Yoga Hour – Concept of Health
- Shri.N.V.Raghuram and Rev. Ellen O’Brian
Yoga Hour Radio – April 2013: Discussion between Rev. Ellen O’Brian of Center for Spiritual Enlightenment, San Jose, CA and Shri. N.V.Raghuram, Yoga Bharati.
Rev. O’Brian (Umaji): Welcome to the yoga hour, where we open our hearts and minds to the infinity. I am Rev. Ellen Grace O’Brian. I will be sharing with you today some insights and practices from spiritual tradition of yoga, the ancient science yoga, the science of self and God realization. Yoga is a Sanskrit word that means oneness, commonly defined as way of oneness, union or unity. And this refers in the highest way to bringing our attention and awareness to consciously abide in our essential spiritual nature. Yoga is self-realization. It is not just intellectually knowing this truth but realizing it and living in harmony with that truth of our being.
Today we have an opportunity to know how yoga can support us in complete well-being with the holistic understanding. We are blessed to have Yogashree Prof. N.V Raghuram with us today, the spiritual founder and chairman of Yoga Bharati. We will be exploring this ancient wisdom and how they are combining yoga with modern research for health, healing and wellbeing. He has been practicing yoga for more than 30 years and you can learn more about their work at www.yogabharati.org. Welcome Raghuramji, I am so delighted that you are here with us today.
Shri.Raghuram: Namaste, Thank you so much
Rev. O’Brian: Before we begin our conversation about holistic health, we will take a moment to center ourselves: [Umaji conducts a small meditation session]
Today we have an opportunity to look at yoga holistically. Yoga is holistic; it is about being restored to fullness. Often people have just a little glimpse of one facet of yoga; they are familiar with the asanas (physical postures); they see yoga as an exercise or as a philosophy or a meditation practice. Of course, yoga is a complete system that promotes physical, emotional intellectual spiritual health and well-being. How do you see as the yogic view of health?
Shri.Raghuram: Health does not mean just the physical health but it is total personality. Health is our own nature. It is not that we have to do something to be healthy but we have to get back to our nature and we regain health. In Sanskrit we define health as Swastha - Swa means self and Stha means being. When I am in myself, I am in good health, when I go away from myself that is sickness. World Health Organization (WHO) says - “Health is not just mere absence of sickness but is a positive wellbeing at a physical, mental, social and spiritual levels”. The idea is - don’t focus on sickness but focus on health, secondly don’t look at only the physical wellbeing but total personality. So that is the yogic viewpoint of health.
Rev. O’Brian: It is so encouraging for people who are undergoing various forms of stress to the system to know this. This idea that health is natural to us, and that the healer is within, is so important to be in touch with our health. So often when people have challenges, the first place they look is outside. Yoga helps us look more systemically at what are the resources within us for bringing us back into balance and to the natural state of well-being that you are mentioning. Could you share with us some of the key yoga practices for maintaining health? How yoga brings us back into balance to experience our innate well-being?
Shri.Raghuram: The definition of stress is that it is an altered condition. Indian philosophy says, don’t look at the ailments from the symptoms point of view but look at the cause. Earlier days, the cause of an ailment used to be from outside, some epidemic or infection, whereas today most of the health issues are not connected with external things but the cause is internal; the disharmony that percolates in physiology results into ailments. The disharmony within is basically what we call stress. Most of the ailments we have today are directly or indirectly induced by the stress.
The basic practices that we give are to maintain good health at total personality level - yogasanas or postures to see that we get back to our natural state of body - the relaxed state; simple practices of pranayama so that prana slows down and becomes natural; and meditation to go back to the self. When we do this, we find that the mind is purified and directs us to the right choices. We understand what is affecting the body and be aware of it. In the developed parts of the world, people are living in their minds, not connected with their bodies, ignoring the needs of the body and that leads to stress and to dysfunction. Our body is not just physical thing that exists materially, but it is a mind-body continuum as even the modern science recognizes. However, Indian philosophy goes one step further saying that it is consciousness-mind-body continuum. So the laws that apply to the physical body are not just related to the physical structure, but go much more deeper. From the holistic viewpoint, yoga is very helpful to connect all the layers of our being, starting from the core self - the physical, the mental, the emotional and the intellectual to bring back the harmony within.
Rev. O’Brian: How does your research view diet for health?
Shri. Raghuram: Indian philosophy says that our body is consciousness-mind-body continuum. So naturally that mind and intellect have to be in harmony with the whole body for us to maintain the health. Another important aspect about body is that in Sanskrit , the physical body is understood as Annamaya Kosha; it means food supported or made out of food. So naturally, the food we take becomes an important component of this consciousness-mind body continuum. Spiritual or yogic diet is that kind of diet, which gives you freedom from the body level because hunger is the way body catches your attention. The food that you give to it must give you freedom from the body level. That food which can give you such a freedom is yogic food or Sattvik food. Whatever that, which binds you by agitation at the body level even after you take care of your hunger and keeps you associated with the body level is Rajasik and that which makes you feel dull at the body level is Tamasik food.
In yoga, we have given a lot of importance to the kind of food that we eat, the quality and quantity, the frequency and the atmosphere in which we eat. All these factors are a part of diet. So this is the simple direction for the yogic food. In that category vegetarian food with less spices and balanced kind of a diet - food grains, vegetables and fruits and all that is grown and prepared naturally, not contaminated by the chemicals is supposed to be yogic food.
Rev. O’Brian: We have been talking about yoga as a holistic system for wellbeing at all levels, body, mind and emotions emanating from the divine self, the core of our being. Could you please share with us the Koshas, the sheaths, these coverings of the self within the sole nature.
Shri.Raghuram: The journey goes from gross to subtle. At the grossest level we are physical body - Annamaya Kosha and that is what we experience outside, but then deep within, we have a life force, which is called prana. Prana is the energy that is responsible for breathing to take place, the heart to beat and the lungs to function. This aspect is what is called Pranamaya Kosha, or the energy sheath or energy personality. Subtler than this is mind, the mental personality or the psychic personality called Manomaya Kosha. Deeper within this psychic personality is that which controls and guides all the outer levels is our intellect, Vijnynamaya Kosha. Lots of times people stop at that level; most of the intellectuals and scientists have stopped at that level thinking intellect is the highest level of our existence but the Indian philosophy says that intellect is also a tool made out of the information that you get from outside world; hence intellectual personality also belongs to the world outside, and deeper than that we have bliss or the spiritual personality, Anandamaya Kosha. When we were born, we were most of the time at that spiritual level, bliss level and came to the body level only whenever it was absolutely necessary, and hence we were always blissful. As we grow we have more and more attachments and associations with the physical body. Yoga sees body and mind as a temple of God, the abode of the divine so we want to care for it in the highest way but there is also another viewpoint that it’s a laboratory of our increasing awareness in life. If you are practicing yoga you should be a scientist of the Self, observing yourself. What helps me get peace, the sense of well-being and satisfaction? We can use our own feedback if we pay attention. Just eat something and see what you experience in your mind and body, be a scientist about it and this will help you. Bring your attention and awareness to know diet and other outside stimulus that may affects us on the mental, physical and even spiritual level of our being. This is the heart of yoga therapy; it is the ability to discern what a person needs to help restore their wellbeing.
Rev. O’Brian: Tell us a bit about yoga therapy:
Shri.Raghuram: We have a center in Bangalore call Prashanti Kutiram – a health center of Vivekananda Yoga Research Foundation (VYASA) where we give this yoga Therapy. The first paradigm shift in yoga therapy is to shift our focus from the illness to wellness. People, who come there with ailments, will see that with all those conditions they may be suffering from, they still have health in their hands (at the core). Through yoga therapy, we try to create an environment that allows one to heal oneself from within. When the bone is cut you put the bone pieces together so it does not move and the healing takes place, which means the bone has an ability to heal. Since health is our own nature, spirituality creates the deep inner harmony encouraging the healing process to go on.
Modern medicine looks at therapy as fighting with the sickness while yoga has a different paradigm. Yoga therapy aims at harmony and we do not speak the language of fighting. We can enjoy the practices at physical level, pranic and emotional level. Basically we avoid fighting at all levels and that is when the healing takes place. That is a language of therapy. One of the very important areas where we are doing research is the research on cancer. The very symptom of cancer shows that your body cells are fighting one another. So it is the fighting aspect within us that has created cancer. Is there a way that deep inside, at my cellular intelligence level, I can remove this concept of fighting within? When a patient comes to us we say - try and forget that you are fighting cancer, create deep inner harmony within yourself and that takes care of your cancer. Love thy cancer cells - this is the way healing takes place.
Rev. O’Brian: To let the deep harmony and well-being of the self prevail, brings so much strength up to the surface; the body will be able to restore to original wholeness, which is a definition my Guru often gives for yoga itself. As you were speaking about these practices, I appreciated you use the word ‘to enjoy’, enjoying time sitting in meditation, enjoying pranayama and asana because this helps to reconnect to the innate bliss in our being which brings forth healing. At the core of yoga is the understanding of what we really are as the self - indestructible, unchangeable, pure existence - and so at the heart of this therapeutic approach we understand that disease is a changeable condition, and that is not the truth of what we are. So yoga therapy is very powerful with this view of helping people to get back to bliss, to get back to the truth of their being and get back to the inner strength that can let the self do what it does, which is to heal.
Yogashree N.V.Raghuram is the spiritual founder and chairman of Yoga Bharati. Rev.O'Brien is the yogacharya and spiritual head of the Center for Spiritual Enlightenment at San Jose.
[To listen to the complete discussion, listen to the archive at: www.Unity.fm]