Despite significant advancements in the field of health care, we are losing our axis of balance and harmony at all levels, i.e. physical, mental, emotional, ethical-social and spiritual and thus, we are living in a world of mounting tensions in every sphere of life without having much sense of direction of healthy life and living. Moreover, what we are presently doing is just trying to overcome our psycho-physiological problems by opting for one pathy or the other at a superficial level, without going to the roots of these problems, which may give us temporary relief but cannot provide a permanent solution and therefore, the need of the hour is to find out deep underlying roots of the ‘inner disturbances’ of man so that we can live at ease within and with our social environment.
Sage Patanjali (about 200 BC), the author of Patanjali Yoga Sutra, whose work in Human Psychology is today recognised in the West, provides a systematic approach to understanding the root causes of our psycho-physiological problems. Conditions such as fickleness of mind, passion, hatred, greed, anger, depression, tremors of the body limbs, and breathing disturbances are well documented. Patanjali provides healing / purifying techniques/practices for such conditions of humanity.
Concept mental health
The concept of Mental Health belongs to Western thought, which stands for a triumphant state of mind capable of choosing the appropriate option from the available ones to achieve contentment and happiness. However, if we understand it in terms of Indian thought, it connotes ‘Cittaprasadanam’ (P.Y.S.I/33) or ‘Prasannatmendriya manage (Susrut Samhita, Sutrasthanam XVI/44), i.e. “Tranquil / Peaceful state of mind”. Citta (i.e. mind stuff) indicates the organised totality of psychical structure. It processes both conscious and unconscious and is considered responsible for the balanced functioning and malfunctioning of the body-mind complex. Vyasa, the first commentator of Patanjali Yoga Sutra, has described the nature of this mind-stuff as ‘Citta-nadi ubhayatovahini…’ i.e. the river of mind-stuff flows in two directions (Vyasa on P.Y.S.I/12). When it flows down the plane of awareness or with discrimination, it sets the balanced functioning of the body-mind complex that leads one towards True Health (svastika). In contrast, that which flows down the plane of unaware/discrimination is considered to be responsible for the malfunctioning of the body-mind complex that leads one to ill health.
Consequences of a disturbed mind
The disturbed mind knows no rest. It gives undue emphasis to ego-consciousness during interaction with the objective world wherein man develops an attachment towards the objects that give him a feeling of pleasure (raga). Any obstruction in this direction is seen as the object of hatred (dosa). This obstruction further gives rise to a ‘fear of loss’ (abhinivesa). On a behavioural level, these are reflected in status and possessions; to maintain these, he struggles and sometimes becomes inhuman to safeguard his position and possessions. He remains under constant strife `lest I may not lose them’. In this pursuit, the man even forgets the fundamental nature of worldly objects that work like a ceaselessly revolving wheel because of ‘gunavrttivirodha’, i.e. mutual changing mode of the Gunas – sattva, rajas and tamas (P.Y.S. II/16).
However, man wants to maintain his status and possessions and tries to remove all obstructions by adopting any means –‘foul or fair’. In this pursuit, he adopts violent, anti-social and unethical means. Patanjali calls them negative thoughts (bidarkas), which disturb not only his body-mind complex but also society. The adoption of such anti-social methods is usually or instead essentially guided by ‘greed’ (lobha), ‘anger’ (krodha), and ‘infatuation’(moha), resulting in unending anxieties and frustrations (P.Y.S. II/34). Because it is also true that “endless are the human desires, and finite is his capacity”. Patanjali paraphrases human anxieties and frustrations as impediments (antaraya-vyadhi,styana etc. P.Y.S. I/30). They are considered to be stumbling blocks in his way to fulfilling desires. By being enraged due to such a situation, viz., evil tendencies and finiteness, man gets entangled into a vicious circle of impediments and evil inclinations. This leads to self-perpetuating unrest, imbalance, discontent, loss of peace, dissatisfaction and explosion of ‘asurisampad’ (i.e. demonical tendencies), causing disturbances not only within oneself but society at large, culminating into various psycho-physiological problems identified as concomitants (viksepasahabhuvah) viz. pain (dukkha), depression(daurmanasya), tremors in the body limbs (angamejayatva) and disturbances in breathing (svasaprasvasaviksepa) P.Y.S. I /31). Suppose these symptoms are prolonged for a more extended period. In that case, they may give rise to various acute psycho-physiological disorders in general and mental disorders, in particular, such as anxiety, neuroses, obsession, depression and other behavioural disorders. This is what we are observing today about the health state of humanity, where unrest, discontentment, and lack of tranquillity of mind are reflected everywhere in the world.
Promotion of Mental Health
We have observed the root cause of the Disturbed State of Mind and its consequences. Unless one realises this mistake and accordingly re-directs the flow of one’s mind to do good for others and himself, the talk of promotion of Mental Health will be something like “beating around the bush” and not ” “hitting upon the root”. Yoga corrects this mistake very wholly and effectively from its root level.
In this direction, Patanjali suggests that the first and foremost thing one has to do is that citta should be brought back to its axis (cittavrttinirodha P.Y.S. I/2) which can only be brought back effectively through the transformation of human personality as a whole by re-channelizing the human potentialities to do good for others, as well as, for himself in and through systematic recourse to the yogic way of life consisting of wholesome food habits (yuktahara)Ê healthy activities (yuktavihara)Ê purity in thought (yuktavicara) etc. (Gita VI/17) to be cultivated through various disciplinary methods.
Patanjali on mental health disorders
The promotion of mental health lies in identifying the factors responsible for causing disturbances at the mental level. Patanjali has not only identified the root causes of mental disturbances, which are responsible for various mental disorders, but also has provided practical methods (techniques and practices) to overcome these root causes. Patanjali, widely acclaimed as an expert in Indian psychology, has suggested specific Yoga techniques to achieve good mental health.
Yoga tips to overcome mental health issues- Patanjali
Patanjala Yoga’s contribution towards removing disturbing factors and attaining Tranquility/ calmness of mind can be viewed in and through three levels.
- Gradual diminution of unwholesome thoughts, feelings, emotions, attitudes, etc.
- Cultivation of wholesome thoughts, feelings, emotions, attitudes etc.
- Promotion of mental health, i.e. Tranquility/ peaceful state of mind.
Towards this end, the yogic practices have two basic procedures and vairagya, which are purported to care for these three levels. abhyasa stands for the doing aspect, whereas vairagya connotes the development of a good view towards life and its associated phenomena. It goes without saying that – abhyasa and vairagya need to be taken with utmost devotion, enthusiasm, and constant vigilance, considerably for a longer time without discontinuity, if one is to realise the desired aims successfully. Any insincerity in this regard will not only re-enforce the unwholesome thoughts, feelings, emotions, attitudes, etc. but also will render the promotion of mental health a thing of sheer imagination.
Keeping this in mind, if we go through the Patanjali Yoga Sutra, we find that Patanjali provides some initial practices such as kriya yoga, i.e. purificatory and reconditioning processes (P.Y.S II/1-2), cittaprasadana, i.e. tranquil state of the mind stuff. (P.Y.S.I/33-39), pratipaksabhavanam, i.e. to develop positive feelings in the face of negative ones (P.Y.S.II/33-34). Through this, one can cultivate wholesome thoughts, feelings, emotions, attitudes, etc., by neutralising the unwholesome ones, promoting one’s peaceful state of mind or mental health. However, to make it steady and part and parcel of one’s behaviour, the effects of these preparatory practices must be properly cultivated. Patanjali provides a systematic approach known as Ashtanga yoga wherein Patanjali says,”yoganganusthanadasuddhiksaye jnanadiptiravivekakhyateh,” i.e. through the course of eight-fold Yoga, there is a diminution of impurities ( i.e. negative thoughts, feelings emotions, attitude etc.). There arises enlightenment culminating into vivekakhyati, i.e. discriminative insight (P.Y.S. II/28 ), which contributes towards the cultivation of positive (wholesome) view towards one’s life and phenomena associated with it, thereby providing conducive ground for the removal of psycho-physiological imbalance and establishment of psycho- physiological balance and harmony. This is precisely what Ashtanga yoga is the purpose of Ashtanga yoga. Though the overt behavioural aspect of man is cultured to a certain extent through the practice of kriya yoga,cittaprasadana and pratipaksabhavana, the contribution of Ashtanga yoga is somewhat explicit, practical and broader in its approach. Ashtanga yoga can be divided into external and internal (P.Y.S. III/7). Here again, the exterior prepares the ground for the internal one. External consists of the first five angas of Ashtanga yoga. Here, let us analyse briefly the contribution of external and internal angles, though they produce the effect cumulatively.
The components of Yamas have been accepted as a universal code of conduct. As discussed above, the impurities in the form of evil tendencies and passions are removed through yamas. Through this, man overcomes animosity, loves every living creature, and develops the feeling of oneness, satisfaction and well-being cumulatively leading to the experience of Tranquility of mind, balance and harmony within oneself and society at large (P.Y.S. II/29-31,35-39).
The root cause of human discontent and disharmony is the over-emphasis on ego, i.e. the sense of oneself being a doer and enjoyer. This sense makes a human consciousness filled with unwholesomeness; therefore, anti-social thoughts rise. So, the remedy lies in the complete surrendering of one’s ego. This is the purpose of Niyamas in general and Isvarapranidhana (one of the components of Niyamas) in particular. (P.Y.S. II/29, 32, 40-45) viz. cleanliness, purification of essential personality factors, purity of heart, one-pointed-ness, the tranquillity of mind, control of senses, ability to realise higher values, superlative contentment leading to the accomplishment of balance and harmony.
Asana, according to Patanjali, gives rise to stability and a sense of well-being not only at the physical level but also at the mental level. This is precisely the purpose of Asanas. The state of not being influenced by the pairs of opposites can be achieved only after physical and psychological stability. Only when the body is free of organic disorders can it serve adequately as the best vehicle for the mind to function. Perception and thought have clarity when the mind acts appropriately (P.Y.S. II/46-48).
According to Patanjali, the purpose of Pranayama brings two significant benefits on the part of the practitioner:
- The attenuation of Tamas and Rajas, leading to the predominance of Sattva, can remove obstruction in the path of awareness/enlightenment.
- It also develops the ability for the sake of yogic concentration.
The practical cumulative import of these benefits concerning the accomplishment of the tranquillity of mind is that man remains unaffected by life’s adversities and remains at ease because he gets rooted in reality. He understands the importance of peace of mind and tends to achieve the same through higher practices and refined behaviour (P.Y.S. II/49-53).
In light of the above-referred awareness, man develops an insight into wholesome and unwholesome factors towards peace of mind. He keeps himself away from unwholesome factors because of the control over his baser complexes (P.Y.S. II/54-55). This is purported by the withdrawal of senses from their respective objects. i.e.pratyahara.
Dharana – Dhyana – Samadhi
This trio of Internal components of Ashtanga yoga constitutes one successive practice starting from dharana and culminating into samadhi, technically paraphrased by Patanjali as Samyama, i.e. constraint (P.Y.S. III/1-4) in and through the gradual and step by step practice of this trio, with total devotion and sincerity, gives rise to a new insight into the nature of oneself and one’s relation to the worldly objects. As a result, man’s possessiveness, attachment and sense of mine and thine—the sources of disharmony, discontent, unrest, etc.- are overcome and culminate into establishing balance, harmony and contentment. To its utmost degree, tranquillity of mind, in the light of which the human relationships are re-discovered, reinterpreted and remoulded.