Asthma and Yoga

Dr Swami Shankardevananda Saraswati MBBS

Asthma is a symbol for many different diseases. When I was young I had very bad asthma, and this had a great effect on my physical, emotional and mental well-being. I was crippled by it. In so many-ways it distorted my lifestyle, and prevented me from doing the things I wanted. But I was very fortunate and came to yoga. A few years ago, I started doing some basic practices, and today I am completely cured.

Western medicine does not believe there is a cure for asthma. I know this from personal experience and from my teachers in medicine. This applies to many other diseases, among them cancer, diabetes and high blood pressure. In his ashram, Swamiji has helped all of these through yoga. There is a possibility of recovery even for so called incurable diseases. Now it is just a matter of showing the medical world the potential of yoga and Swamiji's teaching.

The title 'Asthma and Yoga' is in itself the start of something very important for us all. In this we see the combination or union of two different concepts or ideals of healing. One is in the medical word 'asthma', and the other is in the Sanskrit word 'yoga'. Here we see the union of east and west. Having been cured of my disease through this union and after six years of rigorous training, I hope to see medicine remove its limited boundaries and incorporate the wonderful system of yoga.

Asthma is a disease of the respiratory system. What does it mean to have a disease like asthma? What is the respiratory system all about? To start off, the most basic component is the lungs, but there are also many other factors: nose, trachea, ribcage, muscles, shoulders. These components all join together to make breathing easy and relaxed. But, what most of us are missing, and what I missed for so long, was an awareness of just what is going on. Once you become aware that you are breathing all the time, you start to realize how absolutely fantastic and complex, yet how simple a process it is.

This is what medical science has done. It has made us aware of our body, while yoga can make us aware of our mind and spirit. So, once we become aware that we have a respiratory tract, that we have an intricate body to utilize to the fullest, then through the techniques of yoga we can fulfil our potential. The respiratory system is just one part. There are other organs in the body just as fantastic or even more so. The brain, the heart, the hand, the digestive system, the tongue, nose, ears, eyes, all these things. If we think about it, they make us the most wonderful creation on this earth. So why do we get sick? Why do we get things like asthma? It's a difficult question but we must try to answer it for ourselves. To do this, first we must sort out and become aware of the different parts of the body. Only then can we more fully begin to appreciate and understand what we have.

We know that pranayama is the means to control the mind and relax the body. The lungs are our means of receiving life. We plug into life through our noses, because it is through them that we should breathe. We are plugged into the vast sea of life by breathing which maintains individual life. The moment we stop breathing we have three minutes of life left, unless one is a highly accomplished yogi. Asthma prevents us from plugging into this sea of life properly. It is an incredibly debilitating disease. With control, willpower, determination and regular practice, asthma can be cured. It takes time. It took me many years; and even when I thought I was cured, I wasn't.

The time has come for everyone to start working seriously on their bodies and minds to eliminate the diseases we all have, and come to wholeness and integration, which is union.