Yoga – a Therapeutic Science

Swami Satyananda Saraswati

All over the world people are living in a state of terror, fright, anxiety, passion, tension, insecurity, uncertainty, suspicion and so on. These states influence man’s physiological structure, and cause most of the diseases that we suffer from today. In this context yoga comes to us as a great panacea. When we practise yoga, the changes in the physical body are clear, they are earmarked. The behaviour of the heart, consumption of oxygen, rate of respiration, reactions of the nervous system, secretions of hormones, alteration of brain waves, and all the systems of the physical body are influenced and undergo certain changes.

This has a beneficial effect on most disease states but first, disease has to be defined properly, and yoga has its own definition. Disease manifests in the body but does not originate in the body. Disease originates with a state of imbalance. There may be disharmony between the nervous systems or an imbalance in the hormonal secretions, or in the digestive processes. As such, we define disease in a subtle manner, and we treat it according to its nature.

Restoring the balance

We don’t treat diabetes as a digestive disorder. We know that it is a deficiency in insulin – there is no doubt about it. We also know that the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems are controlled by higher centres. When these centres fail to activate the nervous system properly, then a deficiency of hormones in a particular area results. When we treat a diabetic patient we don’t treat him for a deficiency of insulin. We don’t treat him for the disease he is apparently suffering from. We know it is stress and strain that is responsible.

When we treat a mental patient, suffering from psychosis, neurosis or a nervous breakdown, we take him as a personality, a human being, an individual who can think and feel. We take him deeper into his own mind through the practices of concentration and meditation, bringing him to the root of his illness.

If a person is suffering from high anxiety, we don’t prescribe practices to induce an immediate state of tranquillity. Rather, we try to explode his personality, to express what remains dormant in the back of his mind. This is possible with the practice of concentration, such as mantra, which is part of yoga. As a scientific principle, mantra is a very powerful instru-ment. Through the practice of mantra, we try to explode the deeper phases of the consciousness. When the inner states of mind are exploded then one comes face to face with all the thoughts, distractions, passions and repressions deep within.

The physical body is influenced by the human mind. It is the sentiments, the emotions, feelings and objectives, passions, fears, anxieties and worries in the mind which create physiological changes in the body. The adrenal, thyroid and pituitary secretions have a natural flow and order. A thought can and does influence the working of our physical body. Fear, psychosis or anxiety influence the endocrine glands and change the mode of brain waves.

Mind, prana and self

The whole body is a composition of prana and mind. Pranas are responsible for action and motion in life. The mind is responsible for thinking and feeling. Together, mind and prana fill this living structure, penetrating it through and through.

Mind and prana are the two great forces in our system, and if they lose their balance, a corresponding imbalance is created in our mental and physical behaviour. The science of hatha yoga is based on these twin forces. Pranas can be balanced by the practice of asanas and pranayamas. The mental force is balanced by the practice of concentration and meditation.

In yoga we say there are seventy-two thousand channels or nadis in the body through which the flow of prana and the flow of mind move. Out of these seventy-two thousand channels of mental and pranic energy, ten are considered to be major ones. Out of these ten major channels, three are most important. In yoga we call them ida, pingala, and sushumna. Ida represents mental force, pingala represents pranic force and sushumna represents spiritual force.

The individual is a combination of mind, prana and self. Certainly there comes a time in life, and not necessary when you reach fifty-five, when you become aware, when you begin to realize that the body is not final. The mind controls the body; and the spirit, the atma, the self, controls the mind and body. When you become the master of the mind you become the master of the body, but when you are a slave to the mind then the body is full of disease. Once you become the master of the self, you become the master of the mind and body.

A mighty world culture

Yoga is a science of therapy, a science of self-improvement, and a way to discipline. But besides all this, yoga is a culture, and every nation must have one, for the culture is the prana of a nation. Countries with political cultures have failed. Nations with military might have been destroyed. Races which had absolute power have disappeared, leaving no trace. But a country with a culture based on yoga has eternal existence. It can strive through the vicissitudes of life, the accidents of history and the ravages of time.

You are that people. You have survived through the accidents of life because yoga has been our culture. In the coming times, yoga is going to emerge as a mighty world culture, is going to direct the events of the world’s history, and you have a definite role to play in this. It is up to you to accept this great science with love, with admiration, with hope and with sincerity.

Address given at Gandhi Medical College, 28 February 1979, Bhopal, India, published in YOGA, June 1979 (Extracts)