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113th MOH-AMM Scientific Meeting 2019

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Executive Summary


The word yoga originates from the Sanskrit root word ‘Yuj’ which means to join, unite or bind [1].This practice involves the holistic and complete union of mind, body, emotions and the metaphysical aspects of a human being. 

Defining Yoga 

Yoga is an ancient form of healing which is believed to be 5000 years old and has its origins in the Vedas (the ancient Hindu scriptures) [2]. It is a scientific form of healing that was perfected by philosophers from ancient times. Written on olai (palm) leaves, this ancient practice was initially passed down through generations by ancient wise men via means of oral communication.

The discipline of yoga belongs to the field of mind-body science. This thousands years old tradition promotes a method of healing by which we increase the body's supply of energy and remove any interference to the transmission of energy throughout the body. Yoga helps the body foster a peaceful internal environment that leads to a state of dynamic balance. This dynamic balance involves integration of body, mind and spirit. It is this dynamic balance that results in a healthy individual. 



Yoga has its roots in the Hindu scriptures, the Vedas, namely in the Rig Veda. The origin of yoga can be traced back for over 5000 years ago and is believed to have been developed by the Indus-Saraswati civilization in India [3]. Vedic philosophers went on to develop yoga and eventually documented their practices and beliefs in the Upanishads.

An ancient but basic text on yoga, called the Yoga Sutras was written by Patanjali between the 2nd and 3rd century BC. Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras is the first structured presentation of yoga and this form of yoga is often referred to as classical yoga.

The Yoga Sutras prescribe adherence to "eight limbs" to quieten one's mind and to achieve harmony and balance [4]. The eight-limb system includes:

a. Yama or moral codes, truth and non-violence
b. Niyama or self-purification / cleanliness and study
c.Asana or posture
d. Pranayama or breath control
e. Pratyahara or sense control / not allowing mind to be distracted
f. Dharana or concentration or one-pointed focus
g. Dhyana or contemplation
h. Samadhi or veridical meditation / self-realization

Yoga masters after Patanjali, went on to develop a structured discipline of practice to rejuvenate the body. The emphasis here was the physical body. These teachers of yoga embraced the physical body as the means to achieve maximum potential the human body is capable of achieving. It is the culmination of these teachings that have led to the development of Hatha Yoga.

Swatamarama, an ancient wise man who lived in the 13th century, was a great yoga guru who formulated the principles of Hatha Yoga. His text, the Hatha Yoga Pradipika is a comprehensive text that offers specific and complete guidelines on following the path of yoga [5].

The Sanskrit word "Hatha" is a compound of two words Ha and Tha [6]. "Ha" means moon and represents the left nostril while Tha means sun and represents the right nostril. They represent opposite energies. The left nostril represents ida nadi and the right nostril represents pingala nadi [7]. Nadi refers to the passage of energy which can be compared to the nerves in the physical body. Hatha means balance of Ida and Pingala nadis, or balance between the mental energy of Ida and vital energy of Pingala.

Ida Nadi can be compared with the parasympathetic nervous system while Pingala Nadi can be compared with the sympathetic nervous system.  Hence, practice of Hatha Yoga will result in balance of the entire nervous system.

Hatha Yoga began to gain attention in India in the 20th century by the effort of T. Krishnamacharya. Krishnamacharya traveled through India giving demonstrations of yoga poses and established the first Hatha Yoga School

Yoga, as we see it today, started in the 20th century when yoga masters from India went to the West spreading the word of yoga. These yoga gurus attracted the attention of many people. Some contemporary yoga teachers who have large followers in the West today include B.K.S. Iyengar, T.K.V. Desikachar and Pattabhi Jois. These three modern-day gurus of yoga have helped to develop yoga into the global science it is now today. In the United States, yoga continued to be a growing fad when the first yoga studio was opened in Hollywood in the twentieth century. 


One basic principle of yoga is that the body and the mind are parts of one continuum of existence, the mind being subtler than the body. This is the foundation of the yogic view of health.  The interaction of body and mind is the central concern of yogic science. In this respect, yoga is a union of mind, body and medicine. It is believed that as the body and mind are brought into balance, health can be achieved [8]

Hatha Yoga comprises cleansing process, postures, breathing exercises, energy locks, sense withdrawal, visualization/ concentration and veridical meditation.

In yoga, the cleansing process or shatkarmas is an integral part of the healing programme.  In yoga, a dis-eased state of being starts when there is a blockage in the body. This blockage hinders the flow of prana (bio-energy). By employing the shatkarmas (cleansing or purification techniques), one first removes the blockages to enable the body to enjoy better vitality where pranic energy flows without encountering hindrances. Altogether, there are 6 types of cleansing processes. (Agnisardhouti, Vamandhouti, Kapalbhati, Jalneti and Nasagra Drishti). Ayurveda, another ancient Hindu form of therapy refers to these shuddikriyas as Panchkarmas [9].

Yoga also employs asanas or postures. By regularly performing asanas, one can achieve good health and vitality [10]. The Yoga Sutra defines asana as that which is comfortable, easy and firm. When adopting an asana (posture), the practitioner is perfectly poised between activity and non-activity.

The asanas are based on five principles, which is the use of gravity, organ massage, stretching of muscles and ligaments, deep breathing and concentration. There are more than 84 asanas commonly used by practitioners.

These gentle stretching movements of asanas help:

a. Balance body and mind.
b. Rejuvenate the internal organs. This is achieved by increasing blood supply and energy (prana) to these areas.
c. Massage the organ 

Pranayama or breath control follows asanas. Pranayama is made up of two root words: "prana" and "ayama" [11]. Prana refers to the energy that gives life to the body whereas Ayama means stretch or extension. When this vital energy embraces the body with extension and expansion, it is called pranayama.

Breathing is important as this auto-reflex action:

a. Provides oxygen to various organs in our body
b. Helps eliminate toxins from our bodies

According to the Yoga Sutras, correct practice of pranayama gives one optimum health. Correct performance of prananyama can help increase the functioning of one’s mental aptitude.

Improper breathing or shallow breathing can result in reduced energy level. This is understandable as oxygen is essential for the production of energy in the body. Insufficient oxygen to various organs can also result in a dis-eased state, as oxygen is vital for the maintenance of healthy cells. Shallow breathing also impairs proper elimination of carbon dioxide and this leads to build-up of toxins in the body. Fast, shallow breathing can cause fatigue, sleep disorders, and other forms of dis-ease. Modern sedentary way of living dictates that we only use about one tenth of our total lung capacity. The amount of oxygen inhaled is just enough for us to survive and live.

Correct practice of Pranayama produces a huge storage of energy in the solar plexus area. This abundant accumulation of life-giving prana will cause the body to radiate vitality and, if any sickness is developing, the body can call upon some of this energy reserve to combat the disease. Correct practice of pranayama also helps to effectively eliminate toxins from the body. The correct practice of prananayama must be propagated properly as wrong practice can bring about disorders and disease. Hence, it is always emphasized that pranayama must be done under the watchful eyes of a trained yoga instructor.

Bandhas are energy locks which are a necessary and vital factor in the performance of pranayama [12].These locks are vital when one retains air either inside or outside the lungs (kumbakha). Where retention is done without kumbakha, there can be adverse effects on the human body.

Mudras or gestures are also a part of Hatha Yoga [13]. These mudras which include Vajroli mudra, Sahajoli mudra, Kechari mudra , Sambhavi mudra and Viprit karani mudra help induce the state of pratyahara or sense withdrawal.

Full concentration and focus or dhyana is achieved only after pratyahara or total withdrawal of the senses is realized [14].

Yoga also employs relaxation techniques [15].This healing technique starts off by reaching the mind, taking off from the premise of mental choices that one makes or from one’s mental thoughts which have an effect on one’s health. Hence, yoga begins with relaxation to get one into a relaxed state. By practicing simple relaxations techniques, both mind and body are brought to a relaxed state of being whereby the body is better equipped to heal. 

Yoga’s Perspective of Disease

From the yogic point of view, a dis-eased state of being occurs due to insufficient bio-energy or prana, either in the body as a whole or in one part of the body. When either of these happens, there is reduced immunity to disease.

Yoga practice aims to bring prana or vital energy to the body as a whole or to where the body is experiencing a blockage. Apart from yoga practices, good nutrition, sufficient deep sleep and a positive mental attitude must be incorporated to achieve optimum health. 

Forms of Yoga

Currently, there are many varieties of yoga being practiced. The different variations of yoga sometimes do create confusion. The differences in these traditional approaches lie in the fact that some may stress more on postures and breathing exercises, while others more on spirituality.

Different forms of yoga include: Hatha Yoga, Bakthi Yoga (Yoga of Love),  Karma Yoga (Yoga of Action), Jnana Yoga (Yoga of Knowledge) and  Raja Yoga [16].

In fact, there are even modern types of yoga which include hybrids like Hot Yoga and Yoga Pilates. 

Benefits of Yoga

Yoga emphasizes general well-being. This is the primary and fundamental emphasis of yoga. Another important benefit of yoga is its application in relieving stress and fatigue. Other important benefits include invigorating the body and offering increased vitality.

Yoga is also acknowledged to have anti-aging properties and for its application in relaxation therapy. According to yoga, one’s age is determined by the flexibility of one’s spine! Not as we are inclined to believe---one’s age! Practice of yoga enhances spine elasticity. Other anti-aging properties include firming the skin, inhibiting formation of wrinkles and more.

Asanas are not mere physical exercises. The structured and disciplined practice of Asana has many benefits [17]. These benefits can manifest in biochemical, psycho-physiological and psycho-spiritual forms.

The cells of the human body have their own intelligence and memory. The different asanas help improve blood circulation, balance the hormone system and stimulate the nervous system. The asanas also help to eliminate toxins from the body. Through this process, the cells, organs and nerves are kept at peak level. Physical, mental, spiritual health and harmony are attained. 

Yoga therapy is slowly becoming an accepted science. Yoga therapy is currently used in the management of certain lifestyle diseases. Some of these include the management of obesity, hypertension, sleep disorders, diabetes, respiratory illness and more [18].  

Current Status 

Currently, yoga is accepted at various levels by the masses. Generally, all over the world, yoga is seen as a form of exercise for fitness which also offers relaxation techniques and health benefits. Yoga is being incorporated by many health, wellness and fitness centres for its many relaxation, health and fitness-related effects. In these centres, yoga is practiced mainly as an Eastern exercise regimen. The form practiced at these centres mainly stresses on the postures or asanas. In countries like India, Nepal and Tibet, yoga offers a more wholesome and holistic approach in that it is a form that offers a way of life.

There are also yoga centres that offer yoga as a form of therapy and conduct yoga classes. These centres adopt a more holistic approach in the dissemination of yoga emphasizing the mind-body-spirit dimension. Here, depending on the aptitude and readiness of the student, the student embarks on a journey to discover the state of dynamic balance yoga can offer; one which involves integrating body, mind and spirit. These centres also offer yoga therapy for various ailments.

Yoga is now being integrated into mainstream medicine as one of the mind-body medicine modalities. There are medical practitioners from international universities working with yoga centers to offer various therapies at their hospitals using the integrated medicine modal. Areas currently being addressed include various lifestyle diseases such as hypertension, stress-related disorders, diabetes, digestive complaints, obesity, insomnia, cancer and more.

Extensive research on yoga is being conducted both in Asia and in the West. In fact, there are many clinical studies conducted by various research centres in India and in the West that demonstrate the effectiveness of Yoga in curing various dis-eased state of being. Interestingly, while most Western doctors are less inclined to adopt alternative forms of therapies into mainstream medicine, they are ready to accept yoga and refer to it as a form of therapy that can help man. 


  1. Andiappan. Thirumoolar’s Ashtanga Yoga , First edition. Hong Kong: Endeavour Press Limited; 2004 2004 : 12
  2. Andiappan. Thirumoolar’s Ashtanga Yoga , First edition. Hong Kong: Endeavour Press Limited; 2004 2004 : 12
  3. Yogabasics Homepage. URL: [accessed 2007 April 10)
  4. Andiappan. Thirumoolar’s Ashtanga Yoga , First edition. Hong Kong: Endeavour Press Limited; 2004 2004 : 20-21. See also R. Nagarathna, H R Nagendra. New Perspectives in Stress Management. Bangalore: Swami Vivekananda Yoga Prakashana; 2005, 1-6
  5. Yoga Swami Svatmarama. Hatha Yoga Pradipika, 1972, HarperCollins Manufacturing Glasgow
  6. Yoga Swami Svatmarama. Hatha Yoga Pradipika, 1972, HarperCollins Manufacturing Glasgow
  7. S.S. Srikanta, R. Nagarathna, H R Nagendra. Yoga for Diabetes. Bangalore: Swami Vivekananda Yoga Prakashana; 2006, 54-56
  8. S.S. Srikanta, R. Nagarathna, H R Nagendra. Yoga for Diabetes. Bangalore: Swami Vivekananda Yoga Prakashana; 2006, v
  9. Yogapoint Homepage. URL:
  10. Avadhutika Anandamitra Acarya. Yoga for Health. 6thedition. Manila: Ananda Marga Publications; 2001,16-18. See also B.K.S. Iyengar. Light on Yoga. London: HarperCollins; 2005. pg 41-42
  11. B.K.S. Iyengar. Light On Yoga. London: HarperCollins; 2005. pg 43
  12. Thakur Bharat. Yoga For Stress Relief. New Delhi: Wisdom Tree; 2003, pg. 31
  13. Thakur Bharat. Yoga For Stress Relief. New Delhi: Wisdom Tree; 2003, pg. 37
  14. B.K.S. Iyengar. Light On Yoga. London: HarperCollins; 2005. pgs 45-52
  15. Avadhutika Anandamitra Acarya. Yoga for Health. 6thedition. Manila: Ananda Marga Publications; 2001, pg 103
  16. R Nagarathna, H R Nagendra. New Perspectives in Stress Managemen. Bangalore: SwamiYoga Prakashana; 2005, pgs 3-5
  17. Avadhutika Anandamitra Acarya. Yoga for Health. 6thedition. Manila: Ananda Marga Publications; 2001, pg 16-21
  18. R Nagarathna, H R Nagendra. New Perspectives in Stress Managemen. Bangalore: SwamiYoga Prakashana; 2005


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