Fear of disease is one of the greatest stresses facing modern man. Every day we see someone, perhaps a close friend or relative, stricken and suffering with a painful and long term disease. Digestive diseases are probably the most common and irritating of all conditions because, as a rule, they are minor chronic problems which are just bad enough to intrude into our conscious awareness and to disturb the routine and joy of living. Irritating indigestion, painful piles, chronic constipation, disturbing diarrhoea or an unpleasant ulcer make our life miserable and there is very little that we have been able to do up to now to remove them from our lives. Now yoga is being recognized as the solution to this long standing medical problem.
Disease arises because of weakness. In most of us this weakness is not inherent but has developed because of bad lifestyle and habits. There are many inbuilt defence mechanisms which are by nature designed to correct deficiencies and imbalance. Their function derives its power from prana, whose nature is essentially life-giving and life-enhancing. It is only when we develop neurosis at the mental level, emotional storms and passions, physical toxins and tensions, that we effectively cut ourselves off from this force and its effervescence. It is because of prana that most of us are born healthy and remain healthy for the majority of our life span. Our basic nature is healthy, whole, complete. However, if we try hard enough we can upset the balance, the delicate mechanisms within and cause ourselves suffering.
If we look closely at our lives we see that the disease producing process is a 24 hour affair, one that may continue even into our sleep-resting time. For example, if we really want to make ourselves sick we can sit at a desk for 8 hours a day working as a clerk, typist, telephone operator or accountant. After work we may go home and sit some more, reading a book, watching television, talking to friends, or occupying our self with some other spectator activity which does not demand our active participation. This exercise deficient life leads to obesity, constipation, haemorrhoids and other more serious diseases including heart and circulatory conditions. Alternatively, if our job demands some degree of responsibility, such as that of a doctor, business executive or teacher, we may take our problems home with us, disturbing our sleep with our anxieties and worries. Without sufficient physical and mental rest, peace and joy, dyspepsia and ulcers form. The disease process creeps into every aspect of our lives.
With any disease, the inner and outer world takes on a strange and sometimes terrifying aspect. Fear of the unknown fills the mind, and here we have one of the major mechanisms responsible for the perpetuation of ill health in our lives. If we are scared of sickness then this fear in itself weakens the mind and body allowing the seeds of disharmony to grow. Fear upsets the brain's controlling mechanisms and causes body disturbances, especially in the sympathetic nervous system and adrenal glands. At the subconscious mental level fear colours our whole attitude to life, to our relationships with others, and with ourselves. It stems from dwesha, aversion to suffering, the opposite of raga, the desire for pleasure. We fear being hurt and this inherent survival mechanism springs up even when it is not justified. If it prevents us from living full lives it becomes a neurotic, anxiety-producing, destructive process.
At the root of all our fears and sufferings, imagined and otherwise, lies ignorance. We lack sufficient knowledge to counteract the processes involved in our becoming sick. Ignorance about body, diet and other aspects of our lives leads us to make mistakes. Of course mistakes are necessary to a degree, for without them we cannot grow and learn the lessons of life. However, with knowledge we make fewer and less painful mistakes.
There are many diseases which bring fear to the minds of most people, perhaps cancer and heart disease rank foremost. Many diseases seem to be incurable and appear to be able to strike at any time. It takes a lot of courage to face life and it takes even more courage to face up to our own ignorance and short comings. The resolute determination that grows out of courage allows us to live full lives, free from fear and disease. We must resolve to become strong, to make the mind firm, steady and unshakable, to handle the problems of life, if we are to remove anger, frustration, and other destructive emotions which eat away at the body.
Yoga is universally accepted as a system capable of calming the mind, balancing the emotions, and harmonizing the body. It is a system that encourages natural energies and functions to continue in the best possible way. Yoga works with the body, not against it. Asanas massage muscles and organs so as to enhance blood flow and stimulate blocked nervous connections. Pranayama helps to regulate the metabolic processes at a cellular level and also coordinates brain function with external need. For example, ujjayi calms the energies of the mind, allows us to gain control of the automatic processes within the brain and to gain insight into life in general. In this way we overhaul the entire human vehicle and make it fit for good living.
We can understand better how yoga helps us to undo the tangle of mental and physical energies that leads to disease if we take the analogy of the bow and arrow. These tools represent the yogic techniques that enable us, if we know how, to hit the bull's eye of good health. We must first learn how to use these implements, for they are the same in everybody's hands, but everyone uses them differently. Our goal and aim must be correct, and the pull on the string neither too hard nor too soft if we are to hit the target and not under or overshoot. The same applies to the yogic techniques. They are available to all, and serve as channels to redirect mental and physical structure and function. However, the degree of balance with which we approach them, determination balanced with patience, power with gentleness, serious application with humour and insight, will determine the degree of success and the speed with which cure is attained.
Yoga is especially valuable in digestive disorders of all kinds, not only in the removal of existing problems but also in the prevention of recurrence. Medical science plays a vital role in acute conditions, emergencies both medical and surgical, to allay the fears that arise when the disease process appears to be getting out of hand, to relieve pain and suffering, while all the time nature does the work. However, only yoga is able to strengthen the constitutional factors in the body and remove the root cause.
Yoga also plays a vital role in removing fear, for it allows us to gain experience and begin to cure ourselves of our own individual digestive ailment. Yoga is instrumental in the dawning of our self confidence for it provides us with a system by which we can handle any digestive trouble as it arises. Knowledge of what to do in situation gives us a path to follow out of the darkness and into the light. The attitude and self-confidence derived from this knowledge generates a lot of healing energy, enough to make the body feel good and to redirect the internal process from a negative fearful state to a positive creative one.
Cure is not the only aim of yoga. Once we can control the processes of the body with our awareness and mental faculties, we rediscover the amazing world within. The play of energies and the function of the various body organs is like a new universe, each organ representing a galaxy and the cells the myriad solar systems within it. This universe and its inherent driving power actually opens up to our inner eye. We begin to realize that within us lies an incredible force responsible for the creation of the atoms, chemicals and various other constituents of the body. A total change in consciousness takes place simultaneously releasing a fantastic surge of energy which courses through our veins and fills us with vitality and dynamism.
This prana is the means to achieve everything that we want in life and beyond. The awakening of this energy seems to have two main stages:
Using yoga we have the tools to help us increase our awareness so as to take over control of all the physical and mental processes. The benefits accrued extend into our daily life and help to raise not just our health but our whole being into the light of a higher and happier life.