The concept of health from the yogic viewpoint is not only confined to the physical aspect but to each and every strata of our personality. The United Nations has defined health as being physical, mental, emotional, spiritual and social. Well, this theory is not the property of the United Nations. It belongs to the United Individual and the basis is commonsense. This is exactly what yoga has been proposing for many hundreds and thousands of years.
There seems to be a lack of understanding of our own personalities in every kind of ‘-pathy’. If you look at allopathy, does it actually treat an illness or disease, or does it only treat the symptoms which manifest in the body or the mind? I feel that rather than being able to really cure an ailment, allopaths themselves are unable to fully understand the integration of body, mind, environment, emotion and spirit in an individual. A similar analysis can be made of other ‘-pathies’ as well, though there are some which recognize the psychological factors behind an ailment or disease, or the pranic imbalance which causes an ailment or disease. The concept of total health has been a continued feeling of people who have been aware and not of those people who have simply tried to misuse and overuse the equipment of this instrument provided by God.
This concept has been clearly defined in yoga as bhoga, roga and yoga. Bhoga does not refer to the pleasures that we seek, but to the states of fulfillment, contentment, satisfaction and enjoyment within the body, mind, emotions, spirit and society. When these states are imbalanced, then roga, disease, will manifest. The effort which seeks to bring about the balance is then known as yoga. Looking at health and disease from this angle brings fresh insight.
Why do we get stomach problems, indigestion, diarrhoea, dysentery, gas, bile, hyperacidity? Because there is an imbalance in our diet and we do not follow the natural pattern, the natural biorhythms of the body. This mistake is creating more and more imbalances within our system which have to manifest in one way or another. So the whole concept of therapy in yoga revolves around the removal of imbalances and blocks.
Somebody may be suffering from a physical ailment and that is definitely going to have a foundation in the mental and emotional structure and this affects the normal and natural performance of the internal organs. The body behaves and performs in a particular pattern over which there is no voluntary control. Digestion happens automatically, spontaneously, we cannot control our digestion. We cannot control the secretion of fluids, we cannot even control our heartbeat. We can simply control the external activity. The involuntary actions, the autonomic activity continuously happening within us is, however, subject to stress and tension, misuse and overuse.
There is another concept in yoga which defines the cause of human problems. Four things are the cause of many ailments: imbalance in ahara, diet; imbalance in nidra, sleep; imbalance in bhaya, fear, phobia or any kind of suppression or anxiety, and imbalance in maithuna, sex, so one does not get sensual or sexual satisfaction. These states are bound to create more psychological problems, which will then reflect on the body. These various factors which eventually cause a disease have to be considered and monitored according to the yogic philosophy.
The practices provided in yoga place equal emphasis on physical exercises as well as on the techniques of relaxation, concentration and pranayama which help in increasing the level of vitality, stamina and strength within the personality. The practices selected in a yoga program lead to the gradual release of blocks from the pranic structure, or pranamaya kosha, but they also go further than that. Yoga believes that there IS a difference between the emotional, pranic and mental influences and provides techniques for dealing with them.
We know that there are three types of people who have been defined as the sattwic, balanced, the rajasic, dynamic, or the tamasic, dull. These three types represent a style of life more than a person or an individual. It is noticeable that sattwic people will not suffer from any kind of illness or disease. They might get an occasional cough, cold or fever, an occasional body ache or headache but they are not going to suffer any more than this. They will never come down with jaundice, hepatitis or TB, no matter in what environment or in what condition they live because the sattwic lifestyle simply represents a lifestyle which is balanced and integrated. This would also reflect on behaviour, the thinking pattern, the emotional pattern, on diet and on the states of mind.
Rajasic people are prone to be sick; tamasic people are prone to suffer all their life, because the tamasic personality represents not just imbalance, but chronic imbalance. So yoga therapy recognizes that there are only two kinds of people who are suffering: the rajasic and the tamasic. Therefore, yoga approaches the individual according to the type of personality. How that is done is very much between the student and the teacher and the ability of the teacher to recognize the need, the condition and the state of the student.
What of the behaviour of mind and the behaviour of emotion? We can easily define everything in terms of family pressure, work pressure or dissatisfaction with the family and social structure. We have our ambitions, needs and weaknesses, feelings of insecurity, of not being able to face certain situations in life. Generally we understand the whole thing as creating pressures, suppressions and anxieties in our mental and emotional structure. But a disease is not monitored by the level of anxiety, frustration or euphoria that is being created. Rather we have to see the mental and emotional sensitivity of the individual because maybe in the same situation people who are less sensitive will respond differently. Here our outlook, our perception and our sensitivity is also involved.
Depression, anxiety, likes and dislikes on the emotional level can cause illness, physiological diseases. Work pressure or family pressure, worrying about the education of the children or the completion of a job, can cause high levels of stress and anxiety which can produce illness, headache, watering of the eyes, palpitations of the heart, high blood pressure, different kinds of diseases. We take a pill to remove the headache, but the worry is still constant in the mind. We have eliminated the flashing red light that is indicative of the malfunction in the instrument, but we have not corrected the actual malfunction. Even our approach towards therapy is very much symptomatic, physical and external.
So, the work environment cannot be the cause of a problem, a disease. It is our approach, our outlook, our reaction which may become the problem. Family pressures are there in every family in one way or another, as is the drive to fulfil our ambitions and satisfy our needs. The response of the rajasic mind and the response of the tamasic mind is different in such conditions; by monitoring the rajasic state or the tamasic state of mind and its sensitivity, we are able to judge how far the ailment has altered, influenced or affected the body.
We need to differentiate between the experience of the body, the mind, the emotions and the sensitivity. At the same time, we cannot neglect our ambitions and needs and become full-time yogis in order to enjoy optimum health. We can, however, make an effort as a yoga teacher, as a therapist, to understand a disease or a problem from a different point of view. A student is not a guinea pig on whom we test this chemical or that chemical, this yoga or that yoga. There has to be an understanding of the total structure of the individual before a therapy can really become effective. There has to be an understanding of whether the person is rajasic or tamasic, and on that basis you try to correct the lifestyle, along with the necessary assistance that you might provide in the form of a pill or yoga program.
Some emphasis has to be placed on correcting the lifestyle so that people are able to feel more harmonious, more balanced and integrated within themselves. Many people have been helped through yoga, like Dr. Swami Shankardevananda, author of Yogic Management of Asthma and Diabetes, whose inner realizations through yogic sadhana sparked the turning point in his asthma. Very few therapies can provide that.
Gradually, as we become more aware of the difficulties in treating a disease and the patient, we will try to have a more holistic approach in future. Even now, during this Symposium, the whole discussion has been on the enlargement of the bronchial tubes. “Take this bronchodilator, it will enlarge the tubes so that you can breathe more.” It is a physical concept. We are living at a time when we need those physical parameters to motivate us but we have to utilize that knowledge in the projection of our ideas. Once we become involved, then the changes will happen in our perception and in our understanding which will make us our own therapists. Then we will not have to rely on spirometry tests or bronchodilators, but on our own judgment and commonsense of what is right for our health. To rise beyond the physical parameters we need to fully understand them first. After we have understood, in total, then we can try to pick up another area.
The ideal or correct concept of any therapy should parallel the concept of health which has been defined as physical, mental, emotional, social and spiritual. The concept of therapy should be the same as the concept of health. It is not a problem; it is something which we will realize after a few generations because right now we are in the process of investigating yoga by experimenting with the different ideas and techniques that science is discovering every day.
From a satsang on the yogic psychophysiology of disease, given at the 2nd International Doctor’s Symposium, January 1990, Ganga Darshan.