Born in Northern India, Madan Bali started teaching yoga in Montreal in 1969 and is now a master yogi and Vedanta scholar with a doctorate in complementary medicine. In this interview he shares the benefits of a yoga practice, how to understand the subtle body, and yoga's potential for curing disease.
Omega: Can you talk about what's possible for the mind, body, and spirit with a yoga practice?
Madan: Mindfulness meditation is becoming very popular in North America. Of course it is beneficial in many ways, but in a sitting down meditation you cannot decongest your guts or deep tissues, or remove metabolic waste and toxins, or open up congested blood vessels--yoga postures help to clean up the system first. Yoga helps the body to mobilize itself in ways to keep some experience of joyfulness. In some breathing exercises, like kapalabhati, which is the same mechanism as laughter, it is clinically shown we can produce our own antidepressants, serotonin, melatonin, and oxytocin. So I use yoga for tapping into our biochemistry.
There are almost 80 million baby boomers, and 50 percent are likely to get some memory loss or dementia, and if not taken care of, it will result in Alzheimer's disease. We're talking about millions of people that are likely to suffer--even this condition is preventable through yoga methodology. [A recent study found that yoga and meditation in combination with other therapies can even reverse memory loss.]
What I'm offering is not only that we can heal our body. When we shift into the relaxation response, we can eliminate the risk factor of psychosomatic and degenerate disorders, and now cancer. And my perception is that only the body knows how to protect itself and our bodies are reprogrammed to that level when we are doing yoga. You can eradicate negative energies, like fear, anxiety, and anger, and create feelings of love, compassion, forgiveness, sharing, and caring, where healing takes place most.
Omega: Can you explain the subtle body and how it relates to the physical body?
Madan: The subtle body supports the physical body. It is a network of information. It has been contaminated by all the emotions, thoughts, fears, worries, and anxieties that we have, whether conscious or subconscious. When we shift those negative emotions into some positive approach, it's a conscious process. There is so much positive going on around us, but we are so caught up in this evolution in the external universe. That's why this inner journey is very necessary, so you can be in touch with, and feel, being the center of the universe.
I'll give you an example. The very breath that you're breathing right this moment carries a prana, a life force. Where does that life force come from? It's from the trees. The trees are our lungs. We can't survive without them; they won't survive without us. That's how integrated we are and connected with the universe. And what about the solar energy that our body is made of? Protons. Everything that we ingest is coming from where? From the solar energy--all the produce and everything that we put into our bodies. We are humanizing the food that we put in the body. Also gravity and the electromagnetic energies are supporting us.
Jill Bolte Taylor, the well-known neuroscientist who had a stroke, says the moment her left brain damage took place, she shifted to the right brain and the perception of reality in the right brain is different. It's not ego-based, not time-bound. It's timeless, ageless, formless, and nameless. It's ever-present and infinite. As a neuroscientist she explains how she found peace and joy because the mental chatter got suspended due to left brain damage. That's what yoga does by citta-vrtti-nirodhah [from the first yoga sutra of Patanjali, which translates into restricting the fluctuations of consciousness]. We will find peace and joy when our rational mind is calm.
Omega: How does yoga help us recognize the interconnectedness of everything?
Madan: Yoga provides us the ability to rediscover the true source. There's a little aphorism in the Bhagavad Gita: "In the beginning was silence."
When the silence moved there was a vibration, when the vibrations coalesce or fuse, there is a sound, sound is made into word, word into flesh. Once we're into the flesh, it's hard to go back into the source. Through this evolution of consciousness, and with the practice of the eight steps of yoga, we can reach samadhi. It is at this stage that we can experience our true nature as a spiritual being, immersed into the human journey temporarily. This state of union of an individual self merges into its true nature of sat-chit-ananda, or state of moksha, or freedom from human conditions like a drop of water merging into the ocean.
When the drop of water is separate from the ocean, it loses its power, and when it goes back into the ocean, it gains the power of the ocean. That's what yoga deals with. We are being created from an invisible source at the time of conception when there is no body, there is only a microscopic structure that has the ability to create a hundred trillions cells of the body and then formulate the physical body with this exquisite architecture and engineering. Our existence here is like wave of pure awareness coming from the invisible source, supported by the ocean of pure awareness only to go back into the source. Just like a wave can create a separate identity, due to its ignorance. But a wave cannot exist without the ocean, it is created and supported by the ocean at all times. So are we created and supported by the ocean of pure awareness.
We experience separateness at the level of the rational mind, which is created in time and space and lost its ability to experience the timeless and boundless nature of infinity. This notion is now being understood through a deeper understanding that Einstein provided, and has given us a vocabulary to understand that everything that exists is intertwined, interdependent, and interwoven. We are the center of the universe. With this sense of power and self-sufficiency, healing becomes spontaneous and peak experiences of peace, joy, and harmony, and memory of healing and wholeness, is restored.
Omega: What do you think happens when we die?
Madan: We have a subtle body, which we call the soul, that carries all the memories (samskaras). The subtle body is released when we die. This soul has its own energy, and just like a torpedo it can find its target from miles away. This energy has a propensity. Death is a creative process. There's no one controlling it or doing it. It's self-evolving, self-perpetuating, self-sufficient, and self-existent. This energy keeps moving until it finds its own propensity, and then fuses into it. It's a law of attraction. It finds what you may call "right abode." Just like we have a physical DNA that guides our physical body, we also have a spiritual DNA that guides our external life. The purpose of life here is to purify ourselves of the negative memories, and create new memories, so that we can have a better life next time.
Sometimes people are skeptical about reincarnation. But we are being reincarnated every year. It was considered before that every cell of our body replicates itself in seven years, then it came to five, three, and now every year we have a new body. It takes about five days for our guts to change, because they deal with the hydrochloric acid and other strong substances. Our bony structures take about three months, skin changes take about six weeks, and organs and tissues about eight weeks. By the end of the year, we have a new model completely.
What is left? Karmic memories. These memories are not physical, that's why our memory remains the same just as our taste, smell, hearing, and vision is the same. We see the same way. Memories still stay. We're inventing a new body every year, a new model. So, we can reincarnate each year.
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