There will come a time when drugs will be recognised as the cause of disease and debility rather than as the panacea for all of modern man's physical and mental anguish. We need drugs today because we lack the strength and self knowledge to confront disease directly and overcome it. This is why drugs are necessary and why they exist in such abundance. Although disease can be healed from within, we lack the willpower necessary to initiate the self healing process. By mobilising our will, we can awaken and direct prana to heal ourselves. Mastery of this science is surely not easy, but even if a few people are able to discover the great secret powers which lie dormant in themselves, and which they can wilfully awaken, then something important has been gained. How can we develop something as intangible as willpower? The best way is through regular practice of yoga.
If we are going to heal ourselves, then we should avoid using drugs as far as possible because they weaken the will, which is man's only real weapon in healing himself. Drugs lower the natural resistance to disease, while yoga strengthens both the will and the natural resistance. A few examples will illustrate this point very well.
If one develops infective bronchitis in the chest, and takes an appropriate antibiotic, then the bacteria which are multiplying there will be effectively killed and the symptoms magically relieved. The fever will drop, the cough will stop and the patient will feel much better. But has he been cured of his disease? In fact he has not, because the bacterial overgrowth is not the cause of the illness- it is the effect. The prime problem is a weakness, a deficient energy level in the chest region, a blockage or deficiency of prana. Because of this deficiency, the bacteria is able to multiply and the symptoms commence. Only in individuals whose natural resistance is diminished, whose energy is low, will disease come. After all, bacteriologists tell us that we all harbour many bacteria which are known to produce infectious disease, but without developing them. When the prana is deficient and one contracts a disease such as bronchitis, taking an antibiotic may render him free of symptoms, but in fact he is sicker than before. This is because the energy of the respiratory system remains low, but now he is unaware of the deficiency due to removal of symptoms.
How should a case such as infective bronchitis be treated? There are two ways. Firstly, we can utilise antibiotics to remove the symptoms and then adopt a daily program of asanas and pranayama specifically aimed to build up the energy and natural resistance of the respiratory system, This will prevent subsequent infections and by correcting the basic energy deficiency will cure the tendency towards the disease. Secondly, you can rely solely on the powers of body and mind, augmented by yoga, to overcome the infection. This may take longer and requires personal effort, but the rewards are far greater.
Another good example of symptomatic healing is surgical and medical treatment of peptic ulcer. The primary cause of ulcer is mental stress and gnawing anxiety. This results in excessive acid eating a hole in the wall of the stomach or duodenum which has a diminished mucosal resistance of its cellular lining. When the surgeon sews up the hole and removes the exposed nerves there, from contact with the acid secretions of the stomach, the pain is certainly stopped.
But this doesn't do anything at all about curing the disease- the autonomic nervous system remains exactly as before. Unless one learns how to effectively remove the mental tensions and anxieties, then he will suffer either a recurrent ulcer in a few months or else develop some other more serious, perhaps fatal, disorder later in life, resulting from the ever continuing accumulation of stress and anguish. In this case it would be better to perfect the practice of yoga nidra to remove both cause and symptoms of ulcer through releasing the accumulated stress of daily life. Techniques such as kunjal kriya can be used to fortify the prana of the upper gastrointestinal tract.
How do drugs affect our ability to mobilise our own inner pranic energy for self healing purposes? Firstly, a great effort of concentration is needed to awaken the higher pranic and psychic faculties of man, and liberate healing energy. This concentration can be found only in the face of a pressing stimulus such as pain provides. Once the symptoms are relieved, the impetus to seek the solution is lost.
Secondly, the major tranquillising and hypnotic drugs, as well as the powerful pain relieving agents, disorientate the consciousness and fragment the will. These agents disconnect the junctions of various faculties and dimensions of awareness which are needed in healing. One is no longer fully conscious.
There is recent evidence that the human central nervous system produces very powerful painkilling agents of its own called endorphins. These have been isolated and proved to be many times more powerful than even the most powerful opiates such as morphine and heroin, in pain relief. However, the key to their release and action in the nervous system is not known. It is suggested that these endorphins can be stimulated and released by the wilful expansion of conscious awareness in the face of pain in the bodily systems.
Drugs are not to be condemned, but their indiscriminate use by the spiritual aspirant will cause him to miss valuable experiences. If one is dedicated to self knowledge and a higher understanding, then he can learn a lot through his sicknesses. Of course, drugs can always be resorted to if necessary. They are neither good or bad in themselves- it depends on the situation. However, the level of drug usage today reflects the collective level of man's awareness. We need drugs to take away the pain of life. To be able to avoid the pains which confront us may be considered a great achievement, but it is also a very mixed blessing. This is because our propensity to experience pleasure can never exceed our ability to tolerate pain. This is one of the most basic facts of life. If the human nervous system is dulled whenever the reality of pain arises, then it is never sensitised to the experience of pleasure either. This is one of the reasons why many people can find nothing but boredom and unfulfilment in modern life. Life becomes mundane as man grows weaker and weaker, madly seeking pleasure and avoiding pain.
We are very proud of modern medical science and its progress, yet we must be careful in assessing its contribution to our demise. The family doctor who is ever ready with his armoury of drugs is indeed a mixed blessing for mankind. By overly relying on his magic bag of tricks, we are forgetting that we can evolve, learn and grow through our pains to greater cosmic understanding and happiness.
Please note, however, that yoga should not be adopted for relief of pain or disease without the guidance of a competent yoga therapist, preferably in an ashram situation.