Disease is as old as mankind. The dream of an ever constant health like the one of everlasting youth and immortality has remained and will remain a dream whether we like it or not. However, disharmony at the level of consciousness leads to disease, The specific disease to which an individual succumbs will depend upon various factors: the weak points of the person - psychological and physical, the environment, the presence of pathogenic agents and his lifestyle. It is well known that with the change of environment and hygienic conditions as also the progress of medicine, certain disease have prevalent than before. This is explained partially by the fact that people live much longer today than in the past and therefore are more prone to the typical diseases of old age. But this does not explain the high frequency of other diseases which are not closely related to age.
In facts, the common diseases of our century are not due to malnutrition or dangerous infections but are characteristic of our modern life style. It seemed that mankind after having struggled for thousands of years for mere survival against hunger and the forces of the elements had finally succeeded with the help of science. But in the wealthy countries this relief was only momentary. Now they are threatened by the outcome of their own technology with its manifestations at physical and psychological levels.
As far as our environment is the problem of an ever increasing pollution. The danger lies not only in the massive liberation of toxic agents (CO2, SO2, heavy metals etc.) but also of thousands of chemicals, artificial substances, the effects of which on the overall ecological system are not known. An overexertion of our immune system by these substances is one of the likely causes of increasing allergies. Pollution of air has certainly a negative effect on the respiratory organs and can worsen an asthmatic condition where there is increased irritability of the mucous membrane.
The effects of toxic substances like DDT and many others in our food are evident and need not be discussed in detail.
Another big problem is the disease influenced by alimentary factors. Obesity with all its consequences on the whole organism is caused by false dietary habits - too high caloric foods in proportion to the reduced exercise under modern conditions. Digestive disorders like constipation are often the result of very refined and large quantities of food. The rich diet of today tends to overstrain the organism which has to work a lot to get rid of all the substances which are unnecessarily introduced - accumulation of waste products being the result. (see the role of cholesterol in arteriosclerosis). Unfortunately, due to the psychological factors associated with eating a change in alimentary habits is very difficult as is shown by so many diabetics who could be perfectly well if they were only able to adjust to a proper diet. Another sad example of self caused disease are the ones caused by drugs like nicotine and alcohol.
Faulty life rhythm can also create problems - night turning into day without the necessary intervals of rest. As a result stimulants are used to quickly reduce tension - a vicious circle.
What role does society play in all this? The general accepted lifestyle is without doubt an unhealthy one: competition all over starting from the first years at school. Ever increasing tempo - in spite of all the time saving gadgets. No time for recreation but a rat race for things that yield immediate results. No patience to wait for things to come according to their natural rhythm. A general lack of faith in a benevolent higher order of things, born out of fear that others may enjoy a bigger piece of the cake if you are not on guard. The common belief that our "I" is the very centre of the world creates a lot of tension and anxiety.
Everyone is nervous and nobody content with the situation he is in. In spite of all our material progress the art of living seems to have faded into oblivion. The way we treat our environment is the same as we treat ourselves, the outer pollution resembles the inner toxic condition, whereby the whole ecosphere seems to be affected. But instead of plunging into pessimism yoga offers remedy for this disease of the 20th century. First of all we must see that all this is probably not so new as it seems. It has gained momentum with the onset of modern technology but has originated from the same old human tendencies. All the "ego" - problems, for example, have always existed leading to contradiction between "I" and society. The urge for individual contribution to the higher process has always been at the centre of yoga and other spiritual systems. If nowadays we see that in the world things go wrong, that life is not what it should or could be, there is no use in blaming society - it won’t change for our sake. But having gained a certain insight in the problem we can look at ourselves and work for our own liberation: liberation from the wrong conditioning that we have received, liberation from inner and outer limitations. Nobody forces us to accept risk factors: we must neither smoke nor cheat nor in any way participate in the general rat race. Of course this is easy to say and hard to practise and we have to build up a lot of inner strength. Yoga can help us in many ways to live a healthy life even under adverse circumstances: physical, psychological, social and spiritual. As a prophylactic measure Yoga recommends techniques for greater awareness and insight about our own personality and better functioning of the body- mind complex. As our capacity of discrimination and understanding grows, we find our appropriate place in society and in the end in the larger process of life. But we have to start with simple steps and pursue them with patience. Many times a disease awaken us to the inner voice silently. Nature has its own methods and it is prompting departure from old habits of thinking and acting. Therefore, yoga explains that disease is ignorance. Having come to understand this it is likely that we will influence also our surroundings positively. To live at peace with ourselves and the outer world we need to be in harmony from within. To seek this balance remains our worthwhile aim for the future as has always been in the past of yoga.