Yoga - A Therapeutic Science

An address by Swami Satyananda Saraswati at Gandhi Medical College, Bhopal 28.2.1979

In 1964 the Bihar School of Yoga was established in order to propagate the science of yoga to modern man. We definitely knew at that time that yoga would be accepted by the great people of this world, and since 1964 much work has been done in this field. In the beginning of the foundation of our institution, resources were very limited and there were not many workers. Gradually, however, over a period of time, we have built up the entire mission, and today we are able to produce tangible results and definite conclusions. Now, we are in touch with many yoga research programs being conducted in India as well as abroad. People in this modern civilisation have discovered that the way to peace and good health lies hidden in the science of yoga.

The science of yoga was greatly misunderstood as a religion for many, many centuries and abused as a system of magic. Today, the thinking people, who have eyes to see and who are able to understand the secrets of yoga with an open mind, have come to the conclusion that the science of yoga has a definite, clear and indisputable solution for the difficulties of man. The science of yoga covers a great range of human problems. It not only solves the problems of spiritual life, it can also help to ease the problems of our day to day illnesses. The science of yogasanas, pranayama, mudras and bandhas, including hatha yoga- the science of physiological balance and physical purification- has brought to us the knowledge that diseases can be relieved by the practice of yoga.

Yoga research world-wide

In many countries scientific and medical research is now being conducted into various yogic practices. In Poland, Prof. J. Aleksandrowicz, T. Pasek, and Prof. W. Romanowski have conducted research into the influence of sirshasana and other yogic practices on the human organism. In the USA Elmer and Alice Green are doing fantastic research on the nature of the mind and the influence of meditation on the brain. In Japan Dr Hiroshi Motoyama has even devised techniques for investigating the reaction of the nervous system and the brain during awakening of kundalini. In Bihar, under the auspices of the Patna Medical College Hospital and the assistance of the Government of India, Dr Srinivas has already completed research into the effects of yogasanas on coronary diseases. In the University of Barcelona, the doctors and psychologists have produced extraordinary results from their research into the effects of yoga nidra, psychic sleep, on the human body. At the same time, they have conducted another research indicating the influence of sound waves on the brain. As well as this, a lot of work is being done in France on children of higher secondary standard. The Education Department, particularly in Paris, has already published a report compiled by their education inspectors, outlining the changes found in the children after one year of training in yogic practices.

Some months ago, in our ashram in Orissa, we held a practical seminar on diabetes for forty days. The course was inspected by Dr N. C. Panda of Burla Medical College Hospital, assisted by other doctor friends. Twenty five diabetics of all ages, from all groups, were taught the system of yoga, and the results were very encouraging. Besides this, research is continuing at the Indian Institute of Medical Sciences, the Yoga Institute in Santa Cruz, as well as under the direction of Dr Datey. Also at the Yoga Institute in Lonavala founded by Swami Kuvalyananda, at the College of Yoga in Tirupathy, as well as in Madras, research and investigations are being done.

So far the results being achieved are filled with a great message and, I request you to ponder over this for a while with an open mind. All of you doctors are the high priests in our civilisation If you can understand yoga properly, in a scientific way, there is no reason why yoga cannot become an educational faculty for solving the physical, mental and spiritual problems of mankind.

Restoring the balance

All over the world people are living in a state of terror, fright, anxiety, passion, tension, insecurity, uncertainty, suspicion and so on. These states influence man's physiological structure, and cause most of the diseases that we suffer from today. In this context yoga comes to us as a great panacea. When we practice yoga, the changes in the physical body are clear, they are earmarked. The behaviour of the heart, consumption of oxygen, rate of respiration, reactions of the nervous system, secretions of hormones, alteration of brain waves, and all the systems of the physical body are influenced and undergo certain changes. This has a beneficial effect on most disease states but first, disease has to be defined properly, and yoga has its own definition. Disease manifests in the body but does not originate in the body. Disease originates with a state of imbalance. There may be disharmony between the nervous systems or an imbalance in the hormonal secretions, or in the digestive processes. As such, we define disease in a subtle manner, and we treat it according to its nature.

We don't treat diabetes as a digestive disorder. We know that it is a deficiency in insulin - there is no doubt about it. We also know that the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems are controlled by higher centres. When these centres fail to activate the nervous system properly, then a deficiency of hormones in a particular area results. When we treat a diabetic patient we don't treat him for a deficiency of insulin. We don't treat him for the disease he is apparently suffering from. We know it is stress and strain that is responsible.

When we treat a mental patient, suffering from psychosis, neurosis or a nervous breakdown, we take him as a personality, a human being, an individual who can think and feel. We take him deeper into his own mind through the practices of concentration and meditation, bringing him to the root of his illness. If a person is suffering from high anxiety, we don't prescribe practices to induce an immediate state of tranquillity. Rather, we try to explode his personality, to express what remains dormant in the back of his mind. This is possible with the practice of concentration, such as mantra, which is part of yoga. As a scientific principle, mantra is a very powerful instrument. Through the practice of mantra, we try to explode the deeper phases of the consciousness. When the inner states of mind are exploded then one comes face to face with all the thoughts, distractions, passions and repressions deep within him.

The physical body is influenced by the human mind. It is the sentiments, the emotions, feelings and objectives, passions, fears, anxieties and worries in the mind which create physiological changes in the body. The adrenal, thyroid and pituitary secretions have a natural flow and order. A thought can and does influence the workings of our physical body.

Fear, psychosis or anxiety influence the endocrine glands and change the mode of brain waves.

Through the practice of yoga nidra (psychic sleep), certain pranayamas, and chanting of mantra, we have been able to alter and harmonise the pattern of brain waves. In the University of Barcelona they have exposed people to medical tests and investigations while the mantra OM was being chanted. The sound was recorded by sophisticated instruments and they found that when 'O' was being intoned alpha brain waves were predominant, and when 'M' was intoned the pattern changed into theta waves. Now, how do these waves relate to different physiological conditions? If one is suffering from hypertension and blood pressure, sit him down quietly in an easy chair. Let him close his eyes and chant OM for a short time. After fifteen to twenty minutes when you take his blood pressure, you'll be surprised to see that certainly OM has done the job.

In the same manner, research is also being conducted into yoga nidra. This great science was lost completely, and now we have adapted and reintroduced it for the needs of modern man. Yoga nidra is a very important practice and medical investigations have clearly shown that it is not hypnosis, but an entirely different technique. Yoga nidra is a practice where you are allowed to relax, but not to sleep. Sleep is not relaxation, and relaxation can definitely occur in an awakened state. Lie down in the supine position and follow the awareness through all the different parts of the body. As a result a state of relaxation arises and the brain undergoes a corresponding change. During the practice of yoga nidra we have seen delta waves appear a few times, especially if the subject is tired. Sometimes theta waves appear also, but alpha waves usually predominate.

Dr Datey taught yoga nidra to one hundred subjects suffering from hypertension, men and women, belonging to different age groups and different professions. Half an hour of shavasana, known technically as yoga nidra, helped give permanent relief to these people. He found that only a few cases could not be managed in this way, and these were difficult cases, probably purely psychological.

Mind, prana and self

The whole body is a composition of prana and mind. Pranas are responsible for action and motion in life. The mind is responsible for thinking and feeling. Together, mind and prana fill this living structure, penetrating it through and through. Mind and prana are the two great forces in our physical system, and if they lose their balance, a corresponding imbalance is created in our mental and physical behaviour. The science of hatha yoga is based on these twin forces. Pranas can be balanced by the practice of asanas and pranayamas. The mental force is balanced by the practice of concentration and meditation.

In yoga we say there are seventy two thousand channels or nadis in the body through which the flow of prana and the flow of mind moves. Out of these seventy two thousand channels of mental and pranic energy, ten are considered to be major ones. Out of these ten major channels, three are most important. In yoga we call them ida, pingala and sushumna. Ida represents mental force, pingala represents pranic force and sushumna represents spiritual force.

The individual is a combination of mind, prana and self. Certainly there comes a time in life, and not necessarily when you reach fifty-five, when you become aware, when you begin to realise that the body is not final. The mind controls the body; and the spirit, the atman, the self controls the mind and body. When you become the master of the mind, you become the master of the body, but when you are a slave to the mind then the body is full of disease. Once you become master of the self, you become the master of the mind and body.

Hatha yoga

The practices of yoga are all aimed towards self mastery. In raja yoga, it is the mind which is important. In hatha yoga it is the physical body which is important. In hatha yoga we have the six processes of purification which are as follows:

  • Neti - the nasal kriya. In this practice water is passed from one nostril to another, or a catheter is passed through the nostril into the mouth. This practice is used for migraine, sinusitis, eye problems, sore throat, epilepsy and other disorders of the head.
  • Dhauti - washing the digestive system. In kunjal kriya we drink salty water and then vomit it out. In vastra dhauti we swallow a thin strip of cloth about six feet long. It's not difficult, and we have been teaching it to asthmatic patients with great success.
  • Basti - sucking water in through the anus. This is used mainly for alleviation of piles, fistula, and diseases of the rectum.
  • Trataka - gazing on a fixed point. This practice develops concentration and helps improve the eyesight.
  • Nauli - abdominal roll. This exercise stimulates different parts of the intestines and the benefits are numerous. It has immediate effects on the sexual debility of man which is one of the most important diseases in family life. It also maintains the health of the kidneys and bladder.
  • Kapalbhati - rapid respiration with the emphasis on exhalation. The purpose of this practice is to purify the frontal region of the brain, and to revitalize and rest the mind. After five minutes of kapalbhati you will find that your mind is very clear, without any confusion. It is especially useful when you are studying for an examination.

Raja yoga

After the practice of these hatha yoga techniques, you should begin asanas. After asanas, start pranayama, and when you are sufficiently accomplished in these, then begin the practice of meditation.

The science of meditation, dhyana, is a very important part of yoga. It has a great effect on the human body and mind. Meditation is not only a psychological or spiritual practice, it is an all round practice for everyone, with or without a religious background. The research that has been carried out on the influence and effects of meditation on the brain, nervous system and body, have revealed to us that the practice of meditation brings a great change in the behaviour of the brain, the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems, as well as the entire personality.

Meditation is the most important practice for all mental and spiritual progress. Any time of the day, or at fixed times morning and evening, you can practice for ten minutes, no more than that. During these ten minutes you are not going to spend; you are going to invest. First of all fix your posture; keep your spinal cord upright and straight. Close your eyes and fix them at the nose tip. That is essential. Don't move the body; total immobility must be achieved for a period of ten minutes only, not more than that. The whole body should not move. It must become steady, like a statue. Next become aware of your natural spontaneous breathing process. Don't try to breathe in and out. Don't make any effort to breathe. You breathe all the time, but now you should become aware that you are breathing in and out. Become a witness of the spontaneous breathing process. That's all, nothing else. Follow the breath awareness for a full ten minutes. At the end of this time, come out. You can keep an alarm clock beside you if you like. Practice this day in and day out, and if possible after one month you can expose yourself to medical tests before, during and after the practice. If there is computerized polygraph testing available, then everything can be tested simultaneously. Even after one month, if you undergo practical medical and psychological tests, this is not the only proof. Your own family members as well as your colleagues in professional life will also notice the change.

A mighty world culture

Yoga is a science of therapy, a science of self improvement, and a way to discipline. But besides all this, yoga is a culture, and every nation must have one, for the culture is the prana of a nation. Countries with political cultures have failed. Nations with military might have been destroyed. Races which had absolute power have disappeared, leaving no trace. But a country with a culture based on yoga has eternal existence. It can survive through the vicissitudes of life, the accidents of history and the ravages of time. You are that people, you have survived through the accidents of life because yoga has been your culture. In the coming times, yoga is going to emerge as a mighty world culture, is going to direct the events of the world's history, and you have a definite role to play in this. It is up to you to accept this great science with love, with admiration, with hope and with sincerity.