Yoga Life Column (August 2014)
Students of yoga are usually curious about how to define or grasp the concept of health. In the West, the notion of health is intertwined with our emphasis on running, jogging and spending time on the tread mill. The goal is to bring the heart rate up by speeding the blood flow to different parts of the body so that they will be cleansed. However, the yoga system does not emphasize running or jogging or going on the jogging belt. Instead it offers very simple stretch exercises as a way to sound health.
The Western view lays stress on running and jogging. This points in the direction of vigorous exercise so that the heart keeps going. Whereas the yoga system emphasizes the slowing down of the entire process so that the inner changes in the body or the entire organism take place.
The two outlooks are based on similar concepts of health but offer different ways to refurbish it. Both in the West as well as in Yoga, the goal is to restore to the human being perfect health so that one could live a long life of contentment and joy.
However, there is a difference. The Western view is based on the idea that a human being is a unique entity that is set apart from the world. Its job is to understand the laws of the universe in order to control and lord over the external world. Using this model, the Western emphasis on running, jogging and walking on the treadmill to speed up the heart rate is understandable. By controlling one's metabolism, one controls one's body and health.
Whereas the idea behind the yoga system is that we are organically connected to this earth as well as to the entire universe. Thus we need to work with the external world by getting recharged with its energy to improve ourselves and others in harmony with nature. In contrast to the Western view, Yoga's emphasis is on the eco-logical balance rather than control of nature.
Yoga follows the view of health as understood by the ancient Indian system of Ayurvedic medicine. It believes in three doshas or humors that control our health and well-being. These three doshas are a combination of air and water; water and fire and a congealed form of air, water and fire. If there is an imbalance between and among any of the three doshas, it leads to disease and ill-health.
The goal of physical postures (asanas), breathing exercises (pranayama) and meditation exercises (dhyana) is to correct any imbalance among these three doshas so that a person stays healthy and strong and enjoys a long life of contentment and joy.
Note: We might devote some of the future columns on how to achieve physical balance through moderation in eating foods, emotional balance through breathing exercises and mental balance through the meditation exercises.
Exercise for this month:
Caution: This exercise is offered as a suggestion. If done correctly on a regular basis and for a long time, it might help.
Meditation on Sound and Silence: Sit in the easy posture. Keep your back, neck and head straight up. Close your eyes. Breathe in and out. Become aware of the sounds around you. Pay attention to the sounds followed by silence, followed by sounds, followed by silence and so on. Keep your mind on the rhythm of sound, silence, sound, silence and so on. After doing this for two minutes, go back to normal breathing.
When you are trying out this meditation exercise the first time, practice it for two minutes. Go back to your normal breathing for two minutes. During the first week, practice it for a total of ten minutes at each sitting with a break for 1-2 minutes of regular breathing. You can also do this meditation exercise while you lie down on your back or sitting in a chair. This exercise comes in handy when you are taking a long flight.