Yoga Therapy - Ashram Experience

Dr Swami Shankardevananda Saraswati, MB, BS (Syd.)

Yoga reflects the legacy of a wise, ancient civilization. Researchers have only scratched the surface of this knowledge, trying to fathom its breadth and depth through the instruments of science.

Here at Bihar School of Yoga, we have had the privilege of working under the guidance of Swami Satyananda Saraswati, a master architect of yoga. His simple, practical methods have alleviated many modern day ailments while increasing the individual's latent spiritual energy.

Using this system, we have helped many people with complaints ranging from tension and digestive disorders to problems of epilepsy, hypertension, diabetes, asthma and even cancer, thereby supporting the work of others in the field.*1 Anxiety,*2 depression, neurosis, and some forms of psychosis can also be eliminated through yoga, according to our experience.

Our approach is a combination of medicine and yoga expertise. This reduces gross suffering and maintains stability in the lifestyle, until yogic techniques can ease the body into a more functional state, where cure can be achieved. In all cases, yoga serves to relax and de-stress the patient so that medical techniques can work even more efficiently. Currently, there are several investigations under way in clinical settings, medical schools, and ashrams around the world, all under the inspiration and guidance of Swami Satyananda. It appears that yoga is an exceptionally powerful approach, which can be successfully applied even in chronic and incurable cases.

Undoubtedly, the majority of yoga research has been on meditation, its effects on consciousness and various physiological responses.*3 The hatha yoga practices of asanas, pranayamas and shatkarmas have been neglected in the research milieu.*4 In both the therapeutic setting, and for the average seeker, these practices are prerequisite for the higher experiences which free us from the shackles of disease and suffering.

The benefits of kunjal

One cleansing technique is the stomach wash called kunjal kriya or vaman dhauti. This involves drinking six glasses of warm salty water, followed by vomiting, using either the pharyngeal gag reflex, initiated by rubbing the back of the tongue, or by exercising internal control. Vomiting is a natural process voluntarily utilized by animals when they are sick. They eat grass and then regurgitate the contents of their stomachs. But human beings associate the vomiting urge with nausea, pain and distress, and tend to suppress it until the last possible moment.

Kunjal, however, is a completely different, painless experience. After three or four attempts, one becomes skilled in the technique and can use it when necessary. It has vast repercussions on the nervous system. People gain many benefits from it, but it is prohibited in cases of high blood pressure, heart disease, acute peptic ulcer, fever and hernia. Kunjal should be learned under guidance, in a therapeutic setting. The practice of asanas and pranayamas together with a proper diet will enhance its effects.

In general, kunjal keeps the stomach healthy, clean and well toned; it reduces overstretching and removes mucus and undigested food. It is helpful in controlling indigestion, biliousness, gas formation, constipation and hyperacidity. Removing stomach mucus benefits the lungs. In addition, the broncho-dilation which then occurs can effectively halt an acute attack of asthma, or reduce bronchitis, cough and other lung problems. The sinuses are cleaned by reflex action, thereby relieving sinusitis. Tension, migraine headache and middle ear infections are relieved. Many neurological conditions such as epilepsy and Parkinson's disease have been ameliorated and the progressive downward trend of muscular dystrophy halted.

Kunjal's explosive effect on the nervous system is like a mild form of electro-convulsive therapy, beneficial in many forms of depression and anxiety. It is this discharging effect which we believe is partially responsible for the benefits accrued by epileptics, for it releases the nervous build-up which leads to the epileptic seizure.

Through repetitive excitation of the pharyngeal gag reflex, this usually unconscious process is brought into our conscious awareness. In this way, we can develop a degree of control over the autonomous processes, somewhat similar to the biofeedback methods. A psychodynamic interpretation of this cleansing kriya might be that it helps us 'get things off our chest' relieving us of the suppressions and choked up emotions responsible for creating many forms of disease.

Relaxation therapy

We have not mentioned all the healing practices which have been utilized in our yoga therapy at Bihar School of Yoga, and kunjal is only one of the myriad of techniques. The relaxation side of yoga has received a lot of coverage for its use in the control of hypertension. Yoga nidra, or psychic sleep, provides physical, emotional and mental rejuvenation. It culminates in an apparent state of deep sleep (the EEG indicates delta brain waves) but in actual fact, one is totally aware of various internal processes. Swami Rama, in a series of startling demonstrations, has shown this.*6 At Bihar School of Yoga we use the more dynamic forms of yoga nidra and nada yoga for angina and other heart conditions. We consider these to be ideal techniques for the coronary intensive care ward, as a method of inducing relaxation during convalescence and to reduce the chance of complications in the critical few days of post infarction. In several cases, we have noticed the disappearance of ST depression from the EEG.

The need for more research

The latest research into meditation, biofeedback, and even brain chemistry, with the discovery of such chemicals as encephalins (the brain's own morphine) has revealed that we hold the key to healing within ourselves. We don't have to rely solely on external forms of therapy and manipulation. Scientists are now searching for methods to turn on the switches, to increase or decrease the secretions at will, in order to balance the metabolism and nervous system. Research indicates that yoga possesses the techniques required to do this. We cannot emphasize enough the need for more study and research into the uses of yogic techniques, not only in ashram settings, but also in hospitals and other professional services. This will bring us one step closer to a life which is free from disease.


*1. The following works of Dr Ainslie Meares: 'Meditation: A psychological approach to cancer treatment', The Practitioner 222:119-122, Jan. 1979. 'Regression of Osteogenic Sarcoma metastasis associated with intensive meditation', Med. J. Aust., Oct. 21, 1978. 'Regression of cancer after intensive meditation', Med. J. Aust., 2:184, 1976.

*2. M. Girodo, 'Yoga Meditation and Flooding in the treatment of anxiety neurosis', Behav. Th. & Exp. Psychiat., 5:157-160, 1974.

*3. R. K. Wallace, et al., 'A wakeful hypo metabolic physiological state', Am. J. Physiol, 221 (3):795-799, 1971;

*4. The few studies we know of are general and not specific to any individual technique: M. L. Gharote, 'Effect of Yogic Training on physical fitness', Yoga Mimamsa, 15(4):31-35, 1973. M. V. Bhole and P. V. Karambelkar, 'Water suction in internal cavities during uddiyana and nauli', Yoga Mimamsa, 13(4):26-32, 1971. K. S. Gopal, et al., 'Biochemical studies in foreign volunteers practising hatha yoga', J. Res. Ind. Med., 9(3): 1-8, 1974.

*5. K. K. Datey, 'Shavasana: A yogic exercise in the management of hypertension', Angiology, 20:325-333, 1969. C. H. Patel, 'Yoga and biofeedback in the management of hypertension', Lancet,Nov. 10, 1973.

*6. E. E. Green, et al., Biofeedback for Mind-Body Self-Regulation: Healing and Creativity, Topeka, Kansas: The Menninger Foundation, 1971.