For a long time, Yoga was thought of as something mysterious, something fit for the so-called recluses, escapists and cave dwellers. It took a long time for the public to realize that Yoga is something that can be practiced by anybody who wants to live an easeful, peaceful and useful life. When you miss the ease in your body, you call yourself diseased. Disease is nothing but the disappearance of the ease. If we take care so that the ease doesn’t disappear, we are never diseased. The peace also is always with us if we leave the mind undisturbed. We don’t need to go to any supermarket to buy a little peace. Because peace is what we are naturally. If undisturbed, the mind is peaceful.

We do a lot of things to disturb the ease and to lose the peace. Having lost our ease and peace we try to find a remedy. That’s where the treatment or the curative side comes into play. But the well-known maxim states: Prevention is better than cure. The entire Yoga philosophy aims at preventing us from losing our ease and peace. So we don’t have to treat the disease in the name of Yoga or Yoga therapy, we need to treat the person. Medicine is not what cures the troubles. The real doctor is within. Make the person strong. That’s the entire basis behind Yoga.

Most of our modern day problems of body and mind are caused by our wrong habits. They can be simple things, like smoking, drinking, overeating, or eating the wrong kind of food. They can also be caused by mental stress. Yoga aims at putting us back into natural living. Mahatma Gandhi once said, “Go back to nature. Lead a natural life. You’ll be more healthy.” It’s impossible to talk about each and every thing we’re doing. Almost 99 percent of our daily habits seem to be artificial. We should learn to live a little more of a natural life.

How we can live naturally? How we can live the good life allotted to us? How do we stay away from disturbing our natural state of health? By right living: taking in fresh, proper air, food, water—seating the right kind of food within the capacity of our digestion. Most important is to build up the digestive fire. The vital energy gives us this fire. So we have to build up our energy, and keep it alive.

One way that Yoga helps us build up is through asanas. Asanas are not exercises. In exercise, you lose a lot of energy. You may build up your muscles but not the inner glands and vital energy. By placing the body in different positions we give some gentle inner massage and squeeze out the toxins. That brings fresh blood to those areas. That’s why they are called postures not exercises.

The Yoga postures also strengthen your spine, making it more supple. It is the spine that contains all the nerve centers or chakras according to the Yoga scriptures: muladhara, swadhistana, manipura, anahata, vishuddi, ajna and sahasrara. These are the different chakras, nerve centers, or plexi, where from all the nerves come out. So the dormant force, which is in the base of the spine, should come up equally distributed in all the never centers. Then you become a full person. An ordinary human being becomes a superhuman. It will happen only when the spine is flexible, supple and strong enough to withstand the energy that flows in. According to the strength and suppleness of the spine, you enjoy the health.

In Yoga therapy, the next focal point is the endocrine glands: pituitary, pineal, thyroid and so on. The Yoga postures take care of them. You will enjoy perfect physical health when these glands are healthy. In addition to the asanas, the breathing practices or pranayama, gives us a lot of vital energy or prana. Even if you don’t have any other sadhana or spiritual practice, you do need a healthy body, stored with a lot of energy to digest your food, to sleep well and to find success in your daily life.

The lungs are intended to accept air that is fresh and has a lot of oxygen. In Yoga, we educate people how to breathe better. We use only 1/5 of the lungs in our normal breathing. To be more precise, about 500 cubic centimeters of air is what we inhale and exhale, but with the proper practice we can empty the lungs better and fill them up more. That means we utilize our full lung capacity through the practice of pranayama. Then the entire body can be oxygenated. Another thing is, it’s not mere oxygen alone that we take in through pranayama—it is the cosmic vital energy. This practice literally brings light into every cell of the body and burns out all the toxins. Just by proper breathing, we can achieve a lot of benefit.

So, the Yoga practices are preventive plus curative. But the best approach is preventive—not to put any toxins in the system. I would like to stress that point. The same goes with the mind. The mind is constantly fed by one’s thoughts. If our thoughts are not clear, they affect the mind and can affect the body also. Think of a nice, sweet piece of chocolate or candy. You will begin to salivate. See how a mere thought can kindle up certain parts of our body? That is the reason we hear the proverb, “As you think, so you become” or in Sanskrit, “Mana eva manushyanam.” So, thinking the proper thoughts is very important. First, analyze what kind of thoughts you have. Eliminate the undesirable thoughts. Fill the mind with proper thoughts, which is called pratipaksha bhavana according to Patanjali. Put good thoughts in and eliminate negative thoughts. In fact, you don’t even need to worry about eliminating bad thoughts. Put in good thoughts, and the bad thoughts run away.

Watch your mind. Observe what happens if you don’t get what you want. Do you become worried, disturbed or disappointed? Watch and see how anxiety develops. See how much we lose our tranquility by worrisome thoughts, by running after things thinking they will make us happy. Suppose you get something you want, won’t you be happy? Maybe. As soon as you get it, you might be happy. But the minute after you got it, the worry will be there about how to keep it. “Oh, I might lose this. Somebody might take it away from me. I have to hold onto it. I better go home and protect it.” That is another worry. If you lose what you wanted, you lose the mind also with that. And that is why in Yoga we say, learn to lead a dedicated life, a selfless life. Do everything for the joy of doing it.

In the Yogic approach, meditation is important because it can help strengthen the mind so that you don’t lose your tranquility, the equanimity that is your true nature. Through meditation the mind becomes one-pointed. Anything that is focused, made to be one-pointed, gains strength. The sun’s ray is a good example. If you focus it through a lens it can burn anything that’s put beneath the lens.

Strengthening the mind is good but there is another important point. You may achieve strength of mind, but what about the quality of mind? Remember that, please. The quality, the cleanliness of the mind, cannot be easily achieved by meditation alone. That’s why there are eight limbs of Yoga: yama, niyama, asana, pranayama, pratyahara, dharana, dhyana. The seventh limb is what you call meditation. The first two limbs are for cleaning the mind. If you make your unclean mind strong, you are going to be another Rasputin. Don’t think that all the strong minds are clean minds. Our first and foremost emphasis should be in cleaning the mind, and then strengthening the mind.

So, clean the mind and strengthen it. Then you will be a wonderful instrument to serve humanity. Physically you are healthy, mentally you are clean and strong and through these two instruments—the body and the mind—your soul power expresses itself. You become a refined person. You don’t need to do anything to your soul. The soul is God in you. That light wants to express itself; it cannot because of the impediments, the disturbances found in the body and mind. Keep them clean, and the light will pour out. Your own divinity will shine forth. Such people are called refined people.

So this is the holistic health or Yoga therapy approach. Let that holistic health begin at home. Let’s not talk about light without having light. Let’s not talk about peace without having peace in us. Let’s not talk about health without our being healthy. Let our first and foremost duty be to find that health within each one of us. That means staying away from anything that would disturb your health. It’s that simple.

~ Sri Swami Satchidananda