Yoga as a Therapeutic system is becoming popular and many Yoga institutions are scrambling to legitimize its practice. One part of this legitimization process is that these Yoga institutions are running to align themselves with the medical community. This is not really necessary because Yoga as a practice of Therapy has been in existence for more than 2000 years and that itself is its testimony to its validity as a Therapeutic school.
It doesn’t mean that the medical community has to be rejected. Yoga can function hand in hand with the medical practice and there can be areas where it can support each other and there can be areas where there can be some differences in the way things are seen and applied. That is the beauty that we have in this world today that we have a choice of more than one practice health paradigm to help us in healing process.
There are certain obstacles for medical science to understand Yoga because medical science is first of all reductionist in its approach, whereas Yoga is a very holistic system. In medicine we divide the body into smaller parts and we try to take this approach of finding the cause in minute details. Whereas in Yoga everything is looked at in a holistic way where everything is a part of a large continuum in a huge container where different things are collaborating with each other sometimes and not collaborating with each other at another times which is what leads to illness. The paradigm of how health is looked at by medicine and Yoga differs in this area.
An another thing where Yoga is different from medicine is that Yoga is non-invasive approach and self -empowering approach. Whereas, medicine is not necessarily always self- empowering because the patients give away their power to the doctors and health practitioners and don’t really empower themselves. Also, Yoga is non-invasive in the sense Yoga is using body’s its own resources whereas medicine is using external intervention to bring about change in the body. It is not that it is wrong. It is just that these are two systems.
Most important difference is that the western medicine is very much measuring tangible. But Yoga takes into consideration intangible concepts like Prana, for example, which is the basis for all the Yoga practices is a very intangible concept that modern science will not understand atleast at the moment.
So, it is very difficult for Yoga to be completely aligned with the medical system, but they can be at arm’s distance and work together in areas of agreement so that the person’s health is improved not just with one system but together hand in hand. I think a collaborative partnership is possible but not necessarily a system itself where they both align as a system itself. We can still help people eventhough we may not necessarily have an alignment in philosophy. That is where we need to keep our hearts open in the healing of ourselves and our patients.
Do we need more backbends in Asana Classes today to address the Bad posture many have today?
Yes. It is true that in today’s world people have developed a very bad posture because of the sedentary lifestyle, the work that we do in front of a computer or an electronic device, even when we are looking at the telephone we are bending forward and looking at it. So the back does take a lot of stress much more than in the past. This is also combined with the fact that we are not really moving a lot. We are mostly seated in today’s times, either in front of our computer or in front of our clients, we are sitting in a car, we are sitting in a table when eating at home.
There is also another problem which is that the pelvic and the sacrum region we are not getting enough movement. So the stress on the lower back is quite intense. It is very simplistic to say that if we do some back arches, the slouching positions will be corrected. It is not so simple. When we are slouching, it is not only the upper back that is getting tensed along the neck and the shoulder but also the lower back which has to carry the lower of the body so that the weight is transferred through the earth. When our posture is erect the weight of the body goes right along through the spine, through the feet and to the earth and there is not too much stress for the lower back. Whereas, when the posture is bit slouched the lower back take lot of tension and this is another reason why we cannot be simplistic in our approach that only back arches will have.
We also have to do certain asanas to extend our lower back as well. That is why certain times, the forward bending asanas are also helpful, squats are also helpful as well as some twists because sometime we are tend to shift the weight of the body more on one side than the other.
Another important thing that we can also reflect about is breathing. Many people think that the breathing is only concerning the respiratory system and not the muscular system. But if you look at it very carefully breath has a very strong influence on the muscular system of the body. The muscles relax when we are extending the exhale. Sometime in some lying positions when we are extending the exhale the lower back is also getting quite a bit of relief as well.
What is important is to look at every individual and see how their lifestyle has caused stress in their backs and to find a solution that is relevant to them and offer it to them in timely and safe manner. This is the approach of the Yoga Therapy to deal with the back posture very common in modern day society.
Let’s look at why some people call this tradition Viniyoga®. A very important aspect of Yoga is that we have to respect each and every individual as an unique being. Nobody is the same. We are all having different heights, different weights, different body types, different constitutions, different potentials, different interests and very importantly different purposes and paths in this life.
Patanjali, the Master of Yoga, was very clear that one way will not be suitable for everybody. Patanjali offers practices that have to be tailor-made to suit every individual so that the best of each person can shine. If we take a standardized approach it will not work for everybody. It is not work for anybody in their whole life because we are changing each day of our life.
We are not the same people as we were few years ago and nor we will remain the same person few years from now. That’s why Patanjali calls the process of appropriate application of the tools of Yoga as the Viniyoga® of Yoga. Acarya T. Krishnamacharya was very instrumental in reviving this art when this art was slowly losing its relevance from the field of Yoga when group classes had become very common since the 1930s. Acarya T.
Krishnamacharya was very clear that we have to teach Yoga individually so that the best potential of every person can actually come forth. This becomes more important even in the domain of Yoga as a Therapy. Yoga as a Therapy cannot be done in group situations to the best possible way because every individual’s experience with the disease is different. Some one may have diabetes with high blood pressure; one person may have diabetes with arthritis; one person may have diabetes with depression. The same tools will not work for everybody. It is very important even in the field of Yoga as a Therapy and more so because we have to deal with people one to one as their experience is very unique. Because Acarya T. Krishnamacharya brought this back in a very strong way and it was made very popular by his son and primary student Sri. TKV Desikachar.
A lot of people started to associate this tradition of Yoga as the “Viniyoga®” tradition. It would be inaccurate to call this tradition as Viniyoga® tradition because there is no style of yoga of Viniyoga® of Yoga is only an approach of Yoga that every tradition of Yoga must embrace. The word Viniyoga® in this context is a verb and not a noun. In the Viniyoga® of Yoga where the Yoga is the noun Viniyoga® is the verb which means the appropriate application of Yoga. It would be inaccurate to call Viniyoga® as a particular style of Yoga. Viniyoga® is the approach of Yoga that everyone must embrace for Yoga actually is to reach every person in the most appropriate manner. Viniyoga® is the Universal term that has to be followed, not just for Yoga but in every aspect of life. We do that in many aspects of our life we must not forget that in the context of Yoga.
Yoga’s unique way of understanding the human being is what makes it so special. Yoga does not look at our body only in a physical dimension. This is perhaps one of its greatest assets because Yoga looks at our body in a very holistic dimension.
What is the great difference between the way we modern people look at the body and the way Yogis look at the body is , the Yogis looked at the body not just as a physical entity but also as an energetic entity.
The body is driven by what is called Prana. That is how the Yogis understood it. The energy is what makes our organs function both within inside the body as well as outside. If my senses are able to see something, my organs are able to digest food, transfer the food from one place to the other, it is because of this thing called Prana. Prana is an all pervasive entity. It is inside us and is also outside us. It is transcendental. It moves inside us and outside us as well.
When we are created as an entity, we are not created as a body which occupies space and time. But we are also created with an energetic body that is also offering space and time. When we move from one place to the other it is not just our body that is moving, also the energy – the Prana is also moving in the space time Continuant. The Yogis believe that Prana was the most profound Phenomena in our system. That could influence not just us but also the other beings because even though I am at a distance from the person physically there is an energetic connection that can happen between two individuals –
it could be me and an animal, it could be me and a plant etc. Therefore the Yogis believe that by working with prana we could achieve wonders.
That is why for them Yoga was not about moving the body, but actually Yoga was about influencing the Prana. This is a very fundamental idea not just in Yoga and other Indian traditions, but also many oriental traditions such as Taichi, Zen meditation, etc where they are moving energy not the body. So the energy body is the energy’s space i.e. the surrounding us that is both inside us and outside us and that is moving along with us in the space time Continuant. Sometimes you will see that even when the body is not existing these time continual the Prana exist.
The personal example of myself experienced. When my father, TKV Desikachar passed away and we had also finished his cremation, but yet for a long time I could feel, not just me but also my family members could feel the presence of my father’s energy in our house for many weeks after his passing. So there is some truth about this that has to be understood and explored with an open mind not necessarily our rational mind but our curious and opening mind. This is what our Yogis explored. We must continue this further into our exploration and our spiritual journeys.