The science of yoga has always been dedicated to the physical, mental and spiritual health of mankind. Since the advent of the current technological age, many great thinkers have begun to suspect that mankind is entering into another dimension of disease and suffering, one which belongs not so much to the physical body as to the mental and psychic bodies. The stress on the external aspects of life has become acute in the last two hundred years. As a result, most people have lost the capacity to understand, analyse or think about themselves, their minds and their inner problems. The focus of their attention has become completely materialistic. The structure of society and man's day to day life have compelled him to think more about what is happening outside rather than what is happening within him. So, in the course of time, he has come to neglect the fundamental rules and signs of physical and mental health.
Over the last hundred and fifty years, man has become so sick, infirm and unwell that he has had to come to his senses before it is too late. Finally, in the last fifty years he has become more aware of what is happening to him and why it is happening. Now he has begun the search for a science that can bring him good health, tranquility and inner harmony at all the different stages of his existence.
Yoga is not new to mankind; it has been with us right through the ages, but there was a time when this science was completely forgotten. The people could no longer integrate it into the context of their lives. They misunderstood yoga and thought that it was not applicable to their day to day existence. As a result, the great science of yoga underwent a period of decline. During this dark age, man suffered greatly, without even knowing it. And in this century, yoga has emerged from India to relieve this suffering.
This does not mean that yoga is specifically an Indian science. Yoga is by all standards and definitions a universal science. Of course, it was only in India that the knowledge of yoga was safeguarded during the dark period of worldwide historical accidents and crises. This is because there has always been a tradition of swamis and sannyasins in India who have been completely, totally and exclusively devoted to the spiritual sciences that bring health, tranquility and peace. Through this great tradition, India was able to safeguard the knowledge which was lost to the rest of the world on account of its negligent attitude.
This tradition has been kept unabated by the devoted and conscientious people of India. As a result, in spite of the technological hypnosis that is directing the whole world today, India is still producing the immense and great figures of yoga. Through their teachings, the science of yoga is again being disseminated throughout the world, dedicated to the health of all mankind, not to a particular religion or nationality.
We must understand yoga in the broadest possible context of human existence. The different branches of yoga, like hatha yoga, raja yoga, bhakti yoga, karma yoga, laya yoga and kriya yoga, all have a deep significance and deep influence on the human body, mind and spirit.
For example, let us consider hatha yoga, one of the most wonderful sciences to be revived by mankind in recent years. The word 'yoga' signifies the state of harmony, and the word 'hatha' signifies the solar and lunar energies, the two forces that reside in the human body. One is the force of bio-energy, or prana, through which we live, and the other is the force of consciousness, or chitta, through which we think and feel. These two forms of energy control each and every function in the human body. They are responsible for our mobility, our thinking and our total physical and mental existence. When there is disharmony between them there is disease, restlessness and disturbance; and when there is harmony between them, there is peace and good health. Through the practices of hatha yoga, these energies are balanced and regulated, the chakras and the whole body are purified, and a state of union, harmony and peace is achieved.
Within the framework of the spinal column there are two channels which flow from the bottom to the top, crossing each other at four junctions. In the hatha yoga texts, these two channels, or nadis, are known as ida and pingala. Ida conducts the mental force and pingala conducts the pranic force. These two nadis emanate from the bottom of the spine at a particular psychic centre known as mooladhara chakra, the sacro-coccygeal plexus. They cross at the pelvic plexus in swadhisthana chakra, then at the solar plexus in manipura chakra, the cardiac plexus in anahata chakra and the cervical plexus in vishuddhi chakra. Finally they unite with each other in the medulla oblongata in ajna chakra.
The energy in ida and pingala nadis is both physical and psychic in nature, and is distributed from the junction points of the chakras to all the cells, tissues and organs of the body. When there is some sort of weakness or shortage of energy in ida nadi, then the organs associated with ida suffer. Similarly, when there is a blockage in pingala nadi, or in the energy which it conducts, then the organs related to pingala are affected. All psychic and somatic diseases originate in precisely this way.
Diseases are usually considered as either psychic or somatic. Somatic diseases are related to pranic energy and psychic diseases are related to mental energy. Therefore, ida nadi is responsible for psychic diseases and health, and pingala nadi is responsible for the diseases and health of the physical body. We suffer not only from psychosomatic diseases, but from somopsychic diseases as well. Sometimes a disease begins in the physical body and is transferred to the mental body, and sometimes a disease originates in the mental body and is transferred to the physical body. Therefore it is very difficult to determine whether a disease is primarily psychic, somatic or both.
In hatha yoga we consider that every disease is both psychic and somatic. Therefore, the asanas of hatha yoga should not be regarded as physical exercises. They are postures or positions of the body which, by their very nature, quality, processes and influences, bring about a change in the electrical circuits of the nadis. In order to practise the asanas without difficulty, you should first practise the shatkarmas, the six methods of physical purification.
Next comes pranayama, the science of the breathing process. Pranayama is another greatly misunderstood term. People translate it as 'breathing exercise', but it is actually a process which awakens the dormant prana, the sleeping vital energy in the physical body, in order to repair the different physical cells. When the physical body is purified through the practices of the shatkarmas and you have perfected the asanas, then you can begin pranayama. By the practice of pranayama, the energy in the physical body is recharged and conducted by ida and pingala nadis in the form of electrical impulses to all parts of the body, including the brain.
The science of mantra, yantra and mandala is even more important in attaining total health. The science of mantra is the science of sound. Sound waves affect both the physical and the mental bodies. Sound is such a powerful form of energy that modern science has used it to build microwave ovens which can cook your food in seconds.
People seem to think that only medicines, injections, tablets or herbs can cure sickness. These things are fine, but there is definitely a more powerful and effective formula available to man, and that is the sound principle in the form of mantra. In mantra yoga you repeat a particular sound or word, which is suitable to your personality and your qualities. The mantra is then transformed into sound, a patterned form of pure energy, which is responsible for the regeneration of dead cells in the body.
The human brain consists of billions of archetypes, which are symbols of man's experiences from this incarnation and previous incarnations, from his fathers and forefathers. Every experience we perceive through the senses is registered within the consciousness, not in its original form, but in the symbolic form of an archetype. No experience is ever lost or left unregistered by the human consciousness. There is a constant process of registration, transformation and storage; right from the time of birth up to the point of death, nothing we experience through our senses is destroyed. Even experiences in sleep, dream, deep hypnosis and complete unconsciousness take a symbolic form somewhere in the physical, mental or causal bodies. They are known as samskaras, the different patterns of man's karma. And these billions of samskaras find their expression in this life of pain and pleasure, fulfillment and failure, sickness and health. Yantra is the science of geometric symbols. They can release the archetypes and samskaras which are deeply imbedded in the consciousness, either in the form of visions, psychic experiences, psychic sensations, divine experiences, dissipation or turbulence of the mind. By unburdening the mind and the soul, the practices of mantra and yantra liberate the potential energy in man.
During our lifetime, we accumulate mental, muscular and emotional tensions, and they affect our health. In yoga, the way to release these tensions is through the practice of relaxation, or yoga nidra. This practice induces pratyahara, a state in which the mind is isolated and the senses do not feed the brain with fresh information. When there is complete isolation from the influxes of the senses, the consciousness, the mind and the brain undergo a metamorphosis, a complete transformation. It is as if a new brain, mind and consciousness are being created out of the old brain, mind and consciousness. All mental, muscular and emotional tensions are immediately relaxed.
There are some sattwic people who have complete harmony within themselves, but most people have rajasic minds and much inner conflict. Others are tamasic; they do not even know they have conflicts. Therefore, the practices of yoga are divided according to the grade and quality of the individual. For those who have a harmonious state of mind, with few conflicts, there is dhyana yoga, the practice of meditation. They can concentrate on one point, and when the mind wavers, it can be brought back and re-focused once again.
However, for those with very keen conflicts, it is not possible to concentrate on one point. If they are compelled or forced to concentrate, they will develop psychic difficulties and mental problems. For these people, the awakening of energy, prana or kundalini, the dormant potential in man, can best be accomplished through the simple practices of kriya yoga. This is one of the most important methods for the people of our age, because it is not possible for most people to keep their mind on one point all the time. Their minds are so powerfully swayed by rajasic forces and the dissipation is so great, that even if they want to concentrate for a particular period of time, they find they are not able to.
Through ignorance, man has lapsed into this dissipated state of being. However, this state is not the finished product of nature. Man has much farther to travel before he jumps over the present state of mind and develops a higher mind. That is his destiny; that is what he must do, if not now, then in the course of 10,000, 20,000 or one million years. Nature is evolving through man's consciousness. The purpose of kriya yoga is to accelerate this process of natural evolution, so that man may be able to experience the super mind, that higher state of being, right here and now.
Even if a man has no physical sickness, no blood pressure problems, rheumatism, migraine or sinusitis, still you can't call him healthy. He may not be able to sleep, he may be suffering from anxiety neurosis, or he may be fighting constantly with his family. Physical health is not the ultimate definition of health; this is one important principle of yoga.
One may achieve fine health through the practices of hatha yoga, asanas, pranayama, right living and right diet, but still be a very unhappy person. Can you describe a very unhappy man as healthy? Is not unhappiness a disease? What about the mind? How are you going to restore the health of the mind? How are you going to restore happiness within the heart? The mind has to be peaceful, tranquil and full of ananda. This is another central principle of yoga.
You may have enough to eat, a good house and plenty of money to spend, but at the same time you may be groping in ignorance and darkness, the eternal nascence, that great avidya. Is avidya not the root cause of all the diseases of mankind? Yoga addresses itself to this as well. Yoga recognizes that man exists simultaneously in five bodies, including the physical, pranic, mental, psychic and causal (or spiritual) bodies. Through the practices of hatha yoga, raja yoga, kriya yoga and yoga nidra, we can transform ourselves on all these different levels at the same time.
What has yoga given to mankind, and what will it give? There are hundreds of thousands of people practising yoga all over the world, ridding themselves of incorrigible and incurable illnesses. They are developing a new quality of mind in order to live in this society. Yoga is giving them hope and optimism, and expanding the horizons of their lives.
People who had lost all happiness due to physical ill health are now enjoying the best of health. As a result of this, thousands of yoga centres, yoga teachers and yoga students are now strung across the globe. What has yoga given to mankind? A religion? An occult sect? No. A science, an experience of transformation of the quality of mind? Yes. This is the practical contribution of yoga to mankind in the past as well as in the future.