Dr. Ananda Balayogi Bhavanani incorporates two seemingly opposing worlds: During his childhood and early adult years, he lived an ashram life and was trained in all aspects of Yoga. He published his first book ‚Yoga for Kids’ at the age of twelve. Later Dr. Ananda Balayogi Bhavanani studied Western medicine. Today he is combining aspects of both worlds in his work: As medical doctor he researches on the effects of Yoga, especially of asanas and pranayama.
You are a medical doctor, as your father Dr. Swami Gitananda Giri was, and you are also a well known and respected guru in the world of Yoga. Swami Gitananda had both a scientific approach and a spiritual approach to Yoga. Can you explain to us how he merged the scientific aspects of Yoga and its spiritual part?
It is only in very recent times that we have split spirituality and science. In all the ancient cultures and traditions, the healer was also the spiritual guide. The connection of spirituality with healing and science was always there in Indian culture through our great rishis, people who could perceive the universe as it is, rather than with our coloured glasses and warped perception. I consider my father as one of those great rishis, the people who can see the reality. Swamiji had medical training and, as a very young child, he had trained in the traditional manner with his guru, hence he was able to put the ancient traditional teachings of Yoga in a modern scientific framework. This is why, in order to continue this tradition of my father, I went on to become a doctor. I went into modern medicine because we wanted to build bridges. We wanted to regain the oneness between modern science and ancient spiritual teaching, explaining it in a modern framework, in a way that modern medical scientists, my fellow doctors, understand. For me, and my father’s teachings, we need both science and traditional spirituality if we are to understand life in this reality. And this was a very special aspect of his teaching, why do we practice pranayama, why are we practicing relaxation? What could be happening, what should be happening, right down at the cerebral level, as well as the level of the spirit? So, it’s not either the cellular or the universal, but it is both. And, for me, I always give the example of depth perception. If I am driving my scooter and I want to know how far you are from me, I need depth perception. For this I need both my eyes. If I cover my right eye, I can see you, but I lose depth. If I look through my right eye and cover the left, I see you, I lose depth. When I see with both eyes, depth perception has come. For me, and my father’s teachings, one eye is the eye of science, one eye is the eye of traditional spirituality and we need both if we are to understand life in this reality. Something very similar was said by my favourite scientist, Albert Einstein, who, when talking about religion and science, said ‘Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind.’
For instance, when we talk about the right nostril, the ancient teachings describe it as the solar energy flow (surya-nadi); in modern terms that may be understood as the sympathetic nervous system. So when I breathe through my right nostril I am activating my sympathetic activities: heart rate quickens, blood pressure and blood sugar increase, muscles become tight. All these changes that are happening are part of the surya-nadi pranayama. This is the traditional teaching, but put in the modern framework. We codify ancient teachings in modern terminology and in a modern framework. The teachings are old, the framework, the codification is new.
We need both science and traditional spirituality if we are to understand life in this reality.
In very general terms, what are the positive effects of Yoga that can be measured?
In the process of health and healing, a very important aspect is that of well-being. Modern medicine might cure physical symptoms, but one of the biggest contributions of Yoga to health is a sense of well-being, of being at peace with oneself. When that happens, feel-good hormones start to flood the whole body. The way Yoga works is both psychosomatic though the effects of the mind on the body as well as somatopsychic in how the body can influence the mind. Positive thoughts bring about positive changes in physiological and biochemical functions. But then, when you work on the different asanas, when you work on the pranayamas, it affects your mind and you feel better, you feel calm, you develop an ability to manage stressful situations. Biochemically, Yoga has anti-stress and antioxidant effects that are being manifest in the bloodstream, preventing degenerative diseases, preventing the resistance to healing.
The way Yoga works is both psychosomatic though the effects of the mind on the body as well as somatopsychic in how the body can influence the mind.
In all our schedules we have a basic warming-up, then the main practices, and then we have relaxation. It is in this relaxation component that all the benefits of the entire session seep into you. We did studies of about 2000 patients and we found that 60 minutes of Yoga reduces heartrate and blood pressure in most of them.
What can students expect from a 6 month teacher training course at your ashram?
When people come and stay here for 6 months, we come to know each other inside out. What happens is: we point them in the direction they need to go, but ultimately it is they who need to find themselves. That moment, my father often said, the moment that people think is a nervous breakdown, maybe it is a breakthrough, and instead of breaking down you have a chance to make a breakthrough, make a change in your life. Each disease has its root in something and it suddenly opens up; that is a moment of healing. When you’re in a large group, the teachers don’t even know the name of the people! Students just learn some body positions. Where are the asanas? Where is the transformation? And without awareness, without consciousness, without transformation, where is the Yoga?
And without awareness, without consciousness, without transformation, where is the Yoga?
This interview was originally published in German language in the book Zu den Quellen des Yoga.