Question from Paul Harvey
It is a very broad area that we want to look at around science and medical conditions, as there is a tremendous interest in Yoga as a therapy in the world today.
I would like to start by maybe getting a historical perspective on Yoga and asking questions on your understanding of it. Where do you feel that this link started between Yoga and Science? Because Yoga originally was something that was not associated with science.
It was something that was done for personal development, spiritual development, or even perhaps physical development and somewhere we seem to have made this link with science, which was predominantly something that was growing up in the West whilst at the same time Yoga was growing or has grown in India, with less connection directly with science.
So I am wondering if you could help develop this question about the link between Yoga and Science.
Response from TKV Desikachar
If we look at the history of India, for centuries and centuries for different reasons India has always fascinated the West. More people have travelled to India from the West than from other parts because the Chinese could not come because of the mountains. There has been silk; there has been a lot of mix about India’s great history; also many conquerors came.
Through these travels people from the West, which is the source of modern science, heard about many things that are happening. Among the things that they came to know about were some of what we call the ‘feats’ of Yogis. In fact long, long ago Yoga was linked only to all these feats, levitation, flying, etc.
In the beginning of the 19th Century, there was an observation made during the time of the great King, Ranjit Singh in the Punjab, which fascinated some of the travellers of the West. There was a Yogi who was kept in a box and buried underground. He was there for a number of days and he did not die. This has been a great fascination for the west, so the curiosity about Yogis increased because science seems to always talk as if it knows all the answers but when these people of science saw these things it was difficult for them to explain how somebody can live underground with very little air at all. In those days it was almost like a fashion for these Yogis to express their powers by these achievements.
This is how the interest of Western science in Yoga came, because of the interest the West always had in India. Then recently, because of the interaction between East and West because of the British and French advances, more and more medical people became interested in this extraordinary experience that Yogis could express.
Take my own father’s example. A couple of doctors from France came in the 1930s because they were interested in knowing the power of Yogis to control the autonomic system, like the heartbeat for example. My father, through his Yoga practise, demonstrated his ability to change his heart function, as they could evaluate, at his will to the extent that he even demonstrated before doctors how he could stop his heartbeat even for a few minutes. A lot of people thought he was dead, but he was not dead, so this is how the first medicine in Yoga started, not because it was that Yogis were fit or physically strong but because they were able to exhibit certain things that normally human beings could not do.
It is a part of Yoga and if you look at the Yoga Sūtra of Patañjali, there is one complete section, the Third Chapter, which talks about the power of the mind over the body. How a person who has mastered the mind can do what other human beings cannot, whether in terms of understanding and in terms of power it is almost like magic, they call it Siddhi.
So this is the initial relationship between Science and Yoga.
– Extract from Interview with TKV Desikachar by Paul Harvey in 2000 on ‘Science, Medical Conditions and Yoga Therapy’.