A monograph of musings on health, and how, awareness and education can bring health into our lives forever.
As that enlightened master, Swami Vishnudevananda declared so famously over half a century ago – “Health is wealth, peace of mind is happiness, yoga shows the way”.
Read on to find out how.
Once upon a time in the 1990s
It is a long time since I needed medical attention.
We set up the Sivananda Yoga Centre, Gurgaon in April 2004, Deeksha and I.
This is November 2018.
In a highly hostile and polluted environment, in an unknown arena called yoga, and therefore requiring extraordinary efforts, and highly stressful, I have spent the last twelve years working on shoestrings of money, time and sleep.
Yet, today, at 55, I do not take any medicine, I have not taken a day off from work since 2004 because of sickness, and I have just extended my health record to over 25 years, since I started practicing yoga in 1992, without the friendship of doctors.
In October of 1992, I first visited the Sivananda centre in Delhi, invited by that kindest of kind men, the super-good, the super-intelligent, that super-loving human being, my father. The rest, for me, is history. Looking back, it is the wisest thing that my father did for me, and the nicest thing that happened to me, ever in my life.
I have been teaching yoga for a very long time – now in my 24th year. I have taught frequently, and a lot. I have taught a lot of people as well, and in many different environments. I have been lucky to have been gifted this precious legacy. I feel even luckier to have been gifted this specific lineage of yoga which comes down through the wisdom of Swami Sivananda and Swami Vishnudevananda, which the world calls the Sivananda system of Yoga.
I have loved teaching from the first day, and there is a deep knowing of what yoga did for me, it did for my family, for my students, and for the people whom I have trained as teachers over the years. I also have that great faith in what yoga can offer you.
This is my experience, my vision, my view, my way. I am reaching out to you, and to everyone.
With a message –
Recovering a lost kingdom
Almost everyone who has practiced yoga, says how good yoga is to improve health and well-being.
I say it too.
I used to have persistent back pain. As I turned 29, way back in 1992, my health was beginning to cause concern to me. I felt unfit, often low on energy, disturbed and distracted, pressurized, and stressed, easily sick and a bit lost. I felt old.
Yoga woke me up. It gave me the direction I needed. It helped me to relax. Yoga got me back to my peak level of mental and physical fitness. My energy levels spilled over, and I got immunity against most illnesses, that affect you and everyone in the city. I recovered my youth, I became young again.
Once I became a teacher, I realized that more and more people are like me – mentally, physically, socially, out of balance in one way or another.
I began to teach yoga, so that it would wake up my students, as it woke me up.
And I started to see that they too started feeling better.
Whenever they did what I did, they got the results I got.
There is a war going on, we are victims, and we don’t even know about it
But, now, more recently, I have realized that the battle against disease, against sickness, is far bigger than I imagined. There is sickness in every family, and almost every individual is prone, vulnerable, to life-long illnesses.
There is a lot of information, marketing and interest in disease. There are big hospitals and even bigger pharmaceutical companies. Doctors seem to know everything about particular sets of diseases, and share important and clear data about illness and treatment.
There is also fear. If you are unwell, there will be worry, there will be anxiety. Even when you become free from an illness, there is lingering fear.
These two friends, information, and fear, are terrible enemies to our health. They prevent us from finding a way out. Rather than understand health and work on cultivating health, we are caught up in the game of information about disease and the fear of what will happen, if the disease is not controlled with surgery or drugs.
If we wake up, it is possible to have a new perspective about the game that is being played in the modern world, a deadly game called disease.
If we wake up, we can, using our new perspective, play a new game called health, and never, ever play again the game called disease.
If we wake up, then we will realize that there are many missing links in our school and college education, what we call modern education. One of the missing links, is education about health. This gap, this chink, this blank space, is being exploited, all over the world.
It is dangerous to be given a medical term called Hypertension, or Type 2 Diabetes, or Hypothyroidism, and to be asked to deal with it. How will you ever deal with it, when you have no clue what these terms are and how they are caused and what they actually mean? Then there is the Internet, which you will use to investigate the disease further, driving you, even more hopelessly, in the direction of no-return.
30 years ago, the diseases that are now common, never existed in India.
It will take a lot of statistics and data and going to war against the modern marketing machine to prove this. It is a difficult war up ahead, but not one that is impossible. There is enough evidence that India did not have the modern plague of cancer, Parkinson’s, deficiency syndromes, heart, liver and kidney diseases, back problems and bone disorders, blood pressure and diabetes, insomnia, PCOD, fibromyalgia, and thyroid malfunctions. A majority of people were not overweight either.
We are mutating as a civilization. We are suffering as a population – unfit, in pain, requiring medical attention, spending a lot of money, and lost in a sea of sickness.
Please wake up.
How about a new game?
Health is possible. A pain-free, happy life is possible.
Please remember that the largest populations in the world, India and China, have the longest lived populations in the world. Western scientists who studied the people of Okinawa, in Japan have found that they have the maximum number of centenarians (people over 100 years of age). I say that of India too – that our people really live long lives – or used to, until now. It is (or was) a myth that Indians die young.
For 50,000 years, humans have existed without modern diseases. And without the objective, precise, technologically advanced, modern medical understanding or treatment.
Ask yourself – how?
Is there something we have forgotten? Is the 2018 generation missing something here, which has been around for a very long time, but seems to have vanished in the last 50 years or so?
How did our grandparents, with such little money (India, for over 1000 years or more, has been a marginal country, invaded, plundered and laid waste), live healthy, and long lives (over 80 in most cases) and bring up our parents, who brought us up, without the Internet, without high speed information through mobile phones, without MRIs and without the medical problems we have today?
Ask the question at least. How?
We cannot go back. We have to look ahead. However, we can use wisdom, and knowledge, and lessons that traditional living has offered for thousands of years.
Let us trust our past and ourselves in the future
Here are some suggestions.
Take rest. Get fresh air and drinking water. (Just step outside of your home and office for 30 minutes every day, for the fresh air, and drink untreated and unpackaged water whenever you can every day). Live in accordance with the seasons, with principles of the universe, in accordance with the elements of nature. Live together, in groups with common interests, helping, sharing and growing with each other, take care of the others. Use your hands and feet, and your head. For example, do something creative, join a dancing, music or handwriting improvement class, or start gardening. Slow down and enjoy the benefits that life offers. Change your occupation to suit your needs, and your temperament and personality. Take time to do things you love doing. Take care of your health by exercising regularly, and eating light and eating right. If possible, be a complete vegetarian. Give your time and energy to those who need it, without expectations of rewards. Practice yoga and meditation. Laugh a lot. Take frequent holidays. Do not spend before you earn. Spend only a percentage of what you earn. Educate yourself. Learn and teach. Be inspired by great leaders and visionaries, and people who have achieved a lot.
Stop preaching, and all this sounds boring, you will say.
It is far less expensive to look at, and adopt what I have mentioned above, and has far less pain and suffering, than what currently life offers all of us.
Second, all this was taught as part of a golden civilization, as a tradition in a Gurukula - how to live, how to have effective relationships, how create wealth, and how to have health and well-being. Unfortunately, this is not taught in any school or college anymore. So, when I say eat properly, it seems I am talking about dieting, or nutrition, or weight loss, or proteins and carbohydrates. Actually, this was never an issue in the olden days. It was a matter of great concern, that the food we ate, made us who we are, and therefore, very exhaustive rules and regulations underlined eating habits and patterns across the country. That is a giant context that I love being part of, and one that we can all recreate without making what is modern, ancient.
By the way, I just remembered. In some cultures, there is no word for retirement. In those cultures, people live long and healthy. Maybe, then the secret to good health, is to have an occupation and a life that is productive, and makes you feel that you are useful, and are contributing to life on the planet. Self-esteem seems to be very important for health.
The body and mind take care of themselves. The body heals itself, given a chance to do so.
Medicine, alternative therapy, yoga, rest, recreation and holiday, doing something for the others, sharing your good and bad times with family, are all ways of allowing the body to heal itself.
Keeping out of bad situations, avoiding conflict, creating a smaller footprint, living to your highest principles are all ways of allowing the body to heal itself.
To recover your health, and to maintain good health, it may be necessary to change a few things that have rolled into our lives without us realizing it – reduce the use of plastic, and start using glass, ceramic, terracotta, steel and stone vessels for storing as well as cooking; boil drinking water and filter it, rather than use RO water; reduce dairy and animal products; use very little oil in cooking – 1 teaspoon of oil per day; eat less packaged and readymade food, and more unprocessed food, with its original shape intact; try to eat food in its original form, with skin, and husk; stop eating out so frequently, and maybe do that once a fortnight or once a month; and not adopt new practices and technology in the kitchen, unless absolutely certain.
Let us end this suffering, this pain, this sleep-walking, this conditioned approach to health and disease
Finally, about treatment.
From back pain to common immunity issues, insomnia, constipation, stiffness in the muscles and joints, even blood pressure, diabetes, hormonal imbalances, excess weight and migraine, yoga can help reverse the disease. There is enough documented evidence, now available in India for this. I can vouch for it too, and produce a few people, in every category, as evidence, that yoga works to reverse serious life threatening problems. My recipe - the Sivananda class 90 minutes a day for 90 days, plus if found necessary, a pranayama course at the centre, plus, if found necessary, a one week, or one-month yoga retreat away from the city.
Rely on home remedies by training yourself in them. There are a thousand, no, ten thousand remedies. India is a land of deep knowledge in jadi booti. For example, aloe vera, and giloy (amrita or tinospora cordifolia) are divine herbs for healing all kinds of medical ailments. So are ginger and turmeric. But you must study this area completely, maybe taking the help of a really aged person, who has knowledge of traditional healing.
Ayurveda offers medicine for reversing chronic ailments, and also fairly difficult common medical problems. Panchakarma treatment is one of the most effective ways of improving immunity, and also reversing medical problems. A trained, traditional Ayurvedic practitioner or established, traditional Ayurvedic hospital must be consulted, and a three months to two-year window must be constructed for reversal of disease.
Naturopathy treatment offers similar results as yoga and Ayurveda. By resting, cleansing and detoxifying the body, this kind of treatment makes the body take care of itself, and aids the natural healing mechanisms. Naturopathy can thus be very effective in the most chronic to life-threatening situations. Please give a broad time frame of anywhere between 30 to 120 days for treatments to show results.
To be continued.