I often hear Yoga instructors and teachers in India (do Yoga teachers elsewhere also use similar language?) say that if you practise Yoga well, you’ll never fall sick, never have to take medicines, never get old. What does it mean to practise Yoga well? If I fall sick or have to take medicine, does that make me a bad Yoga student and practitioner?
What causes illness?
We know that a number of illnesses today are psychosomatic or are caused because of certain kinds of lifestyles. For example, those with no family history of or genetic predisposition towards diabetes and heart problems are developing these early on in life. The same is the case with depression, anxiety, and a host of other mental health issues.
These illnesses are often caused by lifestyle-related problems such as poor management of everyday stress along with inadequate social and emotional support. A lot of this, in turn, relates to mental and emotional strength and management, which is almost never taught or discussed and isn’t given the importance it requires in managing overall health.
Out of all this, we have illnesses caused by genes, congenital birth defects, accidents, and so on. The causes of illnesses are innumerable, and often, a single illness can be caused by a wide variety of reasons.
Yoga and illness
Now imagine, you have been a diligent practitioner of Yoga for many years. You have been told the things I’ve mentioned at the very beginning of the article and strongly believe them to be true. Suddenly, you discover one day that you are ill.
What is the first thing you’ll think about? You will probably wonder how you can be sick after having been a Yoga practitioner for so long. Maybe you will start questioning your Yoga practice or the teachings of Yoga itself. Maybe you’ll feel ashamed to admit you’re unwell. Maybe you’ll feel angry that your Yoga practice didn’t live up to the hype.
Whatever your reaction, it is probably going to take you away from Yoga because trust has been broken. If it leads you to completely quit the practice, you will lose the physical and mental support that it provided all those years in your time of need.
Yoga and health
What most of us practice as Yoga is a version that has been modified by gurus over the years to suit a householder’s life. We do not, for the most part, practise the form of Yoga that a sage living away from society in the forests and mountains might practice.
Yoga that ascetics practise is all-absorbing; it takes all of their time and attention and years of complete absorption. For some of these ascetics, it may become possible after years and years of sādhanā to overcome illness and have the ability to heal themselves and others. (These are called siddhis or superpowers and Sage Patanjali believes them to be obstacles in the path to enlightenment in Chapter 3 of the Yoga Sūtra.)
We live in society, work for a living, have families and friends, and cannot practically follow that kind of practice. What we practice helps us manage our bodies and minds in our everyday lives. It helps us stay healthy and manage illness.
What our practice cannot do is prevent us from ageing or dying, keep illness away entirely, or cure diseases. Any Yoga teacher who promises you any of this without you having to put lots of effort over a long period of time is possibly not being entirely truthful to you.
I am guilty of having said things on these lines very early on in my practice because I was told these things. I now know better and keep expectations real and practical when I speak to my students. I promise that Yoga will help if they’re diligent and patient with themselves. I promise that Yoga will help them feel more comfortable with themselves, make them more content.
If you have been told that Yoga makes you completely immune to illness and ageing, know better. Do not be disappointed if you fall sick or notice signs of ageing. Most of all, don’t give up on Yoga; it is here to help you accept all the things that you cannot control and be okay with them.
Let’s not make Yoga sound like magic. Yoga can give us a lot – kindness, contentment, peace of mind, acceptance, forgiveness, faith, and so much more. These can make life magical without us having to resort to making Yoga sound like something it is not. Let’s keep it real and enjoy Yoga for all that it is and all that it makes possible for us in our lives.