By Dr. Vispi Jokhi M.S. Orthopedics
I would like to share with the reader my journey in the field of Yoga, which began eight years ago and will continue till my innings on earth is over. Yoga or union of mind, body and soul is truly India's gift to the world and today the sad fact is that we seem to be importing Yoga back from the West rather than exporting it. As an Orthopedic Surgeon, physical fitness was certainly high on my priority list, however the hectic life of Mumbai made me look for quick fix solutions. Gymnasiums, free hand exercises, brisk walks, swimming all came into my life, but with limited results. Often they became workouts, which left me tired instead of raising my energy levels. My scripture reading gave me an idea about the ancient system of Hatha Yoga of Patanjali and about the importance of all the eight limbs of Yoga. But my "scientific mind" in its arrogance was under the impression that Yoga was merely a series of contortions of the body called asanas, which had limited benefits. I thought that flexibility of the bones and joints was all that was needed and a few weeks of training was all that was required. I did not seem to have time for the half naked "tilak smeared"Gurus.
Eight years ago I went for a lecture-demonstration by Shri Zubin Zarthostimanesh, a Yoga teacher trained by the world famous Respected Shri BKS Iyengar. Shri Zarthostimanesh began with a humble prayer to sage Patanjali to invoke his blessings followed by his lecture. Health and physical fitness was transformed from a workout to a holistic artistic positioning or asana. While many in the audience were there to see the postures and applaud, I was there to see the practical application of yoga principles in day to day life. He showed us how the way we stood, sat, walked or slept had a direct influence on degeneration and disease. He emphasized the importance of all the eight limbs of Yoga and how one could reach a meditative state within the asana. I had found my Guru and was overjoyed. I asked Zubin to be my Guru and thus began my journey in the field of Yoga.
Orthopedic Surgeons and for that matter all physicians approach to disease is essentially one of fire-fighting in the form of symptom alleviation with a prescription, followed by repair or reconstruction (surgical methods). We need a paradigm shift from this approach to prevention and healing. Fractures and injuries are treated by plasters and surgeries along with painkillers, but the accompanying bed rest results in major muscle wasting and changes. Often my Guru calls bed rest as bed rust. Even while resting parts of the body, which are, injured it is possible to mobilize the muscles and joints around it to promote better physiological healing.
The importance of this aspect of healing is now being recognized the world over. Degenerative joint disorders like Osteoarthritis, Rheumatoid Arthritis, Spine degenerations, Ankylosing Spondylitis all can be treated very effectively by the ancient system of Yoga. Bone brittleness due to lack of calcium and Vitamin D is also effectively treated by asanas, which stretch every part of the body. Yoga has a role to play in the treatment of flatfeet, heel spurs, bunions and wrist carpal tunnel syndromes and tennis elbows.
In Yoga the therapy aspect usually consists of an initial positioning of the affected joint or muscle group in a manner that will alleviate the pain without aggravating the inflammation. Use of props like ropes, belts, bricks, walls, stools, couches and pommel horse like devices is the unique contribution of BKS Iyengar to the subject. These props enable a sick person to obtain the complete benefits of a posture without injury. For specific conditions like osteoporosis which is disease of life style Yoga is extremely effective since stretching of hip and groin regions is seldom effective in other forms of physical workouts.
A major difference between physical exercise and yoga is that muscles contract and shorten during movement, whereas they expand and lengthen during movement of the joints. The relation of the psyche with the soma and the role of the mind in healing cannot be over emphasized. In the system of Yoga the suffering patient learns to relax and copes with his disease much more effectively.
An important aspect of Yoga and its application to the field of sports is often over-looked by our sports medicine specialists and coaches. Yoga has the advantage of incorporating active and passive exercise regimes wherein the injured part can be protected. The most important aspect of Yoga for a sportsman is prevention of injury by preparing all muscle groups for the actual game or sports event. Contrary to the public perception Yoga can be very dynamic and can prepare a sportsman for fast and rapid activity. Asanas are useful for rapid recovery after the game or event.
On a personal level, I started Yoga as a physical workout and got good relief from aches and back pains. Slowly, the asanas penetrated to areas of my body, which I was never aware of and the effort in achieving the poses became less than before. At times I did end up with pain when the stiff body refused to yield, but my Guru always sent us home from a session of Yoga pain-free and full of energy. I learnt to sequence my poses in order to access to both the physical and physiological body and in moments of real relaxation reach as close to single pointed mind as possible. It is at these times, which come almost daily in my practice, that I truly achieve Yoga or union of body, mind and soul. Yoga for me became an indispensable tool for revitalizing and healing my body. Eight years is still a short time and I am sure, as the years go by its benefits will multiply exponentially.
Many of us start Yoga or a work out and after some time leave it because we stagnate or seem not to progress. To make sure we do not do that we must continuously assess our intentions and goals. From alleviation of medical problems to a mere physical work out we need to increase our intensity and penetrate from the outer layers of our body skin muscles and bones to the physiological parts and then to the emotional and other aspects of uniting body mind and soul to achieve bliss. For this to occur a conscious slowing down leads to an inner awareness of the pose.
A regular practice of Yoga about an hour a day is essential and I can assure all the readers that this time is truly well spent. Preventive medicine consists of major life-style changes. A healthy vegetarian natural diet, yogic postures, reduction of needs, living for others and slowing the pace of life are some of the major steps required to achieve good health.