“One of the important rules is that
we should know what NOT to teach.”
– TKV Desikachar on Yoga as a Therapy’.
“One of the important rules is that
we should know what NOT to teach.”
– TKV Desikachar on Yoga as a Therapy’.
“We have to examine many factors to see what is the origin of what is known as a symptom and according to that we have to propose for this condition some Yoga which is not just Āsana.
Yoga is a process which makes me understand how my mind is functioning and then reduces the turbulence of mind, any technique that helps this helps the person. We are reaching the human being through the mind; we are reaching the sickness through interaction at the mental level, with different tools of course.
This is why it is a challenge for Yoga.”
So to conclude from what you are saying, because somebody comes in with a particular problem and Yoga helps that person with a problem we cannot turn it around and say therefore that Yoga helps that problem in all situations.
We help the person, because we help the person certain illnesses are reduced
but we need to know how to help the person.
If I may conclude with an awkward question. For somebody reading this interview they would perhaps understand from it that Yoga is not a straightforward means of for this problem this solution.
Yet there are many, many Yoga books already on the marketplace that offer precisely this, almost as a glossy self-help manual with quite specific links between postures and diseases or breathing techniques and diseases, between techniques and illnesses.
What have you to say to the reader with this respect, because there is this large body of, I cannot say evidence of, there is this large body of information that is there. What is the reader to do? With all this what can help?
So we as students come to Yoga. How do teachers evaluate, if from what you are saying it could be that the same symptom. If we take stress for example, similar stress could produce five different responses. One person gets blood pressure, one person will get digestive problems, another person will have headaches, and another person will get sleep problems and another person it will effect their relationship.
How do you evaluate? What are the principles on which we can evaluate in order to decide what could be helpful for a problem when there are so many variables based on the same, even on the same symptoms such as in particular stress which can produce some of the results.
First I must have the training, anybody can have good training. I can work on the computer but I must have training. I know nothing I must have training. Training includes certain knowledge of the basics of Yoga, knowledge of the human system, personal pride so that you have some conviction of what you are talking about which means personal experience, internship where we see how the more experienced teacher is doing that work she is doing. We make sure of that in our School that there is a strong internship.
Would you say that this response is true for the West, because I know in India the role of relationship, especially with the teacher, is much more pronounced, much more prominent, much more an accepted part of society, whereas in the West we tend to live in a more remote way and therefore using books, using videos is much more acceptable for us in terms of relationships.
Do you feel that your words, which have come out of another culture in our society, can have the same impact for us in the West where we are much more used to going to the bookshop, much more used to being able to do it ourselves.
Also, it is almost for us in the West to be seen as a failure if I have to go to somebody. Sometimes when people go into therapy they regard it as a failure that they have to go to a therapist and talk to someone because I am not able to do it myself.
You know Paul I am not just of India, I am also of South India and there people like you come to see me in India. Once there is some confidence I do not see much difference between East and West, it is a question earning the confidence.
In today’s society we see many books on positive attitude, positive thinking, so what is it about Yoga that is different from say going into a bookshop and picking up a book that says ’think positive’.
What are the qualities in Yoga that makes it unique and different than from say reading a book on positive action, trying to cultivate positive action because in some sense it could be less effort to just pick up a book.
Why Yoga and how does Yoga work in this area of positive attitude?
This eminent neuroscientist who had the by-pass who also was shocked by the by-pass he has said a lot of things, he was written a lot of books, he is a great scholar and what in fact they had was intellectual but when he went to a teacher, in this case me, when I spoke to him it had a stronger impact to the extent that it stayed, it stayed and became a part of his life.
That is the difference between what we get out of a book and when somebody is in front of you, you trust this person, you are ready to listen to this person and that person says something it has a power, it is coming from a human being. I am not rejecting books, books influence, books influence me but in this a person is more profound.
Question to TKV Desikachar:
So we can consider then that the effect of Yoga is not seen to be directly on the symptom as in modern medicine, it appears from what you are saying it is more to do with the relationship with that problem.
At what level is the human system changing? Because there must be some change in order for that change to reach to the level of the symptom or to my relationship with the symptom. At what level of the human system do you think these changes are occurring at?
Response from TKV Desikachar:
I have asked this question to experts because one of my jobs is also to write about these things. I have asked people how does it happen. Positive attitudes they say produce positive things in your immune system. There are a lot of technical terms for that. Negative attitudes produces negative immune system. Attitudes influence how the immune system functions.
Somebody who is asthmatic who is so miserable who thinks she cannot do anything, when she starts she can do something, she is not so unfit, she can raise the arms, she can breath a little more than she thinks she can. When she gets confidence in herself she becomes more positive about herself, even the medicine she takes has a more positive effect as we have seen sometimes when people do Yoga with this affection, with this love, the need for medicine is reduced.
So I think from the scientific point of view a positive approach has a positive effect on the immune system and the rest is a question of time.
So if we find that Yoga is difficult to evaluate in terms of Science and I appreciate that it does not work in the same way that Western medicine does in that Western medicine looks at the symptom then tries to tackle the particular symptom. How in your opinion does Yoga work, what is in Yoga that is so precious, so special?
I had an expert medical doctor, super expert doctor she had some problem with headaches. An extremely competent person but nothing could help, she is a surgeon also, a great writer and then somebody suggested why don’t you try Yoga, that is all. She came to us. I did not teach her, I asked one of my colleagues to teach her. After one month she just said, this is magic. I cannot explain it and the science to it, I have done research, I tried meditating, nothing happened, and this is magic, that is all I can say. She is very grateful for this. I asked her how do you explain some of simple things that we taught you. One thing I must say she said is that you seem to know more about the body than we do. You seem to know about the intricacies of the body but we do not know how the body moves, we do not know what is stiffness what is flexibility, we do not know how to make a body flexible.
On the question of clinical conditions, the Western way treats disease in terms of the use of drugs and has a consistent response to disease and this is seen as something that is of great interest to people in the West.
In terms of Yoga research could you talk more about what exists in terms of research into Yoga in India from a medical viewpoint.
We have a lot of data to say that somebody had a problem, they went to some Yoga courses and then they got better. We have enormous data back in India. This is because India has many Yoga teachers, reputable teachers and not so reputable teachers. When I look at the journals and newspapers many Institutions are doing a lot of good work where people feel better after going to Yoga.
The problem is what does this word ’Yoga’ mean. Because science is exact, science expects that we know what was given and what were the conditions in which it was given and what are the effects and science expects this to be repeated again and again. A particular medicine is given for a particular condition again and again and again and when it was not given it does not work and when it is given it works, this is why they have this double blind test.
This link with Science and Yoga appears to have given way to more of a link between Yoga and medical conditions, what we call clinical conditions, pathology, to what was originally as you say the power of mind over body. It has become now much more of an interest in problems of the body and problems of the mind.
Could you talk more about how you saw this link developing, because on the one hand we have these as you say feats, these tremendous feats, you gave examples of these feats and now we have this interest in Yoga for clinical conditions. Do you have some understanding of how this has evolved into looking at Yoga in this way?
When these scientists, also medical scientists, became interested in Yoga they began to read books on it. Some of these books were translated into English at the beginning of the previous century. Some great English scholars translated some of the ancient Yoga books into English. Some of these books i.e. The Haṭha Yoga Pradīpikā talk about the effect of Yoga practise on illness. They talk about certain postures, Āsana, curing certain diseases. This is not the only book; quite a few books talk about the curative aspects of Yoga.
It is a very broad area that we want to look at around science and medical conditions, as there is a tremendous interest in Yoga as a therapy in the world today.
I would like to start by maybe getting a historical perspective on Yoga and asking questions on your understanding of it. Where do you feel that this link started between Yoga and Science? Because Yoga originally was something that was not associated with science.
It was something that was done for personal development, spiritual development, or even perhaps physical development and somewhere we seem to have made this link with science, which was predominantly something that was growing up in the West whilst at the same time Yoga was growing or has grown in India, with less connection directly with science.
So I am wondering if you could help develop this question about the link between Yoga and Science.
If we look at the history of India, for centuries and centuries for different reasons India has always fascinated the West. More people have travelled to India from the West than from other parts because the Chinese could not come because of the mountains. There has been silk; there has been a lot of mix about India’s great history; also many conquerors came.
“One of the important rules is that we should know what not to teach.”
– Extract from Interview with TKV Desikachar by Paul Harvey in 2000
on ‘Science, Medical Conditions and Yoga as a Therapy’.
n.b. This ‘rule’ was one of the primary foci for my first years 121 lessons
on Pathology and Yoga Cikitsa with Desikachar when living in Madras through 1980.
So from what you are saying it appears that it is not really possible to evaluate Yoga in the terms that would satisfy Western science, in terms of having several study groups, one group practising Yoga, one group practising some placebo, one group not practising; measuring the different groups and trying to determine the effect over the same period of time.
It is a challenge. Now I am not saying that people have not done this type of study, I always want to call it study, I do not call it a conclusion, study is being done by scientific people interested in Yoga, studies are being done but there is a tendency to make a hasty conclusion. There are many Institutions in India that say we have done these studies
“And yet in many places around the world there are attempts being made to link Yoga to specific diseases, can you talk more about this and what is happening in your own Institute in this area.”
“Even if you take a particular illness, which is known as an illness according to medical parlance like asthma or blood pressure, what we offer to these people is not the same thing. We do not have a specific solution for a specific problem.
For example, somebody may have blood pressure because of some family history, somebody else may have blood pressure because of some stress, somebody may have blood pressure because of anxiety, somebody may have blood pressure because of that period in their life, somebody may have blood pressure, high blood pressure suddenly because of a broken relationship.
We need to take into account all these factors to exactly form a programme of Yoga. It could be relaxation for somebody, it could be some breathing exercises for somebody, it could be some Āsana for somebody, it could be some meditation for somebody, and for somebody it could be just talking to the person, just to establish a friendly relationship and console them.
The condition is the same and these are all Yoga. As far as the doctor is concerned it is blood pressure. For somebody else maybe none of these things work but maybe we have to talk to them about their diet or their lifestyle.”