not so painful, and they were much more flexible. His doctor was surprised and pleased. He was able to resume painting.
The members of the Montreal IYI used to play basketball at the YMCA on Saturday afternoons: the Ananda All-Stars versus the Japa Jets. Each team had both men and women. One afternoon when I was playing, a six-foot-tall man ran over me going in the same direction. I smashed my knees on the gym floor and suffered contusions on both my knees. I walked around on crutches for three weeks. Then my knees improved, and I no longer felt pain.
A couple of months later, the IYI members decided we’d go mountain climbing. It wasn’t a big mountain, but it was the tallest in the surrounding area and we all hiked up it. I was doing fairly well, but it hadn’t been that long since my knees had healed. By the time I got to the top, they were really bothering me.
On the route back, we were coming down a fairly steep incline, and my knees started to buckle as I put weight on them. I imagined my knees giving out and me falling straight down the trail, dragging four or five other yogis with me. Then, I remembered a story I had just been reading in the book, In the Garden by Sufi Sam. It recounted a time when Sufi Sam was hiking in the desert and fell and injured his knee really badly. He was lying there, wincing in pain, crying out, and holding onto his knee. His master inwardly appeared to him and said, “Hold your breath, not your knee!”, by which he meant “Get a grip on your breath.” Sufi Sam directed the flow of the energy with the breath to the pain in his knee and healed it just by doing that—enough that he could walk out of the desert.
I said to myself, Okay, control your breath, not your knees. I started breathing in and directing the flow of the life force to my knees, visualizing my knees being strengthened. Then, as I exhaled, I would breathe out the pain. I did that all the way down the mountain. Sure enough, my knees hurt but did not buckle. When I got to the bottom, I felt so happy and relieved. As soon as I stopped doing the breathing with visualization, my knees again started to buckle.
This happened many years ago. It was the first time in my life that I thought, Wow! Anybody can do this! I realized that it wasn’t just Sufi Sam or some advanced yogi but anyone at all could utilize the technique, with extraordinary results. . . .
Read the rest of this article in the Spring 2015 issue of Integral Yoga Magazine.