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ON THE SCENE: Yoga not about postures

July 16, 2015
By NAJ WIKOFF , Lake Placid News

Yoga is a $27 billion dollar industry with designer clothes, mats, juice bars, and expensive retreat centers catering to over 20 million followers, 83 percent of whom are women.

The majority of yoga disciplines taught in the West is based on the practice of physical postures, just one of the eight traditional limbs of yoga.

Dr. Madan Bali is one of the small band of yoga masters who introduced traditional yoga to the West, yoga that focuses on all aspects of the ancient practice. At age 92, the spry and mentally sharp doctor is a testament to its benefits. For Bali, yoga is not a path to physical well-being, though that is an outcome; rather it is a path to well-being of the mind, spirit and body.

Article Photos

Dr. Mandan Bali and Renee Cosgrove
(Provided photo — Naj Wikoff)

Yoga means spiritual disciple in Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism. Most trace its beginnings to the 5th or 6th centuries BCE, though there is debate that its roots are much earlier.

Yoga came to the attention of the Western public in the mid-19th century, in particular through the tours of Swami Vivekananda in the 1890s. In many respects, the primary influence on yoga taught in the West today can be traced to a form of yoga developed in the 19th century for the British and Indian military to strengthen and improve the abilities of their soldiers to endure the harsh environment in which they fought.

It was this physical approach that took root, especially beginning in the 1980s when an increasing amount of research bore out its physical benefits. To Bali, that approach misses the point about the true value of yoga, especially needed than now with the increasing rates of heart failure, dementia and use of drugs.

Bali, a Vedanta scholar based in Montreal, was in Keene Valley Sunday, July 12 en route to the Omega Institute in Rhinebeck to join fellow yogis Tao Porchon-Lynch, 96, and Lillas Folan, in her 70s. There they will be leading a three-day workshop called "The Wisdom of the Master Yogis," followed by a series individual and group classes. He came to Keene Valley at the invitation of Renee Cosgrove, a member of his Yoga Bliss Institute who is training under him to become a certified teacher of the Bali method of traditional yoga.

"Dr. Bali's life calling is to prevent suffering, and his purpose is to share his knowledge with others," said Cosgrove. "When I first met him, I was struck by his ability to use postural yoga as a doorway to a meditative experience, the traditional purpose of the postures. A key purpose of traditional yoga is to expand our experience of the possibilities of being alive. Experiencing a certain wholeness using both sides of our brains can balance out excessive stress, anger and the incessant often sustained by the rational left sides of our brain."

"Since I was young, I have been looking for answers as to why do we suffer when we are surrounded by so much," said Bali. "My journey led me to realize that we do not need to do anything. Everything is being done for us moment to moment. It is happening to us in our deep sleep and in our waking moments also, but our story, our melodrama has prevented us from seeing that. We have trillions of cells within us working silently nonstop. Our heart is beating millions of times nonstop. When you consider the wonder of these billions of actions, you realize there is no reason to get sick. I realized that the root cause of our suffering is in the mind because we are living in fear.

"Look what's happening. People are on high alert everywhere. Deep inside we are constantly dealing with a fight or flight response. When we are constantly is a state of high alert, the body cannot heal itself. Our blood becomes constricted. So if the 60,000 miles of blood in our bodies is getting constricted, there is not enough circulation taking place to nourish the body, to nourish the deep tissue, and of consequence it cannot receive and absorb the nutrition it needs."

Bali went on to say that if the brain is being overloaded by stress, fear and our anxieties, then it cannot process information correctly, and our bodily functions cannot operate correctly. Traditional yoga was developed to center us, to help us reconnect with our bodies on the deepest levels and to put our mind at rest. He said if we use yoga just as a tool for being in physical shape, then we miss its true benefits.

"Traditional yoga is not about the body, mind and spirit; it's the other way around," said Bali. "My goal is to bring this understanding into mainstream hospitals, have it be a part of Medicare and accessible to everybody because without it we will not survive."

"I study with Dr. Bali because he was there at a very critical moment in my life after my son was born and was able to guide me in such a way that empowered me and gave me the tools that I needed," said Milare Turgeon, a member of his Yoga Bliss Institute. "My life would not be what it is today without the compassion and wisdom he shared with me one fine day. He embodies life gloriously and is an inspiration. He is a talking encyclopedia of Vedanta and yoga his knowledge is priceless."

"I was really fascinated," said Monica Bradbury, one of a dozen who had the chance to meet him. "He has a viewpoint that the forces in us from our conception on throughout our lives mirror the universe. He spoke of exercises that you can do to visualize and activate different parts of your body. I thought that was fascinating. I would like to sign up for his course."

"I felt very fortunate to have been able to sit with a master," said local yoga teacher Stefanie Kearns. "I was amazed by his ability to make complex spiritual and anatomical ideas so accessible and provide examples of how to put it into practice. I learned so much from him in such a short time."

Bali will be back. Cosgrove and Turgeon, who escorted him to Omega, hope to arrange an opportunity for him to lead some yoga workshops here, but for those who can't wait, he can be reached through his Yoga Bliss Studio in Montreal.



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