Beyond Mundane Limitations

Dr Swami Shankardevananda Saraswati MB, BS (Syd.)

What happens to an illumined man? How does he think, feel, act? These are a few of the questions many disciples must ask themselves when faced with the enigma of the guru. For though he seems to be an ordinary man there is that indefinable something extra that impels us to feel awe and reverence towards him; It is this pull that the illumined man: exerts, that draws people to him in the role of disciple.

There are no scientific tests to determine what an illumined man is because spirituality cannot be measured by machines. We can use machines in an attempt to uncover the physical and mental correlates, or reflections of yogic states of consciousness on the body, but the real change is not visible to the external eyes, only to the third, spiritual eye, ajna chakra. Using materialism to measure spirituality, we can only hope to obtain but a shadowy idea of the truth.

We know, for example, that something happens in the nervous system of yogis. Through our studies on biofeedback we can see that the autonomic nervous system, a part of the more 'primitive' areas of the brain, comes more within' the range of our control. It is as if we are beginning to untie the tangled knot of body, mind and spirit so that each aspect stands at once alone in its individuality yet unified with the other components. In meditation the three elements are separated from each other and this allows us to view these components in perspective. In the process we can perceive tore deeply into the body and mind and the spiritual aspects f our life. This initial separation (viyoga) and unification (yoga) of mind and body is represented at the pranic level by ida and pingala nadis, and at the physical level by the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems. So we can measure these two systems to get an idea of what is happening in the body during yogic practices.

The endocrine system and its hormones is another valuable index of body changes. Of course there is a lot of work still needed in terms of determining what the different values mean. We need maps to help chart the different states of consciousness. Apart from changes in mind we also need to know what happens to the heart, lungs, brain, kidneys, and other body organs. This will help at one level to understand what yoga practices do, why they do it, and why they should be applied to our lives. Of course, at another level it is only the experience that counts.

Each individual will exhibit different body reactions according to the type of yogic practice, personality, body type and health, upbringing, lifestyle, and so on. Thus we can only hope to go on in our present direction, painstakingly sorting through the various researches and trying to find correlates, connections, links, bridges, gaps, facts and fiction. A compilation can then be built up and relevant deductions made.

Two Yogic Gurus

Some of the most comprehensive research yet undertaken on yogis is that of Hiroshi Motoyama, Director of the International Association for Religion and Parapsychology. In 1977 he invited two eminent Indian gurus, Sri Yogeshwarananda from Rishikesh and Sri Ramananda from Hyderabad, to Japan where research was conducted. Yogeshwarananda, although 90 years of age... appears to be only 60 or so years old, and shows an excellent state of health in both body and mind... Ramananda, 50 years of age, began his life of retreat in the forest at the age of 18 or 19, studying the art of pranayama in depth. He is now helping the sick to cure themselves by means of special breathing techniques of his own invention.

The two gurus gladly offered themselves as subjects of various medical tests such as examination of the acupuncture meridian system, electrophysiological measurements, biochemical tests, etc.*1

Using an apparatus he devised himself, the API (Apparatus for measuring the function of the Meridians and the Corresponding Internal Organs) he conducted tests to measure body states and abnormalities. He also measured physiological data while the subjects performed some pranayama and he art-control experiments. What emerged was the fact that both yogis had radically altered their bodies.

Ramananda's lung function was seen to differ considerably from the normal, probably due to his 5-6 hours of daily pranayama practice over the last 30 years. As a result of this, his metabolism has changed radically. He can also control his heart. Ramananda's readings indicate a hyperactive sympathetic nervous system, perhaps due to activation of manipura chakra (which connects to the brain via sympathetic circuits), and which may be responsible for his esp, inspiration, and bo on, about which Motoyama states: "Ramananda definitely does have such abilities".

  1. Respiration: averages 22 breaths per minute (normal is 15 per minute).
  2. GSR, plethysmograph, electromyography: all indicate an overactive sympathetic system.
  3. ECG: shows that his heart rate is very fast at 110-130 beats per minute. During pranayama which consisted of 4-5 breaths and then retention (kumbhaka) for 40 seconds, the heart beat was seen to drop to 65-80 per minute for the first 4 seconds of kumbhaka and then to rise to 110-115 per minute. The fact that such abrupt changes do not cause abnormality indicates "good flexibility in the heart function as well as in the sympathetic nervous system that controls it." In the normal person this could be dangerous, however, the yogi has to spend years slowly developing his body and mind so as to gradually habituate to his new body condition.
  4. EEG: "although alpha waves are predominant, excitement of brain cells is constantly detected." A mixture of alpha, delta, theta and beta waves are seen together.

Delta are characteristic of deep sleep and are not usually seen with eyes open. Motoyama ascribes their presence to electrical interference, however there is also the possibility that this evidences a totally new state of consciousness, a return to a child-like state of receptivity. In children delta is normal in the waking state. However, in the yogi's state there is the addition of adult knowledge and experience. More data is required to support this theory. Theta indicates inspiration and creativity.

Beta waves, according to Motoyama, indicate nervousness, but other researchers (Das & Gastaut, 1955) have shown it to be also correlated with a high degree of concentration and blissful experience.

Alpha predominance means overall relaxation.

Thus, if we are seeing a mixture of alpha - relaxation, beta-concentration, theta -creative spontaneity, and delta-awareness of the unconscious mind, this may indicate a fuller use of brain circuits tuning into various dimensions of consciousness usually outside the reach of the average person.

Dr K. Wago MD, director of the medical analysis section at Nanasawa Hospital conducted the following test with Ramananda as part of Motoyama's experiment:

  1. EEG: "Alpha waves appear frequently before and after pranayama... the fact that they persist for a long time agrees with the commonly held theory that alpha waves increase in the trance state."
  2. Blood composition:
    • a) white blood cells were found to be twice that of normal (there were no signs of infection).
    • b) fat content was greater than normal.
    • c) calcium and phosphorus both increased after pranayama and this is medically unexplainable, as in normal physiology only one of these substances would rise while the other might fall because of their reciprocal relationship.
    • d) iron and copper were below normal levels.
  3. the basal metabolic rate was +56.5% before, -27.5% during and +18% after pranayama. (Normal + or - 10%). This is a phenomenal swing in metabolic rate outside the normal range and reflects the changes in respiration induced by pranayama. It also indicates that Ramananda has developed a high degree of strength to withstand such changes for he evedences good health, and also that he has a very flexible metabolism.

Yogeshwarananda who wrote about his kundalini experience in The Science of Soul shows that in contrast to Ramananda his parasympathetic nervous system is dominant. At the same time his sympathetic nervous system responds well to stress applying that both autonomic nervous system components are in dynamic balance. In his case also, alpha waves were predominant both before and during pranayama. An excited nervous system state, as evidenced by beta waves does occur during kumbhaka, but the relaxed state returns only 40-50 seconds after the end of kumbhaka. "The subject, though 90 years of age, has a recovery capacity incredibly largre for his age." Motoyama states: "It may safely be said that this data is typical of those who have attained the state of samadhi..." He can also control his heart and according to his disciples he has various powers (siddhis), including esp, psycho-kinesis and psychic healing.

Summing Up

The two outstanding features of Motoyama's research are to be found in the electropencephalograph and the swing of metabolism. It may be that we are seeing in the case of Ramananda the first evidence that delta waves can occur in the state of conscious awareness. This has also been reported by Green (1971) in his work with another Indian yogic guru, Swami Rama.*2 He found that during meditation of the yoga nidra type the swami was perfectly aware of external phenomena while at the same time manifesting delta waves usually only seen in deep sleep.

Ramananda's metabolism has extended itself beyond the normal range. Many of the findings are compatible with a diseased or unhealthy state though Motoyama does not seem to have found any ill-health and thus we must assume that he is evidencing a new psycho-physiological condition. We can see why a guru is required in the field of sadhana and in spiritual life. Without him the disciple may hurt himself in the process of changing his body and his state of consciousness by too many practices, too quickly.

In yogic sadhana, one keeps moving on to progressively more difficult practices until the final goal is reached and sadhana is no longer needed. We may assume then that Ramananda is still in the stage of trying to attain cosmic consciousness as a permanent state. His body condition reflects the process of sadhana. Yogeshwarananda, according to Motoyama, however, reflects the final state of samadhi. The results of the experiments must be viewed in this light. Where both yogis meet is the area of flexibility of the autonomic nervous system and thus we must assume that they have a better chance of adapting to outer and inner environmental changes. This may also reflect a better mental condition, one which is less neurotic and thus more flexible. It also shows that the body has become a stable base for flights of consciousness to take off from and land on because it can handle the stresses and changes involved so much better.


*1. H. Motoyama, "Western and Eastern Medical Studies of Pranayama and Heart Control", Research for Religion and Parapsychology, Vol.3, No.1, June 1977.

*2. E. Green Ph.D., "Biofeedback for Mind-Body Self-Regulation Healing and Creativity", The Varieties of Healing Experience, The Academy of Parapsychology and Medicine, Transcript 30/10/71.