The science of Yoga has two aspects, the physical and the spiritual one. Therefore the relation of yoga with health has also two aspects. Firstly, the benefits that one gets through the physical aspect of Yoga and secondly the benefits that one gets through the spiritual aspect of Yoga.
The physical aspect has to do with the physical body; through asanas, pranayama, proper eating and cleansing techniques yoga leads to proper breathing, proper blood circulation, proper function of nervous system, proper function of endocrine system and flexibility and strengthening of muscles, all of which help one to obtain and maintain a healthy body.
The spiritual aspect of yoga has to do with the energy body and the spirit; again through asanas, pranayama, cleansing techniques and meditation yoga cleanses the energy body and leads to realisation of the oneness with the Supreme Being and the immortality of the soul. Cleaning the energy body is very important since problems to the energy body reflect to the physical.
Realising the oneness with the Supreme Being helps one to escape from the anxiety and the fear that our society generates, to feel total happiness and bliss and therefore be free of depression, stress and anxiety diseases.
The physical and spiritual benefits of Asanas, Pranayama, proper eating, cleansing techniques and meditation will be presented in the following paragraphs.
Asanas can be divided in the following categories: Standing, twists, forward bend, backbend, inversion, balancing and relaxation asanas.
Every category has its own advantages.
Standing asanas develop strength, increase awareness of alignment. They are helpful in releasing poor posture and creating a strong, healthy body. Standing postures help to clean different chakras in the energy body.
For instance, the triangle pose cleans the manipura and the ajna chakra, the warrior poses clean the manipura, while the eagle pose cleans the anahata chakra. All of the standing poses work on the muladhara chakra, since the legs are used in all of them.
Twists increase the flexibility of the spine and lengthen all the muscles, tendons, and ligaments; they also strengthen and balance the deep spinal muscles providing in this way a healthy spine; furthermore they provide an internal massage to the internal organs and increase the blood circulation to all the valuable organs and glands, harmonising in this way the hormonal activity. Twists are very helpful asanas for detoxification of the body. All of the twists work on cleaning the manipura chakra.
Forward bending asanas stretch the hamstrings along with hips and also lengthen the spine. As with the twists they message abdominal organs, increase blood circulation and tone all the abdominal organs. Forward bending asanas are also very effective in curing depression, because they calm the nervous system. Forward bending asanas clean mostly the manipura, the swadisthana and the muladhara chakras.
Backward bending asanas on the one hand provide stretching and toning to the abdomen, the pelvis and the chest and on the other hand strengthen the back muscles, the buttocks, the legs and the arms. They also help to open the chest area promoting deep breathing. With back bends one feels that the heart opens and fills with energy and love. In many backbends the blood circulation in the thymus gland is increased and the gland is stimulated; therefore the immune system is strengthened. Backward bending asanas work mainly in the anahata and the swadisthana chakra, while some work also in the manipura chakra.
Inversion asanas mainly bring fresh blood to the brain and rest the heart and the veins by reversing the flow of the blood in the body. In this way the blood circulation is improved and the brain rejuvenated. The thyroid gland, the pituary gland and the hypothalamus are stimulated by the additional blood supply and therefore the whole endocrine system is enhanced. Inversion asanas work mainly in the vishuddhi and the sahasrara chakra.
Balancing asanas mainly increase the body awareness and focus the mind. Through balancing asanas one learns to be patient and persistent to achieve ones goal. Balancing asanas also strengthen the abdominal muscles and the muscles of the legs. Balancing asanas mainly help to focus and clean the ajna and the muladhara chakras.
Relaxation postures provide full relaxation to the muscles of the body and therefore relaxation, peace and harmony to the mind. During relaxation the body gains all the benefits from the previous asanas.
People in today’s world have a swallow upper chest breathing due to stress and the quick rhythms of life, instead of a deep diaphragmatic abdominal breathing. The swallow upper chest breathing has as a result fewer amounts of fresh oxygen and prana to enter to the human body, causing diseases, headaches and more. Pranayama is the control of prana, the life-force, the most important ingredient of the air that enters the body by breathing.
Through pranayama one learns to control the breath, one learns to use the diaphragm for deep diaphragmatic abdominal breathing, the lungs and the respiratory muscles are exercised, the body is energised and the bloodstream is oxygenated. Yogic breathing additionally massages the abdomen. Daily practising of yogic breathing trains the thoracic, diaphragmatic and abdominal muscles to operate efficiently all the day even during sleeping.
Another very important factor of yogic breathing concerning health is the exhalation. The exhalation, in most of the breathing techniques, is double time of the inhalation. This is a very significant factor for a healthier body. During exhalation the carbon dioxide is expelled from the lungs. The longer the exhalation the more carbon dioxide is expelled and therefore a greater amount of fresh oxygen can enter the lungs.
Additionally yogic breathing tones the nervous system, calms and concentrates the mind. Yogic breathing can also be used to energise, to relax, to vitalise and to disperse anxiety or fear.
Spiritually yogic breathing can be used to achieve equanimity and serenity of mind, slow controlled breath can bring calmness, quietness and stillness to body, mind and spirit. Pranayama can be used to clean the energy channels and the chakras of the body and also to enter more easily to a meditative state.
Finally through yogic breathing several diseases, for example asthma and bronchitis, colds, insomnia, headaches as well as stress, anxiety and depression can be cured.
Yoga and proper eating
Yoga promotes a lacto-vegetarian diet. A lacto-vegetarian diet includes all of the milk product, vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, oats, beans, rice, potatoes and more. All the ingredients that the body needs are found in greater quantities and in better quality in the lacto-vegetarian diet than in the meet consuming diet.
A meet consuming diet has many toxins, an excess amount of uric acid that can be dangerous for the body, moreover less antiscorbutic acid that prevents many diseases is contained in meat.
Furthermore vegetarian food keeps the blood with an alkaline pH, while meat makes the pH of the blood acidic. Acidic pH of the blood can lead to many diseases. Additionally it is better to take the energy needed from the plant kingdom where plants take their energy straight from the sun, than from the animal kingdom where animals take their energy from plants or other animals, because this energy is “second or even third hand energy”.
Another advantage of lacto-vegetarian diet is that it is rich in vitamins and organic calcium, while in animal tissues one can not find a balanced combination of proteins, calcium and vitamins. For all the above mentioned reasons the yogic diet promotes a healthier condition of the body.
Yoga and cleansing techniques
The proper yogic lifestule includes the performance of six hygienic duties. These are Dhauti or washing, Basti or colonic irrigation, Neti or nasal cleansing, Nauli or recti isolation, Trataka or cleansing vision and Kapalabhati or cleansing breath.
They are all cleansing acts that help the body get rid of impurities, phlegm and excess fat. They prepare the body for receiving all the benefits from pranayama and asanas. These six cleansing acts cleanse the digestive, respiratory, eliminatory and nervous systems and therefore help the body stay clean and healthy.
Meditation is a variety of methods that aim to make the mind quiet, steady and open. Its final goal is to achieve knowledge and union with the Absolute, the universal spirit. In Raja yoga meditation is to withdraw the senses, concentrate to one point or idea, sustain this concentration and finally enter a superconcious state called Samadhi.
The benefits of meditating are many. Meditation is a kind of mental hygiene. It clears the mind, it brings serenity and equanimity. It calms and tones the nervous system; it lightens the spirit and clarifies consciousness. Meditation can also be used just to relax and bring harmony within. Through meditation one can be protected against the stress of today’s life. Meditation calms the mind by making space between the thoughts.
The benefits of meditation do not stop there, through mediation the blood pressure is lowered, the muscles are relaxed and the brain waves show a new slow pattern, different from the patterns observed during sleep or hypnosis or normal awaking state, meditation also helps one to open up to brilliant emotions like peace, joy, love and happiness and this can help one to have better relationship with anyone around him, therefore leading to a more peaceful and loving world.
All of the above mentioned factors help a person to achieve a generally healthier condition of the body and to retard old age.
However yoga can be used to treat many different diseases with different combinations of asanas, breathing techniques, cleansing techniques and eating plans. For every different disease a different combination of the above mentioned has to be used. One has to know exactly the different benefits of asanas, breathing and cleansing techniques to combine them properly to obtain the best results.
Certainly many protocols exist already, written by recognized yogis like Swami Sivananda Saraswati, Swami Satyananda Saraswati, Dr Swami Karmananda and more. Possibly the best solution, when one wants to treat a specific disease, is to follow the existing protocols, because these yogis are wise and unmistakable.