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Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Talk on Yoga and Obesity

May 28, 2004
Raghuramji - The President of the 1st Yoga Festival - Istanbul / Turkey

Nameste. Welcome to this session on yoga and obesity.
Let me give you some ideas about the background of obesity and then we will do some practices. This year in United States of America, they declared that obesity is the number one national epidemic. They found that more than 32% of the young adults are obese.
Obesity not only makes the body heavy and nonfunctional but it also makes the brain functioning come down. Because of obesity, when the blood has to reach every part of the body, it puts a very big burden on the heart. One of the most important reasons of heart attack is found to be obesity. Because the body is big, the blood has to circulate in the body but it can not reach the brain. Our glands in the body function better when there is no obesity.
In addition to these, there are lots of social problems regarding obesity. There are families in which everyone is obese. Malnutrition is considered as better when compared with obesity. People consider obesity as only a body disease but it is a total personality problem. People consider burning the calories as a solution to obesity. Recently they found that is not the real solution. There is a reason why the body does not burn calories and you become obese. I work with patients in California suffering from eating disorders. The patients that I see are not just obese; they are several times the size of normal obese that normally we refer. They are so fat that you can not even make them burn the calories. Doing the fat burning exercises will give them hear problems or fractures. I have seen that there are specially designed cars for them to drive.
All these patients’ problems start with the mind and emotions and percolate in their bodies. Our body is how our mind directs the body. Our body is how we use and abuse this body. Let us see how the obesity problem can occur starting spiritually.Our physical body is different from any other physical object like a table or a chair. In those physical objects, there is no life. But here there is life. Because of this, there are essentially three major differences between a dead physical body and our body. Any physical and inert body does not require food, but we constantly require food. The food should just be for nourishing but not for any other reason. While eating, we should eat in such a way that the food should be harmonized in our body. I have seen people, who eat food because they are bored and they do not know what to do. I have also seen people who are angry or emotionally upset. In order to get rid of this disturbed mental condition they go on eating. The first important thing about the food is, we should eat only when we are hungry. That is the harmony at the simplest level. In the nature, everything is in this harmony. You do not find a cat or a dog in the forest that is obese. They have plenty of things to eat but they don’t abuse their eating. They eat as much as their hunger permits. I was watching the Animal Channel on the television. A tiger after having a good meal was resting. There was a deer very close to him grazing. The tiger opened his eyes, looked at the deer, yarned and then closed his eyes continuing to rest again. Just because the deer was there, the tiger did not jump on the deer. He kept quiet because he was not hungry. The speaker said the tiger was not violent and he was full so he did not kill and eat the deer. He further said tigers are not violent they eat food if needed.
So we should always think whether we eat food for the sake of hunger or because of many other reasons? But in order to think we need awareness. This awareness is absent, replaced by our desire to eat the moment we see food. That is one of the reasons why before eating we in India sit peacefully and say a simple prayer. Though we may not really think of the meaning or many times we may not know the meaning it helps us in bringing about our awareness. A simple prayer takes away your anger or your emotional disturbances and only pure hunger will be there. Let us just limit here to that fact that we should eat food only for the sake of hunger.
The second equally important thing is fasting. People do fasting for so many other reasons. The fasting is very important to give rest to the stomach. The energy inside you is enough for you to survive even if you fast for 20 days. But we don’t even wait for twenty minutes. We should be able to develop a control over eating by fasting at least for one day or half a day in a week. If you fast for one day in a week, you will give your stomach a rest from a continuous activity. On the day of fasting, there are possibilities that you will become emotionally irritable. If you are able to do the fasting peacefully without getting irritable, then that fasting works like a therapy. That fasting will basically integrate with the whole body complex. There are several regulations given in Indian thinking for fasting. The word in Sanskrit for fasting is ‘UPAVAASA’ which means staying with oneself, (upa= near to oneself, and Vaasa= staying) it means not staying with food but to stay with self not needing food.
Apart from the food, the other aspect at the physical level or body level is exercise. A physical inert body like a chair or table doesn’t need to do any exercise. Just keep it away for a couple of years and when you bring it back it will again be the same useful object for you. But on the other hand if you keep your body without working for even a month, it will lose its efficiency. When there is a fracture in your arm you immobilize it for 6 weeks, and then the arm becomes useless for some time. Our body needs to continuously do exercise. Our legs in this body are designed to walk for at least 5 miles every day. Our body is designed to sit down and get up naturally. Remember 50-60 years ago, in a place like India people used to walk so easily because the vehicles were not there in those days. In India, all the temples are made on the hills. People so easily used to go up the hill see the God and come back easily. It was a regular exercise without calling an exercise. Slowly we stopped doing those exercises. Now there are cars and we do not walk. There are elevators, and we do not climb the stairs. The worst thing is that we never sit on the floor like this squatting. As a result, our body has stopped doing all these activities. As a result, one day when you have to walk, you start gasping of breath.
We continue to eat but we stop doing exercise. Naturally that food is converted into fat instead of muscles. That is why people get obese. Obesity is one of the results of this. The other problems could be all kinds of heart diseases. Then you rush to the doctor and the doctor makes you go through all the battery of tests and makes a report about you. Finally he will tell you that you don’t have any major problem. Actually you don’t have any problem. He will tell you to take some medicines for your non-existing problem and in addition he will advise you to go for a walk for 2 miles every day. For your health reasons, sit down and get up few times every day. These are what we should be doing naturally and we have given up. But now we need a doctor to come and tell us. Now it looks like a big activity for us to walk due to some heavy reason, but this was a natural activity for our grandfather.
The other day I was going on a daily morning walk like any day and my friend appeared which is, his first day of walking. Immediately he was surprised to see me in the early morning and started with a smile and surprise, ‘oh, I thought you do yoga? You also have it…? How much is sugar? Is it under control; a flood of questions. Indicating people walk only if they have sugars and only on advice of a doctor.
Lack of exercise is another way we have abused our own body. I have seen in USA particularly, a large number of population who go to work, come back and eat and then sit at home and watch TV and sleep. This is all they do. What will happen to that kind of a body but get to all these problems? Naturally our body needs exercise. There are essentially three different types of exercise we need to do. One is necessary for the healthy body. That should include bending, twisting, walking and jumping. These exercises are necessary for everybody. The second type of exercise has much more localized affects which are prescribed for an athlete. For example a tennis player has to do specific exercises that are local in the body muscles and are useful for his game. Each specific sport or game has specific combination of practices which are specially researched into and given.
General types of exercises are associated with age. Until the age of 40-45 we need to do exercises regularly for keeping fit and building up. From 45 to 60 we should do stabilizing exercises. After 60, we should slowly go to relaxing exercises. Unless we have a health problem we should continue to do these exercises.
Another important aspect of our body is relaxation. I have seen people giving a lot of importance to exercise but not enough for relaxation. In fact, the only way that people relax is just sleep. We never do conscious methods of relaxations. In a lot of obesity cases, the solution is not the exercise but together with it the relaxation. People have not paid much attention to this relaxation. Sleep gives a certain amount of relaxation no doubt but a conscious relaxation is much more important. If you do not have a good sleep, your relaxation is not that good. Sleep is not in our hands. Whether the sleep will be good or not is not in our control. If you take medicines for sleep that sleep is also not a relaxing sleep. To some extent we can control the sleep by doing exhausting exercises. You probably will get a good sleep after that. But it is very important to do conscious methods of relaxation. The importance of yoga is essentially to give us that conscious method of relaxation. The essential purpose of yoga is not to give exercise but to give a conscious method of relaxation. In seventies, Dr. Herbert Benson has made a research in this regard in America. He was a medical doctor from Harvard. His observation was that a good sleep can give up to 7% of rest in the body. Where as a conscious method of relaxation like yoga will give 17-18% of rest. That means that you can get twice to thee times as much rest by conscious relaxation in a shorter period of time compared to a good sleep. His hypothesis also answers why a conscious relaxation will give deeper rest. We have a sympathetic and a parasympathetic tone in our bodies. While in sleep, the sympathetic tone will not come down as much as in the conscious method of relaxation. A sleep will not bring down your sympathetic tone. It makes a little change but not very appreciable. Hypertension will not become normal by sleeping. One important disturbance for obesity is also sympathetic activity. Where as a conscious process of relaxation will help bring down the sympathetic tone. This is where yoga is very important. We have made many studies on how yoga can help bring down the sympathetic tone. One important experiment we have done is Yoga that we gave to the astronaut sent to space. I gave him classes on conscious methods of relaxation. One of the major problems of the people who go to the space was high sympathetic tones. Once he practiced yoga he could bring down this tone to normal levels by consciously relaxing. Later we received a request from the pilots in America saying they want to learn Yoga. The second experiment we have done was with the blind children. We introduced Yoga to a blind school with 70 children. After one month we saw that all the sympathetic parameters have gone down. I have to tell you why it was important with the blind children. What happens when you compare the blind children with the normal children is that the blind do not have eyes but the others have one important sensory organ called the eye. Children without eyes feel threatened in a world where everybody can see and they can’t. Because of that threat their sympathetic tone is always high. When you see something threatening, your sympathetic tone will go up. These children always feel threatened because they live in a world of people who can see. Therefore their sympathetic tones are high. In general their sympathetic tones are almost 15-18% higher than a normal person’s. With one month of practice of Yoga, their sympathetic tones have come down to such wonderful levels that their health also improved. Yoga has to be given essentially for the idea of relaxation. Once you are able to relax, the body becomes harmonious.
There is a wonderful harmony between food and hunger in the case of people who are doing yoga. So it is not burning the calorie but harmonizing the calorie that is important. This much is enough about physical body level.
Deep inside we have the life force personality behind the gross physical personality called Prana. This Prana is a subtle personality of us. When this Prana is slow we are healthy and when the Prana is fast, we are sick. The speed of Prana indicates the sickness condition within us. One of the manifestations of this speed in Prana is in the form of speed in respiration. When the speed of Prana manifests in digestive system we unnecessarily start feeling hungry. There are three ways that the speed of Prana manifests at the physiological level. The text called ‘yogavasista’ discussed about this. One of these ways is the indigestion. Because of that people do not feel hungry. As a result of it, they lose their weight. Another way is because of this speed of Prana people start developing wrong digestion. These are the people having problems of acidity and gastric diseases. The third type is over-digestion. This category of people develops obesity. Because of the restlessness of Prana, although they eat enough they still feel hungry. This hunger is not a real hunger but an illusion of hunger created because of the speed of Prana. A regular practice of Pranayama will bring down the speed of Prana.
Essentially there are two techniques which will help us reduce the speed of Prana. One of them is doing the left nostril breathing. If you do 27 rounds of left nostril breathing in one sitting three times a day, it is stated that it will bring out a higher metabolism. That will help reduce the obesity on the body. The second method is to do the same thing with the other nostril. The third method is the diaphragm and abdominal breathing with the sound resonance of “aum”. With each exhalation do 9 times “aum”. The sound resonance of “aum” tries to harmonize the energies of the abdominal level.
Since people are of different varieties, which can be classified broadly into three types we have three problems of digestion. Generally people who are very sensitive have usually wrong digestion problems and not obesity. People who are no only sensitive, but are shy and emotional are the ones who suffer from obesity.
Let us go the mental personality now. The agitations of the mind, the restlessness of the mind can percolate into physiology creating obesity. What is more important is, the more subtle levels we go, the effect will also be more. The restfulness of the mind is very important on the process of digestion. That is the reason why the mental level, along with these exercise and practices of yoga asanas and pranayama; we must also do the practice of meditation. In meditation we try to make the mind peaceful. If you are not introduced into any specific methods of meditation, you can play some nice soft music and put your mind on the music. It should never be done for more than 20 minutes.
The intellectual level is one of the important levels which can give us logical support for controlling obesity. If we can resolve the mental disturbances by roper understanding and logic we can control it before it percolates into our body level.
Most of the cases of obesity are because these people are emotionally disturbed and upset. It is always suggested that we should have a positive attitude towards an obese person. We should be able to leave the problems aside and not think about them all the time.
In developed countries one of the important problems is that people are too conscious about their bodies. Body is just a useful instrument. It is not everything. It is just an outer layer. Several times deeper and more intense is what we are. One of the aspects of Yoga is to be able to leave the body alone aside and go subtle inside the body level. The healthy body is the body that I can leave and come out of it. A healthy child is at body level only when he or she is hungry; most of the time the child is detached from body. Therefore a child is healthy when it does not give you too much of a problem. A healthy child does not require mother’s attention very much. When the child is sick he want the mother’s attention all the time. Similarly healthy body is the body that does not require much of your attention. Children are so wonderful because they are not attached at the body level, they think of their body only when they are hungry. Otherwise they are happy with their happiness inside. Just to give an example in our ashram a boy was playing with the other kids and while playing he fell down. He hurt his knee and blood was coming out. But he went on playing happily. His mother came and saw the wound said “oh you are hurt”. Then he looked at his knee and started crying. This means that it really did not give him pain. Only when he looked at it and brought about the consciousness of the body then it started to give him pain. If you are not in the body level, that indicates that you are healthy. I see so many people get so concerned about things at the body level like food, exercise etc. These are all necessary but it is to go beyond which is important. Good food good exercise good rest etc should help us to see how we can get out of the body level. Animals also do not stay at the body level. That is why they are very happy. A friend of mine is a medical doctor in Colorado USA. One day he was busy in a surgery. Suddenly he gets a phone call from vet’s office. They said his dog has come out of the house and is run over by a car. They said his legs were broken and they were fixing it. The doctor finished his work and went to see his dog. It took one hour for him to reach once he reached vets office and asked for his dog. The receptionist said they did surgery and everything was successful. He then asks where the dog is. They tell him that the dog will come to him when he hears his voice. And in two minutes the dog really walks to him. He was surprised at this because when he performs surgery on somebody he has to put them in ICU and special ward for a week, where as in dog’s case, one hour after the operation the dog can walk. How is this possible for the dog to get up so easily? The vet answered “people are so worried about their body that they stay in hospital. The dog is not worried about the body so he comes out immediately”. The practices of Yoga, exercises and relaxation are all important but essentially coming out of them is much more important. That is the reason why at the end of the Yoga practice you do the DRT and shavasana. That will help you come out of the body. The healthier the body is, the easier for you to do the shavasana. This is how the problem of obesity can be taken care of.
Emotional aspect is another thing we need to pay attention to. Emotional disturbances can bring about obesity in a person. The feeling of not being accepted in the society can be an example. Then they start hating their own body.
You are the closest person to your body. If you hate your body, nobody else can help your body. The most important emotional aspect in obesity is to befriend our body. We have worked with many patients by giving them the suggestion to respect their body as friend. Just because from time to time you can not discipline it, you don’t have to hate your body. According to Indian philosophy, the body is considered to be the temple of God and you are the divinity living inside. That is why we should try to feel close to the body and help the body to come out of this problem.
Questions and Answers
Some people can go to sleep immediately in shavasana. Does their sympathetic tone go high if they fall asleep? Why does it happen?
There can be several reasons for falling asleep in shavasana. One of the reasons can be the habit of going to sleep the moment you are in horizontal position. Sympathetic tone will not go up but it will stop going down when you fall asleep. If somebody falls into sleep after shavasana, that sleep is even better than the normal sleep. It is better if they can overcome that sleep but they should not worry about it because that is a better quality of sleep. The reason is because we are so conditioned to sleep when we lie down. That habit makes us go to sleep. With a few practices of Yoga you can overcome that.
Sometimes when somebody is in shavasana he doesn’t want to come back to body level again. Why is this?
There could be two reasons for this and one of them is good where the other one is bad. The good reason is that he is in a very good and peaceful state and he does not want to come out of it. The other is being against going to the activity. The relaxation might develop hatred for activity. This is bad. A relaxation should not develop negativity for activity. A proper relaxation should not develop any negativity at all. A practice of Yoga can never develop negativity in you. If it brings about negativity for activity, then it is due to the quality of tamas or lethargy rather than a good relaxation. Lethargy brings about lack of awareness. You have to get rid of it by the actively participating in Yoga.
Our body is provided with neurons. Whenever we stretch the body, it is said that these neurons get activated in the brain. That develops our awareness. What mechanism happens let us not worry about it but our experience is we develop awareness. Therefore it is not important how perfect you do the posture. What is important is how you develop your awareness through the stretch. You can not expect an obese to do good yoga postures. That is why the perfection of the posture is not important. The stretch, they do, bring about awareness and that is very good. The stretch should come from inside not from outside which means don’t stretch externally but let a person doing yoga stretch himself from within. Outside stretch may be useful for a small time. Some Yoga schools do such stretching activities. It could only be useful for an initial period. After that, the stretch should be developed from inside. That internal awareness is very important for relaxation. If the stretch comes from outside, and is not coming from inside the body develops a resisting tendency. Anything coming from outside, the body tries to resist and tries to fight it out. By providing an external stretch you actually try to develop a resisting tendency inside. Psychologically that is not a good thing for yoga. Essentially a person practicing yoga is free from all kinds of resisting forces inside. A resistance inside takes away the psychological flexibility. We should never encourage resisting forces to develop inside. That builds our irritability and arrogance. That is why the author of Hatha Yoga says, Yoga should never be done by force or pressure from outside. That is why in our Yoga schools the teacher does not come and bend you or force you and press you to do it. We allow people to do the postures with the effort from within. Out side is only to correct the positions.
Is calling people to Yoga classes also a kind of force and pressure?
That is right if the person is not a willing candidate for yoga. The moment there is a force from outside, there is always a reaction inside. We should convince them. At the beginning we give the practice from outside but slowly the practice should come from the depth. Interest to do yoga should come from within. What comes from inside, transforms you. If you force a person to become a better human being, he will be waiting for an opportunity to be bad. As a result there will be no transformation. That is why we have a beautiful prayer in the ideas of Yoga: “Let the raw fruit become a fruit from within”. Such a fruit, fruiting from inside will have wonderful fragrance, color and taste; similarly the person who transforms from inside spreads wonderful fragrances, colors and taste.
Let us do some practice now. We will do some salutation and prayer. Afterwards we will do Shawasana followed by meditation.

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