The Health Obsession

Andre Van Lysebeth, Belgium

Is the yogi obsessed with health? We would surely wonder about it if we happened to look through the classical texts of yoga - the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, Gherand Samhita and others - are full of references to health. It is certain that "complete health" means infinitely more than absence of sickness and in fact implies that dynamic state of perfect balance of all the body functions. This is one important aim of yoga. Since yogis realised that the clogging up of our organism is one of the major causes of its becoming weak and vulnerable, the hidden source of most "sicknesses that we catch" as well as early ageing, they have developed a whole panoply of ways to purify it. These purification techniques include salt water cleaning of the nasal cavities (jala neti), the rectum (basti), the stomach (kunjal) and the whole alimentary canal (shankhaprakshalana). There are other direct means of cleaning which employ a catheter (sutra neti), a cloth (vastra dhauti) and air (vatsara dhauti). Breathing techniques and the right postures ensure the stimulation of our elimination organs (skin, kidneys, colon, lungs) so that our organism is kept in a state of perfect cleanliness internally and externally. This systematic unclogging is already enough to protect our organism against a lot of ailments, particularly those that are the hardest to cure, the so called degenerative diseases.

Yoga is also concerned with dietetics, considering food as the main source of energy for our physical body. In yoga we watch that all our actions, all our work unfolds in an harmonious way. Each action must strengthen our organism rather than weaken it, as is often the case in modern living. Yogic principles also look after the daily rejuvenation of our organism, helping to get rid of worries through simple living, thus ensuring a deep and restoring sleep. The body's resistance increases with postures that stimulate the functioning of the endocrine gland system, massage the internal organs, accelerate the blood circulation in the body tissues especially in the nervous system and the brain, and keep the body flexible, particularly the spine.

It is quite right to assume that a yogi takes care of his health through all his actions, but he is not obsessed about it. Let us take diet, for example. We all know a lot of people who have become fanatical about the alimentary system to the point that their food and its composition are almost their only concern. For them, diet has become the main subject of conversation. They feel guilty if they discard their rules even once. We don't want to make fun of diet nor to deny its importance, but food should not become an obsession. We should choose a diet based on healthy principles and adapted to the climate, the individual, social and regional conditions. Then, select the products and suppliers, and once this is done the problem should be finished. It is no more obsessive to eat correctly than to eat in any other way.

The same goes for all the other necessities and activities of life. Once we establish a daily, weekly and seasonal program suited to our needs, situation, available time and resources, we follow this routine regularly (which, by the way shouldn't become a routine). Then we forget about sickness. A yogi doesn't even think about the possibility of becoming sick. Sickness doesn't belong to his world.

Take sleep or another example. The yogi chooses a good place to sleep, decides what to sleep on and what time to sleep, and its finished. Once good habits are adopted there is no problem anymore. Having so established his life program, keeping an harmonious balance between work, rest and exercise, the yogi becomes available for any other task, according to karma, his personal tendencies and social situation.

Even during the performance of postures the yogi is not at all worried about the benefits, either preventive or therapeutic, of the asanas he is practicing. Ancient and modern authors attribute many beneficial effects to the different postures, these have been verified by experience in the orient as well as in the Occident, and the experience reconfirmed in many cases by scientific research. However, the adept, while doing sarvangasana, for example, doesn't think about sending fresh blood to the brain due to the inverted position of the body, or about stretching the cervical vertebrae and thus toning up the thyroid, etc. These effects, known or not, proven or not, happen automatically, without him having to think about them. On the contrary, thinking would only distract his mind and prevent him from getting the maximum benefits from the posture. During the asana he just goes inside himself, looks for an absolutely steady and comfortable centre, controls his breathing according to one of the methods learned from his guru, and gently controls his thoughts. His posture is a dialogue with his body, a non-intellectual dialogue, a living experience, always renewed.

The yogi respects his body as he understands its complexity and perfection. When practicing asanas he communicates with the life force in his tissues. He integrates himself with the cosmic life that manifests through him as well as through every bird, spider, blade of grass or cloud. He feels that the same force flows through him and through everything that surrounds him. He feels one with this life force, so delicate but nevertheless indestructible, remaining untouched in the course of evolution, through any disaster and any test. He feels his personal life as an aspect of the universal life. He allows the energy to circulate freely through all his nerves and nadis, and feels that the cosmic rhythms express themselves through the rhythms of his breath and heart beat. He simply lives. He integrates and goes beyond his individuality. With joyful amazement he becomes a means of expression for the universal life.

The yogi feels that all life is animated by shakti, this inexpressible primal energy, acting in himself and in everything that surrounds him. He doesn't live for his little ego but for participating in the cosmic will of manifestation and expression. He doesn't live with a sense of division and separation from other human beings and other forms of life, but with a deep sense of unity. He basically ignores all worries. Nothing leaves him indifferent, neither the smashing of an ant nor the sufferings of humanity, but still he is happy since he knows that although all suffering takes place on the level of duality to which he belongs, he is also deeply rooted at the level of non-duality. This is not expressed as concepts or words, it is an internal experience that he looks for, even through the simplest of his asanas. The true yogi enjoys life. He likes to stimulate his body and mind, to feel his reactions and see how he gets energy from everything he experiences. For him life has its source in cosmic ananda.

Even being more conscious than anybody of the importance of health and being informed about the practical means to regain and maintain it, he soon stops thinking about it. He doesn't ever lose his time' since the time invested in yoga, even from the efficiency point of view is in fact gained time. If you invest ten minutes in pranayama every morning, you will recover this same ten minutes in the form of better efficiency, physical and mental, in all the tasks you perform during the day, and you also add this ten minutes to the end of your life. Your investment is already repaid during the same day, plus you receive a substantial bonus later. Doesn't this sound like an excellent proposition?

Health has every chance of becoming an obsession... when we have lost it!

(Courtesy La Revue Yoga, Belgium)