Yoga is basically the technique of summation of our physical and mental faculties for the benefit of our body and mind. This summation of our essential energy of the physical and astral body and of the mind by bringing them in optimal complementarities is the essence of Yoga. Yoga seeks to bring about harmony in the functioning of mind and body and soul. Yoga aims at bringing about freedom from physical as well as mental sickness and thereafter elevating man to the higher levels of consciousness. If enables him to acquire greater strength and endurance. It also aims to bring about spiritual development leading to a state of transcendence or proximity to the Supreme Divinity or God. It has, indeed, a multidimensional sphere of working. It, in effect, has the potential to bring about all round development of man as a spiritual being – development which would elevate him to the state of ultimate bliss called salvation.
Classical Yoga as a philosophy can be sourced to the ancient Hindu Scriptures – Vedas and Upanishads. However it was the sage Patanjali (200 B.C.) who is credited with the task of compiling, systematizing and refining it. He made it lucid, comprehensible and practicable for us. Yoga consists of eight steps – Yama, Niyama, Asana, Pranayama, Pratyahara, Dharna, Dhyana and Samadhi. It is really an eight fold path to human perfection which leads to divine bliss. Here we would be concerned with first four steps only related as they are to the improvement of mental and physical health.
The Five Yamas are–
- Ahimsa (non-violence)
- Satya (Truth)
- Asteya (non-stealing)
- Brahmacharya (celibacy)
- Aparigrah (absence of greed)
The five Niyamas are as mentioned below
- Savaka (purity of mind and body)
- Santosha (contentment)
- Tapa (fortitude)
- Swadhyaya (self study and discourse)
- Ishwarapranidhana (Resigning to the will of God almighty)
Asanas are physical postures of varied types which are intended to correct bodily disorder. It is said that there 84 lakh different types of Asansas! In this chapter utility of few important types of Asanas shall be briefly described. Forming part of the Asanas are also some `Kriyas’ which cleanse the body of accumulated `doshas’or toxins. These Asanas have made Yoga very popular throughout the world because of their power to rid the body of a variety of diseases.
Pranayama refers to the harmonization and regulation of breathing so as to bring about mental relaxation, enhance concentration and will power and above all increase longevity. It is easy to see that Yama, Niyam and Pranayam have great inherent potential to favourably affect mental health. Stress is a great bane of modern life. These three steps of Yoga can reduce or assuage stress as nothing else can. In fact these have been tried by millions across the world with great success. Coming back to Asanas (Yogic postures or exercises), names of some specific Asanas shall be indicated here along with their beneficial effects on the body. For details of performing these Asanas, the reader is advised to refer to any standard book on Yogasanas which provides illustrated description of postures and techniques of performing them.
- Kunjal Kriya – It is a technique of cleansing the stomach of the excess doshas ie `Kapha’, `Pitta’ and `Vata’. It is an excellent means of keeping many ailments at bay and also of obviating the ill effects of pollution that each one of us has to suffer.
- Surya Namaskar – It is stated to be the `king’ of `Asanas’. It provides an exercise of all the external organs of the body and makes them supple and strong. It improves digestion and sleep.
- Vrikshasana – It strengthens the muscles and connective tissues of the feet and improves the overall body balance.
- Veerabhadrasana – It gives a proper shape to the muscles of the feet and makes calves and thighs flexible by removing their stiffness. It also tones up the functioning of the stomach and liver.
- Parshvakonasana – It provides strength to the knee and thigh. It makes the chest and shoulder broad and strong. It removes extra fat from the waist and hips. It is beneficial in Sciatica and Rheumatism. It also helps in bowel movement.
- Ushtrasana – It exercises all organs of the thorax. Especially it is beneficial for the neck as it removes the disorders of this organ. It is also good for thighs and the back.
- Halasana – It improves circulation of blood and tones up the heart. It is of benefit in backache. It invigorates the digestive system. It reduces the stiffness of hands and fingers. It also brings down pain and inflammation due to Gout and Rheumatism.
- Sarvangasana – It is the mother of all Asanas. It is a potent remedy for many a disease. It wonderfully tones up glands of the neck region. It directs the flow of blood towards the heart. This gives relief in problems like breathlessness, palpitation and asthma. The great soothing effect of this Asana reduces stress, irritability and sleeplessness. It helps the body to rid itself of toxins and also aids bowel movement. It is also of good benefit in hernia and urinary problems.
- Matsyasana – It is helpful in giving proper shape to the chest and waist and facilitates adequate quantity of air to be inhaled and exhaled. It is also beneficial in piles and fistula.
- Paschimottasana – It tones up all the digestive organs and helps to set right any disorders of kidneys. It invigorates the spinal cord and the heart. It is an excellent asana for correcting the disorders of sex organs. It helps in regulation of sexual habits and is, therefore, important for achieving `brahmacharya’ or sexual continence.
- Shavasana – It is an excellent technique of relaxing the body and mind and is of undoubted, great use in stress management.
There are many, many more asanas like Bhujangasana, Shirshasana, Padmasana, Dhanurasana etc. It will not be possible to write about all. However to supplement the above write-up giving benefits of selected asanas, asanas for use in the treatment of a few common diseases are also given as follows. Some Kriyas (cleansing techniques) and Pranayama types have been added whenever required.
- Chronic constipation – Tadasana, Makarasana.
- Flatuent dyspepsia – Pashimottasana, Vajrasana, Pawanamuktasana
- Obesity – Sarpasana, Dhanurasana, Paschimottasana, Kumbhaka , Kapalabhati
- Diabetes – Ardha Matsyendrasana, Paschimottasana, Janusar, Suptavajrasana
- Hypertension – Padmasana, Shithilasana
- Asthma – Bhujangasana, Shalabhasana, Konasana, Ushtasana, Matsyasana
- Throat diseases – Jalaneti, Sutraneti, Jalandhar banda, Ujjayi Pranayama
- Headache – Halasana, Shavasana, Paschimottasana
- Gout, Arthritis – Padmasana, Paschimottasana, Sarvangasana, Ujjayi Pranayama
- Heart disease – Shavasana, Dhyana, Ujjayi Pranayama
All Yogic asanas or kriyas are to be learnt and performed strictly under professional supervision. Yogic exercises have produced some remarkable results in the management of intractable diseases. However, Yogasanas cannot always be depended upon as sole techniques of therapy. Yoga therapy is an excellent accessory therapy. At the same time, Yoga has great utility in prevention of disease also but the importance of diet and other lifestyle regulation cannot be discounted in any treatment.