Yoga And The Medical Science
Modern medical science and Yoga are rational, scientific and universal in outlook and hence are natural allies. Their combination has the potential to provide us with a holistic health science that will be a boon for the psychosomatic health of our masses. Yoga involves a holistic approach to healing and integrates healing with the culture, diet, environment, and tradition.
Modern allopathic medicine that originated from Greco-Roman Medicine and Northern European traditions is built on the science of anatomy, physiology, and biochemistry and the structure-function relationship between cells, tissues, and organs. Allopathic medicine focuses on diagnosis, treatment, and cure for acute illnesses via potent pharmaceutical drugs, surgery, radiation, stem cell and other treatment modalities.
Modern medical advancements provide the rationale for the integration of various traditional healing techniques including Yoga to promote healing, health, and longevity. It is imperative that advances in medicine include the holistic approach of Yoga to face the current challenges in health care. The antiquity of Yoga must be united with the innovations of modern medicine to improve quality of life throughout the world.
Modern medicine has the ultimate aim and goal of producing a state of optimum physical and mental health thus ultimately leadings to the optimum well being of the individual. Yoga also aims at the attainment of mental and physical well being though the methodology differs. While modern medicine has a lot to offer mankind in its treatment and management of acute illness, accidents and communicable diseases, Yoga has lot to offer in terms of preventive, promotive and rehabilitative methods in addition to many management methods to tackle emerging challenges like Obesity, Diabetes, Heart, Joint and Psychosomatic Disorders etc to modern medical science.
ANATOMY AND PHYSIOLOGY:
The study of anatomy and physiology is a great meeting point for modern medicine and Yoga. Yoga therapists and practitioners can benefit from the intricate and detailed ‘break-down study’ of modern medicine where the body is broken down into many systems, then into many organs, many tissues and finally into billions of cells including the emerging concept of stem cells. On the other hand the Yogic ” holistic” view of the Pancha Kosha (the five sheathed existence) can help modern doctors realize that we are not just, ‘one-body’ organisms but have four more bodies that are equally if not more important. We are a manifestation of the Divine and have, not only the physical body but also an energy body, a mental body, a body of wisdom and a body of eternal bliss. An understanding of the psychic anatomy and physiology of Nadis, Chakras and Bindus when coupled with the practical understanding of the details of the physical body can inspire real knowledge of the self in all health care personnel. Maharishi Mahesh Yogi has tried to correlate 37 areas of human physiology with 37 areas of intelligence or consciousness as available in Vedic literature. Some of the examples are the correlation between Nyaya and the Thalamus as well as Samkya and the types of neuronal activity.
In his excellent book, “The Shambala Guide to Yoga”, Dr. George Feuerstein says, “Long before physicists discovered that matter is energy vibrating at a certain rate, the Yogis of India had treated this body-mind as a playful manifestation of the ultimate power (Shakti), the dynamic aspect of Reality. They realized that to discover the true Self, one had to harness attention because the energy of the body-mind follows ‘attention’. A crude example of this process is the measurable increase of blood flow to our fingers and toes that occurs when we concentrate on them. Yogis are very careful about where they place their attention, for the mind creates patterns of energy, causing habits of thought and behavior that can be detrimental to the pursuit of genuine happiness”. Professor Dr SV Rao, an eminent medical doctor and Yoga Scientist says, “Yoga is a science because it is verifiable. Yoga as a science of living is also an art. Yoga, therefore, may be defined as the science and art of optimum living”
PREVENTION OF DISEASE:
As per the concept of great Maharishi Patanjali, Yogic lifestyle that includes the Yama and Niyama can help prevent a great many of the modern diseases like Hepatitis B and AIDS. Cleanliness that is taught through Soucha can help prevent and limit the spread of contagious and infectious diseases. Mental peace and right approach to Yoga such as Samatvam (equanimity of mind) and Vairagya (dispassionate detachment) can help prevent many of the psychosomatic ailments running wild in the modern world. If these Yogic values as well as practices such as Asanas, Pranayamas, Kriyas and Dhyana are inculcated in the modern human race, we can prevent virtually all diseases that abound today. However the ‘will’ to do so is also of paramount importance as there is no money or fame in prevention and we don’t know what we have prevented because we have prevented it from happening!
To quote the eminent neurosurgeon Dr B Ramamurthi, “The widespread revival of the Science of Yoga by modern Yogic teachers and Gurus, bodes good for mankind. The only way to keep fit & healthy is through the Science of Yoga, which transcends all religions and cults. It is a science of the mind and the body and needs to be practiced by all human beings to ensure their own future”.
The practice of Yoga leads to the efficient functioning of the body with homeostasis through improved functioning of the psycho-immuno-neuro-endocrine system. A balanced equilibrium between the sympathetic and parasympathetic wings of the autonomic nervous system leads to a dynamic state of health. Yoga not only benefits the nervous system but also the cardiovascular, respiratory, digestive, muscular, endocrine and immune system.
Hath Yoga introduced by Yogi Swatmarama, a sage of 15th century India, in his book Hatha Yoga Pradipika, is the most practiced form of body discipline. In the last forty to fifty years, Hath Yoga has also been accepted as ” Therapeutic Modality” all over the world , supported by many scientific studies Various types of yogic ‘ Kriyas’ or techniques, may be Asans, pranayama, mudras, bandhas and Meditation etc have been administered to demonstrate their effect on health and diseases in a scientific manner.
Yoga has a lot to offer in terms of psychosomatic disorders and in stress related disorders such as diabetes, asthma, irritable bowel syndrome, epilepsy, hypertension, back pain and other functional disorders. Yoga can help reduce and in some cases eliminate drug dosage and dependence in patients suffering from diabetes mellitus, hypertension, epilepsy, anxiety, bronchial asthma, constipation, dyspepsia, insomnia, arthritis, sinusitis and dermatological disorders.
Asanas are probably the best tool to disrupt any learned patterns of wrong muscular efforts. Pranayama and Pratyahara are extremely efficient techniques to divert the individual’s attention from the objects of the outer environment, to increase a person’s energy potential and ‘interiorize’ them, to achieve control of one’s inner functioning.
We must remember Plato’s words when he said, “The treatment of the part shouldn’t be attempted without a treatment of the entirety,” meaning that the treatment of the body without treating the mind and soul would be waste of time. Efficient medical scientist does the same. A smiling, caring physician with sweet voice and gentle touch is more of a Yogic therapist.
Yoga can help those recovering from accidents and physical traumas to get back on their feet faster and with better functional ability.
Lajpat Rai, an eminent Physiologist has conducted extensive study on Chakras and Kundalini Jagran. According to Kundalini Yoga, the potential energy located in the Chakras can be converted into kinetic form either spontaneously or by meditational practices. This phenomenon of conversion of potential energy into kinetic energy has been termed as “Awakening of Kundalini” which leads to self actualization. Kundalini Chakras are claimed to be vortices of energy spinning in circles like transformers. They are said to govern and regulate the flow and dispersion of power (etheric or pranic energy of yoga) in an electrical human infrastructure comprised of an extraordinary circuitry of 72 thousand subtle channels (sukshama prana nadis). Quantitatively, the five chakras on the spine are further claimed to be endowed with the qualities and attributes possessed and manifested by five cosmic elements of earth, water, fire, air and ether respectively. Intensive meditation on the chakras sites at spine and cranium by way of visualization of a given chakra symbolically in terms of a number of petals of a lotus, its colour, sound and other ingredients surcharges the body-mind-consciousness complex at all the five levels.
Sahasrara: The Crown Chakra
Thinking and engaging in activity can physically alter the brain, a concept called, “neuroplasticity”. Repeated thoughts and activities can turn our genes on or off.
Modern scientists have observed that when you think repeatedly, concentrate or meditate, you turn on genes to make proteins that change the structure of the neurons and increase the number of connections between brain cells. In essence, neurons become better communicators.
University of Wisconsin neuroscientist Richard Davidson demostrated the effect of meditation on the brain. He measured the brain activity of the novices and highly practiced Budhist monks, and found that , unlike the novices, when the monks meditated on “unconditional loving-kindness and compassion,” they generated powerful gama rays- the type involved in higher brain processes like perception and consciousness. Thus, the repeated mental activity of meditation altered brain functioning.
Yoga teaches us that the cause of most disease is through under (Ajjeranatvam), over (Atijeeranatvam) or wrong (Kujeeranatvam) digestion. Yoga also teaches us about the approach to food, the types of food as well as the importance of timings and moderation in diet. A combination of the modern aspects of diet with a dose of Yogic thought can help us eat not only the right things but also in the right way and at the right time thus assuring good health and longevity. Eminent Physiologist Prof Lajpat Rai in his vast scientific studies has given great importance to Yogic Dietary Regimen and has observed the effect of Fasting Therapy to buildup the internal milieu by restoring the homeostatic mechanisms.
Relaxation is a key element of any Yoga therapy regimen and must not be forgotten at any cost. Shavasana has been reported to help a lot in hypertensive patients and practices such as Savitri Pranayama, Chandra Pranayama, Kayak Kriyas, Yoga Nidra, Anulom Viloma Prakriyas and Marmanasthanam Kriya are also available to the person requiring this state of complete relaxation. It is important to remember that relaxation on its own is less effective than relaxation following activity.
Aging is inevitable and Yoga can help us to age gracefully. Healthy diet, regular exercise, avoidance of negative thoughts & habits and cultivation of the positive attitude and a healthy lifestyle can help us to age with dignity. Yoga can also help our ‘silver citizens’ retain their mental ability and prevent degenerative disorders such as Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s and various other aging problems. Swami Gitananda Giri, Yogashri Krishnamacharya, Kannaiah Yogi, Swami Suddananda Bharathi, Yogeshwarji, Yogendraji, Swami Ram Dev and Padma Bhushan BKS Iyengar are but a few of the Yogis who have shown us that its is possible to grow old without losing any of the physical or mental faculties of youth.
LIFE STYLE CHANGES:
Yoga helps patients to learn to make an effort and change their life style for the better so that their health can improve. Life style modification is the buzzword in modern medical circles and Yoga can play a vital role in this regard. Yogic diet, Asanas, Pranayamas, Mudras, Kriyas and relaxation are an important aspect of lifestyle modification. Dr Dean Ornish, an eminent American medical doctor who has shown that Yogic lifestyle can reverse heart disease. He says, “Yoga is a system of perfect tools for achieving union as well as healing.”
Scientists such as Dr BK Anand, Dr KK Datey, Dr KN Udupa, Dr B Ramamurthy, Dr W Selvamurthy, Dr T Desiraju, Dr Nagendra, Dr Nagaratna, Dr Shirley Telles, Dr MV Bhole, Dr Rajapurkar, Dr Mittimohan, Dr Lajpat Rai and Dr Madanmohan and Yogacharya Dr.Ananda BalayogiBhavananihave contributed extensively towards the scientific understanding of Yoga Vidya and Yoga Vidhi
Dr VSSM Rao writes that, “The tradition of Yoga is so perfect that we have to seek ways of expounding it in modern scientific terminology instead of simply evaluating it in terms of current concepts of science, which is expanding so rapidly that a time may come when man would like to live by his intuition rather than by scientific planning, bristling with conflicts and balancing a number of variables not completely understood.”
This is because Yoga has a sound system of etiology, diagnosis and pathogenesis of disease. Thus, we have a complete system by itself in Yoga
The importance of Yoga in India is known from the time of Krishna which is evident from Gita.
Lord Krishna in Bhagavad Gita (vs. 16-17, Chapter VI) has said, “Yoga is not for him who eats too much or too little. It is not for him who sleeps too much or too little. It is for him who is temperate in food and recreation, temperate in his exertion at work, temperate in sleep, yoga puts an end to all sorrows”
With the increasing evidence gathered by modern medical scientists in coordination with Yoga practioners, they have no hitch to say their patients ‘Never fear shadows. They simply mean there is light somewhere nearby’
‘I burn my candle at both ends;
It may not last the night.
But oh! my friends, and ah! my foes,
It makes a lovely light.’
Dr M. R. Jain is presently Medical Director of Jain Eye Clinic & hospital & a leading Ophthalmologist of the country with special interest in Glaucoma, Cataract Phaco surgery & Squint. He has developed interest in Yoga & studied its effect on health. He has written a Book on SCIENCE OF YOGA & HEALTH.