The stresses of modern-day living are back-breaking, so to speak. The author, a yoga teacher, explains how yoga can help in cases of spinal ailments
“You are as young as your spine” is an old adage, yet it seems quite relevant to the modern jet-age. Most part of the daily life of a person in any metropolitan city is spent in commuting long distances, either in trains strap-hanging with one hand and
carrying a bundle of files or a briefcase or a lunch box with another; or being jostled in buses. To aggravate matters, much of the office work or factory duties or, for that matter, even study sessions are done by remaining in the same position for long hours. As if this was not enough, the ultra-
modern furniture – cushion seats, sofa sets and foam mattresses – at home and office leave anything but a happy spine!
The spine is one of the most important and vital parts of the human body. The spinal cord, a whitish wire-like substance, 46 centimetre long and one-and-a-quarter centimetre thick, is protected by three sheaths and a lubricating jelly-like fluid in the hollow bony canal-the spinal column. In addition 31 pairs of nerves (from the spinal canal) help in co-ordination.
The spine (or the vertebral column) is made up of 33 vertebrae. The first seven form the cervical region of the column which impart maximum flexibility and movement to the spine; the next 12 forming the dorsal region serving as joints of attachments for the ribs; the succeeding five form the lumbosacral region and the rest of the vertebrae are fused together to form the sacrum.
The high price one has to pay for the
sedentary life, wrong postures and lack
of exercise is backache blues, signs of
sciatica. cervical spondvlitis, slipped-disc, lumbar pain and many more allied ailments.
In a study of 5,353 patients referred for physical therapy in 11 hospitals in the San Francisco Bay region over a period of one year, the statistics show that 30 per cent of diagnoses included various types of back disabilities. Of these, 70 per cent were in the category of ’low back strain’ or similar diagnoses. (Figures taken from ‘The Therapeutic Exercises for Body Alignment and Function’.)
Physiotherapists, physical educationists and orthopaedic experts recommend exercise as the only form of treatment in the long run for a permanent relief tor any kind of spinal disorders, except where an operation is a must. Even a successful operation may not necessarily guarantee normal functioning.
These exercises include a variety of controlled movements, namely, forward and backward bending, bending towards the right and left and the right and left twist. Some simple yogasanas like Bhujangasana, Ardha-shalabhasana, Vakrasana and Chakrasana facilitate these movements, improve the flexibility of the spine. Yogasana can greatly help in correcting wrong postures and in toning up and strengthening the spinal ligaments and muscles.
A number of patients attending the Kaivalyadhama Yoga Centre at Bombay have expressed remarkable relief after practising some easy yogasanas for about three to six months regularly. Most of the patients have been recommended either by physiotherapists or orthopaedic surgeons. Mr. Rane S. K., aged 49, suffering from cervical spondylitis has undergone the usual tractional treatment and other exercises in physiotherapy. He joined the Yoga Centre on the advice of his physiotherapist After practising yoga regularly for about three months, he says : “My condition has greatly improved by doing yoga rather than when
I used to take other forms of treatment.”
Mr. Sanghvi, aged 28, who had trouble with his neck movements, tried almost all possible medicines. After practising some simple yogic exercises for about 10 months regularly, he says: “Now I have about 60 per cent of relief and I am quite happy with my progress.”
Out of quite a few yogasanas, two of the most effective, at the same time easy-to-perform yogic exercises are recommended here :
BHUJANGASANA (The Cobra Pose)
As this Asana resembles a hooded cobra, it is called Bhujangasana. Bhujanga means King Cobra in banskrit.
Fig. 1. BHUJANGASANA: The Cobra Pose relieves backache and makes the spinal column supple and flexible
Lie down flat on stomach, with both hands slightly cupped on the floor, on each side of the chest. Rest forehead on the floor keeping the legs straight. then slowly raise the head, bending neck backward and chin forward, and look upward. Slowly raise the chest and abdomen, but without putting any pressure on the hands. (See Fig. 1).
Maintain the position for a few seconds.
Then gradually return to the starting position. Repeat two or three times, with a little rest in between.
This is an excellent exercise for the spine and even a few rounds relieve backache due to over-work or strain, it makes the spine supple and elastic and promotes blood circulation.
ARDHA-SHALABHASANA (The Half-Locust Pose)
It is a preparatory exercise for Shalabhasona, an exercise resembling the locust’s pose. Shalabha rneans locust in Sanskrit.
Lie down flat on the stomach, with soles of feet facing upwards. Keep fingers clenched, and arms stretched out close to body. Rest chin on the ground. Then raise one leg slowly and steadily, keeping the other leg and trunk in immobile position. The leg should not bend at the knee-joint. (See Fig. 2). Maintain the position for a few seconds and then slowly lower the raised leg to the starting position. Repeat with the other leg. Do it alternately two or three times.
Fig. 2. ARDH-SHALABHASANA: The Half Locust Pose relieves lumbar pains due to wrong postures, pressure or strain.
It is a simple asana, but very effective. Any pain in the lumbar region due either to wrong posture or pressure can be rectified to a very great extent.
It may not be out of place here to mention that slightly modified versions of the above asanas are called ‘back-extension exercises’ in medical parlance and are taught and recommended by physiotherapists and orthopaedic surgeons in general hospitals.
Though asanas like Paschimatana and Yoga Mudra facilitate forward-bending,
we shall not describe them here, as bending forward is sometimes injurious to the spine, especially in persons suffering from spondyfitis and back.ache. Such persons should avoid bending forward – not only while exercising, but in day-to-day activities as well. Such patients are also advised not to lift heavy objects. They should avoid
sleeping on soft and thick mattresses.
Regular exercises of the right type and correct postures help a great deal in combating many of the minor spinal ailments.
The year 1978 has been the year of Hypertension. Throughout the year there were conferences, seminars and lectures ,organised by the medical associations in important cities. And, as usual, confusing and misleading statements and reports have appeared in the national press. Here is a sample. Look at a report dated April 7, 1978 from Bombay.
‘Yoga offers no cure for hypertension (High Blood Pressure) and is, at its best, a useful adjunct to the therapy. Certain Yogic postures such as Shirshasana (standing on head) isomatric type Asanas such as. Dhanurasana and Mayurasana, in fact, push up blood pressure.’
This was the general opinion at a doctors panel, discussion organised by the National Councill of Hypertension jointly with the Cardiology Society of India, the General Practitioners Association of Greater Bombay and Indian Medical Association.
Of course, some doctors were of the opinion that the Yogic exercises are capable of relaxing the muscles while other forms of exercises contracted the muscles.
Anyhow, it is clear that there is a lack of knowledge about the Yogic discipline. Yogic postures are not just Shirshasana, Dhanurasana or Mayurasana. In fact, these difficult and advanced postures are not recommended as cure for Hypertension. There are a number of easy and simple asanas which really help the victims of blood pressure. They are meant for providing relaxation.
Yogic postures should be and are recommended according to the age and the nature of ailments.
In the Kaivalyadhama Yoga Centre, Bombay, the patients are admitted only after a thorough medical examination. ‘Qualified doctors, trained in Yoga recommend the treatment
and asanas, and only those asanas are taught to the patients, as some Yogic postures are contraindicatory to certain ailments. For example, topsyturvy postures like Shirshana, Sarvangasana and Viparitakarani are not to be recommendred for high blood pressure. Forward bendings like Paschimottana and Y oga-mudra are also not prescribed for back-ache and spondylitis.
Asanas which provide relaxation will be useful for the treatment of hypertension. The regular and systematic practice of the asanas together with restrictions in diet and a change in the mental attitude have found to be very effective in checking high blood pressure and rehabilitating the patients both mentally and physically.
“Lying supine on the ground like a corpse – that is Shavasana. It wards off weariness and brings mental repose,” says Hathapradipika, one of the ancient and authentic texts on Yogic practice.
“The silent killer’ – this is what the doctors would call Hypertension. The medical dictionary defines Hypertension as “abnormally high tension, referring to blood pressure involving systolic or diastolic levels. There is no universal agreement of their upper limits of normal but cardiologists consider a resting systolic pressure of 160 mm of mercury or a resting diastolic pressure of 100 dun of mercury to be pathological. The cause may be renal, endocrine, or mechanical and toxic. But in many cases the causes are unknown and this is then called essential Hypertension. ”
They agree on one point:Hypertension is a cause rather than an effect, a symptom rather than a disease. Emotional ups and downs, the stress and strain of the daily grind and anxiety are among the chief contributory causes.
“Heredity is important, ” says the Davidson’s Principles and Practice of Medicine. ‘If both parents suffer from hypertension the incidence of the disease in the children is about 45% but if one parent suffers from it then the incidence is about 30%.”
Though the symptoms of hypertension are different” those like palpitation, giddiness, insomnia, and headache are generally attributed to it. The symptoms may sometimes be absent altogether in some individuals. They lead a normal life without being aware of their high blood pressure.
“In many cases, ” say Drs. W. Gordon Sears and R. S. Winwood, ” … it may not be wise to let patients know too much about their blood pressure lest their worry makes them overanxious and introspective.”
The reason why some eminent doctors are in favour of Yogic exercises for the treatment of hypertension is that while they prescribe Prasosin, Reserpine, Clonidine, Methyldopa and a number of antihypertensive drugs, they have to warn the patients about the side effects like tiredness, drowsiness, depression, lethargy and fatigue.
There are many Yogic exercises, known as asanas, literally meaning postures, designed to offer complete relaxation to victims of emotional and nervous disturbances. But the simplest of them is the Shavasana.
Dr. S. L. Vinekar, then Jt. Director of Kaivalyadhama and Dr. K. K. Datey, a well-known cardiologist, and others published a research paper on Shavasana and presented it at the Joint Annual Meeting of the American College of Angiology and International College of Angiology, Las Vegas (USA) in 1967.
A group of 47 patients suffering froin Hypertension were made to relax in Shavasana which is a simple Yogic exercise. “The majority of the patients showed an improvement in their symptoms,” says the research report. “Headache, giddiness, nervousness, irritability and insomnia disappeared in almost all the patients and in general the patients experienced a sense of well being.”
For those suffering from Hypertension, this exercise is specially recommended. Shavasana is derived froin the Sanskrit word Shava which means a dead body. While doing this asana, the person must lie supine on his back with his limbs spread apart to form a V, and the hands along with the torso. One must try to avoid thoughts and just let the body as well as mind relax. It is important that the breath should come regular and even, deep and slow. This enhances relaxation. This can be done by one and all.
This asana should be practised daily for about 15 to 20 minutes, twice or even thrice a day. Though, in the initial stage, total relaxation may not be possible, after sufficient practice one can develop the art of relaxation. Swami Kuvalayananda rightly stated that. ‘the technique of Shavasana is simple to understand, but somewhat difficult to practise. ” But it is essential to remember that only constant practice can help in mastering it.
A regular performance of this asana makes the muscles function better. The whole nervous system is also toned up and it leads to considerable increase in mental energy.
From: Bhavan’s Journal, Dec 31, 1978
Various socio-economic and psychological factors make the mind rattle and restIess and cause lack of concentration, especially among modern-day youth. The author, a yoga teacher, explains how yoga can help the exam-weary student.
You are attentive and your mind wanders off, let it wander, but know that it is inattentive; that awareness of that inattention is attention. Do not battle with inattention; do not try, saying: “1 must be attentive’. Know that you are inattentive; be aware, choicelessIy, that you are inattentive – what of it – and at that moment, in that inatlention, when there is action, be aware of that action. Do you understand this? It is so simple. If you do it, it becomes so clear, clear as the waters.
– J. Krishnamurti
“I am not able to concentrate on my studies, nowadays”, complains a college student. “Now my examinations are fast approaching and the thought of it gets on my nerves”, he adds with a worried look.
“My examinations are near at hand and I am restJess. I need some yoga to help me in concentrating on my studies”, says a nervous teenaged girl.
Such statements are not new. We hear them every now and then and such cases are legion. It is not the problem of a single student but of many. The root cause is too deep to probe and the more we try to understand it the more confusing it is. Also it is not easy to find a single solution and rectify it overnight.
Sub-standard text-books, poor quality of teaching, congested and crowded class-rooms in schools and cclleges, lack of facilities and amenities to study at home, constant noise outside and either postponement or cancellation of examinations at the university level are factors whieh make the mind rattie and restIess and cause lack of concentration.
Apart from socio-economic problems, there may be psychological problems too. Insecurity, lack of affection at home and lack of attention in classes, cramming a lot of dry and drab subjects without understanding and only lor the sake of examinations – all these factors are also equally responsibie for a tired and restIess mind. Over and above, the over-crowded urban areas of any cosmopolitan city deprive the student of his due share ol physical exercise and sports, which can help in developing a healthy mind.
What is to be done? let us consider how yoga can help. The yogic system believes in the inter-relation of the body and the mind. Unlike the other systems ol physical exercise, it exercises not only the body but also the mind, which plays an important role in concentration. As the influence of the mind over the body is inter-related, yoga tackles the mental aspect ol the individual first and accordingly influences his body.
Here are same simple and accepted traditional yogic practices which help concentration.
Vajrasana (Pelvic pose)
Sit on the ground. To begin with, stretch out legs and keep them straight and together. Bend one of the legs, taking hold ol the ankle and bending the knee-joint and folding it, forming the foot and the leg into a semi-circular curve, on which the buttock rests. Similarly, place the other leg and see that you sit on the soles of both your legs. (See Fig. 1)
Make a comlortable seat, keeping the knees close together. Place the palms on the respective knees. Keep the spine straight and erect. Then close the eyes and pay attention to you breathing. Just observe the breathing: it doesn’t matter whether it is fas or slow. The more you try to observe the breathing – inhalation and exhalation – the slower it becomes and more relaxation one gets. Initially one can maintain it for a minute or two and can sit comfortably for five minutes after same practice.
Varjasana (Fig: 1) The Pelvic Pose quitens the mind and calms down the nervous system. It also keeps the body free from fidgeting.
Vajrasana quietens the mind and calms down the nervous system. It helps in meditation, relaxation and mental poise. It keeps the spine straight and corrects postural defects. It also keeps the body free from fidgeting.
Take a comfortable seat. It can be Padmasana (lotus posture) or just a simple squatting. However, try to sit straight and erect, in a relaxed manner. Breathe in slowly for about four to five seconds with one nostril only, say the Ieft. and breathe out slowly through the right nostril for about eight to ten seconds. (See Fig. 2). Then again while breathing in, inhale through the right and exhale through the left. That is, one breathes in through the same nostril that one has just exhaled and uses the opposite nostril for breathing out. That is why it is called Anuloma-Viloma Pranayama or Alternate Breathing.
In this Pranayama the inhalation and exha1ation are to be done through the nostrils only, expanding the chest while breathing in and heaving down when breathing out.
Anuloma-viloma pranayama (Fig: 2) It involves inhaling through the right nostril (Ieft) and exhaling through the left nostril (right).
The ratio of inhalation and exhalation should be 1 : 2. Initially the ratio can be adjusted either through mental counts or with the help of a watch, or a mantra. It can be conveniently practised daily either in the mornings or in the evenings, or just before settling for studies for about ten rounds each time. The whole process is to be gone through in a gentle, rhythmic md smooth manner and not in jerks.
Pranayama in general strengthens the whole nervous system. Rhythmic and systematic breathing helps concentration and reduces anxiety and mental tensions. A judicious practice of Pranayama can help to a great extent in keeping the mind free trom fickleness.
HATHA PRADIPIKA, an authentic Sanskrit text on Yogic practices, claims that “the practice of Pranayama glves rise to steadiness (and balance) of mind.” That is why Pranayamas are of primary value and special significance in Yogic practice.
Along with Vajrasana and AnulomaViloma pranayama – the two yogic practices described above – students are also advised to do Shavasana, a simple but very effective relaxation exercise, when they are physically tired and mentally disturbed. Similarly, Ujjayi Pranayama a simple rhythmic deep-breathing exercise can be practised, if time permits. The techniques of Shavasana and Ujjayi Pranayama have been discussed in the October 1979 issue.
A random survey conducted of a cross-section of students practising yoga revealed that yogic practices have certainly helped many ot them.
“I have been doing’ yoga rather regularly for the last ten months and helped me to concentrate on my studies”, says Mr. Shrenik Bakshi, a student trom a Bombay College.
Scientific tests have proved that obesity reduces the efficiency of those affected and detracts from their ability to participate in many normal activities. The author, a yoga teacher, tells you how you can combat obesity.
“Recently I have developed high blood pressure and my family doctor has advised me to reduce my weight,” says the middle-aged executive.
“Now it’s high time I reduce. The doctor says that I’m on the verge of diabetes and has warned me against putting on weight,” says the plump housewife.
These statements obviously imply and indicate the risk factors of obesity and the importance of its control. If obesity is not checked in time, it carries its risks: diabetes, hypertension and heart diseases, varicose veins and so on.
“0besity caution Drs. Davidson and others in the ‘Principles and Practice of Medicine’, “reduces the efficiency of those affected. it detracts from their ability to participate in many normal activities and it is frequently associated with emotional and other psychological disturbances… Regular daily exercise is much more valuable than episodes of activity at the weekend”.
The word ‘obesity’ is derived from the Latin expression ‘obesitas’ which means ‘fatness’. The ‘Illustrated Medical Dictionary’ defines obesity as “Generalised weight excess due to accumulation of fat beyond 10 to 20 per cent of the normal range for the particular age, sex and height. It is generally due to excess food intake, often because of psychogenic factors, but rarely due to endocrine disturbances and heredofamilial factors,”
The misunderstood concept that slimness is responsible for weakness makes mothers overfeed their children. Then, when they grow up, the extra fat content deposited becomes a liability rather than an asset.
Excessive eating, especially fried and starchy foods and sweets, over-doses of alcoholic beverages, a luxurious, inactive and sedentary life and lack of proper physical exercise are the chief contributory causes for obesity,
How Yoga Helps
Nowadays many people turn to yoga to get rid of their extra weight because the yogic system does not require the use of open spaces for running or walking, which are rare in the cities. Nor does this system need gymnasiums or health clubs, which the majority of people cannot afford.
A research project taken up by the All India Institu-te of Physically Handicapped and Rehabilitation concludes that “the results show a definite weight loss in obese patients when treated with yoga therapy”.
About 48 years of clinical experience at the Kaivalyadhama Health Centre, Bombay, too gave encouraging results. During 1970-71 and 1971-72, a research project on obesity was conducted here. Under this scheme, 46 men and 38 women were admitted and given yogic treatment. Periodical readings of subcutaneous fat measurements were taken with skinfold measurement. The research report revealed that at the end of the treatment there was statistically significant reduction in the skinfolds of seven sites in male and female obese patients.
Besides practising some simple yogasanas like Bhujangasana, Ardha-shalabhasana, Paschimatana and Yoga-mudra (for details, please see the “Yoga Guide”), the following asanas are very useful and effective.
Heart attack is the most common ailment in our contemporary life. The statistics of the mortality rate of this ‘killer’ has shocked doctors and disease researchers alike.
No doubt, the tremendous technological developments and scientific researches, modern medicines and equipment help bring the patients immediate and temporary relief and life, but it is still a long way towards a sure and effective cure.
Technological advancements and scientific researches have blessed the mode of modern living with plenty of physical comforts. Cars and lifts make our conveyance convenient and comfortable; but at the same time they render us physically inactive.
Tempting, tinned and saturated food-stuffs are easily available to appease our appetites. Though all these are considered a boon to modern living, they however, prove a bane. Maybe oil these factors contribute towards overcrowding the ‘coronory care units’.
The word ‘heart attack’ is rather loosely used. We often hear of ‘coronory thrombosis’, ‘myocardial infarction’, ‘coronory disease’ and ‘ischemic heart attack’, and so on in medical jargon.
Without going into the techrilcal differences and descriptions of each case, a ‘heart attack,’ in a layman’s language, is ‘heart failure due to insuflicient blood supply and in turn inadequate oxygen to the heart muscles.’
Some of the common symptoms of heart attacks are: spasms of choking pain at the centre of the chest, radiating to left shoulder and left hand, rarely to the neck; shortness or struggle for breath, perspiration and palpitation, fainting and excessive fatigue. Stress, tensions, increased blood cholesterol, excessive drive, obesity, smoking and drinking and lack of physical exercises make an individual a vulnerable candidate for heart attack.
We hear, nowadays, about the new and increased interest in Yoga shown by the medical- profession and researchers both in India and abroad. There is a strong feeling that Yogic therapy might be useful where other forms of treatment have not been so successful and there is ample evidence to suggest that of late the medical opinion has swung in favour of Yogic exercises.
Dr. T. H. Tulpule, a noted Cardiologist from Bombay, had submitted a research paper at the VIII World Congress of Cardiologists In Tokyo on ‘Yoga as a method of relaxation for rehabilitation after myocardial infarctlon’.
Dr. Tulpule experimented with Yogasanas on 102 heart patients, keeping records and also on another control group of, 103. He found out that Yogic Asanas helped in controlling cholesterol levels, weight, blood pressure, etc. One significant finding of his was that mortality rate for the Yoga group was only 13%, whereas for the control group it was 21%. Now, Dr. Tulpule would like to study more cases of heart attacks by collaborating with the Kaivalyadhama Research Centres at Lonavia and its branch in Bombay.
Another study was conducted by Prof. C. Lakshmikantham and R. Alagesan, Madras Medical College. They presented their research work to the World Congress of Cardio Pulmonary Symposium and to the Cardiological Society of India. These results also confirm the fact that Yoga is beneficial to cardiac patients. Yoga helps the heart patients, in addition to the drugs, in maintaining the blood pressure, as well as improving the cardiac performance.
There are a number of simple Yogasanas which are very effective to heart patients, according to the above researchers. We are not enumerating all those Asanas, as they have to be learnt progressively under guidance. However, we will discuss, here, two of the simpler, easy-to-practise exercises which involve no complications.
It means, ‘lying on the ground like a corpse’ – that is Shavasana. It wards off weariness and brings mental peace.
Fig. 1. The Shavasana pose.
The method: Lie supine with limbs a bit loosely spread apart to form a ‘V’ shape and the hands along with the torso (see photograph). Keep the head, the legs and the hands in a completely comfortable position in a relaxed way. Drop the eyelids. Give a sort of auto-suggestion that from the toes to the head the body is completely relaxed and actually feel that every part of the body is perfectly relaxed. Fix the mind on the breath, which is also felt at the walls of the nose. This means just watching the breath carefully as one inhales and exhales. At this stage, one may find that breathing is very irregular, uneven and shallow. It is important that breathing should be regular and even, smooth and slow, and rhythmical and deep. This further enhances relaxation.
Shavasana should be practised daily for about 15 to 20 minutes. In the initial stages total relaxation may not be possible. However, after considerable practice one can experience complete relaxation.
Shavasana gives soothing effect to the nerves and makes the muscles function better. It increases the mental energy.
2. Ujjayi Pranayama:
Sit in Padmasana (lotus pose) or cross-legged, or in any comfortable position; sitting straight as far as possible, avoiding any artificial bends. Inhale and exhale slowly, steadily, smoothly and uniformly. Generally, the ratio of inhalation and exhalation is 1 : 2. That is, if one inhales for five seconds, then one should exhale for 10 seconds. The glottis (opening between the vocal cords at the upper part of the wind pipe) should be partially contracted while inhaling and exhaling so that a sort of ‘hissing’ sound is produced. Expand the chest and control the abdomen at the time of inhalation, and while exhaling see that the chest is heaved, down gradually while contracting the abdomen.
Care should be taken not to make any facial contortions while doing the Pranayama. Initially one can start with some five to ten rounds of Ujjayi Pranayama, – one inhalation and one exhalation is considered to be one round, and gradually increase up to – 10 to 20 rounds. It increases the blood circulation of the heart and strengthens the whole nervous system. It can be practised in the mornings and evenings along with Shavasana.
After hospitalization, the patient should give more time for his mental and physical rest. Regular exercises (without overexerting himself) must feature in his daily program. He should also avoid eating too fast and full. There should be a drastic change in the dietary habits, that is, he should add plenty of green vegetables and fresh fruits to his menu, altogether, and avoid butter, ghee, cream, fried things etc.
The Yogic way of relaxation and breathing – a must for heart patients – is simple and easy to practise. Unlike other physical exercises it does not put any strain on the body and unlike allopathic drugs, it does not produce any harmful side effects.
One must learn the art of relaxation – both physical and mental – and take things rather easy. Regular and systematic practice of Yoga together with restrictions on diet and a change in the mental attitude, have been found to be very effective n checking heart attacks and rehabilitating the patients both physically and mentally.
While modem medicine says that Chronic Cold is a virus infection. Yoga claims that our ancient Yoga system of practices provides us with encouraging results.
“HIS nose is always blocked,” complains a teenage girl about her ten-year-old brother. “He always breathes through his mouth.” “My
complaint is chronic cold. I have tried almost all treatments possible and I am fed up,”
bemoans another commercial artist. “I have had sinus trouble for several years. It comes in the way of my studies and I cannot concentrate” says a student. “My brother’s asthma started with a cold. Now I have also started suffering from chronic cold and I am a bit scared that it might lead to asthma,” one
executive expressed his concern.
Chronic cold is a common complaint, sparing neither young nor old. Most remedies for the so-called chronic cold provide little relief, or none at all.
A cold is generally called “common’ because more than 25 per cent of the world’s population experiences four or more infections a year and 50 per cent experiences two or three infections a year, and the remaining 25 per cent one or no infection a year. (The figures are taken from The Complete Illustrated Book of Better Health).
As far as the medical world is concerned, this ailment is caused by an allergy. It is not a
precisely defined disease. Its characteristics are a short and mild discomfort caused either by a running nose, or frequent sneezes, or blocking of the nose. But, when these occur frequently and persist for a long enough time to cause concern it is called a “chronic cold.”
“A constitutional upset may be the first
indication of the onset of a cold. It may be shown by headache, muscular aching, lassitude and malaise,” says Dr. D.A.J. Terryll, author of the “Common Colds.” He adds “This common cold may lead to a number of other complications … the mild sinusitis, etitis media or
bronchitis which may accompany or follow a cold.”
The nose is the first passage way of the
respiratory system and has to adjust the body to temperature changes in the environment. The slightest change and disturbance in the mechanism gives rise to congestion of the nasal mucous membrane. Stress and mental tensions make the patient more susceptible to such
hough modern medicine has made unimaginable progress in recent years, it has not been able to offer anything worthwhile with which to fight the chronic cold, sinus, sinusitis,
rhinovirus, etc. Very often the sinus is punctured and the deviated septum is operated
upon. At times, antibiotics and antihistamines are given for temporary relief. However, there is no permanent cure and the patient continues to suffer.
It is interesting to know how Yoga helps in such cases. Some simple Yogic practices like Jalaneti (nasal wash with tepid saline water), and Sutra-neti (frictional massage with a rubber catheter) aim at acclimatising the nasal
mucosa to the changes in the temperature, moisture contents, dust particles, etc.
Fifty cases of chronic cold, sinus and sinusitis, among all age-groups, have been studied in the Kaivalyadhama Health Centre, Marine Drive, Bombay, within a span of six months.
Case records of all the patients and interviews with them revealed considerable improvement even during the course of treatment. All those who attended regularly testified to 50 to 80 per cent improvement after a month’s practice. Out of these 50 patients, to our surprise, there are quite a few doctors also.
Dr. I. B. Jain, 32 years, used to suffer from common cold off and on for about five years. No more does he catch a cold, nor does he take tablets for it.
Another medical practitioner, Dr. D. C. Shukla, tried almost all allopathic drugs for a number of years to cure his chronic cold. But he could get complete relief only after doing Yogic
Mr. A. B. Panchal, (35), was operated once for his sinus trouble which had been affecting him for the last six years. But the trouble started all over again. “I am now relieved to a great extent from my sinus trouble, ” says Mr. Panchal, after practising Yoga for the last three months.
Along with some simple Asanas and Pranayamas, the following three Yogic practices have been found to be very useful.
Take a feeding cup and fill it with saline tepid water. Bend the head sideways slightly tilted downwards and insert the nozzle of the feeding cup into the upper nostril. (See photograph). Water automatically flows through the other nostril. The same process should be repeated through the other side also. It could be done two to three times.
The only precaution that is to be taken in this is not to inhale through the nostrils.
Fig 1. Jala-neti
Jala-neti not only cleanses the nasal passage
but also acc1imatises the mucous membrane to the various changes in temperature.
It may not be out of place here to point out that the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases in the United States has recommended ‘nasal washing’ as one of the methods to prevent colds. Prof. E. G. Bang of Johns Hopkins Medical School in the U. S., recommends simple rinsing of the nose with tepid saline water.
Formerly, when rubber was not in vogue,
people used to do this with cotton cords. Now No. 4, or 5 size rubber catheters, which can be obtained from any chemists shop, could be used with advantage.
The rounded tip of the catheter is to be inserted in the nostril so that it passes through the nasal passage and is felt at the back of the throat and the small tongue. Then, put either the index and middle fingers or the thumb and index finger into the mouth and hold the end and pull it out slowly. Then catch the hard end outside the mouth with the other hand, move the catheter forwards and backwards gently about three to four times and pull out through the mouth. Then wash it and repeat the same in the other nostril.
This clears the passage of the nose and toughens the mucous membrane.
How this used to be done in good old days, when the use of rubber was not at all known? A very interesting Sanskirt stanza in Hathapradipika, one of the authentic texts on various practices of Yoga, says:
Inserting a nine-inch lubricated thread into the nasal passage, one should pull it through the mouth. This is neti as pronounced by accomplished ones.
The text also elucidates the various advantages, of this type of practice, though in an exaggerated tone.
Neti clears the frontal rinuses, gives good eye-sight and annihilates a number of diseases of, the region above the shoulders.
This is one of the varieties of the traditional Pranayamas, with a sudden and quick inward movement of the abdominal, muscles below the region of the navel when we exhale, and with a normal onward abdominal movement when we inhale. This specific Pranayama helps in cleansing the nose and sinuses with air.
While modern science says the chronic cold is a virus infection without any cure for it, our ancient Yogic system provides us with encouraging results through a preventive and curative method applicable not only to chronic colds, but also to sinus, sinusitis and rhinovirus infections.
The stomach is the storehouse of the human body and a sign-post of its general condition. Watch a medical practitioner examining his patient – be he an allopathic doctor, an ayurved physician, a homoeopath or a unani hakim. He will first examine the condition of the stomach to see whether there is an enlargement of liver or gas formation or any other problem. A good and healthy digestive system is the source of all our energy, strength and ability to resist certain diseases.
Doctors are of the opinion that more than 90 per cent of all diseases are due to a bad stomach. Fortunately, nature has provided the stomach with a inherent ability to dilute irritable substances and to kill all sorts of bacteria by certain acidic contents excreted. Excessively hot and cold drinks are brought to body temperature, while solid foodstuffs are made easily digestible by being mixed with the gastric juices.
Unfortunately, modern dietary habits, a sedentary life-style and lack of proper exercise contribute to a bad stomach.
Ask any person the reason for his general uneasy condition. the most likely answer is either constipation, or indigestion or flatulence. One can include colitis, dysentery, flatus and dyspepsia to the list. One reason for these prevalent diseases is that one never realise the importance of one’s visceral system, nor do we think of giving it proper exercise, rest and relaxation.
Yoga Has An Edge
Open-air exercises and outdoor games are often recommend, for physical fitness and good mental health. But, unfortunately, open-air exercises like walking, running, swimming and outdoor games like football, basketball, tennis, hockey and cricket all help in exercising only the “lower and upper extremities”, that is, the legs and hands. The visceral system, which includes the entire digestive system, pancreas and liver remains neglected.
In this respect yogic exercises have an edge over the other types of physical exercises and games. Any traditional yogic practice not only tones up the visceral system, but strengthens it as well.
Let us examine here some of the important and chronic digestive disorders, their common factors, and how yoga can help.
Constipation And Flatulence
It is generally believed that irregular and incomplete bowel movements constitute constipation. Due to chronic constipation, putrefaction (decomposition) takes place. The products of putrefaction are poisonous and extremely harmful to the system. Headache, a coated tongue and loss of appetite are some of the common symptoms attributed to constipation and flatulence. However, constipation may be due to suppressing the natural urge for ejection and misuse of purgatives and laxatives.
Most of the purgatives and laxatives that are available in the market irritate the colon and give only temporary relief. Above all, in due course, they make the whole system weaker.
All remedies except yoga fail in the treatment of asthma, says a study by the Kaivalyadhama Yoga Research Centre at Lonavia.
Asthma, a respiratory disorder, was previously termed as the ‘English disease’, as it was widely prevalent in England, due mainly to urbanization. Now this disease has spread to every part of the world.
In India, all big cities abound in health hazards due to overcrowding and unhygienic living conditions. Over and above all this, water pollution, air pollution and adulteration in food make the I human system more vulnerable to many respiratory diseases.
“Asthma is a disorder of the upper respiratory tract,” says the Illustrated Encyclopaedia of Medicine, “involving lungs and the bronchi and is characterized by wheezing, coughing, choking sensation in the lung cavity and short breath.” So far, in spite of extensive research, medical scientists have not succeeded in producing any medicine that would offer a complete cure. In fact,
allopathic doctors believe that asthma is a kind of allergy and cannot be cured.
Even if one accepts what the allopaths say it is almost certain that a combination of yogic exercises – kriyas (cleansing processes), asanas (postures) and pranayamas (yogic breathing), can help asthma patients to a very great extent. Even if the relief is only about 60 to 80 per cent it is worth trying.
In 1964-65 an asthma project was taken up by the Kaivalyadhama Yoga Research Centre at Lonavla, under a grants-in-aid scheme from the Ministry of Health. One hundred and twenty-four asthma patients were treated under this scheme and 110 case histories were taken up for detailed study. After assessing the results, the medical report says that “yogic treatment of asthma is of help even in cases where all other known modes of treatment have failed”.
The on-the-spot study conducted by Dr B.K. Anand, Professor of Physiology, All India Institute of Medical Sciences, and
Dr C. Dwarkanath, Adviser of Indigenous Systems of Medicines, Ministry of Health, showed equally encouraging results on the relief obtained by yogic practices. “A large majority of cases,” says their
assessment, “had obtained relief for short or long periods while staying in the hospital.”
A series of very simple yogasanas, which vary according to the physical condition of the patient, work effectively on the respiratory, digestive, glandular and nervous
Pranayama like ujjayi and kapalabhati help to improve the autonomous nervous system and rhythmic and systematic breathing help to reduce mental tensions – one of the chief causes of asthma. While these cannot be described here, it is worthwhile to explain the kriyas.
Among kriyas, danda-dhauti (drinking of salt water and removing it through a rubber tube) and wastra-dhauti (swallowing a fine strip of cloth and taking it out) help in removing the mucus contents and gastric acidity.
Warning: These kriyas, especially the wastra-dhauti can be dangerous if attempted without guidance of a experienced teacher or medic. Do not experiment with these on your own!
Some yoga schools advocate vamana-dhauti or kunjali-kriya, wherein one drinks water and throws up by inserting one’s fingers into the mouth and tickling the pharynx. This process also gives the same effect as danda-dhauti.
Asthma, respiratory troubles, spleen and skin ailments and various other disease due to cough and phlegm can be cured by wastra-dhauti.
Diet also plays an important role in obtaining good results. Asthma patients in general are advised to abstain from spicy food, oil, chilies and too much salt. However, every individual has his or her own specific conditions and needs. Therefore a consult with an Ayurvedic medic is recommended so he can provide a diet that meets the personal requirements.