Scientific investigation and validation of yoga has been proceeding at an extraordinary rate in recent years, to the point that yogic science is now recognized as a fully fledged member amongst the medical and healing sciences. Widespread interest and worldwide acceptance of yoga is reflected in the number of published papers on yoga-related topics appearing in the world's medical and scientific journals.
One recently published study of yoga related research in Eastern Europe, conducted by Dr. G.M. Timcak of Czechoslovakia*1 revealed that the number of yoga-related research publications appearing in Czech, Russian, Polish, Hungarian, East German and Bulgarian scientific journals in the 1976-79 period, was ten times as high as in the period 1960-1964, while the Scandinavian researcher, Peo, in his publication 'Medical and Psychological Research on Yoga and Meditation', has listed 452 research reports which appeared in western scientific literature up to 1978.*2
As a result of these pioneering studies, yoga has gained scientific acceptance and credibility. And the previous belief that it was no more than a form of hypnotism, self-delusion or mind over matter practised by a few mystics and ascetics who choose to sleep on a bed of nails and drink nitric acid, has fallen by half wayside. In its place a new appreciation of the value of yoga in the life of modern man is rapidly emerging.
Experimental evidence and controlled clinical trials continue to reveal the efficacy of yogic techniques in stabilizing blood pressure, bolstering the immune response, controlling cardiac impulse, rejuvenating the endocrine metabolism and improving the concentration, memory and efficiency of the human nervous system. Millions of people the whole world over have adopted yoga as a rational means of improving their health and enriching their lifestyle, and foremost amongst these yogis are the researchers and scientists themselves.
As a direct result of these pioneering studies, a vast new panorama of possibilities for the application of yoga in medical practice, at the hospital bedside, in the factory, office, home and school situations is opening up. The prospects of social rejuvenation and improved community health are leading governments around the world to sit up and take notice. And in some countries enlightened and visionary action has already been taken to provide yogic training programs for school and college students, prisoners, medical and hospital patients at district, state and national levels. The world is awakening at last to the healing light of yoga.
Endless examples come to mind, but to refer to just a few at random. In 1978, the state government of Maharashtra in India implemented a scheme of yogic training for long term prisoners in the jails of the state, following remarkable transformation in the behaviour and outlook of prisoners who participated in an extremely successful pilot study. Today many prisoners are finding new meaning in their own lives by becoming yoga teachers through the scheme, and teaching the practices of asana, pranayama and relaxation to their fellow inmates. Officials report a remarkable change in attitude amongst participating prisoners. Similar projects are underway in maximum security prisons in both the USA and Australia, and similar reports of personal and institutional transformation are emerging.
Turning to the education field, the Government of Bihar has recently decided to implement and finance a major project to provide a qualified yoga instructor in each of the state's secondary schools, while in the secondary schools of Paris, France, a pilot study is underway, with government sponsorship, to teach yogic techniques of asana and relaxation to students as an integrated part of the daily class program. Teachers and students alike report remarkable improvement in their capacity to concentrate upon, comprehend and enjoy the subject matter in class. School life is becoming enjoyable and creative for many previously frustrated, uninspired and disinterested students.*3
In Denmark, where citizens enjoy the world's broadest and most far reaching social welfare schemes, yogic training is now freely available in all areas as an extension of the government's community health services. Citizens are encouraged to attend yoga classes free of charge, thus enriching their personal experience, health and lifestyle through the practices. In Hobart, Tasmania, at the opposite corner of the globe, doctors, social workers and health professionals in the city's hospitals, alcohol and drug abuse centres and psychiatric institutions are participating freely in a project conducted by the Satyanandashram Yoga Clinic, to teach yoga to those patients whom they feel will benefit or who show inclination to attend yoga classes at the clinic. Results of this project have been extremely encouraging, as attested to by the continuing assessment of attending and referring physicians, and the personal testimonies of numerous patients.*4
A similar trial project in Britain, instituted by occupational therapists for short term patients in psychiatric units in East Suffolk, has met with approval of psychiatrists, doctors and social workers who have found that incorporation of yogic asanas and relaxation classes into the daily treatment program has been followed by recovery or marked improvement in numerous patients suffering from depression, marital discontent, alcohol dependency, drug abuse, social inadequacy, anxiety states, excessive aggression and ill-defined psychosomatic symptoms.*5
Nowhere are yoga's possibilities and potentials for enriching a nation's health and wellbeing more appreciated than in Czechoslovakia, where the integration of yoga into general, rehabilitational and psychiatric medicine is being investigated and facilitated by state sponsored committees.*6
The International Yoga Fellowship was founded by Swami Satyananda in 1964 with the vision of presenting yoga to a confused and suffering mankind as a logical, scientific and practical discipline, stripped of all moralistic, religious and cultural associations and overtones. For the last 16 years Swamiji has toiled unceasingly towards the realization of that objective, and if the world is today witnessing and recording the dawning of a renaissance of yogic knowledge and culture, then it is but the beginning of the fulfilment of this vision.
Since 1962, the monthly journals 'Yoga' and 'Yoga Vidya' have been published by the Bihar School of Yoga as a record of the unfoldment of this mighty work in the world. Man's consciousness is evolving relentlessly and this journal seeks to monitor for you the step by step awakening of universal yogic awareness.
The 23rd International Yoga Health Festival recently took place in Bogotá, Colombia, South America. This convention, the 23rd of its kind presided over by Swamiji, was a mammoth success. Many thousands of delegates from all over the globe participated in the convention. In this issue of 'Yoga' as well as the next, we are presenting some of the research reports from that gathering.