In the Western world, the term “yoga” has become synonymous with the physical stretching and exercising that we see in most yoga classes. While the physical aspect of yoga is important, it is only the “tip of the iceberg’ of the true power of yoga. The simple definition of yoga is “union,” as in the union between the individual and the infinite. The yogis understood that we are all connected and made up of the same substance. Not just humans, but animals, plants, rocks, the air……..we are all comprised of the same stuff. That’s not to say that we humans don’t have an important role to play in this universe, but that role is better understood if we look at things from a higher level of consciousness, to see how we truly interact with our environment.
The ancient science of yoga has shown us that we are much more affected by our environment than we would like to admit. Most of us have trained ourselves to be seekers of shiny things, that is to say we seek fulfillment without deciding to do so due to our past experiences. Over time, our brain tends to jump around from thought to thought seeking the fulfillment it has received previously. If you have ever watched your brain while trying to meditate you understand how difficult it is to bring these thoughts back under your control. These thoughts are just energy running through your brain, but left unchecked they begin to form a reality that isn’t necessarily real. This uncontrolled energy can make us feel tired, stressed, anxious and, like any other mechanical device, can eventually wear us down, causing illness and disease. Think about it; if your mind is out of control there is a lot of wasted energy running through the body as you chase that rabbit, leaving you very little energetic reserve to properly run the body. Even though they were not subjected to the same environmental factors that we are today, the yogis understood this and based their healing systems on this deep understanding.
This is the basis of what Yoga Therapy is. Through a wide variety of postures, concentration techniques and pranayama (energy movement) we are able to bring this energy back under our control and use it to help heal other parts of our system. The techniques they use are for both physical and mental health, as the same principal of bringing our energy back under control is applicable. One of the most exciting aspects of Yoga Therapy research has to do with the brain. There are numerous studies that show how truly remarkable our brains are, not just in the ability to process information, but as a component of our overall health. By calming our mind our whole bodily system works exponentially more effective. We are much more in control of where our energy goes and thus our whole being operates more efficiently. Even without exposure to yoga, I think we have all had enough experience to know on some intuitive level that this is true.
These techniques have shown to be extremely effective in treating a wide variety of today’s modern ailments. These include, but are not limited to, anxiety, alcoholism, ADHD, cancer, heart disease, diabetes, depression, insomnia, IBS, MS, migraines, osteoporosis, pain management and many, many others. How can one system help with such a wide variety of ailments? Because Yoga Therapy treats the cause of the problems and not just the symptoms. Yoga therapy is not meant to “cure” any of these conditions, but it is a way of training the body and mind to help support the natural healing ability we all possess. These bodies we are inhabiting have the ability to perform some pretty remarkable things, we just have to find a way to tune into these aspects of our selves.
Our society is over-stimulated! Its over-stressed, over-medicated and at times it can just be overwhelming. Without a system of healing ourselves, it is nearly impossible not to be affected by all the shiny things the world has to offer. The beauty of Yoga Therapy is that not only can it be applied to specific conditions, but it is the greatest preventive medicine you can participate in. We can begin to train ourselves to see and interact with the world in an entirely different manner. By reprogramming the way our bodies and minds respond to stimuli, we can interact with our environment in a much more cohesive way. We can utilize the elements that used to trouble us in a way that they benefit not just us, but the environment as a whole. We are entering into an age of energy, and over time we will figure out how to utilize this energy to benefit and uplift our society. The great Indian Saint and scholar, Swami Sri Yukteswar, explains in great detail the physical, cultural and spiritual affects of this new age in his classic book “The Holy Science.” When we look at life’s longer rhythms, we can see that the forces that are causing us to “suffer” in short term are actually there to benefit us as we “evolve” as a species and as a society.