Hatha Yoga Therapy

Swami Satyananda Saraswati - Given at the Zinal Conference in Switzerland on 1st September

Hatha yoga is not only a method of preparing the system for spiritual awakening, it is also a very important science of health. Since ancient times it has been used by yogis and rishis for the relief and elimination of all kinds of diseases, disorders and defects. It is true that the practices require a bit more time and effort on the part of the patient than the conventional therapies. Rut in terms of permanent, positive results, as well as the saving of enormous expenditure on medicines, they are certainly well worth it.

What makes this method of treatment so powerful and effective is the fact that it works on the principles of harmony and unification rather than diversity. The three important principles on which physical and mental therapy is based are as follows:

  1. Conferring absolute health to one part or system of the body and thereby influencing the rest of the body.
  2. Balancing the positive and negative energy poles.
  3. Purifying the body of the three types of wastages.

Mutual rhythms

If you hang fifteen grandfather clocks with varying pendulum movements together on the same wall, you will notice that after some time all the pendulums become synchronised. This occurs quite naturally according to the law of mutual rhythms and vibrations.

In this physical body, the various organs and systems all have to carry out their own functions, but there should be a complete co-ordination between them. If any of the organs or systems of the body are not able to co-ordinate with each other, it means that not one, but all the systems and organs are unbalanced. Thus, in any sickness, whether physical or mental, every system is out of co-ordination.

According to the law of mutual rhythms, all you have to do in order to regain the health of the whole system, is to bring one organ or system to a state of health. Then all the others will naturally follow suit. Ill health of one system creates ill health in the rest of the body. You cannot say that your stomach is bad and everything else is all right.

Therefore, if a sick person comes to us with a number of ailments, we generally, give treatment for only one of them and try to get him better on the level of this particular ailment. If you are able to create health in one system of his body, gradually the whole body begins to get better. This is how hatha yoga therapy should be given.

Most yoga teachers today, however, do not follow this system. Depending on their knowledge of medical diagnosis, they make a very long list of practices- one for constipation, one for nosebleed, one for something else. They think that by teaching a sick person various hatha yoga techniques for his different ailments, he will get better. Their system is based on the popular concept that various diseases belong to different groups, which does not take into account the interrelationship of all the organs and systems.

Balancing the energy poles

Conserving energy in this physical body is another important aspect of health which has been ignored by most of the healing sciences. We have given so much importance to nutrition, but we have missed the real source of energy which is inherent. This energy is something like positive and negative electrical charges pulsating throughout. The correct balance of these plus and minus forms of energy creates good health. Whenever these positive and negative flows are suppressed, blocked, dissipated or poorly distributed, disease inevitably results. The different organs and systems of the body do not merely subsist on food and vitamins. The main source of energy in life is these plus/minus or positive/negative charges. Therefore, the science 'of physical and mental harmony is known as hatha yoga. The meaning of hatha yoga is very clear. The letters 'ha' and, 'tha' are tantric bija mantras, representing the positive and negative poles of energy. Hatha yoga means the union or co-ordination between the positive and negative forces in the physical body.

Elimination of wastes

Our body functions along very simple lines. Just as a machine produces wastes, likewise our body continuously produces wastes. These wastes are of three types: mucus, gas and acidity. If we cleanse the body internally from time to time, the excesses of these three metabolic products are removed, and their formation is regulated and balanced. Then perfect health can be maintained.

It is in this sense that the practices of the six hatha yoga shatkarmas are of very great importance. Gleaning the body of the three types of wastages accumulated in the system is an important aspect of hatha yoga therapy.

Neti

The first shatkarma is the practice of neti, where warm saline water is passed through one nostril and out the other. Neti is also done with a catheter if there is any nasal blockage. Neti should be practised before pranayama in order to clean both the nasal passages. It is used for different types of diseases because when both the nasal passages are regularly cleaned, a scientific healing process takes place.

During respiration, when air enters the nostrils, a message is passed to the brain regarding the ion contents in the air. Then monitoring takes place at the septum of the nose, and the positive and negative ions are separated. Thus for the proper monitoring and separation of ions in the air, it is necessary that the whole nasal passage be cleaned by the practice of neti.

We have found that people suffering from epileptic and hysterical fits, breathe through the mouth. Not only at night when they sleep, but even during the day, they unconsciously breathe through the mouth. This is because the mucus membrane at the nasal opening is inflamed. Therefore the air that enters through the nose smells, and the nose is allergic to that smell. When there is inflammation in the mucus membrane, there are certain allergic reactions. For example, the inflamed mucus membrane refuses to accept various odours - it will either sneeze them out, or, if they are forced in, it will cause a cold, headache, or vomiting.

So, those people who have a continuous inflammation in the mucus membrane of the nose, are compelled to breathe through the mouth. When they inhale through the mouth, the bulk of oxygen goes straight to the lungs. The mouth does not have a mechanism to separate the ions into gaseous matter. So what happens is that the lungs create a great stress on the coronary system and also the brain. This in turn becomes a great strain on the sensory channels and the motor cortex, and results in hysteria and both types of epilepsy.

The treatment for these disorders is very simple: stop breathing through the mouth. Mouth breathing is due to the inflamed, sensitive mucus membrane. In order to correct this condition, you have to teach sutra neti, in which a catheter is inserted into the nose and taken out through the mouth. This creates a certain friction at the septum where the monitoring is received, so that the ions can be properly separated.

The practice of neti is also very helpful in the relief of migraine, sinusitis, and many other complaints related to the eyes, ears, nose and throat.

Dhauti

Dhauti is a very important system of auto-cleansing which includes three main techniques: (i) kunjal - vomiting, (ii) vastra dhauti - swallowing a strip of cloth, (iii) shankhaprakshalana - drinking saline water and allowing it to pass all through the alimentary canal.

Much is known about kunjal, in which you drink saline water and vomit it out. This is a very important practice for eliminating acidity in gastric complaints. Many diseases are caused by hyperacidity, and this practice of vomiting is an antidote for it. For those who have a bad stomach, or what you call a sour taste from belching up the stomach acids, this is the best practice. Vomiting is very important for improving the digestion and balancing hyperacidity. But if there is hypoacidity, then this practice does not help.

In cases of hypoacidity we use another practice called vyaghra dhauti or tiger wash. Hypoacidity causes chronic dyspepsia or indigestion. Due to lack of acidity, the food is not properly digested. When this type, of indigestion occurs, we wait for three hours after taking food, and then vomit all the remaining contents so that the stomach is clean.

For elimination problems, I have found that the best form of dhauti is shankhaprakshalana. With about 16 glasses (or 4 to 5 litres) of warm saline water, you clean the whole alimentary canal from top to bottom. Within a period of 1½ hours, you are able to get rid of all the fermenting, decomposed mucus in the intestines. On the intestinal walls there is hard mucus, to which the food sticks fast. As this mucus decomposes, it should be expelled. Unfortunately, however, in our modern system of treatment, when the mucus passes we think that we have a disease, and immediately take some medicine to stop the process. We don't allow this decomposed mucus to be thrown out by nature's obligation. When you practise shankhaprakshalana, the intestines (large and small), are washed clean of this decomposed mucus.

When this mucus is completely expelled, a state of cleanliness and health is created throughout the whole system. You must remember that when the intestines are loaded with decomposed mucus, intestinal peristalsis slows down and the temperature in the colon and the small intestine also falls. When this occurs decomposition and fermentation of food stuff takes place inside the intestines. This means that during the process of assimilation, the body absorbs toxins and the whole body becomes toxicated.

Cleansing of the body through shankhaprakshalana should take place according to the seasons prevailing in the country. When the season changes from hot to cold, there is a corresponding change in the whole body. The heating and cooling system, like a thermostat, changes shifts as the seasons change. At this time shankhaprakshalana should be practised.

Asana and pranayama

In hatha yoga therapy we have also had excellent results with the practice of asanas and pranayama. The major asanas are very powerful because they influence the endocrine system, which maintains order in the physical body. Imbalance or hyper/hypo conditions can generate any sickness. Coronary disease is a good example. In western countries this disease is increasing day by day, and is known as killer number one. Along with relaxation, we have found the practice of siddhasana beneficial for heart patients.

Siddhasana, the pose in which you press the perineum with one heel and the lower viscera with the other, is not only important as a meditation pose. The pressure of the heels helps to control the outflow of testosterone, the male hormone produced in the scrotum. This hormone is very important because it controls male function and also influences the coronary behaviour. By controlling the outflow of testosterone you can prevent coronary accidents. By suppressing the release of this important hormone, you can automatically control the fluctuation of the blood pressure. Testosterone has an immediate constricting effect on the blood vessels, which in turn, burdens the whole coronary system by raising the pressure. During the practice of siddhasana, however, the outflow of testosterone is inhibited and the blood pressure is able to rebalance itself.

Sirshasana, the headstand pose, is well known for increasing ventilation to the body tissues, especially the brain. Usually ventilation to the brain is very inadequate, but in sirshasana, it is optimal. By the practice of sirshasana, you can completely remove all heaviness from the brain and thoughts.

What is not so widely known about sirshasana is that it has a beneficial influence on the behaviour of the heart. During sirshasana the rate of oxygen consumption decreases while the rate of oxygen assimilation increases. This was verified several years ago by a team of Polish researchers. Sirshasana is important in heart disease because when consumption of oxygen is brought down, the heart rate is also brought down. If coronary problems are to be controlled, people will have to be trained to use the minimum amount of oxygen. The practices of sirshasana and kumbhaka are most important for reducing oxygen consumption and training the involuntary muscles of the heart and brain.

The heart is an involuntary muscle, but it is controlled by a centre in the hypothalamus. When a yogi enters into underground samadhi and stops his breath, he does not consume any oxygen, and his heart stops completely. If the heart did not stop completely, it would fill up with impure blood which would damage its tissues and walls. So, in underground samadhi, consumption of oxygen is nil. Even the remote pulsation of energy is absent in the coronary muscles. This state has been known to continue for a number of days, and when the yogi emerges from samadhi, his functions again resume their normal rate.

Meditation

The science of meditation is also part of hatha yoga. It is not merely a way to God, but a way to maintain a balance between the pulsating energies and make them useful for this body. I think that meditation is a game between the two forces, the two energies within us, which are in total conflict with each other. One energy is trying to subordinate the other form of energy. Through the practices of meditation a union is created between these two energies which then become what is called total energy.

Union of yoga and science

The psychic and mental diseases which human beings are suffering from are nothing but a state of disharmony in the energy system. In order to alleviate them we will have to take a new look at our body and enlarge the dimension of modern medical science. We will have to redefine the body, the classification of disease and the system of diagnosis. As soon as modern science is able to redefine the body as it is, and correlate the state of the body with the state of mind and the situations of life, then perhaps a happy union can take place between yoga and science. But at the moment we are poles apart; yoga is talking about one thing and science is talking about something else.

Physical and mental therapy is one of the most important achievements of hatha yoga. So far, hatha yoga has succeeded in diseases like asthma, diabetes and blood pressure, where modern science has not. Besides this, hatha yoga has proved very effective in cases of epilepsy, hysteria, rheumatism and many other ailments of chronic and constitutional nature. In fact, we have found that most diseases of chronic and constitutional nature can definitely be reversed through hatha yoga.

What is needed at this time, however, is more trained teachers and therapists, and a better quality of training. The hatha yoga teacher has to be an expert of body and mind. At the same time, he or she should not only be a hatha yoga teacher, but a hatha yoga scientist. Much research has to be done on this.

This is just a glimpse into how the practices of hatha yoga can create a state of physical and mental health. At the moment, many researches are going on in various countries of Europe, in America, India and South-east Asia to ascertain the effects of the practices on all the organs and systems of the body. Soon we hope that hatha yoga will be accepted as one of the major systems of treatment for physical and mental diseases.

Satsang on Health

Can modern man really benefit by practising the yogic techniques that were developed centuries ago?

In today's civilised society, man's complexes and neuroses have greatly increased. Centuries ago, our ancestors had a more conducive environment for the practice of yoga, but their need for the science was not as great as it is in today's confused and neurotic world.

On the physical level, we are subjected to a polluted and inharmonious environment in which the laws of nature are not respected. Our body takes in many toxins from the atmosphere and the food we eat, and we must have a process for purging these accumulated impurities. Yoga is the only science which has provided the means. In hatha yoga there are practices to purify the stomach and the whole alimentary canal. Pranayama purifies and balances the respiratory and nervous systems and asanas, mudras and bandhas release energy blocks and help to build up the body's vitality and resistance.

On the mental plane, worries, fears, anxieties and tensions that man experiences in his daily life, all create an accumulation of impurities in the subconscious mind. To expel these toxins and to rid himself of tension, man has to practise meditation and yogic relaxation.

So, although the yogic practices were developed centuries ago, it does not mean that they are unsuitable for modern day man. In fact, we who are living a life of greater stress and tension will realise the benefits of yoga in a shorter time than those of the previous culture.

What is disease?

Disease is a condition experienced in the body but existing in the mind. According to the yogic concept, disease is inherent in the deeper self, but we are not sensitive to this, so it is experienced through the mind and the senses in the body. All diseases, whether they concern the digestive, respiratory or circulatory system, are due to carelessness about the rules of health.

What is the best treatment for serious diseases of the body?

The chronic and constitutional diseases can be efficiently managed by the practices of hatha yoga. Diseases that are purely physical in nature can be directly tackled by asanas, pranayama and the six body cleansing kriyas of hatha yoga. However, when the cause is not in the body but in the depth of the mind, it will have to be tackled by the practices of raja yoga coupled with hatha yoga. Diseases such as cancer are born of your mind but manifest in the body over a long period of time.

I will give you an example. If a man in his sixties suddenly loses his nineteen year old son, it will definitely be a great shock. The effects of this shock are transferred to the unconscious mind and there they lie working like a seed underneath the earth. In all cases this is the normal reaction to shock. Every experience in life becomes integrated into your personality and becomes active like a seed sown in the ground. It is not seen but it continues to grow until it manifests at the body level. Anything that happens to the body affects the mind and anything which affects the mind affects the body, and this includes severe diseases such as asthma, cancer and diabetes.

Even people who have been suffering for 25 years from diseases such as asthma and mental disorders show great improvement after 15 to 20 days of yogic treatment. They think it is a miracle, but the reason why the yogic practices are so powerful is because they work on the unconscious mind and root out the real cause of disease.

Because disease can manifest on account of mental or physical causes, it is best to practise the techniques of hatha yoga and raja yoga together. A person could be suffering from asthma because the climate where he lives does not suit him and he has developed an allergy which has resulted in asthma. Or maybe he has certain suppressions in his mind which have carried on from childhood and are the cause of his suffering.

Is fasting a purificatory process and does it therefore belong to hatha yoga?

The hatha yoga techniques purify the body so thoroughly that if they are practised regularly it is not necessary to undergo fasting. Nevertheless, I have found that a little fasting from time to time is very beneficial to those who want to practise traditional yoga. I have also found fasting to be a great help in treating psychotics, neurotics and schizophrenics.

In spiritual life there are times when fasting should be undertaken. For example, when awakening of kundalini is taking place and your body and mind are going through many experiences. At that time, hatha yoga probably will not be possible so it is necessary to purify the body through fasting. Even if you do not eat for seven days it will not matter because in a spiritualised body the nutrition is created internally. It is not the food that nourishes the body, it is the prana. If prana is lacking, no matter how much food you take, you are likely to fall ill. When there is sufficient prana, all the vitamins and nutrients can be created within the physical body.

What is the ideal diet for people practising hatha yoga?

The ideal diet for a hatha yogi consists of food he can digest properly. Even if your diet is basically roti, rice, dhal and vegetables, it may have to change slightly according to your sadhana and the condition of your health. For example, the best diet after shankhaprakshalana is khichari. After performing vyaghra kriya, kheer should be taken. If you practise pranayama for long periods of time it is best to eat more oily foods, butter, ghee and milk. After practising dhyana for a few hours the ideal food is khichari.

Now considering health, if you are suffering from peptic ulcer due to hyperacidity, it is best to take some satu, biscuits or milk every two or three hours. Therefore there cannot be a direct reply to this question because in most cases diet must vary according to the individual.

If one wants to practise hatha yoga should he give up alcohol and cigarettes and stop the intake of drugs? Do these things slow down the evolution of the individual soul?

To be perfectly frank, nothing can affect the evolutionary passage of consciousness. If one is following the techniques of meditation and the mind is attaining relaxation, then one does not need these things. When an individual is in a state of tension he needs cigarettes, alcohol and such things, but if he has no tension he has no need for them. Personally I'm not against these things; they are only external. Even if one meditates, he can still take them if he really wants.

If a person smokes or drinks there is no use in fighting his habits because they may be caused by other circumstances, possibly endocrinal imbalances. By practising hatha yoga one can purify the body and rectify all imbalances. Then in the course of time, alcohol, drugs and cigarettes will no longer be necessary.

If a person has been taking medication and he wants to begin a course of treatment with hatha yoga, should he stop all medication?

When he begins yogic therapy he should gradually reduce his intake of medicines and so on. Then when he is practising the cleansing kriyas, he may give up all medications if he is under the guidance of an experienced yogic therapist.

Can the hatha yoga techniques benefit heroin addicts?

The hatha yoga shatkarmas are the most important part of a heroin addict's treatment. The whole physical body has to be thoroughly purified internally and externally. Toxins have to be removed from the intestines, liver, kidneys, spleen, etc., and the production of acid, bile and phlegm has to be regulated. Through hatha yoga this can be done. By practising certain asanas and pranayama the hormonal secretions can be regulated and the endocrinal blockages can be removed. Postural defects can be rectified and the vitality of the body can be greatly enhanced. The treatment will be quicker and more successful if the practice is regular and if a special diet is maintained. It is also recommended that this treatment be undertaken in an ashram environment.

Which hatha yoga techniques do you recommend for improving poor eyesight in children?

Firstly they must practise eye exercises. Then they should commence the hatha yoga techniques of trataka and neti. These should be practised daily, along with surya namaskara. A slight alteration to the diet and a little walking on the damp grass in winter will also help to improve their eyesight.

A pupil of mine has skin cancer and I have advised her to practise yogic shatkarmas and to become vegetarian. Do you have any additional suggestions?

So many people sunbathe to excess and this is what happens. There should be some limitation. After all, white people are beautiful and black people are also beautiful. Beauty is not a quality of colour.

Along with the other suggestions, your student should not expose her body to the hot sun until she is completely well and she should begin to practise amaroli. This involves the internal use and application of one's urine. A lot of scientific investigations have already been made on the chemical composition of urine and this information has all been compiled in a publication of ours called 'Amaroli'. Studies reveal that there are many different chemicals, hormones and enzymes in our urine and that these can have a beneficial effect in terms of helping to overcome disease.

Amaroli can be safely used in mild forms of cancer. I have not come to any conclusion about its use in the more fatal forms of cancer, but I have seen it work. In skin cancer, this practice can be very beneficial.

What is the best yogic practice for hypertension?

There is one easy practice. You simply lie down or sit in a comfortable chair, close your eyes and concentrate on your breath. Just follow the natural breath as it flows in and out, that's all. There should be a link between the mind and the body. This is the principle for reduction of hypertension. We all know that we breathe in and out but we are not fully aware of it at any time. When you become conscious of it, you are creating this link between the mind and body, and the tensions are reduced. This reduction is real and it can be seen by taking a blood pressure measurement before and after the practice. There is always a marked difference.

Which asanas should I practise to increase my blood pressure?

Whether you have high or low blood pressure if you practise siddhasana or siddha yoni asana, you can successfully regulate your blood pressure. You should also practise shashankasana and sirshasana as well as bhastrika and kapalbhati pranayama followed by a long relaxation.

How long after a surgical operation of any organ in the abdomen should one wait before commencing the practice of asanas?

In the case of any operation it is always safer to wait for 3 to 6 months before commencing yogasanas or other exercises. But there are certain minor operations where you can begin yogasanas within 2 or 3 months. This applies to the practice of major asanas such as bhujangasana, shalabhasana, sirshasana, sarvangasana or surya namaskara. Light movements such as pawanmuktasana can always be done under proper guidance.

What yogic practices do you suggest in the case of Irregular heartbeat?

There has been a lot of scientific investigations into yoga, especially in the field of coronary diseases. Pawanmuktasana can always be done, but it is better that a person suffering from any form of heart disease be referred to an expert in yoga therapy who knows which exercises and treatment should be undertaken. For example, in many cases yoga nidra works very well but in other cases better results are obtained by giving the patient ajapa japa.

My only son has schizophrenia. Why can he not be cured?

Schizophrenia is a state of mind and it can be cured. In fact, most people are schizophrenic, but because they are able to maintain some degree of control, they haven't reached that point where their mental condition can be termed as a disease. When a person loses control and is unable to command his mental situations and manifestations, then it is termed as a disease.

In order to lead a schizophrenic back to normal behaviour, he has to be exposed to the practices of yoga. First he must practise the hatha yoga techniques to purify the glands and nervous system, then raja and gyana yoga. After this he can be made interested in karma yoga and his progress will be rapid, because karma yoga is the most powerful method.

In our Monghyr ashram we have successfully treated a number of schizophrenics, but there is often a problem. Although the yogic therapy is very powerful and effective, it does not always complete the cure because the people return to the same situation where they became schizophrenic. They go back to the same family, the same work, the same habits, food and environment, and our work is undone. That is the reason why we are not able to give the full cure which is possible through yoga practices.

In our Scandinavian ashrams the swamis used to go to the mental hospitals in Denmark and Sweden and teach the patients the cleansing practices of hatha yoga and other techniques. Several patients were cured and discharged from the hospital, but we were concerned about their rehabilitation because we knew their social environment would only make them crazy again. So we created an establishment where they could stay and work with the ashram, teaching yoga and writing and printing books. If a patient is observed carefully, and his diet and daily activities are regulated, then yoga can definitely help him.