Yoga is the original mind-body medicine that has enabled individuals to attain and maintain sukha sthanam, a dynamic sense of physical, mental and spiritual well-being. The Bhagavad Gita defines Yoga as samatvam, meaning thereby that Yoga is equanimity at all levels, a state wherein physical homeostasis and mental equanimity occur in a balanced and healthy harmony. Yogamaharishi Dr. Swami Gitananda Giri Guru Maharaj, the visionary founder of Ananda Ashram at the International Centre for Yoga Education and Research (ICYER) in Pondicherry, India and one of the foremost authorities on Yoga in the past century, has explained the concept of Yoga Chikitsa (Yoga as a therapy) in the following manner:“Yoga Chikitsa is virtually as old as Yoga itself, indeed, the ‘return of mind that feels separated from the Universe in which it exists’ represents the first Yoga therapy. Yoga Chikitsa could be termed as man’s first attempt at unitive understanding of mind-emotions-physical distress and is the oldest holistic concept and therapy in the world.”
To achieve this yogic integration at all levels of our being, it is essential that we take into consideration all the multi-dimensional aspects of Yoga that include: a healthy life, nourishing diet, a natural environment, a holistic lifestyle, adequate bodywork through asanas, mudras and kriyas, invigorating breath work through the use of pranayama and the production of a healthy thought process through the higher practices of Jnana Yoga and Raja Yoga.
Yoga Vasistha, one of the great classical Yoga texts, describes the causation and manifestation of disease (vyadhi) in an admirable manner. In the dialogue between the great sage Vasistha and Prince Rama, it describes psychosomatic (adhija vyadhi) as well as non-psychosomatic ailments (anadhija vyadhi). Samanya adhija vyadhi are described as those arising from day-to-day causes, while sara adhija vyadhi is the essential disease of being caught in the birth-rebirth cycle, which may be also understood in modern terms as congenital disease. The former can be corrected by remedial measures such as medicines and surgery whereas the sara adhija vyadhi doesn’t cease until knowledge of the Self (Atma jnana) is attained.
It is well established that stress weakens our immune system. Recent scientific research shows that the physiological, psychological and biochemical effects of Yoga are of an anti-stress nature. Postulated explanations include the restoration of autonomic balance as well as an improvement in an individual’s restorative, regenerative and rehabilitative capacities. A healthy inner sense of well-being that results from living a life guided by yogic principles percolates through the different levels of our existence from the higher to the lower, producing health and well-being of a holistic nature. From the yogic viewpoint of disease, it can be seen that psychosomatic, stress-related disorders appear to progress through four distinct phases. These can be understood as follows:
Psychic phase: This phase is marked by mild but persistent psychological and behavioral symptoms of stress like irritability, disturbed sleep and other minor symptoms. This phase can be correlated with vijnanamaya and manomaya koshas. Yoga as a mind-body therapy is very effective in this phase.
Psychosomatic phase: If the stress continues, there is an increase in symptoms, along with the appearance of generalized physiological symptoms such as occasional hypertension and tremors. This phase can be correlated with manomaya and pranamaya koshas. Yoga as a mind body therapy is very effective in this phase.
Somatic phase: This phase is marked by disturbed function of organs, particularly the target, or involved organ. At this stage, one begins to identify the diseased state. This phase can be correlated with pranamaya and annamaya koshas. Yoga as a therapy is less effective in this phase and may need to be used in conjunction with other methods of treatment.
Organic phase: This phase is marked by full manifestation of the diseased state, with pathological changes such as an ulcerated stomach or chronic hypertension, becoming totally manifest with resultant complications. This phase can be correlated with the annamaya kosha as the disease has become fixed in the physical body. Yoga as a therapy has a palliative effect that improves the quality of life in this phase. It also has positive emotional and psychological effects even in terminal and end of life situations.
Maharishi Patanjali, the codifier of the Yoga Darshan, has explained the primary causation of stress-based disorders through the concept of pancha klesha (psychological afflictions). These are avidya (ignorance of the ultimate reality leading to bodily identification), asmita (a false sense of identification), raga-dvesha (addiction and aversion) and abhinivesha (clinging to life for fear of death). Avidya, as the root cause, enables other kleshas to manifest in different forms from time to time. They may be dormant, attenuated, manifest or overpowering in their causation of pain and suffering. Dvaita, or the misplaced sense of duality, is initially the main cause of the imbalance at the higher level that then manifests through psychosomatic stress mechanisms. This occurs through the various koshas (sheaths or bodies of our existence) resulting in various disorders depending upon the propensity of the individual.
The science of Yoga has numerous practical techniques, as well as lifestyle advice, to enable one to attain and maintain health and well-being. Bahiranga practices such as yama, niyama, asana and pranayama help produce physical health, while antaranga practices of dharana and dhyana work on producing mental health, along with pratyahara. Yoga works towards restoration of normalcy in all systems of the human body with special emphasis on the psycho-neuro-immuno-endocrine axis. In addition to its preventive and restorative capabilities, Yoga also aims to promote positive health that will help one overcome health challenges that occur during lifetime. This concept of positive health is one of Yoga’s unique contributions to modern health care, as Yoga has both a preventive as well as promotive role in the health care of the masses. It is also inexpensive and can be used to benefit patients in tandem with other systems of medicine in an integrated manner.
The dedicated practice of Yoga as a way of life is no doubt a panacea for problems related to psychosomatic, stress related physical, emotional and mental disorders and helps one regain one’s birthright of health and happiness. With the adoption of a proper attitude and lifestyle through the yogic way of life, one can rise above circumstances and life can blossom and the human experience may be perceived as a time of variety, creativity and fulfillment rather than a time of gloom and doom in the dungeon of disease and unhappiness!
Mada (Pride)—One of the Insidious Shat Ripus
Even great sages can fall prey to mada, pride. Pride goes before the fall, no doubt! Pride rips the soul to shreds. It is one of the shat ripus, or six enemies of spirit in Yoga cosmology. The Vedic scriptures are filled with examples of great souls who have fallen victim to this vice. It is an insidious vice, capable of camouflaging itself well. Mada is almost a synonym for egoism, the sense of I, which feels itself to be different and hence superior to others.
There is a lovely story from the Mahabharata that shows how a sage had his pride humbled and in the process became a sadder but wiser man: A sage attained enlightenment in a strange way. He sat under a tree doing penance and the droppings of a crane fell on him. He flew into a rage and burnt the bird to ashes with his spiritual power. He then walked to a nearby house and asked for a glass of water. The lady of the house said he would have to wait as she was serving her husband food. He asked her how she could dare to make a sage wait at her doorstep. She replied that she knew all about his temper and how he had burned a bird to ashes with his anger, but she was not going to be subdued by his powers.
The sage was amazed at her words. How could she have known what he had done? She was not present when he burned the bird. The lady replied that if he wanted true jnana, he should find Dharmavyadha. The sage then set out, seeking Dharmavyadha who, he presumed, must be a very learned man. But he discovered that Dharmavyadha was a butcher. The sage wondered how a man who killed animals for a living could impart jnana to him. But Dharmavyadha explained to him that he was earning for his family with his work and asked the sage how any work could be considered inferior. God resides in all, regardless of whether one is rich or poor. The sage realized that, although Dharmavyadha’s occupation was cruel, he was a man of wisdom and understanding, free of egoism and pride. The sage returned home, having learned this lesson.
About the Author:
Dr. Ananda Bhavanani is the son of Yogamaharishi Dr. Swami Gitananda Giri and Yogacharini Meenakshi Devi Bhavanani. He grew up in the gurukula of Ananda Ashram in Pondicherry, India, where the knowledge of the art and science of Yoga was imbibed as a 24-hour-a-day sadhana. Following in his father’s footsteps, he became a medical doctor in order to combine eastern wisdom with the best of western science. He directs the International Centre for Yoga Education and Research in Pondicherry, India, and he is also a featured speaker at Yoga conferences around the globe. For more information: www.icyer.com.