It was 1977-78 when Eknathji Ranade, the founder of Vivekananda Kendra movement called us and asked "as medical professionals of this motherland, what is your dream?’’ We said that we could develop several hospitals giving high tech modern medical facilities to the needy brothers of this land. But he said that it is not enough if you just duplicate the hospitals in the existing style. Our mission should be to evolve techniques to unfold the inner potential divinity of man to heal and grow towards better and better positive health. And also establish the efficacy of our ancient science of yoga, which is no less than 5000 years old, in scientific terms as a socially relevant science. He also said that Bharat should have several referal holistic healing centres where people from all over the world would come over and benefit from this unique knowledge of yoga therapy. He was the mastermind who encouraged us to go round the country, study at the feet of Yoga Gurus who had insights into this healing art. It was a great experience to go round several Yogashrams, talk to patients who had benefited from yoga therapy and record their progress.
It was our main task to learn ‘what technique for what disease?’ from these masters. After obtaining convincing evidence of the healing potential of the practices that had helped these patients, we sat down to compile the data and prepare the list of practices for different conditions. To our surprise it was all a great mess. The patients had improved very well but it was dynamic asanas in one centre, slow pace of asanas in another, only Pranayama in yet another or only meditation in another. To add to our confusion one guru would use a posture or breathing to cure a condition whereas another guru would prohibit the same posture or breathing for the same condition. For example, if Sarvangasana was never to be practiced for hypertensive patients as per one centre, the same would be the recommended asana in another centre.
A little deeper thinking gave us the clue to decipher this riddle. All these patients using any of the practices had actually practiced ‘Yoga’ - the state of inner tranquility, mastery and freedom from fears and anxieties. And this was the common factor that helped all of them towards complete recovery. Now it became simple for us to understand Swami Vivekananda’s statement that the goal of healing is to unfold the potential divinity by one or more or all of the four aspects of yoga, namely Karma, Bhakti, Jnana or Raja yoga. Thus yoga therapy is not organ specific but it is a science that works holistically to strengthen the inner being.
The next bigger challenge was to put together the concepts learnt from these Gurus, the knowledge base from traditional texts, the growing knowledge of pathophysiology of diseases from modern science and the feasibility of teaching them to our patients in an acceptable and enjoyable fashion.
We started scanning through the traditional texts of yoga and spirituality. The concept of 5 layered existence of all of us as postulated and described in great detail in Taittireya Upanisat as Panca Kosa was found to be the most holistic concept of human existence which is in no way contradicting the modern systematic approach to the understanding of human body. It is more generalised, holistic and hence can contain in it the physical body [Annamaya Kosa] and the next three layers Pranamaya, Manomaya, and Vijnanamaya Kosas which are called the subtle bodies in Vedanta and spiritual lore. The fifth kosa the Anandamaya Kosa is the causal body from where all other layers take birth. Thus we got a holistic and concrete perspective of human existence as the foundation for yoga therapy.
Disease, in modern medical perspective is considered as dysfunctioning of organs and systems which may be due to congenital defects, external atmospheric agents like allergens, toxins, pollutants or infectious germs. Modern science does recognize that the other major cause for diseases could be the factor of internal imbalances like mental restlessness, emotional upsurges or intellectual conflicts that lead to stress reactions.
The concept of disease according to yoga is found in the treatise called Yogavasistha. According to this text, the modern diseases such as asthma, diabetes, hypertension, and anxiety are called “Adhija Vyadhi”(stress born diseases) originating in Manomaya Kosa- the astral layer of our existence. They arise from our actions that are governed by our emotions [strong likes and dislikes] rather than what is right or what is wrong. Often in this phase, we respond to our emotions - the pull of senses knowing fully well that we are going against what is right. This is called Prajnaparadha in Ayurveda-a mistake at the level of inner consciousness. It is this ‘going against what is right - the cosmic law ‘that causes an imbalance, a dis-ease at the Manomaya Kosa called Adhi.