Yoga and Health

From Hatha Yoga Book 7: Hatha Yoga and Health, from the teachings of two great luminaries of the 20th century, Sri Swami Sivananda Saraswati and Sri Swami Satyananda Saraswati

How does the interaction of body and mind affect one's health?

Swami Satyananda: This physical body is a mysterious combination of elements. Within the physical body there is nectar and there is poison, and every disease which originates within the body can be balanced and controlled within the body. The practices of asanas and pranayamas, in particular, have an immediate effect on the body.

However, the most effective treatment is a synthesis of hatha yoga and raja yoga. Even if the cause is physiological, no disease can be only physiological, it becomes psychological as well. If one's physical body gets hurt, it is physiological. But when the body fails you, it becomes psychological. When it worries you, it is psychological. If it becomes septic, it becomes deeply psychological.

This is why even a wound is somato-psychic. In the same way, if one suffers from anxiety, it is psychological, it is emotional, yet the heart starts pumping, the stomach cramps begin, the body becomes sweaty, and sometimes it feels as if the whole head is reeling: anxiety is psychological, but its effects can be felt, and are seen in a tangible way.

Whenever something wrong happens to someone, it immediately injures or displaces the nervous system. As a result of imbalance in the nervous system, the brain, the hypothalamus and the cerebral motor cortex are also affected. Any problem can develop, from physical disorder to cancer.

A thought is born out of the mind. An action is born out of the mind. In the same way diseases which appear to be physical are also born out of the mind. Please understand this very well: whether it is headache, constipation, or anything that is called a physical disease, it is never physical. The root cause of every disease is psychic and not somatic. The cause is always psychic but manifestation is somatic. If one can manage to go back to the mind, even a tumour can be dropped, and if one can influence one's own mind, a tumour can be created.

How does the yogic definition of disease influence the yogic prescription?

Swami Satyananda: Yoga has a beneficial effect on most disease states; but first, disease has to be defined properly. Yoga has its own definition. Disease manifests in the body but does not originate in the body; disease originates from 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, disease is defined in a subtle manner, and treated according to its nature.

For example, yoga does not treat diabetes as a digestive disorder. It is known to be a deficiency in insulin, there is no doubt about it. It is also known that the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems are controlled by higher centres, and when these centres fail to activate the nervous system properly, a deficiency of hormones in a particular area results. When yoga treats a diabetic patient it is not a treatment for a deficiency of insulin; he is not treated for the disease he is apparently suffering from. Yoga recognizes that it is stress and strain that are responsible, so the treatment is for that.

When a mental health patient suffering from psychosis, neurosis or a nervous breakdown is treated, yoga takes him as a personality, a human being, an individual who can think and feel. Yoga takes 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, the prescription is not for practices that induce an immediate state of tranquility. Rather, yoga tries to explode that person's 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 powerful instrument. Through the practice of mantra, one tries 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 that lie deep within.

How is the link between body and mind managed when treating disease?

Swami Satyananda: The mind and body are really part of one unit but, for the sake of definition and explanation, it can be said that certain diseases are mainly mental in cause while others are mainly physical. Mental diseases cause derangement in the body and physical diseases cause derangement or loss of efficiency of the mind. They are directly related.

The treatment of some diseases needs a more direct physical approach whether from medicine, yogasanas, pranayama, or whatever is suitable. The healing system adopted should be one that brings mental relaxation, removal of phobias and any other mental imbalance. In this field, yoga is particularly powerful. It brings wonderful results.