Yoga Research in East Europe

Dr. G.M. Timcak, Czechoslovakia


In this report the principal trends of yoga related research in Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria, East Germany, Hungary, Poland and the Soviet Union are given. The period between 1960 and 1979 was considered and it was found, that the number of yoga related publications in the 1976-1979 period is ten times as high as in the period 1960-1964. Simultaneously, a sharp increase in the number of papers introducing new concepts and fundamental discoveries has also been noted.


From a scientific point of view, yoga is still awaiting its full discovery, even though the number of papers devoted to yoga steadily increases. This is so, as science has not yet tapped and discovered all those mechanisms which are used in yoga, be they of psychic, psycho-physiological or physiological character. It appears, however, that new findings have accumulated in such quantity, that substantially new models of the possibilities of mind/body interactions and of the mind itself will emerge soon.

The studied population of publications is a sample and is not exhaustive. Some publications were left out because they were too general in nature, or have dealt with yoga per se. The studied population covered a 19 year span (1960-1979). Only 4.8% of the population was published between 1960 and 1964, while 55.4% of it appeared between 1976 and 1979. This was not a sampling bias. Tab. 1 shows the frequency distribution of the number of publications appearing in the various sub-periods and the relative contribution of the various countries.

The high percentage of papers coming from Czechoslovakia may be, to some extent, the result of sampling bias, as the accessibility of data from other countries was somewhat lower. The cover of Rumania and Bulgaria is insufficient due to inaccessibility and language problems. The research activities there must be higher than indicated, as Bulgaria has the most thoroughly organised yoga training system (from E. European countries) and this necessarily has a medical feedback. In Rumania, yoga is used in sports training (Bogdan 1978) as well as for respiratory diseases (Vasilescu 1978).


Year 1960-64 1964-68 1968-72 1972-75 1976-79
Number (%) 4.8 6.0 13.3 18.1 55.4

Country Czechoslovakia Soviet Union Poland Hungary East Germany Bulgaria
Number (%) 50.6 15.7 18.3 10.8 2.4 1.4

The publications of yoga related literature are of the following types:

  1. Text books on yoga with medical bias (12.0%)
  2. Theoretical works on yoga (10.8%)
  3. Publications on physical, physiological and psychophysiological effects of yoga practices (59.0%)
  4. Publications on various methods of relaxation (14.8%)
  5. Publications on methods of teaching yoga (3.6%).

Unpublished results are not included in the present statistics

Applications in curative and preventive medicine

The lack of qualified yoga instructors, who are simultaneously medically educated, makes it difficult to apply yoga on a wide basis in curative medicine. Still, there are physicians, who prescribe to their patients yoga exercises exclusively (e.g. Dr. Weninger of Budapest) and with good success. At many a ward, in and out patients are helped also by learning basic yoga. This is especially true for institutions dealing with respiratory diseases. Both in the High Tatra (Czechoslovakia) and Budapest pulmonary hospitals (Lengyel 1978), to name just two, this is the case.

It was, in rehabilitational medicine, however, that yoga was first officially recognised as having much to offer to the patient. Thus the Slovak and Czech medical society now has a section dealing with yoga applications in rehabilitational medicine.

Yoga was found to be applicable also in psychiatry and chiropractic.*1 Yogic methods of auto-manipulation and manipulation (e.g. the system of Devamurti), the physical effects aside, have a mobilising effect on the patient's personality and thus help to speed up the process of recovery and to optimise the patient's life pattern. Therefore, there is an effort to blend the eastern and western results and techniques into one optimal one.

Preventive medicine is perhaps the best modern field for the application of basic yoga. The alarming increase in diseases of civilisation and the decreasing trend of physical and mental health of modern man call for strong measures that tackle the problem at the causative level. For those who are willing to follow it, yoga has the answer. This recognition spurred the efforts to create a network of medical yoga consultancies orientated to the basic government approved fields (gerontology, cardiovascular, respiratory and venereal diseases, etc.). The first results have been born in Kosice, Czechoslovakia, where medical specialists at different educational levels, willing to participate in these efforts, get regular yoga training. Such efforts were backed by research results.*2


The mechanism of pranayama was subject to various explanations. Earlier it was thought to increase the vital capacity, to optimise the gas exchange, and so on (Vigh 1972). Then the importance of kumbhaka was found and applied, e.g. for increasing the ability to hold the breath in runners (Abosi 1978). More complex approaches followed.*3 Until finally subtle aspects such as the effects of breathing rhythm on EEG, on metabolic rate and the application of pranayama to de-stressing the mind were considered.*4 It was found that by pranayama, sensitive areas along meridians can be stimulated in the naso-pharyngeal region.*5 This type of stimulation was earlier thought to be purely the field of acupuncture and acupressure. Apart from pranayama, such effects are observed also during the practice of kriyas, bandhas and yogasanas.

Pranayamic hypoventilation of certain types leads to a decrease of metabolic rate and to mental relaxation (Katkov 1976). Ultimately, it may lead to anabiosis - a state which is of much interest to space medicine.

Relaxation and psychic hygiene

Modern technological society separates man from his natural environment. The reactions resulting from a million year old evolution of the species need to change, to enable us to adjust to the rapid pace of modern life. When the capacity of adjustment falls short of the situation, stresses build up which may lead to illness.*6

Some of the biochemical products of stress can be naturalised by physical movement provided it is performed immediately after the stress has built up. A similar situation arises with the psychic aspects of; stress. However, yoga can successfully deal with all types of stresses through kriyas, asanas, pranayama and meditation, and not only immediately after the stress has built up.*7

Relaxation is another field of yoga, which can tackle the problem of stress accumulation (Aleksan-drowicz et al 1976). There are many approaches to relaxation. The orthodox yogic techniques do not employ suggestion. Thus the Schultz Autogenic Training, though it is the oldest of the oriental approaches to healing which were domesticated in medicine, in spite of its borrowed techniques from yoga, is not a yogic method in the strict sense.*8

In yogic relaxation the practitioner becomes conscious of the loci of physical and psychic tensions and consciously relaxes them. Later he remains the observer of the process of relaxation and of the reaction of his body and mind to this process. Latest works on relaxation attempt a combination of these approaches.*9

Psychic hygiene is a term, which is variously interpreted. The yogic approach either employs some mental technique (meditation, japa etc.), or a combination of supporting procedures (asanas, kriyas, dietary changes) and pranayama and/or some type of meditational technique. This approach leads to satisfactory results from the medical point of view also.*10 The use of TM-type meditation was also discussed (Katkov 1978, Pasek 1978 a,b). The medical value of the yama and niyama aspect of yoga has not yet been fully investigated.

Modelling the human mind

One of the most fascinating areas of research lies with EEG investigation of the electrical activities of the brain during various yogic practices.*11 Though up to now it was not possible to correlate individual types of yogic practices with definite EEG patterns, it became clear that theta rhythms are associated with the majority of meditational practices. If japa is combined with pranayama, delta rhythms also appeared (Dostalek 1976). Thus research in this field very early on probed into the 'altered' regimes of the functioning of the mind*12, and researchers were prompted to develop alternative models (Kobozev 1971, Kahuda 1978).

What may seem to be surprising (though it was in fact expected by those studying yoga more closely) is that the latest developments in understanding some of the more elusive abilities of mind (Kahuda 1976, 1978, 1979 a,b) have strong correlations with the traditional explanations of Patanjali.

Thus terms like chitta (the mental space-time continuum) or chitta-vritti (the geometrical changes in this continuum) have an analogy in Kahuda's 'mental time-space' and his model of mind, built as the function of mentations of different types (psychons, etc.). The old yogic notion that thoughts are also matter, only subtler, is now taking scientific shape. The value of Kahuda's discoveries is high, especially because he started without yogic theories, purely on an experimental basis in the field of psychotronics.

Bioenergetical investigations*13 help to reinterpret concepts like prana or prakriti.

Research has also shown that the various acu-techniques (cf. Palos 1963, Zaloudek 1975) have their analogies in the yoga training scheme. The nadis are analogous to meridians; and nadis, marmasthanas, and from a certain viewpoint, chakras have functions similar to some of the acupoints or zones. The stimulation of these centres may bring about changes in the EEG pattern (Dostalek 1978, Timcak 1978). This is why in yoga some of these centres are kept under pressure by asanas and bandhas for long stretches of time.

If we consider our mental functions as the software, and the brain as the hardware, it becomes appreciable, how yoga can affect both levels. Hardware manipulation can also bring about software changes, on pressing the special marmasthanas. For example, during khechari mudra, the mental state (i.e. the software operated image and feeling generation) of the yogi also changes, and he has the feeling of being dissolved into a vast expanse of space.

Teaching aids and techniques

In Europe, teaching yoga requires not only yogic training in the strict sense, but also a good medical knowledge. The text books on yoga*14 reflect this necessity and also give a medical background. The books of Kuvalayananda, Vinekar (1970) and of Vigh (Yoga and Science, 1972) devote maximum attention to this aspect.

But even good knowledge of yoga and medicine is insufficient for teaching, where many didactical and technical questions have to be answered. This is where the 'Methodical Letters' of the Central Institute of Physical Culture, Prague, help. They have controlled circulation, and they help the yoga instructors in Czechoslovakia to cope with their demanding job of supplying the needs of thousands of yoga students.

In Poland, a new form of yoga teaching was introduced by Pasek from Poznan. Apart from his medical commitments, he established the so called 'Centres of Quietitude', where students of yoga are taught mainly the Kaivalyadhama and Bihar School of Yoga series of yogasanas, pranayama and lately also meditation (Pasek 1978 a,b).


Modern society is realising, that yoga has much to give to man both in times of trouble (be it objective, subjective; physical or mental) and of plenty. The scientific community is slowly shedding its aprioristic reluctance to deal with such an 'exotic' subject, with the result that new ways of tackling physical and psychic ailments are being discovered.

The expanding trend of interest in yoga seems to indicate, that it is not just a passing interest, but that the time has come for proper understanding of yoga, its means and aims, and for putting it fully into the service of society.


*1 Lewit 1976, Cermak Strand 1976, Bozsoky Iranyi 1979, Rosina 1978, Votava 1978.
*2 Nespore 1979, Szoke, Timcak 1978, Romanowski-Pasek 1970 a,b, Pasek 1977, Romanowski et al 1979, Romanov Frolov 1977, Krakora 1978, Dolezalova 1978.
*3 Vigh 1972, Blokhin, Shanmugin 1973, Dostalek 1974.
*4 Dostalek 1974, Bhole 1978 a, Katkov 1978.
*5 Dostalek 1978, Timcak 1978.
*6 Micek 1976, Cherry 1978, Levi 1978.
*7 Zubkov 1976, Greschnerova 1978 a,b.
*8 Hoskovec 1970, Aleksandrowicz 1976, Chernikova Daskewich 1967, Kleinsorge, Khunbies 1961.
*9 Bagdy 1978, Bagdy, Koronkai 1978, Demcsak, Keller 1966, Nowakowska et al 1977, Pasek 1973, Romanowski 1975, Nespor 1978.
*10 Koronkai Sipos 1973, Sikora 1969, Timcak 1979.
*11 Chmelar et al 1976, Dostalek et al 1966, 1978.
*12 Levi 1976, 1978, Spiridonov 1976, Hoskovec 1970, Timcak 1979.
*13 Leonidov 1962, Kahuda 1976, Prijanovic 1976, Sedlak 1972, 1973, Rejdak 1979.
*14 Bartonova et al 1971, Bronislavska, Jindrichova 1972, Dely 1971, Kogler 1967, 1978, Lysebeth 1968, 1978, Michalska 1972, Milanov, Borisova 19659 1970, Petrov 1960, Werner 1968.