Why yoga matters in today’s world

Yoga has positive effects in the immune functions of the individual. It has thus the constructive effect in the overall personality development.

Dr Ajay Risal

  • Read Time 5 min.

 Yoga, the word with a Sanskrit origin (root-‘Yuj’), literally means “to unite” or “to join”. Although considered to be more than five thousand years old (2700 BC), yoga is the heart of our age-old sanatana dharma, culture and tradition. In the sanatana dharma, yoga signifies the union of an individual with the cosmic consciousness, static prakriti (nature) with the dynamic purusha (divinity), and deha (body) or mana (mind) with the atma (soul). 

I am a student of modern-day science, health, and allopathy. But I also have the ancestral inclination towards our roots, the sanatana dharma, and have basic knowledge of our ancient teachings in the eastern civilization system. Hence, I consider yoga to be the medium that connects our prehistoric eastern sanatana gyana (knowledge) with the present-day western bigyana (science).

It is said that yoga was actually initiated by the Adiyogi lord Shiva in the Himalayas, then transferred through the Sapta Rishis (seven great sages), and brought to the present state by the Maharshi Patanjali. It has been propagated in our Guru-Shishya (preceptor-disciple) system through the Shruti-Smritee (listening and memorizing) tradition as a practical life knowledge. The Yoga system has many forms in the present day: Patanjala yoga, Kundalinee yoga, Hatha yoga, Laya yoga, Mantra yoga, Raja yoga, Jaina yoga etc. Lord Krishna, considered to be the Yogeshwara (lord of yoga), has explained many other variants of yoga: gyanayoga, karmayoga, dhyanayoga, bhaktiyoga, buddhiyoga, shankhya yoga, etc, in the Shreemada-Bhagwad-Geeta, and called for utilizing yoga in the lifestyle modification system. Hence, its significance in today’s world is much more.

It has been predicted that more than 300 million people in the present day world practice yoga in one form or another; either in the way of appropriate posture or the breathing exercises or the meditation. All of these are yogabhyasa (yogic practices). Self-discipline, cleanliness or purity, and the correct social practices are the pillars of yogic principles. Now, even in the western teachings, yoga has been included among the complementary and alternative forms of treatments in any types of physical or psychosocial ailments. Post-covid world is more welcoming to yoga.

Patanjali has explained ashtanga (eight limbs) yoga: Yama (moral conduct), Niyama (self-discipline), Asana (correct posture), Pranayama (proper breathing techniques), Pratyahara (withdrawal from sensory pleasures), Dharana (concentration), Dhyana (meditation), and Samadhi (oneness with atma or true self). Holistic union of all these limbs ultimately metamorphoses an individual to a complete or pure yogi. Similarly, Lord Krishna has elaborated the significance of right food, proper livelihood, purity, cleanliness, and faith, for the precise yogic life.

International researches have revealed that Yoga is essential not only for the active physical life, but also it has a substantial role to maintain dynamism, balance, cognition, emotion, sleep hygiene, quality of life, personal, physical and psychosocial health, and well-being of an individual of any age or gender group.

Current world is aging because of the rising average life expectancy of its people, thanks to the development of modern medical facilities. Even in Nepal, life expectancy has reached 73-75 years. It is predicted that the elderly population will probably double in the fifty years duration (2000-2050 AD). More alarming is the fact that 80 percent of the elderly population will be living in the low-and-middle-income countries like Nepal.

Having a long life may be a boon. Our Vedic scriptures actually pray for a long life:  jeevema sharada satam. However, it may have some negative aspects too. Increasing elderly population brings cumulative effects on psychosocial, behavioral, and physical (mainly the musculoskeletal), and many more health issues. What about their quality of life? Hence, the aging world will definitely cast extra challenges in the public health care system. For that reason also, yoga is an important contribution from our ancestors, our sanatana dharma.

Physical activity is considered to be an important marker of good health in our health science. The World Health Organization recommends at least 150-300 minutes of active exercise for 2-3 days in a week, even for the senior citizens. Younger people should definitely practice more than that. In order to prevent age-wise deterioration in lifestyle efficiency, physical activity is required for any age group of people. Yoga provides all these at a very minimal cost. Furthermore, yoga ensures preserved sovereignty, independence, social responsibility, respect, and quality of life that the older people require or fear of losing. Even so, only 25 percent of the senior citizens are found to be physically active. Hence, we, the health-workers fear: What sorts of health problems these inactive elders may need to bear with?

Practicing yoga is not so difficult in our part of the world, even for the elderly population. People here, in general, and the senior citizens in particular, are accustomed with the sanatana culture. So, they can easily bring yogic activities in their day-to-day life. Yogasana (posture) helps them in maintaining physical balance on one hand. On the other hand, dhyana (meditation) provides them psychological peace. Ultimately self-discipline enables them to uphold their daily activities efficiently and effectively. Studies have also claimed the beneficial effects of yoga in the cognitive functions, most importantly the memory. Stress-related psychosocial problems, depression, anxiety and sleep-related issues are found to be abated due to yoga-practices. Furthermore, yoga benefits in the prevention and early intervention of physical health issues like heart diseases, hypertension, and respiratory problems. Yoga has positive effects in the immune functions of the individual. It has thus the constructive effect in the overall personality development.

Health and well-being is now considered to be the holistic concept with four important pillars: physical, mental, social, and spiritual well being. Yoga, although earlier thought of to be only the ancient spiritual practice, has now been proved to be an important medium to maintain positive, complete, and total health.

Although earlier thought of to be only the ancient spiritual practice, yoga has now been proved to be an important medium to maintain positive, complete, and total health.

Hence, yoga, which has been irrigated in our bloodstream through our sanatana dharma, culture and tradition, from the time immemorial, needs to be upheld. Not only the aging individuals, but also the whole world population, has to be healthy and active throughout their lifespan. For that, our own yoga philosophy is the only viable option.

Thus, I urge everyone to start practicing yoga from today. Excitingly, it is truly a pleasure that our Yogic wisdom has now been globally recognized. Yoga day is being celebrated internationally. The International Yoga Day is marked on June 21, which is the longest day of the year, every year. It is very much significant that the day, when the Sun is in the sky for the longest duration of the day, is dedicated to Yoga. 

Dr Ajay Risal is Professor and Consultant Psychiatrist at Department of Psychiatry in Kathmandu University School of Medical Sciences, Dhulikhel Hospital.