Yoga and Total Health

Swami Niranjanananda Saraswati

Illness is the outcome of unresolved problems. When we are unable to resolve the problems we face, whether environmental, social, personal or family, the effect manifests in the form of an illness. We can also say that the patient is not the victim of an act of nature, an unhealthy lifestyle or pollution, but is a sufferer because of unresolved problems.

We have to learn how to cope and deal with these problems at various levels of our personality. It is not enough to say, “Okay, I am suffering from ill health, I am suffering from disease and I have to treat it physically or psychologically.” Human beings are all subject to the influence of circumstances, events and the environment and, therefore, we also need to develop an awareness of how we interact with and react to situations.

One important point to consider is that each one of us is continually reacting; there is never a spontaneous or reasonable action. We react to people, to what they say, we react to our pleasure, pain and suffering. Our entire life goes from one stage to another through a process of reaction; there are no original or spontaneous actions in life. These events and conditions have to be interpreted in order to understand their meaning. Only when we can interpret a situation properly will we know the meaning behind it. This is important to remember, because from this point we begin the process of realigning our body with our nature, mind and consciousness. This is the beginning, we can say, of the first step towards the attainment of total health.

Yoga says that there are two things in life – form and content. To give an example: the body is a form but inside the body form there is also a content, or rather many different contents – emotions, rationality, logic, thoughts, ambitions, desires and feelings. These are the contents which we experience in the form of the body, but we see them as experiences, as conditions, as events which continually change and alter our perception, attitude and view.

You have to remember that it is the content of the physical form which has to be harmonized to experience health, happiness and fulfilment. A painter is a good example. A painter uses a canvas on which to create an image or picture. The picture is the final outcome of the inherent concept or image in the painter's mind. The canvas and the paints are only the mediums through which an expression is given to the image already existing in the painter's mind.

Body, mind and consciousness

In the same way there is a link between the body – I am using 'body' here in the broad sense, meaning the human personality which is manifesting at present in our life – and consciousness, which is invisible, unmanifest and subtle. Consciousness is manifesting throughout the body. We can imagine consciousness in the form of radio waves and the body in the form of the radio. When the body is in tune with the consciousness, the projections of consciousness into the body will be harmonious. When the body is not tuned to the consciousness, the signals will never be heard or seen. There has to be a tuning between bodies, the personality that is manifesting, and the consciousness, which is unmanifest.

For example, we have different channels on a television set. If we want to watch one channel, we have to change to that channel; if we want to see another channel, we have to change again. Imagine, for a moment, what would happen if all the channels were seen together on one channel. It would be very difficult to decipher what is appearing on the screen. There would be no tuning and all the images and frequencies would be coming through on one channel. There would be no clarity. There would be a mixture of images with no meaning, a mixture of sounds with no meaning and a mixture of impressions with no meaning. This is similar to what happens when our consciousness interacts with the body in a very disturbed, distracted and dissipated way.

We have to make an effort to tune each frequency properly to a different channel. Once different frequencies are tuned to different channels, the images and sounds will be perfectly clear and sharp, and we can look at, understand and give a meaning to them. So, when consciousness is manifesting in our body and it is not tuned in properly, the body is going to react. This is the beginning of an illness. I am saying this to emphasize that illness is not a physical condition, rather it is a state of disharmony between our subtle nature and our gross nature; it is a state of imbalance between the consciousness and the body.

Therefore, yoga says that if you wish to experience health or well-being, you have to approach your nature from different angles. We work with our body, but at the same time we have to work with our mind as well as with the expressions of consciousness which are filtering down into the mind and the body.

Intellect, emotions and instinct

Consciousness has three major areas of expression: intellectual, emotional, and instinctive. The first expression is intellectual representing the head: understanding, rationality, analysis of a situation, condition or event, and living harmoniously with the intellectual aspect of consciousness. The second expression is emotional: the heart, feelings, emotional sensitivity. When our heart is in disharmony, there is going to be a suppression of emotions and feelings. This suppression is unnatural to the normal state of the body and mind, and when suppression happens we are going to suffer. So the release of blockages from the heart centre leads to health. The third expression is instinctive. We react instinctively to many conditions in life.

The concept of chakras in kundalini yoga gives an indication of how yoga views these three different expressions of consciousness in our lives and bodies. Chakras are centres in our body where consciousness manifests in a particular form and where energy manifests in a particular form. In our body there are seven psychic centres or chakras.

The first is mooladhara at the base of the spinal cord, in the coccygeal plexus; the second is swadhisthana, known as the sacral centre; and the third is manipura, known as the solar plexus, behind the navel in the spinal cord. These first three chakras represent the instinctive dimension of our personality: fear, insecurity, sexuality, vitality, motivation and power. The fourth chakra, anahata, known as the heart centre, and the fifth chakra, vishuddhi, known as the throat centre, represent the emotional aspect of human nature – feeling. The sixth chakra, ajna, known as the eyebrow centre, represents the higher mind.

If you look at this description of the chakras, you will see a very interesting pattern emerging. The first three centres deal with instinct, the two middle ones deal with emotions, and the upper one deals with the higher mind – a total of six centres. The highest centre, sahasrara, on the crown of the head, is the command centre for all these different centres of consciousness and energy.

The heaviest concentration of consciousness altering, changing, directing, guiding and affecting our physical nature is at the lower level where the first three centres are active. In the middle area, where consciousness interacts in the realm of emotions and feelings, we have two centres, and the intensity of consciousness interacting at this level is less. At the higher level we only have one centre and the intensity of consciousness interacting with the higher mind is very little.

Now, this goes slightly against the normal belief that we are intellectuals. We are intellectuals, no doubt. We have developed our sciences and beliefs to a great extent, but even that development of knowledge in society and in the world is not the final indication of knowledge which filters down from the consciousness into our life. Many people say that today we work with our head. We think we have access to information and to many different things through which we can improve our lives. But all our knowledge and understanding, although it may be logical, precise and clear, is associated, connected and linked with the first three psychic centres, which are instinctive. You will also notice that all our achievements in life have been in search of fulfilment, satisfaction and pleasure.

Modern science has manipulated nature to make our lives more comfortable and pleasant, and to give us a sense of satisfaction, joy and happiness. This search for satisfaction and security is the expression of consciousness at the lower centres.

Need for balance

We have ignored the middle aspect of feeling and emotions, thinking that rationality is above feeling and emotion. In early times, thinkers said that every expression in life came from the head, meaning the higher centre. Later thinkers said every expression in life came from the heart centre; that what we feel and believe in determines how we act and live. More recently, with the development of psychotherapy, Freud and other eminent psychoanalysts said that everything that happens to us comes from the lower centres. When Einstein entered the picture, he said that everything is relative. The point to consider here is that we need to find a balance between our instinctive, emotional and intellectual natures. Once a balance is found in these three different natures, then transmissions from the consciousness into the body will be more harmonious, balanced and integrated.

The body is part of the consciousness manifesting externally. It is a unit of the cosmic, universal, all-pervading consciousness. The body does not contain consciousness, rather it is consciousness which expresses itself through the body at these different levels. Therefore, I would say that the body is never ill and never healthy. The body is simply responding to what is filtering down from this higher level, from the consciousness. If something coming down into the head centre is distorted, we go through head trips and have headaches; if what is coming down into the middle centres is distorted, we go through heartaches; and, if what is coming down from the higher to the lower centres is distorted, we go through a lot of frustration, aggression, suppression, anxiety, fear and insecurity. It is these mental states which later alter and influence the performances of the body and manifest in the form of illness and disease.

Pratyahara – consciousness therapy

How does yoga attempt to clear the transmission passage, the transmitters of consciousness into the body? Asana, pranayama and the relaxation techniques are used to induce different states of flexibility, comfort and ease in the physical, muscular, endocrinal and respiratory systems. But therapy does not stop there; therapy also has to continue at the subtle level.

The best form of therapy is consciousness therapy, which clears the transmissions and channels through which consciousness transmits into the physical dimension. An indication of consciousness therapy is seen in the practices of pratyahara. Pratyahara is the fifth stage of raja yoga, and the beginning of introspection, of reflection, of experiencing silence, of going within and finding stability, and of finding the focus. Pratyahara is also divided into different stages.

How do we become aware of something that is happening internally at a subtle dimension, at the level of consciousness? If the fruit is on the highest branch of the tree, you have to start climbing from the lowest level in order to reach it. This climb from the lowest to the highest level begins with awareness of the senses. There is an extension of awareness into the sensory perceptions to know how they are affecting and altering the mind and the consciousness. So, first, there is an extension of consciousness into the senses, and then, after we know exactly what is transpiring at the level of the senses, there is a focusing of the consciousness.

The second stage of pratyahara is an extension of awareness into the mind, to know how our mind is interacting with situations, conditions and events that influence our life, and then there is a focusing of this awareness. The third stage of pratyahara is the extension of awareness into the emotional dimension, to realize and understand the nature of our emotions, feelings and sensitivity, and then focusing of this awareness. The fourth stage of pratyahara is the extension of awareness into the instinctive dimension and then, again, focusing of this awareness. This is how we gradually train ourselves to observe and analyze how we are responding and reacting to different situations that create an imbalance in our personality.

After we have observed the interplay and interaction of our consciousness with the senses, with the intellectual aspect, the emotional aspect and the instinctive aspect, we move on to the next stage of introspection, which is known as dharana. Dharana is holding the consciousness stable and identifying with the tranquil consciousness. When we are able to identify with the tranquil consciousness, then meditation, dhyana, begins.

Towards total health

So, this process of self-observation, or 'self-understanding', leads to the experience of optimum health and well-being. Yoga therapy does not aim for removal of the symptoms of which we have become aware; yoga therapy is not a method of treating an illness or a disease. Rather it is a method of treating the person who is suffering from a condition by making him or her aware of their personality and how the personality is interacting in the world, at the external level, and with the consciousness, at the subtle level.

When we are able to do this, we find that our habits change and our lifestyle changes. We also find that our attitudes, perspective and vision change and there is a feeling of completeness and wholeness. With this sense of wholeness, the journey into yoga begins. It is with this sense of wholeness that we move forward to experience our life unfolding, growing and evolving.

Yoga gives us many hints and ideas on how we can manage our lives. It is up to us to apply these ideas and to become aware of these hints in order to improve the quality of our body, mind and interactions. Once we can improve the quality of the body and mind, that is total health.

Aix-les-Bains, France, April 1997