Kausthub Desikachar was born in Chennai, India as the son of TKV Desikachar and grandson of T. Krishnamacharya. He began studying yoga when he was nine years old. After completing his dual Masters degree, he committed himself to becoming a full-time student and teacher of yoga. He has authored numerous books on yoga and works as a yoga therapist and trainer. He offers clients astute and effective solutions for all sorts of physical, mental and emotional imbalances and problems. Being a synergist himself, he combines the teachings of yoga, ayurveda, teachings from the Vedic tradition and modern psychology to aid his clients empower themselves in their healing journies and explore their own unique potentials ( check www.kausthub.com). Over the last years he has often met with healers from other traditions to explore the paradigm of health and find synergies in healing. He cofounded this journal to help spread more of the old knowledge and support its implementation into modern medical context and therapy.
An interview with Dr. Kausthub Desikachar
by Evelyn Einhaeuser
How is health defined in Yoga and where is it defined?
Health is discussed in different ways in the field of Yoga. The Yogasutra of Patanjali presents optimum health as a state of mind that is alert and in peace at the same time. This state is termed as citta vrtti nirodha, the very definition of Yoga. So from one perspective health may be defined to achieve and refrain in a state of Yoga where the mind is able to achieve its full potential and at the same time be relaxed.
Patanjali also uses another term called as kaya-sampat, which literally translated means the wealth of the body. He elaborates further that the wealth of the body includes four parameters or is judged by four parameters: rupa, healthy form, lavanya, radiance of the body, bala, healthy and strong functioning of the body, vajrasamhanahananatva, resilience or stamina. These could be considered also as a definition of health from the point of view of Yoga.
In one of the earliest commentaries of the Yogasutra, titled Vyasa-bhashya, disease is defined as dhatu rasa karana vaisamyam. Vaisamyam means imbalance or disharmony and hence disease is defined as a state of disharmony of the dhatus (the 7 fundamental support structures of the body), rasa (fluids in body) and karana (sensual faculties of the body). If disease is an imbalance of these three, it can be easily assumed that health is a balance or harmony of these three. Hence health can be defined as as dhatu rasa karana samanam. The term samanam means harmony or balance.
What are the characteristics of a healthy person?
From the point of view of Yoga, a healthy person has a body that has the wealth of the body (kaya sampat), the vitality of the breath, the peace of mind, positive attitudes and a healthy expression of emotions. Yoga views health and disease in a holistic way and hence it does not look at health or disease in a unidimensional manner. In fact it makes it clear that unless the harmony of the complete human system is achieved, the person is not in a state of health.
In what ways can sickness express according to Yoga?
Sickness can express through four symptoms that Patanjali shares: Dukha, daurmanasya, angamejayatva, svasaprasvasa. Dukham represents emotional disturbances that are often one symptom of illness. Daurmanasya, the mind is negative in its orientation and becomes pessimistic towards oneself and the world. Angamejayatva represents physiological symptoms such as pain in the body, tremors in the body, temperature differences in the body and the many other ways in which physiological symptoms express. Most importantly illness also expresses through disturbed breathing patterns.
What makes us sick?
Yoga presents many causes of illness. One is inappropriate diet and lifestyle. A second is the inability to accept and adapt to the changes within us and outside us. Number three: attachment to egocentric attitudes and possessions. Then inappropriate relationship (excessive) with the senses as well as prajnapardam, making a mistake knowing it is a mistake (smoking even though we know its bad) and finally lack of a spiritually centered lifestyle.
Does Yoga give ideas how to stay healthy?
Of course Yoga gives ideas how to stay healthy. Yoga prescribes four major approaches to a healthy living. Ahara, healthy diet, vihara, a healthy and spiritually conscious lifestyle, bhavana, healthy and positive attitudes towards oneself and the world, and finally sadhana or abhyasa, practices which include engaging the body, breath, and mind. In sadhana we have tools such as asana, pranayama, mudra, etc.
By practicing all the four we use a holistic approach to regain holistic health. The greatness of Yoga is that it offers a multidimensional approach to healthy living with a multitude of tools. Yoga also teaches us that we have to find tools that are appropriate for us, considering different parameters such as our age, our stage in life, our capacities, the seasons of the year and other such individual centric parameters. Thus for optimum health each individual needs to adopt a personalized practice. The theory of one size fits all doesn’t work for Yoga.
Are people becoming sicker nowadays or do we simply face other sicknesses?
Sickness has always been existing in the world and is not a new phenomena. But perhaps what has changed is the kind of illnesses and how they are addressed. In my view in the traditional context society suffered from illnesses of scarcity, so people suffered from access to clean water for example, so there were communicable diseases which caused bacteria and viruses whereas nowadays more and more lifestyle related illnesses have become the trend such as diabetes, high blood pressure, cancer, multiple sclerosis, chronic fatigue, etc.
Has something changed in the way Yoga is applied nowadays compared to the traditional times?
Most of the Yoga that is taught now is in group classes, which is totally different of how it was applied in the traditional context. And hence the efficacy of Yoga therapy is not as potent as it perhaps was in the past. Also most modern day Yoga practitioners tend to focus on the tool of asana, which is not necessarily the most powerful tool of Yoga and is most of the time not accessible to those with illness. Also certain people who practice Yoga as a therapy today tend to utilize Yoga as a prescriptive paradigm, much the same as how the medical system practices its approach. In the traditional context Yoga was not given as a prescriptive approach but was given as a context sensitive paradigm.
Do people and places affect my health according to Yoga?
Yoga definitely says that the environment where we are living has a strong impact on our health. If we are in a healthy environment there is greater possibility for better health while if we are in an environment that is not congenial to our health it makes it more challenging to remain healthy. For example, if you are in a polluted environment there is a great chance that you will have illnesses related with breathing.
Similarly if you are living in a househould filled with people with negative emotions it is possible that we also get stressed and may develop stress related conditions. So definitely it adds. On the contrary if we are in a healthy place there is more chance that we stay healthy.
What are 5 easy ways to a more healthy lifestyle according to Yoga?
The great yogacarya T. Krishnamacharya described a simple way to stay healthy: 1. Wake up early and honor the sun and do your daily practice. 2. Maintain a healthy diet and lifestyle 3. Maintain good positive attitudes and emotions 4. Have a positive relationship with the environment you are living in. 5. Sustained self reflection through family or a teacher.
(for classes with Dr Kausthub Desikachar visit www.kausthub.com)