Salutogenesis and Yoga Therapy

  • By Yogacharya Dr Ananda Balayogi
  • March 2 2020
  • While explaining the concept of Salutogenesis, article tells how to have a healthy lifestyle, the Yogic way.

Salutogenesis, may be defined as all the factors involved in manifesting and sustaining a sense of wellbeing and wholesome wellness. It is derived from the Latin “salus” meaning "health" and the Greek genesis meaning "source". Hence in combination it implies, "Sources of health". 

The equivalent concept in Indian tradition is "Swastha" that implies a sense of being at ease with oneself. Acharya Sushrut (~600 BC) defined this positive sense of wholesome wellness as a “dynamic balance of the elements and humors, normal metabolic activity and efficient elimination coupled with a tranquil mind, senses and contented soul”. Yoga is truly the best means to achieve such a dynamic state of wholesome health and wellness at all levels of existence.  

Salutogenesis has become a key word in modern healthcare and this is very welcome. Healing in a holistic sense has faded from medical attention and is rarely discussed in modern medicine especially in therapeutics. To heal is to achieve or acquire wholeness as a person. The wholeness of personhood involves physical, emotional, intellectual, social, and spiritual aspects of human experience.[1]

The Indian tradition of healing on the other hand understands health and well- being as a dynamic continuum of human nature and not a mere ‘state’ to be attained and maintained. The lowest point on the continuum may be understood as having the lowest speed of vibration and manifests as death whereas the highest point with the highest vibration is that of health, well-being and even a conceptual awareness of immortality. In between the extremes of this continuum lie the states of normal health and disease. For many, their state of health is defined as that ‘state’ in which they are able to function without hindrance whereas in reality, health is part of our evolutionary process towards Divinity.

This is in tune with the concept of eudemonia described by Aristotle as a “well-lived” life that fulfills a person’s ultimate purpose and gives them meaning. Eudemonic happiness is a steadfast, abiding contentment marked by flourishing vs. a short-term pleasure or comfort. This may related also to the concepts of self-actualization of Abraham Maslow [2] and to the meaning/purpose of life known in the Japanese culture as Ikigai [3] and as self-responsibility (Swadharma [4]) in Indian tradition that enables the individual to attain a sense of coherence that is essential for wellbeing [5].

Aaron Antonovsky proposed that the experience of well-being is based on a “Sense of Coherence”. This SOC can be considered the heart of salutogenesis and may be understood as a pervasive, long-lasting and dynamic feeling of confidence that one’s internal and external environments are predictable and that there is a high probability that things will work out as well as can be expected” ([6]). SOC has strong positive correlations to perceived health, mental health, and quality of life as it helps the ‘diseased’ to manage their condition and ‘be well’. ([7])

The three components of SOC are based on a sense that -

1. One’s life is comprehensible,

2. It is manageable and

3. It is meaningful.

The sense of life being comprehensible is a cognitive process where the individual has the sense “My world is understandable”. The coping skill in the second component enables the individual feel, “My world is manageable” while the motivational aspect of life having a sense of meaningfulness manifests in the individual feeling, “My world has meaning”.

The comprehension, meaningfulness and manageability (SOC approach) in chronic diseases keeps them ‘well’ despite any limitations and is similar to ‘physically disabled’ becoming ‘differently abled’. When an individual has these three aspects manifesting in their life, they have a sense of health, wellness, wellbeing and wholesomeness.

As Yoga therapist, though our words and actions we need to communicate with our clients in such a way that these three aspects come alive. It is only then, that the health promoting aspects of healing start to manifest in them.

We as a friend and guide need to help them comprehend their life better. This is only possible if we truly 'know' them. This takes time and patience. Can we help them tap into their own potential to manage their life? Often people are not aware of their inherent capacities and potential and it is we as an external observer who can help them understand it.

We need to help them move from a state where “being healthy” seems "impossible" to one of a confident "I Am Possible". This is where the very stressor in their life becomes a catalyst for transformative positive health, rather than induce degenerative disease.

To live a healthy life it is important to do healthy things and follow a healthy lifestyle. Yoga places great importance on a proper and healthy lifestyle whose main components are: [8]

Achar - Yoga stresses the importance of healthy activities such as exercise and recommends Asana, Pranayama and Kriyas on a regular basis. Cardio-respiratory health is one of the main by-products of such healthy activities.

Vichar - Right thoughts and right attitude towards life is vital for wellbeing. A balanced state of mind is obtained by following the moral restraints and ethical observances (Yama-Niyama). As Mahatma Gandhi said, “there is enough in this world for everyone’s need but not enough for any one person’s greed”.

Ahar - Yoga emphasizes need for a healthy, nourishing diet that has an adequate intake of fresh water along with a well-balanced intake of fresh food, green salads, sprouts, unrefined cereals and fresh fruits. It is important to be aware of the need for a Satwic diet, prepared and served with love and affection.

Vihar - Proper recreational activities to relax body and mind are essential for good health. This includes proper relaxation, maintaining quietude of action-speech-thoughts and group activities wherein one loses the sense of individuality. Karma Yoga is an excellent method for losing the sense of individuality and gaining a sense of universality.

Vyavahar - Healthy interpersonal relationships that enable us to be the best “we’ that we can be. Learning to adapt to the other people in our life and create a sense of teamwork, enable the sublimation of the ego into a positive energy that sustains relationships rather than harm them. When we learn to live with gratitude, respect, love and acceptance; life becomes much better and we grow as an individual.

According to Ammaji Yogacharini Meenakshi Devi Bhavanani, Director ICYER at Ananda Ashram in Pondicherry [9], Yoga has a step-by-step method for producing and maintaining perfect health at all levels of existence. She explains that social behaviour is first optimized through an understanding and control of the lower animal nature (Pancha Yama) and development and enhancement of the higher, human nature (Pancha Niyama).

The body is then strengthened, disciplined, purified, sensitized, lightened, energized and made obedient to the higher will through asana. Universal Pranic energy that flows through body-mind-emotions-spirit continuum is intensified and controlled through pranayama using breath control as a method to attain controlled expansion of the vital cosmic energy. The externally oriented senses are explored, refined, sharpened and made acute, until finally the individual can detach themselves from sensory impressions at will through Pratyahara.

The restless mind is then purified, cleansed, focused and strengthened through concentration (Dharana). If these six steps are thoroughly understood and practiced then the seventh, Dhyana or meditation (a state of union of the mind with the object of contemplation) is possible. Intense meditation produces Samadhi, or the ecstatic feeling of Union, Oneness with the Universe. This is the perfect state of integration or harmonious health.


1.Egnew TR. The meaning of healing: transcending suffering. Ann Fam Med 2005;3(3):255–262.



6.Antonovsky A. Health, Stress, and Coping. San Francisco and London: Jossey-Bass Publishers; 1979.

7.Antonovsky A. The salutogenic model as a theory to guide health promotion. Health Promot Int. 1996; 11: 11–1

8.Bhavanani AB. Yoga Chikitsa: Application of Yoga as a therapy. 1st ed. Pondicherry, India: Dhivyananda Creations; 2013.


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