If you wish to understand a concept, study the root language and the meaning of the root word from which the modern concept was derived. There is incredible wisdom in this approach to studying and understanding the qualities of our human experience.
It was through my studies in yoga therapy that I began to pay very close attention to the distinction between addressing health and healing through the lens perennial wisdom vs. evolving science. If you google “Perennial wisdom”, you will likely see the Latin translation, “Philosophia perennis”. And the definition of that is “a core of philosophical truths that is hypothesized to exist independently of and unaffected by time or place”. Evolving Science, however, refers to the evolution of what is known to be true. In other words, as scientific approaches, thoughts, measures, theories, protocols, tools, treatment practices grow and change overtime, what is known to be true also grows and changes overtime. Ask any medical professional to point out the differences and the relevance of their studies from 20 years ago to today’s application of medical science and they will tell you that what is known to be factual evidence in terms of the cause and treatment of most diseases has greatly shifted. In the 70s, homosexuality was a proven and published disease with a specific set of diagnostic criteria, for example. The treatment for Schizophrenia and many other mental health disorders involved scientifically sound treatment approaches such as electro shock therapy and commitment to asylums. Not that long ago, in an age when women had no rights and no voice, the treatment for “hysteria” which was a diagnosed disease based on women’s emotional and behavioural hormonal imbalance, was treated by the actual removal of the uterus. All this was done in good faith and profound trust in science. Yet, 10, 20, 30 years later, what is true has changed. And 10, 20, 30 years from now, today’s scientific truths will also have changed. I can almost guarantee that chemotherapy will be something we look back on and say “can you believe we used to think that poisoning the system was the answer?”. The times of giving Ritalin to 5 year olds for the treatment of ADHD will have long passed. And the belief that taking antidepressants as a means of changing brain chemistry will also shift in some unknown direction.
To come back to Perennial Wisdom, Yoga Therapy, and the study of root languages: I don’t reject modern science, but I do base my therapeutic approaches more on philosophical truths that have remained unaffected by place and time and I go back to these truths to inform my understanding of how to support a person who is not seeing results in the treatment they are receiving through a scientifically proven pharmaceutical or pathology-based approach. Please don’t misunderstand me. Our scientific and medical advancements are astounding. They have saved lives and given chances to people who 20 years ago would have died under the same health conditions. What I am saying is that Perennial Wisdom is something we must keep integrating and going back to when what we think to be true is proven wrong.
One of the missing aspects in evolutionary science is the spiritual component of our human experience. This is where root languages come in. In the most simple terms, yoga therapy is 90% working with the breath. In many root languages, such as Latin, the word for breath is spirit. The translation of Psyche in Latin, is also the human soul, mind, spirit. But in our Western Psychology, we have come very far from that concept. In yoga therapy, the root of all suffering is “Avidya”, which in Sanskrit, means a wrong understanding that we are alone and separate – an ignorance of our interconnectedness, our whole and complete nature. In my therapeutic approach, regardless of the person’s culture, religion or non-religion, age, gender, mobility, sexuality, diagnosis, what I am most interested in is their connection to themselves, others, and the world; their relationship to life and death. When the person is willing, we work directly with their breath. There is no need to believe in anything spiritual if what we understand about spirituality is simply that we become free from emotional and mental suffering when we can come back home to our heart, breathe freely, and live in whole connection to ourselves and the world around us. We are free from suffering when we remember and wake up to an experience that we are not alone and separate from one another.
Science may never be able to prove or show evidence for things that can’t be intellectually explained or measured by tools developed through the rational mind. Perennial wisdom is something we can simply trust because it keeps showing up. What was true in ancient times, remains true today. We are not separate from one another. Yet, when we believe that we are, we suffer. Scientific assessment of this would be categorized as depression, anxiety, PTSD, insecure attachment, and medication may be seen as the answer. Let’s not forget the deeper aspect of our human experience and the innate resilience that perennial wisdom can remind us to tap into.