A new lease of life: Post his new documentary on yoga, visually-challenged filmmaker Benoy K Behl on how the practice helped him cope with his reality
Five years ago, filmmaker Benoy K Behl almost went blind. “It happened quite suddenly in the winter of 2015 when I was at home (in Delhi). By the time the swelling in my eyes had subsided, the damage to my optic nerve was already done,” says Behl.
At All India Institute of Medical Sciences, doctors found that the internal eye pressure was extremely high, and the optic nerve was badly damaged. It led to 90% blindness. As he underwent treatment, doctors suggested he see a yoga instructor, who could help him cope with his new reality.
“I was completely shattered,” says Benoy, who travels around the globe to give lectures on Indian mythology and Buddhism. To help him cope, Dr Tanuj Dada, professor of ophthalmology and senior doctor at RP Centre for Ophthalmic Sciences at AIIMS, sent him to the yoga department. “Yoga gave me inner strength and the ability to fight negativity,” says the filmmaker, who wasn’t unfamiliar with the practice, having already made two documentaries on it, Yoga: An Ancient Vision of Life and Sivananda Yoga: Health Educator Training.
Taking a cue from his personal experience, the 63-year-old, now a regular yoga practitioner, travelled to 10 countries spanning four continents to make Yoga for Health & Global Harmony. It was first shown at the Guadalajara International Book Fair in Mexico last December.
The film shows people from around the globe performing various asanas, talking about how it has benefited them, interspersed with the expert view. For instance, Anu Ramaswamy at Sivananda Yoga Farm, in the US, talks about the neuromuscular restless leg syndrome, and how meditation and pranayama helps her. Maria Adelaida Lopez, working with an NGO in Bagota, reveals that Colombia has about seven million victims of armed conflict. She feels yoga is a useful tool to help those affected by it.
Ananda Balayogi, a medical doctor and yoga teacher from Puducherry, Dr Sat Bir Khalsa who is a yoga researcher at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, Dr BN Gangadhar, Director at NIMHANS, Bengaluru, are some of the experts quoted. Edited excerpts from a conversation.
What propelled you to direct another film on yoga?
Yoga is India’s greatest gift to the world. It cuts across all political boundaries and is enormously beneficial to human beings everywhere. As stress-related health problems have been growing around the globe, people are turning more and more to yoga. I wanted to make a film which showed the universal acceptance of yoga.
Was there a period when you just couldn’t work?
Not really. However, the winter of 2015 was extremely challenging, and sometimes I felt quite lost. When I first sat down to write a script in early 2016, I was dismayed, as I could not even see two words on the page in front of me. However, I took a second breath and concentrated, while I constantly kept moving my eyes left and right, to be able to see more words. The first time I had to go out to give an illustrated talk, in the winter of 2016, I was disheartened, because I could not see most of what was on the screen. However, I have slowly got used to managing the eyesight which I have. When I look at your left eye, I cannot see your forehead, your right eye or your lips. It is through concentration and through the grace of nature, that all is well and I am continuing my humble service to propagate the fine values of Indian philosophy and culture.
How do you manage your eyesight?
The treatment is still going on in three departments: under the departments of Glaucoma, Neurology, and Yoga Therapy. The attempt is to preserve the remaining 10%. They say that no restoration is possible. I am taking Omega 3 in natural state, like walnuts, flax seeds, chia seeds, fish like salmon and tuna. Eye drops are administered thrice a day. The doctor changes my eye drops every month. There are two types of eye drops: the first drains out excess fluid in the eye, the second retards development of excess fluid.
What sort of asanas has the yoga therapist prescribed?
Our focus is on meditation. Asanas are a step to meditation. But in my case, doctors asked me to go straight to meditation. My pranayama and meditation are now for longer periods and are deeper, for 45 minutes each, which I do at home. I have been practising Karma yoga, selfless action, where you lose your ego, for a number of years. It helps to give peace and depth to my existence.
What does yoga give the world?
Yoga reduces the confusion and false perceptions of practitioners. It helps them to have a clearer understanding of themselves, their own emotions and thoughts. Therefore, a better perspective and understanding of the world around them. The film highlights how yoga practitioners have become kinder, generous and compassionate. This transformation means better behaviour, a better mental attitude and a better perspective on life. It means less violence, less crime, less war. So as a consequence, when you change the individual, you change society.