DR H.R. NAGENDRA, Chancellor of S-VYASA University and President of the Indian Yoga Association, speaks about International Day of Yoga and the impact Yoga is having globally.
Q: Good morning sir. We would like to start with a very personal question. You were a scientist with NASA, and chose to come back to India to dedicate your career to spreading Yoga. What really prompted you to do this?
HRN: The search for Reality. When I started doctoral research I asked, “What is the real purpose of the research that we are doing?” We talk about a Doctorate in Philosophy, a PhD, but are we doing philosophy? What is the whole idea? And it all came down to the idea that the search for Reality is the objective of the research being done.
Are we really moving towards Reality with all the research that we do? The immediate answer was, “No.” So what was the way out? These were the questions that were being raised among the faculty and students.
Then I got in touch with a professor of chemistry who was very well-versed in Sanskrit, the Upanishads etc. Through these interactions, I started getting a new direction from the Upanishads. They tell us that you have to go beyond the physical. What we were doing in science is essentially all about the physical world. And now a time has come where science is moving beyond the physical, to understand the deeper dimensions of this creation. What is prana? What is the mind? Can the mind exist without the brain and the body? What is the intellect? What is the relationship among the mind, the emotions, the intellect and consciousness? Do gods and goddesses exist? Into this field of subtlety and causality, science has started moving, and it was all here in the Upanishads thousands of years back.
I found the complete answer to all my questions, the Upanishads attracted me and I entered into this field. I had gone abroad to see what were the best institutions and the directions science was taking, how technologies were moving, and what I wanted to study. After that I came back to India to continue this process. I joined the Vivekananda Kendra in Kanyakumari to train people in this direction. The head of the organization, Eknath ji Ranade, told me, “Now your direction is here, and you have to train youngsters.” That is how I became the director of training, and I stayed there for fourteen years before my current work started here at S-VYASA.
Q: So it was the quest for Reality that drove you.
HRN: Yes, from mechanical engineering to human engineering.
Q: What role do you see Yoga playing, especially in health and education, in the years to come?
HRN: Thanks to our Prime Minister, Yoga has now spread all over the world. One single speech by him at the UN Assembly, giving the holistic position of Yoga, not just as a physical exercise or other individual things, but as the science of holistic living, was presented so nicely that it almost hypnotized everyone. 183 countries approved his suggestion that 21 June should become the International Day of Yoga. He was telling me that the most surprising thing was that 45 Islamic countries came forward offering their support. This global support opened up the possibilities for Yoga throughout the world in an unprecedented way. Now the scope has spread everywhere.
I feel that health and
education will be very
much impacted by Yoga.
Swami Vivekananda said
that the entire education
system has to be remolded.
There are a lot of Yoga institutions in India and abroad, and he wanted to synergize their efforts, as they were all working in isolation. Therefore we formed the Indian Yoga Association, of which I am the President, and here you will find most of the main sansthas of India. This is how the synergy started growing.
I feel that health and education will be very much impacted by Yoga. Swami Vivekananda said that the entire education system has to be remolded. What is happening today is essentially Britannic education. There should be man-making education and nation-building education and for that Yoga is the right way. Meditation is the right way of doing it. So we must build this dimensionally into our education system.
So our Prime Minister said, “It should not be just one day of practice on 21 June by the largest number of people, but it should go into our education system.” So we work with all the main government institutions to integrate Yoga with education at the center. For example, in India the National Council for Teacher Education (NCTE) is training 1,300,000 teacher educators every year in pre-primary education. Then we have the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT), for primary and high school level, and the University Grants Commission (UGC) for higher education. In all these organizations, the committees have welcomed us, and we have gathered a number of Yoga masters to develop a syllabus, a curriculum, which will be compulsory.
Initially there was some resistance, and a group of people took it to the courts. But the Supreme Court ruled that Yoga is good for everyone, and has now approved a Yoga syllabus for schools. The Yoga syllabus aims to bring about the total development of the personality, at all levels.
The second dimension is the health scenario. Modern medicine deals very effectively with infectious and contagious diseases, but the noncommunicable diseases like arthritis, diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, epilepsy, migraine, irritable bowel syndrome and cancer have ruined the possibility of bringing health for all by 2010. So the WHO did not succeed in its endeavor.
Why is this so? Because these modern ailments are not really physical. Our knowledge base in the physical may be total, but these diseases result from mental restlessness, emotional disturbance, and deep-rooted psychological conflict. It is a set of lifestyle diseases. So unless you bring about a totality of lifestyle normalization, you will not find the solution. Yoga and AYUSH systems have been doing that over the last 40 years and publishing their findings with wonderful results. It has been put into the framework of modern scientific research.
Swami Vivekananda said: combine the best of the East with the best of the West. The best of the West is modern scientific research, and the best of the East is our wisdom way. The two have to be combined. This is how we started our movement and we started publishing papers in the best journals of the world. In 1986 we published the results of a four-and-a-half-year study on the effect of Yoga on bronchial asthma, and all of a sudden there was acceptance worldwide that Yoga could be used to treat asthma.
And now a time has come where science is moving beyond
the physical, to understand the deeper dimensions of this
creation. What is prana? What is the mind? Can the
mind exist without the brain and the body? What is the
intellect? What is the relationship among the mind, the
emotions, the intellect and consciousness?
Then we brought out a book, Yoga for Common Ailments. So for 18 different ailments, how do you bring Yoga in its full perspective? When that book came out it was published simultaneously in London, Sydney and New York. Then it was translated into many languages and became a bestseller. Now it has become a sort of textbook. Now we have produced almost 500 publications like this. Comparing all the institutions, no one else has been able to do this amount of research. In the field of Yoga worldwide, our contribution is probably between 50% and 70% of the total. That is why we call this organization Swami Vivekananda Yoga Anusandhana Samsthana or S-VYASA, as it is a research organization.
Q: How well is the age-old tradition of Yoga being received by the modern scientific community ?
HRN: Earlier there was a lot of resistance, because people thought Yoga is Hinduism, Yoga does not have a base, and Yoga is some sort of physical exercise, and they started distorting all sorts of physical exercise into Yoga and bringing in animals as well, with dog yoga, cat yoga and what not.
So there has been a great need for revamping and bringing the essential language of Yoga to the world at large. And that is what our Prime Minister did in such a big way. So three years back, on International Day of Yoga, 21 June, around 1,800,000 people practiced this common protocol in India, and throughout the world people practiced in almost 130 countries. Last year in India we had around 2,800,000 practicing and this year our target is 4,000,000. And we hope that all countries will participate.
Our Minister of External Affairs has been very bold in following up to promote Yoga Day abroad. We want to share our tradition.
Swami Vivekananda said:
combine the best of the East
with the best of the West.
Q: Can you speak more about the impact of Yoga on non-communicable diseases, like diabetes, cancer etc.? Can Yoga offer a solution ?
HRN: What we did was to develop collaborations with the topmost institutions in the world, so that acceptability is easy. First of all with the Royal Free Hospital in London we worked on diabetes in the 1980s. Then at the Middlesborough General Hospital in the UK we worked on arthritis. After this, at the University of California, San Francisco, we worked on pre-diabetes and HIV. Then in Los Angeles we worked on irritable bowel syndrome. The biggest center for cancer research is the MD Anderson Cancer Center, so there we have our work on cancer, especially breast cancer.
In this way we spread our wings throughout and went to the best research institutions in the world to establish the efficacy of Yoga as an adjunct to conventional medicine. This is how Yoga was brought into the health field, particularly in cities. We have also been doing the same in India, with all the institutions here. In all the hospitals we have our Yoga teams supporting patients and doing research. Recently we wanted to bring this work into the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS). So I gave a talk and they said they were very fascinated and would start working with us. Fortunately there was some space available in their tower, so they gave us around 4,000 square feet to establish an advanced center for integrative medical research. When we started, all the departments came with so much enthusiasm, so now there are 24 research projects going on there. In the next two to three years, AIIMS will produce a lot of research findings in this field. It will be a wonderful result.
That’s the beauty of Yoga.
If you are a computer engineer,
it helps you to become more
effective as a computer
engineer, because while doing
Yoga you will reduce
AIIMS is the topmost research institute in the country, with the best brains, the best equipment, the best infrastructure, and the largest number of patients. When I asked them, “Are you producing papers in the best journals? How many papers have you published in good international journals?” they said, “None.” So I told them, “This is what you have to do.” Recently we have started publishing papers in the top journals, and now they are all inspired. So the entire thing has to be brought with modern scientific research because everywhere people want evidence.
Diabetes is reaching epidemic proportions in India now; China is number one and India is number two. But we are racing to go beyond China, and the expectation is that by 2024 we will become number one in the world. Can we prevent that? We were very keen to find a way. So I said: let the government join hands with Yoga institutions and bring about a positive change, and we took up a project about two years back where we screened around 250,000 people in six cities all over the country and gave them three months of Yoga. Their medication started coming down, sugar levels were getting normalized, and there were wonderful results. Based on this study, we are going to take the Yoga module that we have developed as a national program. The Minister for Health and Family Welfare announced that this program would be taken up nationally.
Now he wants us to focus on cancer control, which he has given as a mandate for this year. It is called the integrative cancer project, and it is much bigger. We will be doing this in 125 districts, scanning 20,000,000 people. So we are seeking the help of all the different Yoga institutions because we have to scale up. We need the entire country to benefit from what we have found here in a small way. Once we do that, it will be a direction to the whole world on how Yoga is useful for health. There is a holistic vision to see that it brings about the delivery of a proper health care system. We should be very efficient and give immediate relief to people, with no side effects and, most important, cost effectively.
Q: I was reading somewhere, sir, that Yoga practitioners don’t need proof; it is only for the external world that we need to provide the impact analysis to convince them.
HRN: Many people think that way. Yoga and the Vedas are thousands of years old, whereas a western allopathic medical center may only be 400 years old. That is one way of thinking. But we also have to update our tradition, and to go on updating according to the times. There are things that were relevant 5,000 years back, 1,000 years back, 300 years back, which may not be so relevant today. Our requirements will be quite different. So we have to tailor our approach to the requirements of modern society, with the types of modules and other things we offer. This is what we are trying to do.
Research is very necessary, and once we show the results of the research the whole world is going to accept. Otherwise, many people will not accept. For example, now Yoga has been accepted, meditation has been accepted, but Ayurveda and Homeopathy are not yet accepted. So when we start integrative centers in different parts of the world, people have no problem with Yoga but some still do with Ayurveda. So we have started doing a lot of research in Ayurveda and other systems also, to see that they also come to the forefront. That is the dimension today.
Q: One last question, sir. Do you have any message for the younger generation ?
HRN: To youngsters I would say that Yoga has a message for all. I invite them on International Day of Yoga to take up the simple module offered and practice it. Once they do the practice they will start growing very nicely in their own respective field. That’s the beauty of Yoga. If you are a computer engineer, it helps you to become more effective as a computer engineer, because while doing Yoga you will reduce your stress. So all the IT companies have started using Yoga to help their employees relax. Like that, Yoga has its application in all fields. So the youth of today are welcome to start doing the practice by participating in International Yoga Day. Start doing the practice for yourself, and it will bring about changes. It will bring about real transformation.
Interviewed by PRASANNA KRISHNA
January 02, 2019
January 02, 2019
January 01, 2019