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Yoga, an ancient cultural heritage of India, understands health and well being as a dynamic continuum of human nature and not a mere ‘state’ to be attained and maintained (Bhavanani, 2013). Yogi Swatmarama, author of the Hathayoga Pradipika, one of the classical Hatha Yoga texts gives us the assurance, “One who tirelessly practises Yoga attains success irrespective of whether they are young, old decrepit, diseased or weak” (Bhatt, 2004).
Yoga conceptualises the human being as a multi layered, conscious being, possessing three bodies or sharira (sthula-gross, sukshma -subtle and kaarana -causal) and having a five layered existence (pancha kosha) consisting of our anatomical, physiological, psychological, intellectual and universal existential layers (Giri, 1976; Bhavanani, 2008). Yoga as a way of conscious living, enables the individual to attain and maintain a dynamic sukha sthanam that may be defined as a dynamic sense of physical, mental and spiritual well being. The Bhagavad Gita (II: 48) defines Yoga as samatvam meaning thereby that Yoga is a harmonious and balanced state of equanimity or equipoise at all levels (Chidbhavananda, 1984). This may be also understood as a perfect state of dynamic wellbeing wherein physical homeostasis, emotional balance and mental equanimity manifest in harmony.
Fig 1. Pancha kosha, the five existential layers (Giri, 1976; Bhavanani, 2013).
This qualitative aspect of health is something that Yoga and traditional Indian systems of medicine have considered important for thousands of years (Feuerstein, 2003; Bhavanani, 2010). Even Maharishi Patanjali’s definition of asana ((sthira sukham asanam- Yoga Darshan II:46) implies this dynamic state of steady well being at all levels of existence (Bhavanani, 2011). He also goes on to say that through the practice of asana we can attain a state that is beyond dualities leading to harmonious and serene calmness (tato dvandva anabhighata- Yoga Darshan II: 48). We can even gain unexcelled happiness, mental comfort, joy and satisfaction by practicing contentment, (santoshat anuttamah sukha labhah– Yoga Darshan II: 42) one of the five ethical observances or niyama-s (Bhavanani, 2011). This inherent link is quite apparent once we think about it, but not too many associate the need for contentment in their greed for anything and everything in this material world.
Qualities of a mentally healthy person:
The central theme of Yoga is the golden mean (yukta), finding the middle path, a constant search for moderation and a harmonious homoeostatic balance (Feuerstein, 2003; Bhavanani, 2010). Yoga is the “unitive impulse” of life, which always seeks to unite diverse streams into a single powerful force (Giri,1976; 1995). Proper practice and living of the Yogic principles produces an inner balance that gives stability and calm even in the midst of chaos. This ancient science shows its adherents a clear path to the “eye of the storm” and ensures a stability that endures within, even as the cyclone may rage on externally.
Some of the prerequisite qualities of a mentally healthy person (stitha prajna) are enumerated in the Bhagavad Gita as follows: Beyond passion, fear and anger (veeta raga bhaya krodhah–BG II.56), devoid of possessiveness and egoism (nirmamo nirahamkarah- BG -II.7), firm in understanding and unbewildered (sthira buddhir asammudhah–BG – V.20) ,engaged in doing good to all creatures (sarva bhutahiteratah– BG V.25) ,friendly and compassionate to all ( maitrah karuna eva ca– BG XII.13); and pure hearted and skilful without expectation (anapekshah sucir daksah– BG XII.16) (Chidbhavananda, 1984).
Some Yogic tools for mental health and wellbeing:
Fig 2. Mechanisms of Yoga (Giri, 1976; Bhavanani, 2013).
Yoga is the original mind body medicine and is one of the greatest treasures of the unique Indian cultural heritage. As both an art and science it has a lot to offer humankind in terms of an understanding of both the human mind as well as all aspects of our multilayered existence. Yogic lifestyle, Yogic diet, Yogic attitudes and various Yogic practices help man to strengthen himself and develop positive health thus enabling him to withstand stress better. This Yogic “health insurance” is achieved by normalizing the perception of stress, optimizing the reaction to it and by releasing it effectively through various practices. Yoga is truly a wholesome and integral science of life that deals with multidimensional aspects of health in both the individual and society.
Yoga helps us to take the appropriate attitude towards our challenges and thus tackle them effectively and efficiently. “To have the will (iccha shakti) to change (kriya shakti) that which can be changed, the strength to accept that which cannot he changed, and the wisdom (jnana shakti) to know the difference” is the attitude that needs to the cultivated. An attitude of letting go of the worries, the problems and a greater understanding of our mental process helps to create a harmony in our body, and mind whose disharmony is the main cause of ‘aadi – vyadhi’ or psychosomatic disorders.
“Health and happiness are your birthright, claim them and develop them to your maximum potential” (Giri, 1995). This message of Swamiji Gitananda Giri Guru Maharaj is a firm reminder that the goal of human existence is not health and happiness but is moksha (liberation). Most people today are so busy trying to find health and happiness that they forget why they are here in the first place. Yoga is the best way for us to regain our birthrights and attain the goal of our human existence.