The body of a woman is definitely very different from the body of a man as it has more duties to perform and greater weight to sustain. In fact, nature has given the woman's body a greater purpose to fulfil. A woman has to become a mother, and for that reason, nature has designed a special system for her. As such, yoga can help her in life.
In India, particularly in the villages, women are laden with superstition and they do not take much care of their bodies. On the other hand, ladies in Europe and other western countries are very particular about their health and they look after their bodies through exercise, dieting, sports and so on. During the last thirty to forty years, people in the west have become aware of the science of yoga and have taken to the practices of yoga in order to maintain good health. Not only that, but because many European women desire natural childbirth, clinics and modern hospitals in Europe offer yoga training for expectant mothers.
Nowadays, in India, when women are about to give birth to a child, they go to a doctor for medicine, drugs, injections and other such things. Thereby relaxation takes place and the child is born. This is called clinical childbirth. In western countries, most women do not want clinical childbirth because they believe it is not good for the health of child or mother. Therefore, a few months prior to childbirth they commence a program of yogasanas and thereby childbirth becomes easy and natural and it does not require clinical aid.
In natural childbirth, the health of the mother and child is of prime importance and because drugs are not utilised there are no dangerous after effects. The precise reason why Indian women develop sicknesses after childbirth is because they subject themselves to the side effects of drugs and chemicals. Depression is a common malady that follows delivery and generally it is not treated properly. Doctors have a set understanding of it, so all they do is give injections and prescribe medicines and pills.
Apart from factors related to childbirth, there are many other ways in which a woman's body differs from a man's. The hormonal secretions in the female body are entirely different from those in a man. Hormones are chemical substances which induce the various processes that occur in the body. They are responsible for causing menstruation, which of course does not occur in the masculine body.
If there is any irregularity in menstruation, not only are the uterus, the brain and the general temperament altered, but the health of the entire body is adversely affected. Usually, when women have menstrual disorders they go to a doctor for the administration of medicines, injections and hormones, and they try to maintain some sort of health. However, this is not a natural procedure and it does not create good health.
Most women suffer from some sort of emotional or mental disturbance before, during and after the menstrual period. Only those women who are really healthy do not have this problem. All physical and emotional disturbances concerned with the menstrual cycle are associated with hormonal imbalances. It is in this context that I am talking about the role of yoga for females.
In actual fact, women need yoga even more than men do. Men have more chances of going out, playing sports and games, and taking a morning or evening walk. Most women are completely tied to their household duties and remain in the same environment all the time. They do not get as much time or as many opportunities for exercise as men do. Moreover, as I have already mentioned, the system of a man is less complicated than the system of a woman. Furthermore, a man does not share as much responsibility in child rearing as a woman does. As such, women have a greater need for yoga, and just by practising a few yogasanas and pranayamas every day, they will establish balance in their health.
Sarvangasana is a very important posture which should be practised by all unmarried girls, married women or mothers. This asana stimulates the thyroid gland, which controls the physical appearance of a woman. The thyroid gland must be healthy for a girl to develop properly. When the thyroid gland is healthy, the general complexion is good, there are no pimples on the face and the body is shaped proportionally. The thyroid gland secretes into the bloodstream a chemical called thyroxin which influences the development of the personality. Sometimes, when the functioning of the thyroid gland is suppressed, a woman can develop masculine qualities and her body will not develop in a balanced way. So, many women, particularly young ones, practise sarvangasana to avoid these problems.
Sarvangasana also has beneficial effects on the uterus. It is particularly useful for women who have given birth to two, three or more children. After childbirth the uterus becomes heavier in weight, the ligaments supporting it slacken and so the uterus drops a little bit. It may even distend almost to the vaginal passage. This is a very painful condition which develops when women do not take proper care of themselves immediately after childbirth.
Prolapse is a common complaint in India where many women have to return to their work immediately after childbirth. Some poor women have to lift heavy weights and perform strenuous physical chores. Under such circumstances the uterus gradually becomes looser and looser and finally prolapse occurs. To prevent this problem, sarvangasana should be practised for one, two or three months after childbirth.
When a woman has a healthy uterus her overall health is good. If her uterus is in poor condition, so is her health. That is the law. To have a strong uterus a woman must exercise, and one of the most important postures for the uterus is naukasana, the boat pose. During naukasana an automatic inward pull is induced which sucks the uterus upwards and holds it in that position for some time. This makes the supporting ligaments of the uterus very strong. Of course this doesn't happen in one day, but within two, three or four months.
There are many women who are unhappy and insecure because they are unable to have children. They live a life of misery and anxiety thinking that unless they present their husband with a son he will leave them and marry somebody else. In order to conceive, the uterus of the woman must be in the correct position and the cervix must be able to contract and dilate easily. Retroverted uterus is a common problem which is often responsible for the inability to conceive. This problem can be simply rectified through yoga. Through daily practice of surya namaskara, the uterus is brought into the correct position.
Through the few examples I have just given, I wish to show you how useful and necessary the yogasanas are for a woman's health, particularly regarding childbirth, maintenance of a healthy uterus and rectification of menstrual problems.
By nature women are devotional and inclined towards the bhakti marga. I do not say that women are not intelligent, for they definitely are, but they are predominantly emotional. Because of this they are naturally drawn towards puja or worship, thinking about God, going to sadhus and saints and praying. However, just having bhakti is not enough, you must be able to direct it properly. In order to do that, you should have concentration of mind, otherwise there will be dissipation of energy.
Women who are highly emotional and have not developed concentration of mind commonly have attacks of hysteria. They start shouting, screaming and crying, they throw things around and break them, and they talk a lot of nonsense. In this sate their feet and legs become cold and they lose all bodily sensations. This condition is caused by a dissipated mind it can be eliminated by practising one-pointed concentration daily. However, if hysteria is allowed to continue, or if it is only treated by drugs, later in life, at the time of menopause, hypertension will become a problem. Even if a wonder performs puja every day, it's not enough. She must also sit for 10 to 15 minutes daily and try to concentrate her mind on one 'point. I will tell you how to practise. Sit in any asana in which you will not need to move your body for 15 minutes. Keep your spine upright and straight and place your hands on the knees or in your lap. Close your eyes. Try to think of and imagine one object. Try to see it clearly. You can visualise the flame of a lamp, a star, a flower, or anything, but you should concentrate on the same object every day and try to visualise it for 10 to 15 minutes and no more.
If you cannot practise in the morning, do it at night. It is not necessary to go to the puja room, you can practise in your room. Just sit on your bed and close your eyes. You can concentrate on a form, or a sound such as Om, and try to feel or visualise it in anahata chakra, the heart centre. This 15 minutes of concentration will completely eliminate emotional imbalance. Hysteria is not a disease of the body, it is a disease of the emotions.
At the time of puberty a girl's life changes dramatically when new hormones start circulating in the body. Sometimes these hormones work in a very erratic manner, affecting the behaviour of the girl to such an extent that her parents think she is mentally disturbed. They may send her to the mental hospital, consult holy men or try all sorts of magic on her, but nothing will work. The parents and elders of the family do not understand what is happening to the girl, for they are not aware of the great change that is taking place within her body. If they are careful and knowing, they can avert many crises in the girl's life, but I know that in India, when a girl has this problem, everything is concealed so there will be no difficulty in getting her married.
Instead of helping the poor girl, they prevent her from expressing herself and suppress her shouting. They may even send her to a mental hospital for shock treatment. Otherwise she is taken to a doctor and given tranquillisers, tranquillisers and more tranquillisers The poor girl is dosed with drugs and becomes very dull even at the young age of 19 or 20. Then, after telling a few lies, the parents get her married and she has children. Due to our ignorance, this occurs very commonly in our country.
When girls reach the age of 12 or 13 they must be initiated in exactly the same manner as boys are initiated into upanayanam. In the olden days upanayanam was compulsory for both boys and girls and it was not just a sacred thread ceremony. The children were taught gayatri mantra, pranayama and surya namaskara. Because we forgot these practices during the last few centuries, we lost our higher consciousness, and that is why young girls are suffering today.
Once girls were sent to ashrams and educated by the gurukul system just as the boys were. If you read the renowned Sanskrit classic about Shakuntala, 'Abhigyana Shakuntalam', you will find that at that time, young girls used to live in an ashram for a full 12 years, and then they were given upanayanam. Through the practices of surya namaskara, pranayama and gayatri mantra, girls were able to stabilise their emotional life and improve their mental and physical health.
Nowadays, few people understand the needs of girls between the ages of thirteen and fifteen and they don't know what they should be taught. Of course, parents believe their daughters should be educated, so they put them in a convent, a Hindu type of school or an Arya Samaj school, but what do they learn there apart from the ABC? The body cannot be corrected by study, and school teachers are not aware of the inner functioning of the female body. As such, the ladies in the house must become masters of yoga.
It is not necessary for the men to become masters of yoga. In the scriptures it is not said that the father is the guru; it says the mother is the first teacher. The father and the mother have different roles to play. I lived in the lap of my mother for at least five years, not in the lap of my father. You must have also been more intimate with your mother. So, if mothers master the science of yoga and understand it well, they can have a positive influence on their daughter's development and the development of the whole family. Consequently, they can even bring about changes in society.
The effect of yoga is such that it will eliminate and prevent diseases in the family. It will also prevent mental problems and minimise quarrels in the family. It will bring parents and children, brothers and sisters, husband and wife closer to each other because when two people are healthy and full of peace, they can love each other easily. In order to love each other, the first condition is peace of mind. If I am excited and you are excited and everybody else is excited, can we love each other? The restless mind causes all our problems. In the family, if the wife has a peaceful mind there will definitely be peace and harmony.
How can one attain peace of mind? It doesn't come just because you have a lot of money. Lots of saris from the north, south, east and west won't bring peace of mind, and beautiful jewellery and a luxurious house will never give you mental peace. Manasik shanti or mental peace will only come when you know how to control the mind, and the science which shows you how to control the mind is called yoga. All paths of yoga can bring you peace of mind. In family life, karma yoga is one of the most important.
Karma yoga delineates how you should do your work in the family, discharge your responsibilities and fulfil your obligations without being affected by them. You may or may not have a son, you may get daughter after daughter or none, but these things should not affect your mind. Because you allow your daily life, associations and interactions with family and children to affect your mind, you become unhappy, worried and full of anxiety, and as a result you suffer from physical problems.
Many women are insecure and have a lot of complexes about their status in the family, and because of this they develop illnesses. Whether it is asthma, diabetes, digestive problems, liver problems, peptic ulcer, gall bladder problems, migraine or whatever, it is all due to their day to day relationship with their family affairs.
Just by practising karma yoga and changing their attitude and approach to their duties, many of their frustrations will disappear. Nobody can be fully satisfied in this life. Even if you have the best in life, an ideal husband, lots of money, many houses and jewels etc., still you will never be satisfied because there is no real satisfaction in this world. The only real satisfaction will come from within yourself. That you must understand and accept as your philosophy.
If you are expecting total santosha or satisfaction from the world, from your children, husband or wealth, unfortunately you will be disappointed. What ever you get from your family is more than enough. That is the philosophy of a karma yogi. A karma yogini is never dissatisfied and she is never affected by the consequences of karma. If you have done your level best in the family and in society, but still you do not attain peace of mind, it does not matter. This is the karma yoga which Krishna taught Arjuna. In the Gita he says, "Karmanyeva adhikaraste ma phaleshu kadachana" (11:47): "You do your duty; do not worry what is the outcome therefrom."
Karma yoga, bhakti yoga, raja yoga, gyana yoga and hatha yoga make a happy combination which will enable you to develop your body, mind and soul. I think more of the women should come to Munger for one month for proper yoga training. Then they can return to their homes and teach the other women who are unable to leave for training. Just by learning a few basic asanas and pranayamas, you can be of invaluable help to the men and women in your community who are suffering the vicissitudes of life.