Yoga and Health
Swami Adhyatmananda

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What is Yoga?

What is Yoga? The common meaning of the word Yoga is ‘to join’. This word is derived from the Sanskrit element ‘Yuj’. One would normally believe ‘hanging with head down is Yoga’ but this is not correct. A bat remains hung with head down every day through out his life but we do not say a bat is a Yogi. It is equally incorrect to say that one who walks on live charcoal or on water surface is a Yogi. Shree Ramkrishna Dev used to cut a joke about a Yogi who had met him and described that he had conducted Sadhana for twelve years, as a result he had come to Daxineshwar by walking on the surface of the water of Ganges. On hearing this Shree Ramkrishna Dev beat his forehead and said, ‘Oh! Just by paying one paise we can cross Ganges and come back. If we pay two paise (pennies)  to a boatman he will take us for half an hour on a joy ride. The work which can be done in one or two paise (pennies) is achieved by you by wasting twelve years!’

Thus Yoga does not mean remaining hungry or eating too much or remaining wide awake for nights together or to sleep long hours or to remain totally silent continuously or go on speaking without respite. Such imbalance cannot be termed Yoga. Geeta indicates word ‘balanced’ for Yoga. ‘Yuktahara viharascha’, Yoga means “maintaining balance” in eating, walking etc. That is why it is said that Yoga means balance in life style. ‘Samatvam yoga uchyate.’

In addition to this Shree Krishna has given very beautiful and exact definition of Yoga: ‘Yogah karmasu kaushalam’. That means Yoga is one where work is done with dexterity. What is this dexterity in Karma? It means what­ever you do, the job should be exact, it should not be soft-padded or like a loosely filled bag: whatever you do, do it well, properly organized.

That is why Shree Ramkrishna Dev used to say that a lady who could cook very nicely can also meditate very nicely The reason is that cooking performed inattentively will not be tasty. Today you forget to put in salt, tomorrow you put salt twice. It is observed that those who are inattentive persons allow milk to overflow through over heating perhaps twice a week; what could be the reason? ‘Oh, I was not attentive !‘ When mind is alert and stays where the body is, the condition is termed Yoga. But unluckily, while our body is in Chicago, our mind goes to Manchester. If you want to put a thread through the eye of a sewing needle, the thread will not be put through if the end of the thread is bent, left or right. The end will have to be made one pointed. Karma whether it is individual or family job or society job or a public work, one has to be fully alert in performance of job on hand, then only the word Yoga will have carried its proper meaning: That is dexterity.

The above is the generally common understanding. Maharsi Patanjali defines Yoga as control of the leanings of the mind. ‘Yogaschitta vrittinirodhah.’ This is the highest aspect of Yoga as mind is fickle. ‘Oh Ram; Mind roams about in all directions. How it can be fixed in one place? So far as this mind remains fickle, restless, disturbed, Jiva will not be at ease.

The meaning of the word Yoga carries happiness in it. Condition of ‘Viyoga’ is unhappiness. Yoga means peace, plenty, prosperity, development, progress and establishment in permanent soul-consciousness. All those that are to contrary, means restlessness, down-fall and self-deception towards soul. Gurudev Swami Shri Sivananda used to say that the goal of human life is realization of the absolute. God first, world next and self last or preferably, never. The name given to this path to realization of God is Yoga.

Principal Yogas are Karma Yoga, Bhakti Yoga, Jnana Yoga and Dhyana Yoga. Besides there are Nad Yoga, Laya Yoga, Kundalini Yoga, Swara Yoga and others. If one desires to satisfactorily carry out any job, it is essential to have a healthy body Hatha yoga can bestow health. Raja Yoga leads to highest state in the absolute. 


In Raghuvansh, poet Kalidas says ‘Sarir madh yam khalu dharmasadhanam’. That means for acquisition of Dharma or performance of duty, first and foremost importance is given to body Shruti completes the previous saying. Shruti says that ‘dharma, art ha, kama, moxanam, arog yam mooluttamam’ That means to attain the ultimate goal of human life which is to attain Almighty, health is essential.

If we say that body is the first and foremost instrument to obtain the absolute or even to carry out jobs either small or big in life easily and naturally, it is not enough. Body must have no disease. One should have sound health, satisfied mind, steady intellect and there should be desire in the subconscious mind to carry out job on hand perfectly All these are essential. A good student, a householder, an engineer, a doctor, a pleader or an advocate, an artist or a social worker can go up different steps in life and attain different goals beautifully, if he possesses disease-less body and sound mind. For proper and sound health, body and mind, Yoga is essential. Mind is the only cause for happiness or unhappiness in human life. Eyes can observe outside world, but mind can only be observed by mind itself. That is why entry in subtle life from the gross life makes it essential to practise Yoga.

Performance of any job calls for deeply quiet attitude of mind, besides having concentration and soundness of mind. All this becomes possible by means of Yoga. If one regularly performs a few Yogasanas, Pranayamas and Dhyana at fixed hours, then such a Sadhana carried out in conjunction with Yama and Niyama will prepare a man in individual discipline, bodily discipline, vital discipline and discipline of senses. With the control of the senses one can attain the unfathomable element which is beyond mind and intellect.

The life we live is not well defined. How can one imagine a life without conflicts? That is why it has been said in Mantras of marriage ceremony: “Be careful, not to get pricked while plucking a rose. Paths in life are very hard and we only find difficulties there on. There is no charted path in this desert of mundane world, unknown waves arise, tornadoes strike. In such conditions, Oh Shiva, I pray arrange everything well organized”.

In life all times are not alike. Untrained body or mind can get deranged at any moment. Lack of capacity of forbearance and understanding can blow away goodness of human life, juice of life gets dried out. All days cannot be alike. ‘At one time Raja Harischandra travels in Viman (an aeroplane). Same king Harischandra gets to crematory, when on another occasion he gets sold out.’ However, in such conditions only Yaugic life can provide soundness and tidiness along the roadway What is the reason for creation of separating walls of egoism and mineness between a husband and a ‘wife, mother and father and children? It points out to paucity of awareness in us. In modern times either in the west or in the east, the entire society has mental tension as its burning problem. Practice of Yoga develops one bodily, mentally and enhances powers of subtle body also. This Yoga can, in short, fulfill all the requirements of self-control, such as general daily life’s essentials like hunger, having no constipation, getting good sleep, not getting easily disturbed and not getting over emotional. Yoga does fun­damental work of maintaining humanness in a human being. If a human being has turned brutal it needs to help in pacifying the Tamasic attitude in a human being. Yoga converts Rajasik attitude to Sattvik attitude.

Majority of the people carry on with the understanding and belief that we are all engaged in mundane work, so why should we get involved in Yoga? But really this is not the case. We use vacuum cleaner in standing position, clothes are washed in washing machines while standing, dish washer cleans crockery while we stand, there is standing kitchen, even toilets are having western style seats. So where do you have the occasion to sit with folded knees? Yes, if we go to attend a death gathering, we may have to sit with folded feet. But these days chairs are provided there too! We have hardly any exercise for knees. Again overseas countries mainly consume bread and rice. These varieties also include pasta, pizza and coke providing threefold binding for a Jiva in cholesterol, high triglycerides and high blood pressure. In this age of high society, high tech, your complaint will also be high. No surprise!

The working of the body is classified in six parts:

1.       Respiratory system

2.       Circulatory system

3.       Alimentary system

4.       Genito-urinary system

5.       Locomotor system

6.       Nervous system

Yogasana and Pranayama practice cast deep impression on all these systems. By the practice of Yogasana and Pranayama equanimity of mind is established in all difficult situations like need for control over emotions, control of anger, instability of mind, putting a stop on emotionalism, mental soundness, capacity to fight diseases etc. But the essential requirement is that, practice should be continuous and regular. With Yogasana, Pranayama and daily meditation common mass of people can avoid many problems of life. Shri Krishna indicates in the Geeta that this subject as above carries no shortcomings. If with sincerity some little practice is continued, it can give enough capacity to fight so many future problems.

Having considered what Yoga is and why one should practise Yoga, we will now go deep to discuss this subject. 


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