The tradition of Yoga in healing is a very ancient one. The ashrams of the yogis have always been places of refuge from mental and physical diseases. In the Ayurvedicsciences, mental diseases are called the adhis, such as anger, jealousy, and so forth--the psycho-spiritual failures that often lead to disease. These are in addition to other, agantuka, exterior causes, such as infections. The adhis can only be healed by those who are steeped in the positive psycho-spiritual methods. In the ashrams of India, spiritual progress and physical re-training in health always went hand in hand. In the Tamilnadu State of India, archeologists have found temples with hospitals attached, from as long as 1,500 years ago.
It is clear, therefore, that the use of Yoga as a therapy is not a purely modern, western invention. It is steeped in the yogic tradition. I recall a number of episodes concerning my Master, Swami Rama of the Himalayas, with regard to this fact. Often a seeker would arrive at his Institute seeking spiritual guidance. Swami Rama would call one of his devotee doctors and order to get this person tested for any heart, liver, or other imbalances or disorders.
The seeker would protest, "Swamiji, I am in perfect health; I have come for spiritual guidance." But Swami Rama's order to the doctors was firm. The person would be tested, would be prescribed a therapy-- dietary and exercise discipline, etc. For this particular devotee, this is where spiritual progress began. Many Yoga therapists were given Swami Rama's thorough training in using Yoga to confer this benefit.
The practitioners of Yoga who learned from the teachers of India must have imbibed similar traditions and modulated them to serve the therapeutic needs of Americans..
Because the system of Yoga is so all-rounded and complete, it has become popular. It leaves no area of human personality or conduct untouched, unmodulated, and it is this completeness that has made Yoga therapy so popular.
The role of research in Yoga
Scientific research in various areas of meditation and related fields has been going on for at least 75 years. It has nothing, per se, to offer a yogi, in realizing his/her internal goals. But research does offer scientists and Yoga practitioners with a modern mind set a way to understand the processes by which an act of pure will, such as concentration or internal relaxation, brings about positive psycho-physiological or neuro-physiological changes. There is a concrete demonstration of the extremely beneficial effects on the individual's mental and physical health, which in turn, also can effect desirable improvements in family and social relationships.
However, I am greatly pained when I see that, in a body-bound society, Yoga often becomes merely a tool for physical fitness, stripped of its true essence: spirituality by personal experience.
Take, for example, biofeedback. It is obvious that training the mind in a certain direction helps to restore long-lost controls over the faculties we have forgotten in ourselves. The Yogi has already discovered these controls and these faculties. S/he has nothing new to learn from these technologies. S/he uses this "tecknowledgy" (SVB's neologism) to convince the commonly skeptical world.
Why would we want to convince them? For the same reason that a mother helps the child to discover the ability to walk and talk, and helps him/her develop these potentials to the fullest.
Swami Rama often said that human beings are an unfinished product. It is by re-discovering their spiritual entity that they are brought to a 'finish', a completeness, a fullness. Whatever will help a Yogi to accomplish this purpose for human beings, s/he will resort to that.
For six and half decades I have practiced Yoga-nidra, conscious sleep. I only know the way to experience this subjective state. No philosopher or logician or scientist needs to convince me that such an internal state exists. Until I met my Master, I practiced Yoga-nidra naturally, and read this word in the texts, but did not know that the word referred to this particular subjective state. Upon sitting at the feet of the Master, I found out the equation of the word and the state. Then I heard of his experiments at the Menninger Foundation (see note) and realized that the brain produces delta frequency of waves during this state. Now, when a scientist wants to see whether I can produce delta at will, I know what subjective state of mind s/he is referring to, but s/he has not taught me the state. S/he has only measured the frequency of the brain waves that are correlates of that state.
It helps me to teach others that scientific proof exists for the validity of what the Indian texts and teachers have taught for thousands of years. It helps enhance their shraddha, faith that they are on the right path.
While I can use all the scientific proof I can muster as an additional argument in favour of our teachings, I would not like students to become dependent on a machine to gain access to spiritual realities. The intrinsic value of biofeedback and neurofeedback is like that of chalk and blackboard to teach a mathematical equation.
© PROMETHEUS 129/2008
PROMETHEUS, Internet Bulletin - News, Politics, Art and Science. Nr. 129, March 2008