From time immemorial yoga has been practised in India. Among the relics found in the ruins of cities of the Indus Valley are figures of ascetics in yoga postures. An important treatise on yoga is found in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, who lived during 500 B.C. So, the belief that yoga practice influences the physical and mental health of an individual has persisted from early times. However, it is only during the last 50 years or so that modern scientists have sought to confirm these claims of yogis by impartial observations, experimentation and verification on a scientific basis. Its acceptance and verification by the scientific world in India and abroad has added to its credence. The magic and mythical image of yoga is fast reverting to its true form.
The experiments conducted on yogis by the doctors of the Physiology Department of the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, Delhi, clearly show the ability of yogis to control the internal systems of the body. For example, they have demonstrated reduction in the heart, breathing and metabolic rates. Experiments also show that during meditation, brain waves differ from those of other conscious states.
Studies of yoga practices and yoga therapy on a scientific basis in the treatment of illnesses such as high blood pressure, diabetes, asthma, arthritis, and nervous dyspepsia, have been conducted by Dr. Udupa, Professor of Surgery and Director of the Institute of Medicine of Banaras Hindu University. The successful application of shavasana as a therapeutic measure in cases of high blood pressure and heart disorders by Dr. K. K. Datey, an eminent cardiologist of Bombay, has not only shown voluntary control over the complex internal mechanisms of the body through yoga practices, but has proved the efficacy of this therapy in treatment of these diseases.
It is now an accepted fact that yoga asanas tune up the body and mind to an extent which no other system of exercise can aim towards or achieve. Other exercises consume energy, while yoga is designed to conserve and increase energy. There is no sweating or running out of breath. Yoga asanas are aimed at improving the healthy functioning of every organ in the body, including the heart, lungs, brain, liver, kidneys, eyes and ears. Thus, we find that yoga can cure diseases as well as prevent them.
Yoga therapy has also been successful in the treatment of the psychosomatic diseases. Psyche means 'the mind' and soma means 'the body or tissues'. These are the group of physical illnesses which are caused in part by psychological factors or when present are maintained by psychological features. They are classical examples of how a sick mind makes the body sick or a sick body in its turn makes the mind sick. Amongst the illnesses which are commonly recognised to be psychosomatic are: peptic ulcer, bronchial asthma, high blood pressure, ischemic heart disease, migraine, ulcerative colitis, dermatitis. These diseases incapacitate the patient for prolonged periods and often cannot be permanently cured. It is necessary to study the psychosomatic mechanism involved in these diseases.
Psychological tension arising from long standing emotional conflict can induce changes in the bodily functions. These changes are transient initially, but when they occur repeatedly over a period of time, they lead to actual tissue damage. The association of a psychological disturbance, either preceding or simultaneously with the physical disorder, has been clearly noted by many authors. Today the frequency of psychological disorders, with their manifold problems, is on the increase. This may be attributed to urbanisation and industrialisation in our modern society.
Some of the more common psychological problems are anger, dependency and fear, which by constant denial of conscious expression are repressed, and eventually lead to physiological changes in the body. Repressed dependency leads to excessive internal hormone secretion, as in the case of peptic ulcer and ulcerative colitis. There is a saying, 'A man who does not weep through his eyes weeps through his colon and stomach.'
The particular states of mind and body of an individual are the consequences of the interaction between several processes. If these processes could be controlled and consequently reprogrammed, the physical and mental states could be altered. It is agreed that all psychosomatic patients have long standing problems of their own internal homeostasis, or simply, in their internal harmony, hence the role of yogic therapy in these diseases, with its known efficacy in stabilising internal homeostasis.
With the present day attitude of people towards drugs, the commercial attitude of most doctors and the dazzling publicity by the drug manufacturers and their mushroom-like growth, one wonders if we are not on the brink of a drug explosion like the population explosion of this century.
All modern drugs used in present conventional medical practice have their side effects of being injurious to health, especially with unrestricted, unscrupulous and unscientific use. Moreover, modern treatment is costly or is not only out of reach of the poor but also the less affluent. Therefore, a country like India must search out a less expensive, more reliable therapy for both prevention and cure of disease. From this point of view, a rich treasure mine full of jewels is within easy reach in the form of yoga therapy. However, caution in the administering of yogic treatment is necessary. At present, yoga therapy is used only as a last resort on the failure of conventional medical treatment, and is occasionally prescribed by unqualified therapists. This is likely to bring it into more disrepute rather than to do it any good. Therefore, a scientific approach, medical knowledge and proper facilities are required on a large scale today so that this most natural, effective and long lasting mode of treatment receives the justice it deserves.