Yoga and Therapy

Sri Subodh Tiwari, Joint Director-Administration, Kaivalyadhama Yoga Institute, Lonavla, Pune

I pay reverence and respect to Swamiji, to all the speakers on the dais and to all yoga lovers, yoga sadhakas and yoga practitioners who are in front of me. I thank Swamiji and the family of the Bihar School of Yoga who have extended a warm invitation for us to participate in this, as he referred in the morning session, kumbha of yoga, which is being held here at the Bihar School of Yoga in Munger.

I will start with a small story. Two friends went to a music teacher wanting to learn to play some instrument. When they reached the teacher, they enquired as to how much the fees would be. The teacher asked the first student, "So what do you know about this instrument?" The student said, "Well, I have five years of experience and I know this and I know that, but I want to learn more." The teacher said, "All right." Then he asked the second student, "How much do you know about this instrument?" The second student said, "I know nothing." Then the two students again enquired about the fees. To the one who knew something of the instrument, the teacher said, "You will have to pay 5,000 rupees." To the second, who did not know anything, the teacher said, "You will have to pay 2,000 rupees." They asked, "How come someone who knows nothing has to pay less than one who knows much more?" The teacher explained, "It is more difficult to teach someone who is half-learned and much easier to teach someone whose slate is completely clean."

When I was coming for this conference, I had to wipe my slate completely clean, because I knew the kind of wisdom and knowledge I would get here would be far more than what I already possessed, and I am truly humbled and inspired to be here.

I come from the institute called Kaivalyadhama, which is located in Lonavla, a place close to Mumbai. It was established in 1924 by revered Swami Kuvalyanandaji. We refer to him as a yogi and a scientist. Swamiji's vision was to scientifically investigate the field of yoga, and it was in the year 1924 that the first research journal of yoga was published at Kaivalyadhama.

As Swamiji was a Sanskrit scholar, he had an affinity with the philosophical aspect of yoga, therefore study of the philosophical aspects of yoga was a very important component of Kaivalyadhama.

The scientific research started immediately in 1924. The College of Yoga started in 1951 and the Yoga Therapy Centre started in 1961 with a 100-bed hospital. This is to say that we have a sequence of how things developed; it was the philosophical and literary research that laid the basis for the scientific research. The results of the scientific research were applied both as yoga therapy and also to train the students of yoga.

In the time I have been allotted I will take you through the principles of yoga therapy that we have been following at the institute, which have emerged after much research in various aspects of yoga.

Swami Kuvalyanandaji did some very interesting research in the 1930s. He attempted to compare the effect of mind over body, to evaluate the difference between a state of samadhi and the state of hypnosis, and performed extensive research into whether the effect of pranayama was due to the oxygenation in the blood or whether it was due to the retention of carbon dioxide. His work went much further, and these are only a few examples.

Three aspects of yoga therapy

When we speak of yoga therapy, essentially we speak of three aspects: alternative therapy, complementary therapy, and post-operative therapy. The first aspect of yoga therapy is as an alternative therapy. Justice Singh was giving an example in the morning about a person with a back problem, a slipped disk, and how yoga could heal it completely. That is what many of the cases are. In ailments like backache or hypertension, one is able to apply yoga as a therapy completely wherein the aid of modern medicine may not be required.

The second aspect of yoga therapy is as a complementary therapy. Say you have a condition where you are required to take allopathic drugs. Being a scientific institute, of course we would not go ahead and say, "All right, discontinue all the drugs you are taking and we'll see you in the hospital." There are instances of lifestyle disorders where one is medically advised to continue the medication, but at the same time yoga is of immense help, such as in the case of diabetes, hypertension and asthma, wherein yoga can minimize the effect of the current condition.

The third aspect, and the most important in present times, is the approach of yoga therapy used as post-intervention or post-operatively, when one has gone through a medical intervention like surgery or the treatment for a particular disease, and one takes the help of yoga for recovery. For example, those people who have suffered a stroke or who have gone through the interventions for cancer. Recently, when we conducted programs for cancer patients who have gone through radiation and chemotherapy, we found that their quality of life improved substantially.

These are the three broad aspects in which yoga as therapy is applied: the first being alternative, where yoga alone can stride ahead, the second is complementary, and the third is post-intervention.

In 1932, Swami Kuvalyanandaji published a book titled Yoga Therapy, based on research which he had already conducted, in which he wrote one very simple statement. It compared life to a journey, saying, "If you are walking in a jungle, you have two options: one is that every time a thorn pricks your foot, you make the effort to take it out; the second option is to wear shoes and avoid thorns altogether."

Four principles of yoga therapy

Similarly, when he spoke of applying yoga as therapy, he broadly outlined four principles of yoga not limited to the physical level.

The first principle he said is: "The disease or condition has a very strong mind connection, therefore you need to take care of your psychological or mental well being." Yoga is more about mind than about God.

We studied an experiment which he had done in the 1950s whereby a Brazilian football-lover was shown some clips about a football match. The whole viewing was geared up towards a situation which made him angry, and Swamiji recorded X-rays of his stomach. It was a simple experiment at that point of time, but it was very innovative because no one was thinking that way. What we found was that the X-rays taken when the man was normal and happy were completely different from those taken when he was angry. Just a simple point to prove that disharmony at the mind level will affect the body, and if the body has been affected, there may be some manifestation of mental disharmony over a period of time. Therefore, one has to pay a lot of attention to the psychological aspect of an individual; that would be the first step to deal with disharmony at one's own individual level.

The second principle he said, and which we follow, is taking care of the physical self, or what he technically termed 'the neuroglandular and muscular system'. Like Swamiji said in the morning, you have to take care of your physical body if you want to move ahead on the path of yoga. Sharira madhyam khalu dharma sadhanam. You have to ensure that you are well at your physical level because the body is the only place where the spirit can stay.

This is achieved through practices of asana, pranayama, mudra and bandha. We try to achieve a higher state of well being at the physical level, and these are very important when we look at them as therapeutic tools for any condition. However, what has happened over a period of time is that yoga has indeed become a global phenomenon, but there has also been a little cause for concern. We used to have the classical yoga: hatha yoga, raja yoga, bhakti yoga, jnana yoga, karma yoga, but over a few decades we have added hot yoga, artistic yoga, power yoga, gravitational yoga, and so on. I would not hesitate to say that it is very important to do the yogic practices as per the principles laid down in the classical texts.

For example, we conducted studies in which an asana, ardha matsyendrasana, was done according to Patanjali's principle of Sthiram sukham asanam; Prayatnashaithilya ananta samapattibhyam, which means taking a steady, comfortable posture that gives you a feeling of blissful awareness. Then the same asana was performed in a forceful manner, where the body was actually not happy and even the mind was not agreeing with what the body was doing, the way typical 'exercise' is done. We did EEG recordings while performing the posture in the different manners, and we found that asanas performed according to the principle of sthiram sukham asanam give a particular effect, both at the physical level and the mind level, while performing the asana in a forced manner gave a completely different effect.

Therefore, take care of your physical self through yoga therapy, through asana and pranayama, but do it in a way that has been prescribed, not in a way that is rather injurious to you. Nowadays there are whole books devoted to: yoga – the risks and the rewards. Earlier, we never used to hear about injuries caused through yoga. Now there are some asanas in which a person enters the posture and needs someone else to help them come out.

The third aspect is the cleansing and natural eliminative processes which are very important in yoga therapy, for example, the shuddhi kriyas which we do or shankhaprakshalana. This aspect of yoga is often practised in the classical schools of yoga, but no yoga studio or centre will offer that. In yoga therapy, someone with a backache is definitely prescribed a process that will cleanse him to ensure that further therapy will be much more effective, therefore it has a holistic aspect to it. In the holistic concept, the natural eliminative and cleansing process is a very important part of yoga therapy.

The last but not the least important aspect of yoga therapy is the emphasis laid on nutrition and day-to-day living. The yogic principle of living is following the principles of yamas and niyamas, while the yogic principle of nutrition is eating the right kind of diet, which is of mita ahara and sattwic bhojan, or balancing, simple foods taken in moderation. This is something which we are ready to ignore very easily, but which lays down our lifestyle, including when we sleep and when we wake up. People come to our health centre and I often tell them that the most important principle of yoga is to eat moderately, sattwic ahara, and eat it early – have at least two hours of gap between when you eat and when you sleep. For example, a proper timing would be to serve food at 7 p.m. so that one can sleep by nine. A gentleman from Mumbai once told us, "Yes, I follow that principle. I come home at midnight, I eat at one and I sleep at two in the morning." That is not the way! Take the yogic principles with the right understanding and in the right spirit.

Food is a very sensitive thing, so I conclude with a small anecdote. Two peacocks caught hold of a rat and a snake, respectively. They picked up these animals and landed on the same branch, wanting to chat before their next flight. The moment they sat on the same branch, the snake looked at the rat and immediately the gastric juices started to work. The rat looked at the snake and he almost died from fear. The two peacocks looked at each other and said, "Well, both of them are dying anyway since we have caught hold of them, but what is this phenomenon that even when they are both in the clutches of death, one still wants to eat, and the other still experiences fear of death, so it will have died before it dies?' Two important aspects that are a great hindrance to ourselves are these: our tongue and our fear.

Thank you.

—Address, 24 October 2013, Polo Ground, Munger