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Health Bulletin - Aug 1, 2015

Invest in your health

Aging is not a disease. It is a natural process of getting older of any organism. However, diseases may adversely affect our daily life and can exacerbate the process of aging. Diseases can set in due to bad habits. Therefore, cultivating healthy habits can help leading a healthy life. When we talk about health, we mostly mean physical health and think in terms of eating good food, regular exercise and sleep, but almost nothing about 'mental health'. Health encompasses both body and mind. If mind aspects are not addressed, it is not possible to maintain good health. Below are 8 steps for maintenance of better 'body and mind'[1].

1. Be mindful with 'external world'
First step is to do with training your actions, speech, and thoughts in relation to the external world, particularly with other people. They include truthfulness, non-harming, non-stealing and non-possessiveness. As these are gently, lovingly practiced over time, they gradually evolve into great vows for living. It should be self-evident that having a good relationship with the world and other people is imperative if we wish to succeed in achieving our goals. These practices are a means of building that relationship.

2. Be mindful with 'internal world'
This is to do with your relationship within yourself, self-discipline. It involves purifying your body and mind, cultivating an attitude of contentment and training your senses. When your acting, speaking, or thinking is negative, the suggestion is to remind yourself that such negative actions, speech, or thoughts are going in the wrong direction, and will bring you nothing but unending misery. It can be as straightforward as silently repeating the words to yourself: "Mind, this is not useful; this is going to bring me nothing but more suffering". This simple practice is an extremely important way to balance, purify, and train the mind. Cultivating self-awareness or mindfulness of actions, speech, and thoughts as separate entities is very important.

3. Physical exercise
Regular physical exercise helps maintain or enhance physical fitness and overall health [2]. Aerobic exercise is any physical activity that uses large muscle groups and causes your body to use more oxygen than it would while resting. Examples of aerobic exercise include cycling, swimming, brisk walking, skipping rope, rowing, hiking, playing tennis, continuous training, and long slow distance training. Anaerobic (or strength) exercise can firm, strengthen, and tone your muscles, as well as improve bone strength, balance, and coordination. Examples of strength moves are pushups, lunges, and bicep curls using dumbbells. Flexibility exercises stretch and lengthen your muscles. Activities such as stretching help to improve joint flexibility and keep muscles limber. Regular physical exercise also boosts the immune system.

4. Breathing exercise
Breathing has significant effect on the texture of the mind. One of the finest methods there is to stabilize and calm the mind is breath awareness. Three aspects of breath training: 1) Exhalation: training the exhalation is removing the jerkiness, allowing the flow to be slow and deep, as well as diaphragmatic; 2) Inhalation: Training the exhalation also means eliminating jerkiness, breathing slowly, and using the diaphragm, and 3) Transition: Between exhalation and inhalation, and between inhalation and exhalation there is a transition, which is experienced as suspension, retention, or cessation, etc. The training of the transition is to make it very smooth, as if there were no pause at all. The goal of the practices are to make the breath slow (and long) and subtle (and fine). It is very useful to keep in mind that these two are the goals. Through these practices, the mind acquires or develops the fitness, qualification, or capability for true concentration [1].

5. Gain control over senses
Our senses seem to drag us around in the external world, whether pursuing material objects, food, or circumstances related to professional, social, or economic life. Through the routine practice of withdrawing senses, we gradually gain positive control over the mind being obsessively drawn towards all of those objects. Sense withdrawal means that the senses cease to be engaged or connected to the objects traveling in the train of the mind. It does not mean the suppression, repression, or stopping of those thoughts. They may naturally slow down or decrease to some degree, but the method itself is to break the contact, to cease connecting with the thought patterns. This means allowing thoughts to flow without interruption, while the senses are simply not diverted into those thoughts. With a little experimentation we can learn that it really is easy to just let the thought drift away (and not turn it into an unfavorable action, for example). This letting go is a skill unto itself [1].

6. Develop the ability to concentrate
Concentration is the process of holding or fixing the attention of mind onto one object or place. Concentration comes more easily with the effort to stabilize the mind and by practicing the steps described above. Without such preparation, the efforts to concentrate the mind often lead only to an inner battle. Know that even a brief concentration is a success. It may seem invisible at first, but those moments add up over time.

7. Meditation
Meditation is a tool for examining our inner world. Any type of meditation (sensation experience, breath, manthra, visualized image etc.) can be extremely relaxing and may bring peace of mind, as well as improved physical health. Even as little as 15 min daily meditation would have significant health benefit [1, 3].

8. Create equanimity in mind
In our day-to-day life we constantly confront with dualities of life such as love and hatred, joy and sorrow, hope and despair, success and failure etc. When we practice the steps described above, we eventually grow in to a state where we are free from the dichotomy of good and bad. We gain the psychological stability and capability to make decisions with a balanced mind. That is the state of equanimity in action, speech and thought.

When you incorporate above steps in to your daily life, you will notice dramatic improvement in your mental and physical health. Those who suffer from frequent illnesses (such as colds, allergies, anxiety, stress, depression, migraine, lack of sleep etc.) can observe health benefits within weeks [3, 4]. As a result of mental peace and decreased stress, quality of sleep will be improved. Better control over senses will lead you to adopt healthy food habits.


[1] This is a brief introduction to Maharshi Pathanjali's Ashtanga Yoga for the beginner, deliberately avoiding technical terms in the best interest of facilitating wider readership. For detailed review and step by step help, please visit:


[3] Yoga and Health: Review of evidence, ATA Health Bulletin, July 1, 2015: Click Here

[4] Personal experience, and literature evidence [Ref 3].

Vijay Gangula
Chair, Health Committee