Health and disease in yoga

Understanding Health and Disease through Yoga Concepts

What will you learn in this article?

I will discuss the meaning of these concepts: Gunas and their relationship to suffering, Prana and the relationship to prana vayus, chakras, granthis, nadis and suchumna. I will discuss these concepts in relation to these classical yoga texts: The Bhagavad Gita (written about 1795 C.E.), The Yoga Sutras (written about 400 C.E.), The Samkhya Karika (written about 2500 B.C.E.), and the Upanishads (written about 800-300 B.C.E.). I will share how these concepts are present in my life. You will also learn how these concepts relate to the understanding of health and disease.

Yoga and Disease

Everyone has the aspects of the three gunas in them. Guna is a quality specifically the three qualities of matter and energy which make up the world. The three gunas are as sattva (law, harmony, purity, and goodness), rajas (energy, passion) and tamas (inertia, ignorance). 

In the Upanishads (1.9) “Conscious spirit and unconscious matter both have existed since the dawn of time, with maya appearing to connect them, misrepresenting joy as outside us. When all these three are seen as one, the self-reveals his universal forms and serves as an instrument of the divine will.” (Easwanan, 2007) The appearance that separateness and happiness come from an outside source in the world entangles us through maya. Maya is a key idea in Vedanta.  Hidden behind the gunas is our true self.  Maya has this phenomenal reality and the appearance or illusions of a world of separate entities yet the divine power, which creates the world, can be identical with Brahman.

Sutra (I-17, II-18, IV 12-14, and IV 32-34) views the gunas as one of the qualities of nature. The Sutra sees sattva, rajas and tamas as balance, activity, and inertia.   The guans are constantly intermingling thus creating prakrti. Nature is here to give experience to the reflected purusa upon our mind stuff so you could say that prakrti is our mental mirror of our gunas. The duty of prakrti is to torture our soul with storms of life until the soul renounces the world- sannyasa. When our soul detaches itself, it is pure so prakrti then stops because it has fulfilled its purpose. Prakrti job is to give purusa experience to fulfill its purpose or dharma. Prakrti is present when the gunas are not manifesting separately, when the gunas manifest prakrti functions with purusa and once that job is over the gunas withdraw their actions from purusa. The force of prana are the three gunas (sattva/tranquility, rajas/activity, tamas/inertia) when they are in equilibrium they do not affect matter but once there is a little disturbance it creates motion in the matter which gives rise to all kinds of forms. Prakasa means illumination and stands for sattva. Kriya is action and represents rajas. Sthitti is inertia or tamas. The purpose of prakrti is to give us knocks in life Prakrti is here to give us experience and ultimately to liberate us from bondage. The secret of our wanting change is in that mind changes. All life is a passing show. If we want to hold it, even for a minute we have tension. (Satachidananda, 2005)

Samkya looks at the three guans according to the worldview, which have always been and continue to be present in all things and beings in the world. Sattva is goodness, constructive, harmonious, quality of balance, purity, universality, holistic, constructive, creative, building, positive, peaceful and virtuous. Rajas is Pasion, active, confused, neither good nor bad, sometimes either, self-centeredness, egoistic, individualizing, driven, dynamic and moving. Tamas is vicious, lethargy, violent, imbalance, disorder, chaos, apathy, inertia, ignorant, anxiety, impure, delusion, negative, dull, inactive, darkness, destructive, and chaotic. These qualities of the gunas are present in all of us all the time. The interplay of these gunas defines the character of someone or something as nature determines the progress of life. The force to change comes from raja, sattva empowers towards harmonious and constructive change, and tamas checks or retards the process. (Miller, 2012)

The Bhagavad Gita in chapters fourteen, seventeen and eighteen discuss the gunas as qualities of nature. Guna means “strand” or “fiber so like strands of a robe the three gunas are woven together to form the objective of the universe. How and what the universe is made of is philosophically the gunas. From a yoga perspective it teaches us if we are moving forward in life (sattva) running in place (rajas) and losing our way (tamas). Krishna portrays the gunas as the power of the gunas, the scope of guna, activities, and teaches us that nothing is free from prakrti and the gunas. When we sharpen our self-observation skills and discernment with practice and the right intention we can learn to witness the activities of the guna employing balance and purpose. (Satchidananda, 2005)


Bawra, B. V. (2012). Samkhya Karika with Gaudapadacarya Bhasya. USA: Brahmrishi Yoga Publications. 

Easwaran, E. (2007). The Upanishads (2nd ed.). Tomales, CA: Nilgiri Press. 

Miller, B. S. (2004). The Bhagavad-Gita Krishna’s Counsel in Time of War. New York, NY: Bantam Dell. 

Miller, R. (2012). The Sankhya Karika: A New Translation

Satchidananda, S. S. (2005). The Living Gita: The complete Bhagavad Gita: A commentary for modern readers (6th ed.). Buckingham, VA: Integral Yoga Publications. 

Satachidananda, S. (2005). Sadhana Pada Portion on Practice. In The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali (11th ed., pp. 131-151). Buckingham, Virginia: Integral Yoga Publications. 

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