Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Why yoga is therapy

"...three natural states of being, waking, dreaming, and deep sleep, occur in human beings as well as animals. These are natural states and usually require little or no training. However, for human beings alone, there is a fourth and most important natural state; it is the state of samadhi, yoga, or sahajavastha. The word sahaja means, endowed by birth, avastha, means, state. While this fourth state of mind is natural, it is present only when there is total balance and health in body and mind." *

Man seems to be the only creature that does not know its place in nature. Modern man is so riddled with dis-ease simply because of this. Our bodies belong to nature. They do not belong to us. Thinking that we own the body, we believe we can treat it any way we choose. It is true, the body shows incredible resilience to mistreatment but not without consequences - pain, sickness etc.

How did we come to have such a poor understanding of our actual bodily needs? How is it that our lives have become so artificial and so removed from anything wholesome? We are a sick society. Mentally and physically sick.

It is hardly surprising that we don't experience samadhi, we hardly have time to enjoy a little happiness with the stress that has crept into our lives.

Our modern view is that we have evolved from the apes and as time has gone by we have become more and more sophisticated and therefore more evolved and better adapted to living in our modern society. Evolution = good. But, are we happy? healthy? No. We live longer lives, but on medication. We have water, but we choose to drink coffee, soda etc. We have stress, sickness, confusion, the breakdown of the family, war, more diseases, more epidemics...

Is this evolution? Or is it a descent into hell?

According to Charaka a 6th C writer on Ayurveda:

"During Satya Yuga, the first age, people were godly. They had the direct vision of the Vedas and behaved according to them. They were endowed with truthfulness, simplicity, non‐violence, charity and were devoid of fear, attachment, envy, greed, anger, fatigue and laziness. They were energetic beings and had a long life span. Because of the good qualities of the people, the Earth was also filled with good qualities and this was passed onto the food grains, leading to highly nutritious food.

However towards the end of the Satya Yuga, some people over‐indulged leading to their bodies becoming heavy and full of weight. Due to this heaviness, they felt fatigue (tamas) and this in turn led to them not doing much and becoming lazy. The laziness led to the accumulation of goods and the resulting attachment to them led to the greed of wanting more. 

With the Satya Yuga ending on this note, the next age, the Treta Yuga started with greed giving rise to malice (rajas). Then other negative traits arose one from the other: anger, vanity, hate, cruelty, fear and worry to name a few. 

A quarter of righteousness or Dharma disappeared during the Treta Yuga and this led to a reduction in the good attributes of the Earth and so a reduction in the quality of food grains. This resulted in the life span of the living beings to diminish and also gave rise to the vitiation of Pitta and Vata doshas (imbalances in the body) which lead to the first diseases. In the same way righteousness and the qualities of living beings decreased in the following ages and has lead to the demise in our society now." **

According to Charaka, the present age is called Kali Yuga - the age where human civilization deteriorates to the maximum extent spiritually.

Whether or not we like the somewhat mythological character of this description of early man and his descent, the logic of the argument remains compelling. At first man must have been just like an animal, living in harmony with nature, waking with the sun and sleeping when it set and eating what was most immediate. The human has no claws or fangs and so is not a natural hunter. A species would only start to flourish if the conditions of nature are in support, so we can deduce that man's early environment was rich in an immediate source of vegetarian food.

According to this view, humans were originally something perfect and have become more and more corrupted by the pleasures of sense. The mind has become more and more extroverted and has lost contact with its divine origin. Rather than evolution describing a positive upward progression, here evolution can be viewed as a decline.

Even if we go back 2-300 yrs to the pre-industrial age, we see people living much more in harmony with nature. And something has brought about a radical change. According to yoga, the root of this change is desire...

Somehow man has become the only creature that overindulges: animals only eat when they are hungry but humans eat for many reasons. When a lion has eaten, other creatures are not afraid to be nearby, they know they are safe. The lion does not kill for sport or greed but only to satisfy its energetic needs. It is the same with all creatures, except those which have lived too close to human beings.

From pleasure arises desire for more: greed, accumulation, loss and pain. From pain arises the desire for avoidance: aversion, denial and fear. The play of rajas and tamas: the human torment.

People love to say that humans have always been the same, have always had the same nature and needs. How can this possibly be true? Our dis-ease is a modern phenomenon - created by technology. Technology allows us to create abundance, excess for consumption. Technology also allows us to defy nature - to stay awake all night - to create a meal from from a microwave in seconds - to transport a body to the other side of the globe in 24 hrs. But it has alienated us more than ever from our essence and the rhythms of nature.

How have we become so blind? This is the veil of tamas - ignorance. The worst part of it is that we may have access to the right knowledge and yet we still do not act rightly. Knowing and desiring have become split. We know and yet we desire what harms us and we don't resist that desire - that desire is our conditioning. Technology fits right in with conditioning, in fact facilitates a deepening conditioning. It is so seductive, seamless and addictive, we have willingly become virtual cyborgs.

So in spite of the fact that we can point at the milestones of human "progress" with a certain sense of achievement, these forward steps are in the context of the concrete physical environment, not on the internal workings of the mind. Educators would point to the spreading of literacy to all sectors of society. But we all know that education is not necessarily a pleasure. For some, the process of learning to read is a torture, for others learning to read may only open up access to man's atrocities. Is happiness not the measure by which we should judge success or what is desirable?

As a result of the stress experienced today, the experience of samadhi has disappeared. Just as we have externally destroyed the natural landscape, we have destroyed our own physical and mental health. We are in dire need of therapy. That therapy, according to Guruji, is "Mind Medicine" or yoga practice.


* Yoga Bhumika - Dr KLS Jois -

** There are two principle ways of calculating the length of the yugas - one calculates the whole cycle to last 12,000 years, the other more commonly accepted measurement calculates the whole cycle as around 4 million years, placing the beginning of the first yuga at about the time when the first humans are thought to have appeared on earth.