Disease is defined as a dysfunction of the body, mind, or inspirational energy (prana). Liberation from disease entails rectifying the cause of dysfunction and making the bodily systems function normally. Yogic therapy is useful in obtaining freedom from disease and repairing the damage caused by disease. The Yogic processes that help in this purpose are (1) Asanas, (2) Cleansing Processes, (3) Breath Regulation, and (4) Contemplation. Unlike medicines, utilization of these processes not only destroy the symptoms but also uproot the cause of the disease itself, thereby helping regain the balance of the body and mind. Each of these processes is very effective if practiced with serious intention. Absent serious intention their impact is greatly diminished.
In this chapter we will study the effects of each of these processes one by one.
Asanas (postures) are practiced in many ways. Hence their effects may vary widely. Patanjali described asanas as ideally being manifest or held in a comfortable steady state - or “Sthirasukhamasanam” - implying long durational stability and comfort in the practice of a posture. The effect of holding an asana is noted to be “Tato Dwandwaabhighaatah,” i.e., it reconciles conflicts of the mind. That means the effect of the physical asana is reflected on mental wellbeing. But the individual has to climb a few basic steps to reach this stage. The effects achieved in the practice of asanas in these preliminary steps add to the realization of even greater good when one attains the more advanced steps.
There are three different aspects to the practice of asanas. The first part constitutes movement of the body, which attains the position/posture of the asana. The second part is stability, which is the core of the asanas. The third part is that of releasing the asana and returning to a relaxed initial position. Although only the first and third parts of an asana involve movement of the body they are critically linked to the second part - stability -and hence ideally all movements are slow and highly controlled. Such slow and highly controlled movements when carried out without creating tension in the muscles and joints helps improve the strength, flexibility, and general tone of the muscles and joints and are particularly effective in cases of rheumatism, swelling, stiffness and joint or muscularly induced pain when brisk exercises would only add to a sufferer’s troubles.
Once the asana position is attained it should be steadily and comfortably held for a certain duration or number of breaths. Maintaining stability in an asana positions may create tension or pressure on particular muscles or joints, of course, but inasmuch as the entire body is in a relaxed state in the position of the asana the tension or pressure created is tolerable. If not the position should be eased. Efficiency of muscles and joints improves with steady comfortable tension or pressures, which also improves blood circulation in muscles and joints thus improving their functioning.
The position of the asana has to be maintained for some substantial period to be of maximum benefit and the body should be relaxed during this period. While some muscles may be tensed when taking a particular position relaxation is to be simultaneously carried out in the same position. If muscles are relaxed the tension and the pressures created on those muscles can transfer the energy exerted and initiated onto internal organs in a manner that will improve the supply of blood to these organs and thereby improve their efficiency. Certain asanas create tensions and pressures that specifically energize the endocrine glands resulting in increasing their efficiency and functioning. Other asanas have parallel effects on and improve the efficiency of the pancreas. While still other asanas reach and aid the functioning of other bodily systems, i.e., digestive and eliminative.
Once stability and comfort are attained in an asana and the body is completely relaxed, focusing the mind on the breath, an organ, or a higher power is the next step. The mind’s power is so strong that, if the mind is focused on an organ, defects in that organ can be overcome and/or the efficiency of the organ improves even if there is no defect. These four stages in the practice of asana - Stability, Comfort, Deliberate Relaxation and Focusing/Dissolving the Mind - create an overall effect on the nervous system that also effect some of the centers of the brain, thereby overcoming weaknesses in the functioning of these brain centers. Different asanas exhibit their effects on different brain centers and more research on this topic is needed as it is not very clear which brain centers are impacted by which asanas, although all asanas appear to have a positive impact in the easing of psychosomatic distress.
Cleansing Processes are a special feature of Hatha Yoga, which has developed many processes for internal cleansing of the body. And while some of these processes may appear “unnatural,” experience shows that their results are very effective if performed as part of one’s yoga practice.
Waste products are constantly produced in our bodies and there are magnificent systems in our bodies designed to dispose of this waste. If a waste disposal system is inefficient all the waste will not be eliminated but will be stored in our body. Stored waste in our bodies creates disease. Effectively disposing of bodily waste is the only way to maintain maximum health. The various yogic cleansing processes developed and perfected over the centuries helps carry out this work. A number of diseases arise from non-disposal of waste products by the body. Particular cleansing processes help in the disposal of the particular waste from the body thus obtaining liberation from the disease.
Our bodies constantly transport food, fluid, blood, oxygen, urine,hormonal secretions, and solid waste (stool) from one part to the other. Messages from the organs to the brain and orders from the brain to the organs regarding material transportation take place consistently. The passageways for the transportation of the various material, messages, and orders are called ‘Naadis’ in Yoga. Ancient texts state that there are seventy-two thousands of such Naadis in our body. The functions of the body are carried out properly because of the transportation carried out by these Naadis. Yet sometimes obstructions are created in these vehicles and the transportation slows down or even stops. This automatically affects the body’s functioning and may result in the origin of various diseases. Such blockages in the Naadis need to be removed to cure or prevent these diseases. The process of removing these blockages from the Naadis is called ‘Naadishuddhi’ or purification of the Naadis. This purification of the Naadis is carried out with the help of cleansing processes. The cleansing processes that remove these blockages make use of air or water.
The processes that use water for clarification and cleansing includeJalneti, Shankha Prakshalan, and Vamanamong others. Processes like Kapalbhati make use of air for purification. Processes like Dandaneti, Dandadhauti use a rubber pipe. Processes such asSutraneti and Vastradhauti make use of a strip of cloth. Cleansing processes like Agnisar, Nauli do not make use of any external medium but are effectuated through the controlled movements of the muscles of the stomach and the diaphragm. All these cleansing processes remove the blockages in the various Naadis and purify those Naadis so that transportation becomes smooth and disease is defeated. Hatha Yoga believes that all of the thousands ofNaadis are purified by use of these cleansing processes.
Use of the cleansing processes is an attempt to gain control over the autonomic nervous system. The action of vomiting, for example, is conducted by the autonomic nervous system. But in the process of ‘Vaman’ a person takes complete control over the process of vomiting, which can be definitely achieved by practice. Similarly, control on the diaphragm in Kapalbhati,or of the peristaltic movement of the intestine in Shankha Prakshalan, is also brought about intentionally not autonomically. These cleansing processes help in bringing some amount of control over the autonomic nervous system and thereby diseases can be cured.
Although the main goal of breath regulation is to gain control over pranic energy and advance the path to spiritual enlightenment, an individual can benefit even from the initial stages of breath regulation. The first step in the control of breath is deep breathing, which is very easy and very effective. More advanced breath regulation ranges from the practice of deep breathing to that retention of breath with any of the Bandhas. The range of breath regulation in the therapeutic perspective is as follows.
In the practice of deep breathing, the lungs are completely filled and completely evacuated during deep inhalation and deep exhalation. It is an exercise for the organs involved in the breathing process – the diaphragm, chest ribs and stomach muscles, as their movement should be complete while deep breathing. Hence training is given to make these movements scientifically appropriate. Especially in breathrelated diseases, the improper movement of the respiratory system takes place and as a result the disease intensifies. The perfect movement of this system helps in curing the disease.
The oxygen taken in while breathing supplies the required energy for each of the cells of the body to function properly. Lack of adequate amounts of oxygen is one of the causes of nearly all disease. Life is impossible after four minutes without oxygen. No cell and ultimately no organ will be able to carry out their functions without oxygen. Inefficiency in the functioning of these organs with the processing of oxygen can generate disease. In many such cases none of the physiological laboratory tests can detect the cause ofillness. Increasing intake of oxygen is the only way out and deep breathing is the solution. Only 500-600 cc of air is in taken in normal shallow breathing. This capacity increases to 5000-5500 cc with the practice of deep breathing, which then increases overall intake of air capacity throughout the day. Deep breathing is beneficial for one and all.
Red blood corpuscles and hemoglobin deliver oxygen to all the cells of the body. The hemoglobin absorbs the oxygen that arrives in the air sacs (alveoli) in the lungs. The more effectively the function of absorption is carried out, the more effectively will oxygen reach the various cells of the body. In two-breath regulation processes -Abhyantar Kumbhaka and Rechaka- high pressure is generated on the lungs that speeds up the process of absorption of oxygen and makes it more effective. In the ideal procedure of Pranayama, the proportion of inhalation to breath retention to exhalation is 1:4:2 and absorption of oxygen takes place 6 out of 7 times in each rotation of the breathing period. The cells of the body are thus supplied with ample quantity of oxygen improving their normal functioning.
During the inhalation in Pranayama, a low pressure is created in the lungs as compared to the external pressure. This compels the external air to enter the lungs. This pressure of air is high in the lungs as compared to the external air during the period of breath retention and exhalation. As the process of inhalation, breath retention and exhalation is carried out in a particular proportion these pressures are maintained for a longer duration and create an impact on the organs in the neighborhood of the lungs. Moreover, the trio of Bandhas (Jalandhar, Uddiyanaand Moolbandha) creates similar pressures on the organs in the stomach and the chest. This improves their functioning too. The functioning of the pancreas, which is defective in case of diabetes, improves by the practice of the Uddiyana Bandha. A proper practice of breath regulation helps in curing many complicated diseases. But it is necessary to give a warning that improper practice creates adverse effects on the body thus making the disease more complex. Hence the practice of breath regulation must be prescribed very cautiously.
There are in all eight types of breath regulation exercises along with the Naadishuddhi Pranayama. Although the method of breath retention with the trio of Bandhas is the same in each of them, the ways of inhalation and exhalation are different in each. The different ways of inhalation and exhalation in these breath regulation exercises produce varied effects. Those like Suryabhedan and Bhasrika produce heat energy in the body whereas the effects of Sheetali and Seetkari are that of cooling. Selection of the most appropriate kind of breath regulation exercise according to the effectual requirement of the disease will definitely help in curing the disease. A proper linking of the exercise with the disease is essential for the purpose.
The practice of breath regulation exercise is carried out with the control of the power of aspiration. Basically as we know the respiration is a process in control of the autonomic nervous system; i.e. in control of the centers of respiration in our brain. While these centers are performing their function, we control breath through breath regulation exercises with our aspirations thus producing a control over the centers of the brain. The anatomy of the brain is intact (whole). The effects generated on some centers of the brain may extend to some other centers too. We can thus conclude that the effect produced by breath regulation on the brain can help in the curing of disease.
A shloka in Hatha Pradipika states the significance of breath regulation as follows: Pranayamen Yuktabhyasen Sarvaroga Vinashakah Pranayamen Ayuktabhyasen Sarvaroga Samudbhavah,which means that appropriate practice of breath regulation ceases all diseases but inappropriate practice of the same develops all kinds of diseases. More study and research should be done for an effective way out from various diseases keeping in mind the fact that breath regulation is capable of curing all diseases.
Contemplation is another effective process in curing disease. And although this process as described by the great sage Patanjali is difficult it starts with gentle practice and works over time to progressive stages. Many of us cannot view any association of Contemplation with the curing of disease, as Contemplation is the process of the mind. But those who are aware of the fact that although the disease is physical its cause may lie in the mind may understand the relation between the two. Practice of it may cease defects in the Manomaya Kosha. It has been clear from the research that the mental imbalance plays a role in the development of any disease. Contemplation is thus effective in the treatment of any disease.
The mind starts becoming stable with the practice of Contemplation. Its fidgetiness decreases. The physical pains in any disease result in added restlessness of the mind. If the mind can be made stable with the practice of Contemplation it will increase its power to withstand and will reduce the sensitivity of the trouble. The mind can then focus on the repairs of the defects of the body and the mind. Hence reducing the trouble and repairing the defects, both are achieved through the stability of the mind.
The practice of stability of the mind increases the concentration of the mind. We can thus concentrate on any element of our choice and make the mind steady on that object. In one case, a patient had a sore anklebone. The cause was not detected and no measures to cure it were succeeding. An experiment was carried out in which he had to concentrate on the anklebone and visualize reducing of the tenderness of the bone, and the result was normalization of the bone. This is nothing but the outcome of concentration of the mind.
The result of practice of Contemplation is the rise of mental serenity. Serenity is the consequent stage of stability and concentration. The mind is not distracted by any other element. If this stage can be achieved the patient will be rid of his disease quickly as otherwise, when he is fed up of the disease, even a small matter can distract him and he develops a tender mind that gets carried away by emotions. This state of mind takes him away from relief from the disease. So it is necessary to gain the stage of mental serenity through Contemplation.
A regular practice of Contemplation enhances the resistance power of the body and the mind, which are reduced by the disease. Contemplation increases the resistance power and improves the power of facing distresses and the patient develops a confidence to fight the disease.
Contemplation gains control over the trading of the mind. It thus removes the defects in the mind creating balance in its trade. The mind can be channelized after gaining control over it. This uproots the basic cause of the psychosomatic diseases, which is not possible for medicines to do. There is no option but Contemplation in these cases.
Research states that the centers of the brain are stimulated by Contemplation. This can bring about control on all processes of the body and the mind thus causing liberation from the disease.
The basic outcome of Contemplation as stated by the sage Patanjali is creating awareness of the existence of spiritual power and energy. Fully accessing this power is not possible where disease is present as disease is characterized by physical and mental imbalance and naadi blockages. Practicing Contemplation is intended to regain the body’s balance and then empower it with consciousness of spiritual energy. Individuals can gain remarkable strength and liberation from disease by the practice of Contemplation starting from the most fundamental stages and advancing to the most advanced stages.
We are now equipped with the basic knowledge of the processes supporting liberation from disease and to bringing about health inducing outcomes to prescribe treatment to the patient. The aspects to be taken in mind for appropriate treatment are - the nature of the disease, the combination of the different diseases present, the physical and mental state of the patient, and his/her capability of performing the yogic processes. A treatment encompassing all these aspects will have to be prescribed for desired results.
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