Today, more than ever, the need for preventive systems of medicine is being widely realised. Sophisticated diagnostic tools prescriptive drugs that come in complicated combinations, and a high level of specialization are making medical care expensive.
There are many public health measures that have been introduced to prevent disease. Some of them, like the eradication of plague and small pox, have proved successful. Health education for the masses has clearly demonstrated that clean surroundings, boiled water, childhood immunisations, and family planning have their place in preventing infectious diseases. Early and regular screening for diseases like tuberculosis and cancer have been useful in diagnosis and treatment. There has been much propaganda about the evils of alcohol, nicotine, drugs and permissive sexual habits.
Yet, all this has not been enough. Illnesses are on the rise. Newer, dreaded ones like AIDS are cropping up. We are in this unenviable situation because the individual has not shown enough discipline in taking care of himself or herself.
This is where yoga comes in. Patanjali's sutras lay the foundation for a healthy life. That the mind is the root of most physical problems is brought out and guidelines for healthy living are given. The Yoga Vasishta points out that the course of events or destiny is according to thought. Whatever thought has commenced, in whichever manner, that is established in that manner alone. (Samvid, The Vision and the Way of Vasishta, Indian Heritage Trust, Madras, 1993, verse 684) For example, though it has been proved that smoking is injurious to health, the manufacture and consumption of cigarettes have not stopped. The body does not need nicotine, only the mind does.
Yoga lays great emphasis on asanas and pranayama to prevent illness and, more important, to preserve health. A regular routine of physical exercises, from a young age, has been shown to be of preventive value in many medical disorders like coronary, respiratory and orthopaedic problems. Any kind of exercise is good, but yoga is the ideal form as it is totally non-invasive, gentle and soothing. Also, it is the most cost effective. There is no equipment needed, and even the props recommended for some patients are not expensive. The practice of yoga instills confidence in a person, especially when recovering from an illness. Yoga is particularly valuable as one grows older. As most ailments are degenerative in nature, asanas keep the geriatric person active and, therefore, healthy. Apart from the asanas and pranayama, the other precepts for good living laid down by Patanjali reinforce a healthy body and mind.
Gandhiji said: “Health is wealth, and the basic requisite for every kind of happiness”. The World Health Organisation has defined health as a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being, and not merely an absence of disease or infirmity. It is obvious that yoga, which so amply fulfils the criteria for a system of health care, has come to stay.