Question from Paul Harvey
This link with Science and Yoga appears to have given way to more of a link between Yoga and medical conditions, what we call clinical conditions, pathology, to what was originally as you say the power of mind over body. It has become now much more of an interest in problems of the body and problems of the mind.
Could you talk more about how you saw this link developing, because on the one hand we have these as you say feats, these tremendous feats, you gave examples of these feats and now we have this interest in Yoga for clinical conditions. Do you have some understanding of how this has evolved into looking at Yoga in this way?
Response from TKV Desikachar
When these scientists, also medical scientists, became interested in Yoga they began to read books on it. Some of these books were translated into English at the beginning of the previous century. Some great English scholars translated some of the ancient Yoga books into English. Some of these books i.e. The Haṭha Yoga Pradīpikā talk about the effect of Yoga practise on illness. They talk about certain postures, Āsana, curing certain diseases. This is not the only book; quite a few books talk about the curative aspects of Yoga.
Eventually there was a curiosity as to whether it was really a bluff or a reality. so further enquiry had to be done. Simultaneously, some of the Yoga teachers and masters in India in the beginning of the previous century started to apply Yoga for clinical conditions.
India is a very poor country and any system of health care that is inexpensive is very useful for us and India has had a long history of family medicine. Āyurveda, for example, is based on herbs and personal discipline, so there has been a lot of closeness within Āyurveda and Yoga, even believing that they came from the same master, Patañjali.
So here was information about the curative aspect of Yoga in the books that Western medical enthusiast of Yoga became interested in and simultaneously some of the Yoga people such as Swami Kuvalayananda and a lot of others even Swami Shivananda, who was a doctor, began to use Yoga techniques for people with illnesses.
It did work and some of these people even wanted to do some research on it. One of the pioneers in Yoga research has been Swami Kuvalayananda of Lonavla. He wrote a book long, long ago called ‘Yoga Therapy’ using certain Āsana techniques, Prāṇāyāma techniques and what he calls Kriyā, he analysed how Yoga works with certain conditions.
My own father, Krishnamacharya, started using Yoga for sickness even before the journey to Tibet to Mount Kailash. He is known to have cured the diabetes of one of the Mysores of India. You can see great teachers Kuvalayananda, Krishnamacharya, Yogaindra of Bombay.
All these people began to use Yoga for clinical conditions because in India we do not need any philosophy. We have a very religious base and what we needed was some way to get rid of disease without much expense and Yoga offered an alternative, so Yoga became popular. The situation today is that more Indians come to Yoga for clinical conditions than for any enlightenment.
– Extract from Interview with TKV Desikachar by Paul Harvey in 2000 on ‘Science, Medical Conditions and Yoga as a Therapy’.