Importance of Brain Research

Lecture at Jabalpur Yoga Convention on 10.3.1979

I would like to tell you about some of the research we are doing, but before I do I will give you a brief picture of my own experience with yoga. When I was suffering from asthma I naturally tried to do everything in my power to stop the misery and suffering. When you can't breathe, can't take life giving energy into your system, every part of your life is affected, is crippled. It's like a drowning man searching for some means to get to the surface, to life. I tried every method, but without success. Even in my medical studies, I pursued this personal quest until I was fortunate enough to find yoga. Now I can say, as a personal testament, that I am absolutely cured from a disease which modern medical science states is basically incurable.

After my experience I decided that yoga is a very valuable and powerful system. Being a western minded person, intellectually orientated, I decided to pursue the yogic research that is going on from the deeper side. I found from the research we are collecting in Monghyr that yoga is emerging as an ordered practical system which is on equal footing, if not superior to modern medical science. In many countries of the world, yogis and medical scientists are merging, becoming one, because yoga, of course, is especially beneficial for diseases such as asthma and high blood pressure. Research is also showing that cancer and many diseases which are not just psychosomatic, as well as disorders of a psychiatric or mental origin, are amenable to yoga therapy.

More important than just the disease aspect, the researchers of yoga are showing us that it can affect each and every part of our lives- the education of our children, our family life, our relationships with people in work situations, or any situation. Our whole perception, our whole way of feeling the world, can be affected through yoga and brought to a point where we can appreciate life more, can live a fuller and better life. This is the message of yoga.

Through some very interesting research, science is now giving us a glimpse, is just removing the dust from the surface, and revealing to us that yoga is gold. It has been hidden by the dust of time, but when we remove this dust, we have a very valuable system. Science has only removed the dust. It has not gone deeper. It has not yet found out exactly how it can be applied to our lives. This is the work that is going on now, and this is our working motive.

Brain research

An important focal point for most of the research going on today is concerned with how yoga affects the brain. We all know that we have a brain, and that it is the controlling system for the body. It is the link between the body and the mind, but we do not really appreciate just what the brain is.

The brain has some twelve billion (twelve thousand million) cells, individual units, and. each one of these cells has a specific function, Many of these twelve thousand million units are said to connect to half a million other cells. For those who are mathematically minded, this makes the brain's capacity absolutely enormous, if not infinite. We are not yet sure what is the actual capacity of the brain, but we are sure that in all creation it is the most complicated and will be the last thing to be understood by man. We are in possession of such a computer, yet we do not know how to use it. Actually, we don't even know what is inside, but we are learning.

Today, researchers are measuring the brainwave activity. There are four types of brainwaves. The first is beta which emerges in concentration. Now, most of us are in beta, the brainwave of externalized, rational, logical thinking. The next is alpha, probably the most famous of all brainwaves. In USA they are talking about alpha waves in biofeedback and in many different forms of yogic related therapy. Alpha is a relaxed state of mind, which you achieve when you are resting at home with your eyes closed perhaps. Beta and alpha waves are the externalized form of awareness. Then, there comes a barrier between externalized awareness and internalized awareness, and once you have crossed this point, you enter theta waves, which occur in dreams. The fourth brainwave found in deep sleep is delta.

Now how does this relate to yoga? The basic elements of yoga are relaxation and awareness. If you remember just these two things in your yogic practice, that is all you need. When you relax, the brain slows down, the worries and tensions start to disappear and the mind starts to calm down. As the brainwaves slow down, we become more internalized, because we are coming out of beta awareness, where we have to face all the worries, all the tensions of daily life. We start to become more alpha, more theta.

Unfortunately, however, for most of us, the moment we reach alpha we start to doze, to lose awareness. This is because we are habituated to beta waves, stuck in the worries and tensions which are reflected in the diseased situation today. Disease and suffering are mainly due to tension of one form or another. So what we aim to do in yoga is to cultivate a state of mind in which we relax with awareness. In this way, as we submerge ourselves in the mind, as we move from the conscious to the subconscious mind, we retain our ability to remain aware within.

In most people the brainwaves, which we see on an electrical apparatus called an electroencephalogram, show that from one side of the brain we have beta, from another side alpha, and from another side theta. There is no system, no order, no concentration. To investigate the effects of yoga on the brainwave patterns, two researchers, Das and Gastaut, did some research into kriya yoga. For this they used two groups of people- a control group and a group of kriya yoga practitioners. The control group was given a form of relaxation, just sitting and trying to relax the body, but little change was recorded. The group practising kriya yoga, however, started going in immediately. Das and Gastaut showed that as these subjects submerged themselves in meditation they began to produce alpha and theta waves, at the same lime remaining aware of their internal environment. This is the basic type of change in brainwave activity that we see in most forms of meditation.

In this research what happened was that the people practising kriya yoga not only went in, but they reached a point where their whole brain exploded. At this point the brainwaves became much larger and more intense, and not only that, they were beta waves, concentration waves. The people themselves had what they called a life affirming experience. The EEG showed that there was no random chaotic brainwave activity present. The whole brain seemed to be pulsating- twelve thousand million cells were pulsating as one unit. In yoga we call this dhyana, meditation. Can you imagine the effect of such an experience on your life? It brings about health in the body and in the mind. At the same time it gives you something else, fulfilment and understanding.

Unifying the hemispheres

The union of the two sides of the brain is the subject of further research in America. They discovered that the left side of the brain is the logical side, and the right side is the intuitive side. When the two sides come together, it seems that we have an experience of cosmic union. These brain researchers are proving what the yogis of ancient times have already spoken of. We can read about this unification in the Ishavasya Upanishad, for example, where it says:

"Those people who follow vidya alone will enter blinding darkness, and those who follow avidya alone will also fall into blinding darkness. Only those who practise vidya and avidya can experience the true light."

In scientific language this means that those people who follow only avidya, the left side of the brain, the external life, the logical, rational, materialistic life, sensual life; and those people who follow only the path of vidya, the right side of the brain, meditation and knowledge alone, create an unbalanced situation. Only one side of the brain is being used- the right or the left. But those people who follow the balanced formula- half an hour meditation to eight hours of karma yoga, will experience the true life. They will unify the brain and experience light.