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Yoga Chikitsa

Dear Friend,

I hope you are doing well. I just came back from the annual Spring Weekend Yoga Retreat which was such an amazing experience as always, the wonderful people who attended, the serene nature around us, the superb vegan cuisine cooked with love, and the deep dive into all matters yoga which has a profound effect on so many levels. I really love doing these retreats and am very grateful for everyone who joins them, some of which have been attending a few retreats. It's such a pleasure to spend that time with everyone!

This month I want to share with you some thoughts about one of the most essential purposes of yoga as inspired by one of my beloved teachers (Dr. Ganesh Mohan), a purpose that tends to be forgotten or disregarded often. Yoga was created to be primarily a therapeutic process, or more accurately a self-healing method that can be linked with other preventative approaches to health and wellbeing. It is based on a diagnosis of a universal condition we all suffer from which is called dukkha and offers prescribed measures for healing from this condition. This condition, dukkha, can appear in different ways and have different symptoms, but it is basically similar for everyone of us at the root level.

The term that is commonly used in the Yoga and Ayurveda (ancient Indian medicine) tradition for this process of self-healing is chikitsa  which is a Sanskrit word that means “to oppose or act against disease.” Charaka, the author of the classic treatise on Ayurveda, defines all forms of disease as duhkha, but in the context of yoga it is can be defined as unnecessary psychological suffering, a feeling of not being at ease. As a state of mind, this requires little elaboration to understand—in fact, the word “dis-ease” itself implies this. Chikitsa (the therapeutic process of yoga) is not just for the body; it is also for the mind.

Duhkha is an unsatisfactory state in which there is a constant underlying sense that something is missing, that things are not as they should be. It can appear on the surface level of consciousness or deep in the subconscious where it tends to have a more negative impact. It can manifest in many ways, from anger to depression. The opposite of dukkha is a feeling of mental expansion, of lightness and freedom that we feel when circumstances are, in our judgment, favorable to us (sukkha in Sanskrit). 

All of us are aware of both these states of our mind. We continually oscillate between them all through our lives. In terms of the three gunas, the state of mind in which sattva predominates is the one in which we have the least duhkha. Peace and clarity characterize sattva and that naturally implies an absence of duhkha. The Yoga Sutras (classical text on yoga) say that it is possible to be free of duhkha and they describe the steps we can take to move towards that goal of greater sattva. But this is not a goal that is meant to be experienced exclusively at the level of the mind, it is very important that we don't bypass the level of the body.

In our present state, the connection between our mind and body runs deep. Our state of mind is inextricably linked to that of our body. Disturbances in our body are reflected as a lack of ease in our mind (and vice versa). If we pay attention closely we may discover that in the background of our moods or emotional states there is some discomfort in the body, we may feel pressure or tightness, or even pain somewhere. It can be very interesting to inquire into what is the main cause for our condition, is it the physical sensation or the mental state? One thing for sure, we cannot be mentally at ease in the face of physical illness, therefore our mental wellbeing rests on the foundation of physical well-being. Any approach to relieve “dis-ease” must account for this deep connection between the body and mind.

Ayurveda first begins with prevention and treatment of predominant physical illness and then also moves to the consideration of mental wellness, never losing sight of either. Similarly, the practice of Yoga starts with letting go of harmful patterns on a physical level and creating positive ones which leads to a more healthy body and an overall sense of wellbeing. Then we can start to shift things at the level of the mind, reducing automatic reactivity and increasing clarity and wise discernment.

The goal of yoga is simply to be happy and fulfill our potential to live a good life. The question what is really a good life is a multi-faceted question that needs much time and space to explore, but the goal of this project is as simple as that. The main problem most of us face as we move forward on the yoga path is that most of what we were taught from a young age as the recipe for a good life doesn't seem to work very well, and so we are in need of some healing from years of living under these false assumptions. When we start treating our body and mind with sincere care we discover how quickly they start healing and how much capacity we have to be peaceful and radiant, to be well.

Yoga teachings recommend various techniques aimed at the body and mind, treating them as a continuum, as different flavors or expression of the same thing - consciousness, existence, life. For an effective process of Yoga Chikitsa we need to practice asana, pranayama and meditation, but we also need to maintain the right diet and relationships, the right attitude and lifestyle, and treating others with kindness and goodwill. We have to figure out how much bandwidth we currently have for practicing the different forms of yoga and be content with that, and then check once in a while to see if there is healing, even on a small scale, happening in the field of body and mind.

If you find yourself curious about these kinds of topics - join a workshop, a retreat, or any other event on offer.

Looking forward to sharing yoga with you in May.

Wishing everyone peace and happiness,


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