Paramhansa Yogananda said that the root cause of illness is the conflict between the soul and the ego: the soul trying to draw us toward an awareness of our unity with God, and the ego trying to convince us that we are separate individuals.
The subconscious tension created by this opposition produces blockages in the flow of life-force, and ultimately, disease. Good health results from a strong unobstructed flow of life-force to all areas of the body; while illness, moods, apathy — in fact, all negative states — are symptoms of a conflict or blockage of the life-force.
One of the great benefits of meditation is a gradual freedom from these conflicts as we achieve an integration of our consciousness. We are then free to experience our natural state of vibrant health and energy.
This is not to say that there are no physical causes for disease, for certainly there are. Rather, we should recognize that physical symptoms usually have their root cause in consciousness or habit patterns. Basically, there are four levels: physical, energetic, mental/emotional, and spiritual.
On the physical level there are three areas that can, when properly controlled, bring the system back into a state of balance. These are: proper diet, proper exercise, and toxin-free living. By bringing these three into balance, we can greatly affect our health, longevity, and quality of life. There is an enormous amount of material available about physical health, being not only an important goal, but also a national obsession. Yet, the basic principles are both very simple and very powerful.
Eat a diet composed mainly of fresh vegetables, fruits and natural grains, with some legumes, nuts, and milk products.
A vegetarian diet is best, but if meat is eaten it should be used sparingly and consist primarily of fish or fowl. Keep away from sugar and overly processed food, and avoid overeating. Fasting one day each week is one of the best and easiest ways to maintain a healthy body. But, don’t become a fanatic — balance your diet and then forget it.
A simple exercise routine will pay back many times its cost in time and effort. Try to exercise for at least 30 minutes per day. Any exercise that makes you breathe hard will be enormously helpful. Aerobic exercise unleashes a process of better circulation, cellular cleansing, weight control, and glandular rebalancing, which helps on both physical and mental levels.
For most, the best basic exercise is simply walking. But anything you enjoy is the best choice for you. Yoga postures are not only a good physical exercise, but have the added benefits of giving improved flexibility and balancing your life-force. Some weight-bearing or isometric exercise is also important, especially for bone density. This is another good reason to learn and practice the Energization Exercises, a sequence of exercises created by Paramhansa Yogananda mainly consisting of tensing and relaxing different muscles.
Finally, on a physical level, avoid introducing toxins into your system. The three worst habits, and best to eliminate, are the use of cigarettes, alcohol, and drugs. Any of these will not only take years off your life, but will also greatly reduce the quality of life.
There is so much information available about this subject that virtually everyone knows that these three habits are self-destructive. It is not easy to overcome them, but meditation can be a great aid in making healthy lifestyle changes.
On the second level of energy, we must recognize the importance of prana, or life-force. Our health is good when our life-force is balanced and strong, but illness results if it is weak, out of balance, or blocked.
Many Oriental disciplines such as Ayurveda and acupuncture work with these subtle currents. The flow of prana can be increased by certain techniques that help us consciously enhance and direct these currents in the body. The Energization Exercises help bring the flow of prana under our conscious control, and send it to various parts of the body to re-vitalize them.
A second factor is our willingness on conscious or subconscious levels, which acts as a master switch. Energy is blocked when we say “no,” but flows freely when we say “yes.” To feel energetic, learn to say, “Yes!” to life.
Mental and Emotional Health
The third is the mental/emotional level. Our thoughts and emotions are controlled to a surprising extent by habitual patterns. Evolution has made the mind exquisitely proficient at perceiving, evaluating, and reacting to stimuli from the senses.
This process of sensory perception, recognition, and reaction takes place constantly, as long as we are awake. But two people can perceive and react to the same input in surprisingly different ways — differences that are largely dependent on the attitudes and tendencies that we have developed.
Daily thoughts and behaviors are like radio programs that repeat over and over with slight variations, like music on your favorite station. Normally, our mental radio turns off only when we sleep at night.
Most people have little control over what plays through their minds, but when we change underlying attitudes, like tuning into a new station — we can radically transform our mental and emotional programming.
Finally, the spiritual level influences our entire viewpoint. We have a sort of spiritual “specific gravity,” determined not by religion but by our natural state of expansion or contraction. One might define spiritual maturity as the ability to identify with ever-wider circles of consciousness.
People come into this world with an inherent “specific gravity” that ranges from dark, selfish, and contractive to joyful, compassionate, and expansive. Changing our brainwave patterns through meditation is the best way to raise our specific gravity. Meditation is the supreme tool for producing a sense of radiant health on physical, energetic, and emotional levels.