UNDERSTANDING Yoga as a Therapy

tingsha chimes on a mat

BY DR ANANDA BALAYOGI BHAVANANI

Yoga may be said to be as ancient as the universe itself, since it is said to have been originated by Hiranyagarba, the causal germ plasm itself. This timeless art and science of humanity sprouted from the fertile soil of Sanathana Dharma, the traditional pan-Indian culture that continues to flourish into modern times.

Today, Yoga has become popular as a therapy, and most people come to it seeking to alleviate their physical, mental and emotional imbalances. We must understand, however, that the use of Yoga as a therapy is a much more recent happening in the wonderful long history of Yoga – which has historically served to promote spiritual evolution. Yoga helps unify all aspects of our very being: the physical body, in which we live our daily life; the energy body, without which we will not have the capacity to do what we do; the mind body, which enables us to do our tasks with mindfulness; the higher intellect, which gives us clarity; and, finally, the universal body, which gives us limitless bliss.

All aspects of our life – physical, energetic, mental, intellectual and universal are unified through the practice of Yoga, which may also be described as the science of right-use-ness, that is, of using our body, emotions, and mind responsibly and in the most appropriate manner. One of the best definitions of Yoga given by Swami Gitananda Giri is that it is a “way of life.” It is not something you do for five minutes a day or twenty minutes a day. It is indeed a “24/7 x 365” lifestyle.

Illness, disease and disorders are so common in this world, and people everywhere are desperately seeking relief from their suffering. Yoga helps us to think better and to live better; indeed, it helps us improve ourselves in everything we do. Hence it holds out the promise of health, well-being and harmony. According to the Bhagavad Gita, an ancient text which can be said to be a Yoga Shastra (seminal textual source of Yoga), Lord Krishna the Master of Yoga (Yogeshwar) defines Yoga as dukkhasamyogaviyogam yoga samjnitham, meaning that Yoga is the disassociation from the union with suffering. Pain, suffering, disease – Yoga offers a way out of all of these.

One of the foremost concepts of Yoga therapy is that the mind, which is called adhi, influences the body, thus creating vyadhi, the disease. This is known as the adhi vyadhi or adhija vyadhi, where the mind brings about the production of disease in the physical body. In modern language, this is called psychosomatic illness. Virtually every health problem that we face today either has its origin in psychosomatics or is worsened by the psychosomatic aspect of the disease. The mind and the body seem to be continuously fighting each other. What the mind wants, the body won’t do, and what the body wants, the mind won’t do. This creates a dichotomy, a disharmony, in other words, a disease. Yoga helps restore balance and equilibrium by virtue of the internal process of unifying mind, body and emotions. The psychosomatic stress disorders that are so prevalent in today’s world can be prevented, controlled and possibly even cured via the sincere and dedicated application of Yoga as a therapy.

Psychosomatic disorders go through four major phases. The first is the psychic phase, in which the stress is located essentially in the mind. There is jitteriness, a sense of unnatural tension, a sense of not being ‘at ease’. If the stress continues, the psychic stage then evolves into the psychosomatic stage. At this point, the mind and body are troubling each other and fluctuations, such as a dramatic rise in blood pressure, blood sugar or heart rate, begin to manifest intermittently. If this is allowed to continue, one reaches the somatic stage, where the disease settles down in the body and manifests permanently. At this stage, it has become a condition that requires treatment and therapy. In the fourth, organic stage, the disease settles permanently into the target organs. This represents the end stage of the disease.

Yoga as a therapy works very well at both the psychic and psychosomatic stages. Once the disease enters the somatic stage, Yoga therapy as an adjunct to other therapies may improve the condition. In the organic stage, Yoga therapy’s role is more of a palliative, pain relieving and rehabilitative nature. Of course, the major role of Yoga is as a preventive therapy, preventing that which is to come. Maharishi Patanjali tells us in his Yoga Darshan, heyamdukkhamanagatham— “prevent those miseries that are yet to come.”

If the practice of Yoga is taken up during childhood, we can prevent so many conditions from occurring later on in life. This is primary prevention. Once the condition occurs, once the disease has set in, we can use secondary prevention, which is more controlling the condition to whatever extent we can. Tertiary prevention is done once the condition has occurred, as we try to prevent the complications, those that affect the quality, and even the quantity, of a patient’s life.

I would like to conclude this perspective with a word of caution. Yoga therapy is not a magic therapy! It is not a ‘one pill for all ills.’ There should be no false claims or unsubstantiated tall claims made in this field. Yoga therapy is also a science and must therefore be approached in a scientific, step-by-step manner. It should be administered primarily as a one-on-one therapy that allows the therapist to modify the practices to meet the needs of the individual. It is not a “one size fits all” or “one therapy fits all” approach!

When we use Yoga as a therapy, we need to consider both the nature of the person—his or her age, gender and physical condition, and the nature and stage of the disorder. A step-by-step approach must include a detailed look at all aspects of diet, necessary lifestyle modifications, attitude reconditioning through Yogic counseling, as well as the appropriate practices. All of these are integral components of holistic, or rather, wholesome Yoga therapy. When such an approach is adopted, tremendous changes will manifest in the lives of the patients and their families. The quality of life improves drastically and, in many cases, so does the quantity.

As human beings, we fulfill ourselves best when we help others. Yoga is the best way for us to consciously evolve out of our lower, sub-human nature, into our elevated human and humane nature. Ultimately, this life-giving, life-enhancing and life-sustaining science of humanity allows us to achieve in full measure the divinity that resides within each of us.

I wish you a happy, healthy and fruitful Sadhana in Yoga. May your potential manifest in a wholesome, harmonious manner.

Yogacharya Dr. ANANDA BALAYOGI BHAVANANI MBBS, ADY, DPC, DSM, PGDFH, PGDY, MD (AM), FIAY, C-IAYT Deputy Director CYTER, MGMCRI, SBVU (www.sbvu.ac.in) Chairman, ICYER at Ananda Ashram, Pondicherry (www.icyer.com)

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REFERENCES:

1. Bhatt, G.P. (2004) The Forceful Yoga: Being the Translation of HathaYoga-pradipika, Gheranda-samhita and Siva-samhita (P. Singh, R. Bahadur, & S. C. Vasu, Trans.). New Delhi, India: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers

2. Bhavanani, A.B. (2011) Understanding the Yoga Darshan, Pondicherry, India: Dhivyananda Creations

3. Bhavanani, A.B. (2013) Yoga Chikitsa: Application of Yoga as a therapy, Pondicherry, India: Dhivyananda Creations

4. Bhavanani, A.B. (2014) A Primer of Yoga Theory (4th ed.) Pondicherry, India: Dhivyananda Creations

5. Bhavanani, M.D. (2010) The History of Yoga from Ancient to Modern Times, Pondicherry, India: Satya Press

6. Feuerstein, G. (2001) The Yoga Tradition: Its history, literature, philosophy, and practice, Prescott, Ariz: Hohm Press

7. Feuerstein, G. (2003) The Deeper Dimension of Yoga Theory and Practice, Boston Massachusetts, USA: Shambala Publications

8. Giri, G. S. (1999) Ashtanga Yoga of Patanjali, Pondicherry, India: Satya Press

9. Giri, G.S. (1976) Yoga: Step-by-step, Pondicherry, India: Satya Press

10. Ramanathan, M. (2007) Applied Yoga: Application of Yoga in Various Fields of Human Activity. Pondicherry: Aarogya Yogalayam

11. Sovik, R., & Bhavanani, A.B. (2016)‘History, Philosophy, and Practice of Yoga’ in Khalsa, S.B.; Cohen, L.; McCall, T, and Telles, S (ed.), The Principles and Practice of Yoga in Health Care (pp.17-29). East Lothian, UK: Handspring

GUNAS, ELEMENTS and DOSHAS

Guna Dosha and Elements

Just how do the doshas connect with gunas and elements? We asked yoga teacher and Ayurvedic practitioner Robyn Lynch to give us her insight.

These three factors are often brought together when we are trying to understand the nature of being and the nature of balance.

I have found with Ayurveda that the more you know, the more doorways open to different levels of understanding and certainly these three, four if you include Prakruti, are part of this expansive thinking.

Sattva, Rajas and Tamas Quote

Sattva, rajas and tamas are the three gunas that create nature or Prakruti. The three are intertwined, constantly in a state of flux and flow, creating, transforming and completing or destroying. For equilibrium, the three gunas need to be balanced. There needs to be creation, action and completion. There also needs to be not too much or too little of any of these or imbalances occur.

Gunas create our nature and affect the balance of the elements within us and therein our Doshic balance. When I was studying Ayurveda, we learnt about the gunas prima

rily as affecting our mind state.

It is this mind state that then affects the choices we make and that affects our doshic balance or imbalance.

So for example when we spend too much time watching movies, drinking hot chocolate and eating cake, these are all tamasic attributes. Through these tamasic choices, the level of tamas rises within us and we increase the earth and water elements. These earth and water elements constitute Kapha so then we see t

he Kapha quality of heaviness, cloudiness and denseness being increased in our body and mind.

When we are looking to get out of this tamasic state, we need to bring in transformation – the rajasic guna characteristic. This will help to “fire us up” to make choices that are more beneficial for us. These choices, which could be more activity, foods with heating and digesting herbs, even boot camp, could take us out of the tamasic state and create transformation.

If we maintained this rajasic state, we would burn out, however it is necessary to draw us out of the tamasic state. Too much rajas, heated and spicy food, too much activity, too much competition will increase the elements of heat and water in our cons

titution. This is our Pitta element and we might find we become inflamed,

physically with a rash or reflux or emotionally with anger or judgments.

Then once we are out of the tamasic state and have moved into rajas, then weneed to cool that down a little and maintain a sattvic way of being, where we feel balanced. Although sattva is often the one that we are seeking, we still need some rajas and some tamas to keep us on an even keel.

The other two elements, ether and air make up the doshic quality of Vata. Vata is light and responsible for movement within the body as well as the nervous system and enthusiasm. When there is too much of these elements, Vata becomes aggravated and our mind lacks stability, we can become fearful and anxious, our body’s movements can be too fast or too slow or go in the wrong direction, we can feel unstable, physically cold and ungrounded. In this case, we may need to bring in some heavier foods, some slower activities, such as rest – which actually has a tamasic quality.

Imbalance in the three gunas may cause imbalance in the five elements and the three doshic humours, which creates poor health. When we understand the interplay of these three aspects, the elements, the gunas and the doshas , we are better able to obtain and maintain equilibrium and through that create harmony, develop longevity and good health.

Check out Robyn’s website: www.perfecthealthcentre.com.au

Robyn Lynch has been a long time lecturer on the IYTA Yoga Teacher Training course and is a member of IYTA.

How to Theme your Yin Class

Yin Yoga teaching is very different.  Recall how we cue each Hatha yoga posture.  We attend to the warm-up of muscles, then the placement and
alignment of feet, hands, spine, knees, pelvis, shoulders; then the activation of muscles – lengthening, pressing, rotation, tucking; all the while
cuing their breath in a controlled way.  We do this to optimise the safety, depth or opportunity within the pose.

In Yin Yoga we find the general shape of the pose, explore the “Edge” and release into it – and that is it. Our biggest challenge is if a student has injuries/pain and we need to tailor modifications or alternatives.

Hatha teaching feels like a continuous stream of instructions and as teachers, we are constantly talking. Yin Yoga gives us time, space and peace. And then, even more so, in that, students will hold postures for around 5 minutes – so we can go on an inward focused adventure, exploring, observing the breath, a breathing pattern or technique, the mind, a focal point, a visualisation, an awareness of energy, mudra, emotion, feeling or space -all while students are in the pose.

So, themes and planning a class becomes a creative opportunity to take your students on a journey deeper into their practice. We choose a theme and then
weave the breathing and the mindfulness into the poses – coming to a “pinnacle” mental state or awareness for the class.

Below are some ideas of class themes using the Chinese Meridian Theory. I have found this to be my easiest and quickest route to a class plan – but there
are 100’s of themes that you could use – from the body, to a poem, to the weather……

Meridians and Five elements

The meridians are pathways for energy (qi) to flow and together with the Chinese Five Element theory, they are a fabulous way to align your classes.

Five Elements – the five Chinese elements are Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal and Water. Each element has two meridians associated with it –
an internal one (yin) and an external one (yang). Each element aligns with a season. So, you can either take one posture from each of the elements
for a wholistic class, or choose a season and focus on that element/pair of meridians. For example, for Spring you would focus on Wood and the Liver
and Gallbladder meridians, and chose poses that work along those energy lines such as butterfly, dragonfly, happy baby, square, sleeping swan and shoelace. Or go even more focused – and chose one meridian as your theme.

Each element also has a related colour, time and dominant/vulnerable organ. So, you could focus a class on releasing anger and irritability (Wood). Or
considering the Chinese clock highlights different elements according to the time of day, so if your class is at 5pm – the time of the Kidney meridian
energy then you can focus on poses for the Kidney, Urinary Bladder and Water element.

Element

Colour

Organ

Time

Wood green/brown Liver/Gall bladder 11pm – 3am
Fire red/orange Heart/Small intestine 11am – 3pm
Earth light yellow/brown Spleen/Stomach 7am – 11am
Metal white/grey Lung/Large intestine 3am – 7am
Water blue/black Kidney/Urinary bladder 3pm – 7pm

Once you have identified the physical postures and the order or flow of the poses – then we start to add the icing on the cake – the breathing and the
mindfulness that are related to the theme. For example, I use a qigong Water breath and the Ocean breath (Ujjayi) when working with Water, Kidney or
Urinary Bladder. The Water element is a cascading, descending energy – totally soft and yielding – and yet powerful in how it affects the whole environment. The natural cycle of water – from rain to ocean to sky; or just dancing with dolphins… there is a wealth of imagery and visualisations to play
with.

The cherry is that delicious moment when the class is poised at its deepest state of calm and peace. And that is when you totally shut up – and let them
“marinate” in the pose.

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