Yogacharya Dr Ananda Balayogi Bhavanani
MBBS, ADY, DPC, DSM, PGDFH, PGDY, FIAY, MD (Alt.Med)
Deputy Director, CYTER, MGMCRI and Chairman ICYER, Puducherry
In modern times when the terms Yoga and Yoga therapy have become synonymous, this paper is but a small attempt to put into perspective what Yoga therapy can offer us as an integrative system of wholistic well being.
According to Yogamaharishi Dr Swami Gitananda Giri Guru Maharaj, the founder of Ananda Ashram at ICYER, Pondicherry and one of the foremost authorities on Yoga in the past century,
“Yoga Chikitsa is virtually as old as Yoga itself, indeed, the ‘return of mind that feels separated from the Universe in which it exists’ represents the first Yoga therapy. Yoga Chikitsa could be termed “man’s first attempt at Unitive understanding of mind-emotions-physical distress and is the oldest wholistic concept and therapy in the world.”
Some Principles Of Yoga Therapy
- Become aware of your body, emotions and mind
- Improve your dietary habits
- Relax your whole body from toes to head
- Slow down your breath by making it quiet and deep
- Calm down your mind and focus it inwardly
- Improve the flow of Healing Pranic Life Energy to all parts of your body, especially to those diseased parts, thus relaxing, regenerating and reinvigorating yourself
- Decrease your stress level by fortifying yourself against the various omnipresent stressors in your life
- Increase your self reliance and self confidence
- Facilitate the natural emanation of waste from your body by the practice of Yoga Shuddi Kriyas such as Dhauti, Basti and Neti.
- Remember that ultimately it is “YOU” who are responsible for your health and well being and must take the initiative to develop positive health to tide you over challenging times of ill health.
- Health and happiness are your birthright, claim them and develop them to your maximum potential.
Extensive research on Yoga being done all over the world has shown promise with regard to various disorders and diseases that seem to be amiable to Yoga therapy. These include the psychosomatic and stress disorders such as bronchial asthma, diabetes mellitus, hypertension, irritable bowel syndrome, gastro intestinal ulcer diseases, atherosclerosis, seizure disorder (epilepsy) and headache. It also includes physical disorders such as heart disease, lung disease, and mental retardation. Psychiatric disorders such as anxiety disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorder, depression and substance abuse can also be managed along with other therapies. Musculoskeletal disorders such as lumbago, spondylosis, sciatica and carpal tunnel syndrome can be tackled effectively with Yoga practices. It also offers a lot of hope in metabolic disorders such as thyroid and other endocrine disorders, obesity and the modern metabolic syndrome.
Therapeutic Modalities of Yoga Therapy
- Physical therapies: Asanas, Kriyas, Mudras and Bandhas gently stretch and strengthen muscles, improve mobility, flexibility, respiration, circulation, digestion and elimination, and promote a general sense of health and wellbeing.
- Emotional therapies: Swadhyaya, Pranayama, Pratyahara, Dharana, Dhyana and Bhajana can calm and centre the mind, helping to relieve stress and mental fatigue and bring about emotional balance.
- Development of proper psychological attitudes: By encouraging us to step back and look objectively at our habitual patterns of behaviour and thoughts, Yoga can help us to cope better with situations that put our bodies and minds under strain. Development of the following qualities are also emphasized in order to become mentally balanced humane beings: Vairagya (detached, dispassionate attitude), ChittaPrasadana (acceptance of the Divine Will), Maitri (friendliness towards the happy), Karuna (compassion for the suffering), Mudita (cheerfulness towards the virtuous) and Upekshanam (indifference and avoidance of the evil) etc.
- Mental therapies: Relaxation and visualization practices, Trataka, Pranayama, Pratyahara, Dharana as well as Dhyana. Relaxation is a central element in Yoga therapy as relaxation is the body’s way of recharging its cells and helps to ease physical, emotional and mental tensions.
- Spiritual therapies: Swadhyaya, Satsangha, Bhajana sessions and Yogic counseling are important aspects of Yogic therapy that are often neglected in favour of the physical therapies alone.
- Preventive therapies: Yoga has numerous preventive benefits especially when it is started early in childhood. It helps in the prevention of accidents by increasing awareness as well as agility. Improved immunity helps in preventing infectious and contagious diseases. The added benefit of starting early is that the person knows the technique so that they can do it if needed at a later stage in life. Yoga also offers rehabilitative therapies for most musculoskeletal conditions as well as in recovery of debilitating illnesses. The practice of Yoga also goes a long way towards prevention of disability and improving quality of life in numerous chronic conditions.
- Pain relief therapies: Yoga is a useful addition to the pain relief therapies as it increases pain tolerance and provides an improved quality of life.
Integrated Approach of Yoga Therapy
In Yoga therapy it is vital that we take into consideration all of the following aspects that are part of an integrated approach to the problem. These include a healthy life nourishing diet, a healthy and natural environment, a holistic lifestyle, adequate bodywork through Asanas, Mudras and Kriyas, invigorating breath work through the use of Pranayama and the production of a healthy thought process through the higher practices of Jnana and Raja Yoga.
The application of Yoga therapy can be correlated with the Pancha Koshas and various Yoga practices may be used as therapeutic interventions at different levels in this respect.
- Annamaya Kosha (anatomical level): Jattis (simple units of movements), Mudras (gestures for energy generation and conservation), Kriyas (structured movements), Asanas (steady and comfortable postures) along with the dietary modifications and control.
- Pranamaya Kosha (physiological level): Shat Karmas (cleansing actions), various Pranayamas, development of breath awareness, working on breath-movement coordination and the energizing and balancing of the Pranic energy.
- Manomaya Kosha (psychological level): Trataka (concentrated gaze), Dharana (concentration), Dhyana (meditation), Japa and Japa-Ajapa practices are useful. Various aspects of concentration such as the Mandala Dharana and other Yoga Drishti techniques are available for this purpose.
- Vijnanamaya Kosha (intellectual level): Swadhyaya (self analysis), Satsangha (lectures and spiritually uplifting exchange) along with the wonderful Jnana Yoga and Raja Yoga relaxation and concentration practices of Yoga.
- Anandamaya Kosha (universal level): Learning to implement the principles of Karma Yoga (Yoga as skilled action performed without expectation) and following the principle of action in relaxation help us to bring about joy in all our activities. A realization that we live in a blissful universe and that all life is joy is to be brought about in this intervention through use of Bhakti Yoga, Karma Yoga and other aspects like Bhajana, Yogic counselling and Satsangha.
Need for Coordination
The need of the modern age is to have an integrated approach towards therapy and to utilize Yoga therapy in coordination and collaboration with other systems of medicine such as Allopathy, Ayurveda, Siddha and Naturopathy. Physiotherapy and Chiropractice practices may be used with the Yoga if needed. Advice on diet and life style is very important irrespective of the mode of therapy that is employed for a particular patient.
A Word of Caution
A word of caution is also required. Though Yoga and Yoga therapy are very useful in bringing about a state of total health, it is not a miracle cure for all problems. It needs a lot of discrimination on the part of both the therapist as well as the patient. It may not be useful in emergency conditions and there is a strong need to consult a qualified medical doctor where in doubt. Each patient is different and so the therapy has to be moulded to suit the individual needs rather than relying on a specific therapy plan for patients suffering the same medical condition. A very true problem is that there is a different approach of the different schools of Yoga to the same condition. It is better to follow any one system that one is conversant with, rather than trying to mix systems in a “Yogic Cocktail’. One must also be vigilant as there is a strong presence of numerous quacks pretending to be Yoga therapists and this leads to a bad name for Yoga therapy as well as Yoga in general.
Yoga helps us regain the ease we had lost through dis-ease (as implied by sthirasukhamasanam). It also produces mental equanimity (samatvam Yoga uchyate) where the opposites cease to affect (tatodwandwaanabhigatha). This enables us to move from a state of illness and disease to one of health and wellbeing that ultimate allows us to move from the lower animal nature to the higher human nature and finally the highest Divine Nature that is our birthright.
- Yoga: Step by step by Dr Swami Gitananda Giri
- The science of Yoga by IK Taimni
- Asana, Pranayama, Mudra, Bandha by Swami Satyananada
- Yoga its basis and applications by Dr HR Nagendra
- Yoga for health by Dr HR Nagendra and Dr H Nagarathna
- Yoga chikitsa by Dr Ananda Balayogi Bhavanani
- Yoga for health and healing by Dr Ananda Balayogi Bhavanani
- A primer of Yoga theory by Dr Ananda Balayogi Bhavanani