Krishnamacharya on yoga as indigenous medicine
In 1946, on the eve of full independence from Britain, the Government of India announced the establishment of a committee to recommend necessary steps to ‘improve facilities for research and training in indigenous systems and generally to increase their usefulness to the public’ (p. 9). The committee began by drawing up several sets of questionnaires to survey medical practitioners of all persuasions throughout the country, as well as provincial governments, teaching institutions and pharmacies on the subject of medical provision.
In the end the committee took oral testimony from 322 practitioners of various forms of medicine and summarized the oral testimony in an appendix to the report. There are quite a few interesting mentions of yoga in this report (published in 1948), emphasizing how yoga’s status as a health intervention in mid-twentieth century was in a period of exploration and transition.
Here, I will share the transcriptions of a piece of evidence which may be of interest to many contemporary yoga practitioners - Tirumalai Krishnamacharya (1888 –1989), the teacher of T. K. V. Desikachar (1938-2016), Indra Devi (1899–2002), B.K.S. Iyengar (1918-2014), K. Pattabhi Jois (1915–2009) amongst other highly respected yoga teachers who have been very influential in the global popularisation of yoga.
The committee spent two days in April 1948 taking oral evidence from people in Mysore – and this included an asana demonstration and interview from the resident director of the Yogashala at the Jaganmohan Palace, Mysore:
10th April 1948
Shri T. Krishnamachariar (sic.) of Shri Yogasala, Jaganmohan Palace, Mysore, gave a demonstration of Yogasanas and Yogic methods of treatment. The following are the questions asked and answers elicited from him:
Q. What are the advantages of Yogic treatment over other methods?
A. The Yogic methods of treatment generally relate to Asanas. The objects for which the Asanas are practiced are generally
i) to preserve health (Arogyam) and to prevent ill-health.
ii) to secure light and free movement of limbs (Angalaghavam) and to make the body keep light.
iii) To obtain freedom from injury due to extremes of heat and cold and to withstand the ‘duals’ (Dwandwa) such as love and hate, pleasure and pain etc.
But the real object of practicing the Asanas, he said, is to secure a posture suitable for meditation.
Q. What diseases do you treat by the Asanas?
A. The diseases that are treated here are classified into three kinds viz. i) Manasa diseases relating to the mind. ii) Aindriya diseases relating to the senses. Iii) Shareera or physical diseases relating to the different organs and tissues of the body.
Q. How do the Asanas act in these diseases?
A. They act in 3 ways
i) Samyoga – by promoting growth,
ii) Bhodana (sic. Bodhana?) – by promoting resolution
iii) Nissarana – by promoting elimination.
Continuing he said that by proper control of inhalation and exhalation or by what is called Pranayam, the action of the endocrine glands is stimulated or depressed according to the particular kinds of Asanas practiced. We have also what is called Yoga-Vinyasam or gradation of Yoga-Asanas. According to the capacity and vitality of the subject, the different kinds of Yogic exercises are prescribed:
a) Exercises in lying postures for the sick, weak and debilitated;
b) Sitting exercises for the moderately strong;
c) And, standing exercises for the strong and healthy.
Demonstrations by several persons of different ages and strength in a military style like drill are to be discouraged. Although in the demonstrations given by several boys and girls, the methods of military drill are adopted, regulation of breath is most important for all these postures.
Q. Is it a new method of yours?
A. No. They are of Patanjali.
Q. Please explain Prathipaksha and the different processes?
A. Pratipaksha means converse process. The commentator explains the three process, viz.
i) Anuloma – downward direction
ii) Pratiloma – upward direction
iii) Viloma – converse direction to both (i.e.) the opposite direction.
In performing the Asanas, the action of the muscles in various directions should be carefully observed and in order to counteract any undue strain on any part of the body the converse processes are also to be practised. One particular Asana is to be considered as the converse of another.