Well-being as seen from the East and West

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Jogging, swimming and emptying your mind towards health, writes NOEL G DE SOUZA
The Western prescription for good health, such as for those who have diseases like diabetes and heart problems, is to remain active. Practically speaking, this means walking or jogging. More energetic versions are cycling or swimming.
In contrast, the Eastern prescription (Hindu-Buddhist) for good physical and mental health is staying still and includes emptying the mind (pratyahara). Emptying the mind is no easy task; the mind is naturally designed to flit from one thought to the next. Memory consists of a jumble of mind-images which are an imprint of the world which one has experienced. Patanjali counsels against modifying such images as that would be being active and not passive as pratyahara should be.
In these troubled times; worry and fear are widespread. The almost instant transmission of troubling news exacerbates the effect of events which may be far away but nevertheless relevant. Emptying the mind of the effects of such emotions is no easy task. The horrendous bombing in Boston and the tragic explosions in Texas have traumatised people in even far away places.
The Hindu scriptures liken the mind to a raging bull which needs to be controlled by holding its horns. Chapter 6 of the Bhagwad Gita extols: “in a fair still spot… having his fixed abode … there restraining heart and senses, silent, calm, let him accomplish Yoga, and achieve pureness [of] soul, holding immovable body and neck and head… tranquil in spirit, free of fear… that Yogin, so devoted [and] so controlled comes to the peace beyond…” (E. Arnold’s poetic version of the Gita).
Modern workplaces demand a lot of mental activity and alertness. This places stress on individuals who long for calm and often go on holidays to distant places. International tourism has become the order of the day.
Of course, the Eastern and Western systems often contain elements of each other, but predominantly the Western way is to activate one’s muscles and breathing, while the Eastern way to de-stress the body and slow the breathing to calm the mind (the highest version of this is dhyana).
It is slowly being accepted in the West that emotions can have an effect on health. Such psychosomatic illnesses mean that we need to guard against allowing unhealthy emotions to permeate our way of life. Permitting such emotions as sadness and fear to dominate our thinking can be detrimental. Instead making happiness and hopefulness a part of our meditative process could mean good health.
There is an obvious age factor which can dictate the exercises an individual chooses to make. Young athletic-oriented individuals with reasonably good health may opt for jogging and cycling, while older persons may choose relaxing exercises and hope that inner calm develops. A variant of active exercise is the military goose-step movements which are seen so often in the news about the threats from North Korea. Similar parades are also common in the Balkans such as in Greece.
Aged persons who choose relaxing exercises could possibly benefit from the Chinese Tai-Chi system which can be performed by individuals of all ages. Its main aim is apparently to achieve inner calm through graceful movements. A variant is the martial style movement invented during Mao’s time. It was political in character and meant for galvanising the Chinese people.
Hospitals in Australia bar visitors during certain hours when patients are encouraged to rest and to sleep. Such supposed “inaction” is said to help in the curative processes. This coincides with the Eastern way. It is possible for all individuals, whether sick or not, to set aside a period when they can rest with no interruption. It is then that they can stop worrying about workplace and other matters and try to “empty their minds”.
Modern medicine has produced a whole range of medicines for inducing sleep. Amongst these, barbiturates have a reputation of being habit-forming. Milder versions for helping one to sleep are periodically being announced by drug companies.
Some practitioners of yoga developed a type of yogic rest or trance called turiya which is absolute rest with the organs going into a feeble state of activity. Such a trance is obviously difficult to achieve. Modern medicine has its variant in the form of induced coma which is used in very serious medical cases.
Every individual needs to make a conscious choice depending on what suits that person’s ability. For example, someone who cannot have a daily run might still be able to swim. Even someone who mostly lies in bed can engage in mental exercises. The above exercises might be decided upon by consultation with a health practitioner, or by reading books, but the choice is entirely left to the individual. It is based on freedom of choice and on self-discipline.

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