Asanas and pranayama are probably the best known elements of yoga. They have become the basis for various therapies and methods to help reshape the physical and mental aspects of the human personality. Newly devised methods, such as biofeedback and various 'growth therapies', utilise the basics of relaxation, posture and breathing, combined with awareness, to change and to better our lives. Biofeedback, for example, is one of the latest methods helping us to overcome previously incurable disease. It is mechanised yoga, yoga through machines. This is probably one of the first times that our technological society has used machines to help man go inside to find himself and to expand his awareness and potentials.
What happens in biofeedback? You take a machine that measures the activity of a certain part of the body, and you record what is going on inside the body through this machine. Then you utilise awareness to go deep into this part of the body so as to control the various elements, the various aspects, that you are measuring. You select a certain aspect, for example, you may want to raise the temperature of the body, so you measure the temperature by special electrical equipment attached to your fingertip, and then try to raise it using only the mind. After a period of time, you will find that you will be successful in raising the temperature of the body. It's a very simple thing.
Now it is being discovered that through these techniques we can cure migraine headaches, hypertension, eczema and so many psychosomatic and degenerative diseases. But what is being discovered more recently is that asana and pranayama are a much more powerful, a much more effective way of controlling the whole body. They are the first steps in allowing us to not only alter the mechanism of one element, but to gain control over the total structure of the brain and mind, the controlling system which allows us to direct every aspect of our lives. With biofeedback we can raise the temperature, lower the blood pressure, improve relaxation and gain freedom from disease, but yoga offers us much more.
When we do asanas and pranayama we are not just affecting the physical body. Breath control and body control are only the physical aspect. We are working on changing the physical structure within the endocrine and nervous systems so as to totally alter our capacity to be aware and to control. We are moving our centre of consciousness upward to the higher chakras, to the deeper strata of the mind and spirit. We are doing this by pushing and extending our prana into the subtle bodies, the deeper levels of our personality. We are extending the field of our awareness.
Awareness begins with the body, so we bend our body in a certain position and what happens? We experience a change in muscle activity, electrical activity; the respiratory, circulatory, lymphatic and digestive systems change; organs are toned up. But the important point is that while we are doing these things, we become aware of the energies and the mind. We become aware of the limitations of the body, of our self-imposed limitations. In this way we can overcome those factors in our life that prevent us from making our lives a self-fulfilling, self-developing process. Once we can overcome one limitation, whether through biofeedback or through yoga, we can overcome all our limitations; it is only a matter of time and practice. However, to continue in this process we require a systematic approach that biofeedback does not offer.
Through pranayama we are using the breath, but the important point is not that we are doing breathing exercises that increase oxygen levels. The main thing is that the breath provides a means to move energy, and with it our awareness, into the subconscious elements of the mind. It takes us to the threshold of higher consciousness. The breath goes on spontaneously, 21,600 times per day. It is a subconscious process, but we can become aware of it more easily than any other automatic body process and in so doing we can learn to control the subconscious elements of the nervous system at the back of the head. These are the elements which charge the brain with energy, which allow the energy and nervous system to function. So what we are actually doing is controlling the energies and this is a very powerful thing. We are learning to make a bridge between the body and the mind. That is the method of attaining dhyana and it is much more subtle and sophisticated than dependence on machines and external biofeedback. We are utilising inner feedback, a much more direct and powerful process.
In America at the present time there have been some very important steps made towards greater understanding of the body-mind relationship. A large number of growth movements has sprung up, designed to help us grow towards being better integrated and more whole people. We are awakening to the fact that we have lost touch with ourselves. Many of the techniques which help us regain contact, such as Reichian therapy, rolfing (deep massage), Alexander technique, biofeedback, dance therapy, Feldenkrais, polarity therapy and so on, are based on the yogic principles of increasing awareness. Some are even based on yoga asanas and pranayama, but all employ awareness.
These therapies help to free our restrictive life patterns, to re-polarize our energies and to harmonise ourselves with gravity and the other forces around us. However, these techniques also have limitations; lacking a systematic and ordered approach to attaining the highest awareness they can only take us so far. They may release unconscious conflicts and energies, release past and painful memories, help to restructure our body and personality, however, they cannot take us to the experience of dhyana, of internal knowledge and insight in which all the problems of existence are answered and rebirth into a new and free life, free from the cause of our sufferings, emerges.
The techniques designed to help us grow are the product of a need. We have become distorted, like gnarled trees which seem to grow without direction. We have lost control of the forces in our brain and nervous system and have become the victims of a sick society. The new methods have arisen from an individual's personal discovery, from some internal insight, from a meditation-like experience in which intuition fuses with logic. As such these techniques are good, but not perfected methods. They are therapeutic and soothe the pain, the soreness, but are not able to take us to the very depths, to the cause of our problems in the centre of our personality.
These new therapies must be combined into a holistic system of healing in which yoga plays a central and synthesising part. For yoga allows us to be independent of externals, to be our own healers, and to quickly discover the cause of our disease which lies in ignorance of ourselves. Yoga takes us to dhyana.