Paradigm shift

What you don't know about health and well-being

Yoga reminds people that regardless of whatever's been cut out or scarred, on a subtle level they are still whole.

 |  Paradigm shift  |  7-minute read |   22-04-2017
  • ---
    Total Shares

Jatasya hi dhruvo mrityur dhruvam janma mrityasya cha, tasmadapariharye arthe na tvam sochitumaharsi

“For the one that is born - death is certain- and certain is birth for the one that has died. The events of the death and rebirth are thus unavoidable, and one should not grieve for them” - Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 2, Verse 27

In the Indian, especially Hindu traditions, the definition of health goes far beyond a mere absence of disease. It is a way of disease-free living, healing and coping with the outcomes of many conditions of life in a way, which may seem for most of us to be incomprehensible.

Physical well-being now encompasses not only biological well-being, but also psychological, social and spiritual dimensions of healthcare. The pursuit of health should continue even in situations where a person is receiving treatment for a terminal disease condition.

It is of prime importance to keep a patient motivated, psychologically nourished and spiritually nurtured in order to come to terms with an unsure physical future and cope with not only the physical trauma of pain, but also mental stress.

India has probably one of the most developed medical systems in the world but still lacks developing a good infrastructure for hospice and palliative care. Given the fact that India is now moving from a developing towards a developed economy, the disease patterns in India and life expectancy have also evidenced a change.

While infective diseases are still rampant due to uncleanliness and lack of proper infrastructure, non-infective chronic diseases are slowly becoming a major health problem. A surge of heart disease and cancer is an ostensible example of the same.

Other than effective treatment for these conditions, proper palliative treatment is mandated in a small population of patients who fail to respond to therapy and are declared to be in their terminal stage of disease.

Palliative care is specialty care devised by the medical fraternity to care for individuals facing potentially fatal diseases since these are associated with severe anxiety and depression, along with acute pain and physical symptoms of the disease.

It is a system constructed to cater to the psychosomatic well-being of an individual who suffers from an ongoing deteriorating health condition, and faces death with minimal if any chances of survival.

People under palliative care are vulnerable to contemplations on ruminating thoughts of a prolonged period of pain associated with anxieties about the question of the future of their families and possessions after their death, the physical challenges of their own mobility after the condition reaches a final stage of culmination and their aesthetic appearance after invasive treatment (women thinking about hair loss from chemotherapy or breast mastectomy), to name a few.

It is a state which brings sadness, debilitation and fatigue. In such cases, the best approach is to provide a perspective of compassion towards one’s self and cultivate a spirit of enthusiasm towards the possibilities of making the most out of the days one spends in survival. The ruminating thoughts about one’s degenerating health can be reduced and replaced by cultivating techniques of meditation and yogic wisdom.

health-emebd_042217053917.jpgThe ruminating thoughts about one’s degenerating health can be reduced and replaced by cultivating techniques of meditation and yogic wisdom. Photo: Reuters

Simple breathing techniques of pranayama have had miraculous benefits in improving the emotional quotients of patients in acute pain and depression. Pranayama coupled with visualisation helped 52-year-old Pauline Fray through a year-long hospitalisation nearly four years ago for treatment of acute myeloid leukemia (Yoga Journal).

"I used belly breathing a lot of the time to calm my mind and body, particularly during a lengthy process such as having a femoral line inserted, which could take two hours," recalls Fray, a yoga teacher in Surrey, England, whose fingernails, toenails, and hair fell out several times as a result of treatments. "To try to get to sleep at night, I would use alternate-nostril breathing. And if I was running a temperature, I'd use cooling breath (shitali pranayama)."

Fray says, "I learned that, having been hit by the necessary hammer of western medicine to save my life, I needed complementary therapies like yoga to regain my health.”

Yoga reminds people that regardless of whatever's been cut out or scarred, on a subtle level they are still whole.

Meditation is one of the most ancient practices devised by sages in the Hindu tradition from times unknown. Meditation has been referenced in almost every Hindu scripture to have its own benefits of bringing positivity, connectivity and grounding towards one’s own existence.

It makes you aware of the eternal truth that a human is not just the physical self that we see to be moving out of the frame as death approaches. Meditation calms, brings sustenance and yoga builds resilience towards an unknown future. Meditation gives people a sense of hope and optimism that can stimulate the immune system

Indian spirituality elucidates the belief that our real self, the soul, is immortal. Death is merely a change of state from one physical existence to another; it is a bridge between lives when we take a leap from one form of matter to another. The human existence is considered to be physical, as well as spiritual or subtle.

Death is the end of physical continuity but there is something that remains and lives even beyond physical death. That eternal substance is the soul, the spiritual substance which is what transmigrates to other lives.

People with incurable diseases often try to seek answers for their situation about why they and not others are the victims of such terminal medical conditions? Why do they not stand a good chance of survival? They also harbor anger, frustration, helplessness, hopelessness and fatigue from their everyday medical parades of medicines and medical consultations.

They are saturated to a point where struggle is the other word for life and in such times, spirituality seems to be one ray of hope for understanding the meaning of their life, to see connections and start developing hope to manage their life, if not cure their disease.

Healing is very different from curing. Healing means trying to understand and accept one’s medical fortune and accommodate one’s life to the medical condition. Healing involves a sense of coping rather than curing. Spirituality is all about healing cognitive powers and preparing the body to face medical outcomes.

In a systematic review of published data from 26 surveys in 13 countries, the use of complementary or alternative medicine (CAM) in adult cancer populations ranged from 7 per cent to 64 per cent, with an average prevalence across studies of 31.4 per cent.

A US survey found that 91 per cent of cancer patients reported using at least one form of CAM while receiving treatment. In the UK and US, complementary therapies are widely available to people with incurable progressive disease through palliative care services and appear to be highly valued by service users. Yoga is one of the most popular complementary therapies in the western world.

Given the growing number of practitioners of yoga and meditation, it is increasingly important for providers in the medical and health profession to include spiritual training and nurturing in healthcare. From physicians to those providing pastoral care, caregivers should become acquainted with the philosophy behind yoga and meditation in order to provide this additional healing dimension to alleviate patient suffering, particularly at a time when they need it most.

It is highly recommended that caregivers understand the logic behind meditative practices and yogic patterns by gaining wisdom into health benefits of such powerful modes of psychosomatic healing.

Research studies on the role of spirituality in healing techniques and many other pilot programmes now make us believe there is a strong coherence between palliative care and spirituality since spirituality makes palliative care much more beneficial and result-oriented.

It is distinctly evident that spiritual practices and palliative care have a great future if they work in collaboration with each other. Medical practice will become comprehensive and will accomplish greater success when integrated with yoga and meditation.

Yoga essentially and invariably is an incredible tool for accessing the body's amazing capacity to heal itself and every individual in any health condition must realise and practice the essence of this science to escalate their well-being in every aspect of their existence.

(The article has been co-authored by Mona Rawal.)

Also read: Why on earth would Modi link yoga with climate change?


Indranill Basu Ray Indranill Basu Ray

The author is an interventional cardiac electrophysiologist based in the US and a Vedanta scholar with research in mind-body medicine. He can be contacted at

Like DailyO Facebook page to know what's trending.