For every Indian, the celebration of June 21 as International Yoga Day should be a matter of particular pride. I say ‘particular’ because there are few concepts that are so traditionally Indian and yet as ubiquitously global as Yoga…a physical, mental and spiritual practice, evolved by sadhus and rishis over many centuries of penance that transcends time and geographies and stands as a universal metaphor for holistic well-being.
Yoga epitomizes Indian culture and alongside universalizes the concept of good physical and spiritual health achieved largely through a regimen of disciplined self-discovery… wherein you reach deep inside your mind and spirit through your body riding sometimes ethereally on your breath!
It is an art that orchestrates the body and the soul into a symphonic unison, lifting both to an otherwise unimaginable high, unleashing therapeutic and empowering energy that help us rise above disease and distress and find a new level of life. It is pure, harmless, universal available to everyone.
At its core, yoga weaves various individual moves, evolved through centuries of profound practice, into an universal system, complete with detailed descriptions of every technique (sadhana), its impact and benefits. Seen differently, it is a fusion of the macro and the microcosm of ‘being’ itself. Our scriptures describe many different forms of yoga…mastering them and thereby reaping their full benefits calls for both practice and the guidance of an expert…a guru.
In its essence, yoga is physical interpretation of life-changing scientific principles that stress on the alignment of the body and the mind for attaining fitness naturally. Controlled breathing brings calmness of mind, eventually leading to a steady state (samatvam) and tranquility of mind. The great saint Pathanjali described Ashtanga yoga, which includes the concepts of Yama, Niyama, Asana, Pranayama, Pratyahara, Dharana, Dhyana and Samadhi. Of these, the first two are the most popular.
Asanas include a variety of postures, each with a distinct impact on physical fitness and wellness. Pranayama (the yama or control of prana or breathing) now considered the most effective of all yogic forms, is part of ancient Indian history, evolved by rishis who proved that by regulating ones breath it is possible to control the mind. One can achieve a steady and calm state of mind, a sublime quantity, by controlling the prana, which is essentially gross.
The yogic breathing regimen breaks up the process of breathing into three stages, pooraka, or inhalation, rechaka, or exhalation and kumbhaka or breath holding and prescribes techniques for all three, which together constitute pranayama, the practice of which is known to alleviate a range of illnesses including lung disorders, sinuses, diabetes, asthma and high blood pressure by optimizing oxygenation and circulation.
As a neurosurgeon I am fascinated by Kumbhaka, a practice that reduces cerebrovascular resistance and thereby improves the supply of blood to the brain. This can be elegantly demonstrated by neuro-sonology a noninvasive, ultrasound-based study of blood circulation in the brain. I personally feel Yoga could potentially play a role in preventing stroke and neuro-degenerative diseases like Parkinson’s and alleviating their symptoms.
That apart enhancing blood circulation to the brain in itself ensures superior health and fitness. The benefits of yoga in vascular headaches are well established. Yoga is essentially spiritual in nature, which rises above all man-made cultural, religious and other divisions and offers a universal blessing of health and hope to all its practitioners regardless of their cast and creed.
It is the simplest and cheapest way of keeping oneself fit, effective and productive. Indeed, given its proven efficacy in boosting the power of the brain, yoga ought to be made a mandatory part of school curricula, to help our young generations reap the full benefits of the most secular and pure of all practices for a healthy, stress free and productive life.
Beyond personal health, by enabling us to realize the true relationship between body, mind, soul and spirit that make up all life, yoga can usher universal peace, love and harmony and pave the way for a better society and world. That’s why all practices of yoga culminate with meditation, which connects our senses to our inner self with a simple prayer of peace “Shanthi, Shanthi , Shanthihi.”
So let’s partake, practice and promote Yoga with pride