The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, considered to be a collective authoritative text on the practice and philosophy of yoga, were compiled by the sage Patanjali at least 1,700 years ago. They outline the “eight limbs of yoga”, which teach us the ways in which one can live a yogic life. They also describe the result of a regular and dedicated practice and how one can achieve that goal.
“Sutra” means “thread,” and collectively, the Yoga Sutras weave together the wisdom, philosophy and practice of yoga like the threads of a beautiful tapestry. These learnings evolved and were passed on over thousands of years via the oral tradition of chanting and were organised and explained in written form by Patanjali.
Yoga is recognized as a form of mind-body medicine that integrates an individual’s physical, mental and spiritual components to improve aspects of health, particularly stress related-illnesses. Evidence shows that stress contributes to the aetiology of heart disease, cancer and stroke as well as other chronic conditions and diseases. The scientific study of yoga has increased substantially in recent years and many clinical trials have been designed to assess its therapeutic effects and benefits.
Yoga started as a mix of various ideas, beliefs and techniques. Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra first gave yoga an order. The Raja yoga, often referred to as classical yoga, consists of an eight-limbed path listing a series of steps and stages that lead towards samaadhi or enlightenment. Tantra yoga was later developed as a series of practices to rejuvenate the body and to prolong life. It comprises radical techniques to cleanse the body and mind.
Yoga is now regarded in the Western world as a holistic approach to a healthy lifestyle and is even classified by the National Institute of Health as a form of Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM). The word “yoga” comes from a Sanskrit root “yuj” which means union, or yoke, to join, and to direct and concentrate one’s attention.
Yoga has four principles: conserve your breath, preserve your body, be established in the flow, and synchronise your unit rhythm with the universal rhythm — your circadian rhythm, with that of the cosmos. For you to become superhuman, you need to have insight, foresight and multi-sensory perceptions.
Yoga, as we see, experience and have heard about, involves asanas, breathing and meditation. What we miss out on is its role in reorganising our systems, functions and organs. In the last few years, when the world was going through a devastating pandemic, this 5,000-year-old mental, physical and spiritual practice came to our rescue.
Yoga has the potential of aligning and balancing our elements or Panchamahabhuta (air, water, fire, earth, space). The imbalance of Panchamahabhuta creates ‘tridoshas.’ The three ‘doshas,’ meaning basic components, are Vaata, Pitta and Kafa Prakruti. These doshas together determine our Prakruti (body organisation). Every human body is a well-adjusted mixture of the Vaata (constituted by space and air), Pitta (constituted by fire and water) and Kafa (constituted by water and Earth).
These doshas in an ideal balanced state give healthy status to the individual. But when there is an imbalance, it results in disease. Our attitude and behaviour play a pivotal point in upholding health or conversely, bring in an array of diseases. Thus, the balanced sattvic diet or food intake, regular yoga exercise and timely medication (which changes according to the dominant dosha), are advocated to avoid health problems.
Most also haven’t known and understood how the power of stillness in postures can stimulate growth hormones and regulate glandular hormonal functions. Many also don’t realize how yoga helps cellular regeneration in real time simultaneously. Just as one cell dies, the other is created. This itself is anti-ageing, supports longevity and prevents diseases.
“Yoga is designed to bring about increased physical, mental and emotional wellbeing,” says M. Mala Cunningham, Ph.D., counselling psychologist and founder of Cardiac Yoga. “Hand in hand with leading a heart-healthy lifestyle, it really is possible for a yoga-based model to help prevent or reverse heart disease. It may not completely reverse it, but you will definitely see benefits.” As stress has an adverse reaction on blood pressure and heart disease, yoga has a tremendous benefit to manage it. Many individuals also experience calmness after doing yoga.
A 2016 report from the American Academy of Paediatrics concluded that yoga appears to be promising as a stress management tool for children and adolescents, with very low reports of adverse effects. It also said that yoga may have positive effects on psychological functioning in children coping with emotional, mental, and behavioural health problems. The report noted, however, that studies of yoga for children have had limitations, such as small sample sizes and high dropout rates.
The most beautiful part about yoga is its subtlety and its capacity to regenerate our faculties — our ability to see, hear, touch, taste, smell, patience, tolerance, insights, foresights, intuitions and clarity of mind. It makes us evolve, brings leadership to form.
We’ve heard about yoga balancing the mind, calming the mind, but many wouldn’t know how yoga, meditation, postures and balance can heal your heart, heal your pain and give you sympathy, empathy, compassion, inner strength, grace for forgiving, forgetting and blessing.
Yoga has the power to heal diseases. The disorder turns into order, disease will turn into ease of living and decay will turn into regenerative processes. Yoga is invincible. It brings faith, conviction and most importantly, optimism.
A 2020 review of 12 recent studies (672 total participants) on a variety of types of yoga for stress management in healthy adults found beneficial effects in all of them. Of the 17 older studies (1,070 total participants) of yoga for stress management included in a 2014 review, 12 studies showed improvements in physical or psychological measures related to stress.
In a recent review of 14 studies (involving 1,084 total participants) that assessed the effects of yoga on positive aspects of mental health, most found evidence of benefits, such as improvements in resilience or general mental well-being.
Yoga has been shown to be helpful for sleep in several studies of cancer patients, women with sleep problems and older adults.
In conclusion, yoga has various benefits for our bodies as well as our minds. A constant and healthy boost of happy hormones can significantly influence your energy levels and overall productivity. Yatha pinde tatha brahmande (As is the atom, so is the universe).
(Dr Mehta is the FIT India Movement Champion by the Sports Authority of India and is a holistic health guru)