Jade Lizzie

Sharing the yoga love

Tag: science

3 Ways Science Can Be More Yogic Than Yoga

Science more yogic than yogaI’ve made no secret of the fact that as a yoga teacher, I can be pretty sceptical about some of the things I hear. I wrote here about the fact that I’m a scientist at heart, and I don’t believe in leaving your intellect at the door of your yoga class.

Recently I attended a Pint of Science event in Nottingham (so good!), and it made me think about what yoga can learn from science. Here are 3 ways that science can be more yogic than some of the yoga I’ve come across:

  1. Non-attachment. There’s a misconception out there that science is arrogant, assumes it knows it all and has an explanation for everything. My experience listening to these incredibly intelligent, respected scientists speak about their work was that they were about as far from arrogant as you could get. One of them spoke about how when the research corroborates your hypothesis, it’s actually quite an uncomfortable position to be in because you then need to try to break your own theory – to test it and probe it and search for holes in it. There is no becoming attached to the perfection of your own work, because the search for the actual truth is more important than the neatness of any hypothesis.
  2. Humility. One of the lovely things about seeing a group of scientists answer questions was the speed with which they would redirect questions to their colleagues who had greater expertise in that area. This happened regardless of whether they could have answered the question themselves or not – they simply recognised that someone else was better placed to answer it, and were comfortable deferring to their more relevant knowledge.
  3. Curiosity. During the question and answer session, the most common answer by far was, “I don’t know.” This partly comes back to the idea of humility, and being honest when the answers are not there yet. But it is also testament to the fact that scientists choose to work at the periphery of our known world. They are constantly pushing at the boundaries of what we know, asking questions and choosing areas to get curious about. Instead of seeing an unknown as something shameful, they use it to inspire them to explore further.

I’ve deliberately chosen to train with schools of yoga, like Frog Lotus Yoga International, which not only accept but actively embrace new research. I respect their approach because they adapt the way that they teach as new evidence comes to light about the safety and efficacy of types of yoga.

The history and tradition of yoga is important, and ancient yogis had some incredible insights into how the world works. But that’s not to say that they had everything right, or that their practices are always appropriate for our very different lifestyles today. So it’s good to not get too attached to one way of doing things, to stay humble and to get curious. Surely the greatest advances can be made when we respect and honour the tradition of practising yoga at the same time as applying scientific rigour, principles and investigation to what we do?

 

The Sceptical Yoga Teacher

sceptical yoga teacherIs it possible to be a sceptical yoga teacher?

When I tell people I teach yoga, they make a lot of assumptions about me. And, to be fair, I do fit some of the stereotypes. My wardrobe does mainly consist of yoga leggings and sports bras, I do (try to) meditate every day and I am probably more flexible than the average person. But I also love science, I’m passionate about logical, rational arguments and I have a physics degree. So frankly, I die a little inside when I hear yogis referencing quantum mechanics, as if the very mention of quantum entanglement provides empirical evidence for every new age concept out there.

This is not because I don’t think yogis should talk about science. I love talking about science. I think everyone should talk more about science. But discussing concepts you don’t understand with the assumed authority of someone who does is a misuse of physics and undermines the credibility of what many describe as the “science of yoga.”

I have a similar reaction when people grasp onto alternative forms of medicine as if because they’re “natural” they must work. Don’t get me wrong, I think the western medical system has plenty of flaws, and I’m a big believer in exploring other options. For example, I think we can learn a lot from the holistic approach of systems such as Ayurveda, where they look at the whole person rather than treating symptoms. But that’s not to say that these ancient systems have all the answers, and because they are on some “spiritual plane”, they are above investigation. “Alternative” medicine can and should be tested just as rigorously as anything else.

What I find most strange is when people suggest that you can’t be “spiritual” or into yoga unless you suspend all analytical thought. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve tried to discuss ideas with someone from the yoga community only for any questions I have to be met with, “But science can’t explain everything.” Perhaps not, but does that mean we should just hold our hands up, fall at the feet of the nearest guru and accept everything we’re told without question? To me that seems like a pretty dangerous path to follow.

I don’t think the barriers that people (on both sides of the fence as it were) put up between yoga, spirituality and science are necessary or helpful. Ultimately, everyone is seeking the truth and greater understanding, but approaching it from different angles. Surely the greatest growth comes when we learn from other fields, rather than disregarding them because their approach is different to our own?

A meditation teacher of mine used to say, “You don’t have to leave your intellect at the door,” and I loved this expression. I’ve always taken this to mean that you can have both. You can immerse yourself in yoga and meditation, and let thinking take a back seat for a while in order to drop into the experience of something. But it’s also ok to question things, try to work them out for yourself, and maintain a healthy scepticism when faced with so-called gurus making sweeping statements without backing them up. In short, I think it’s perfectly possible to be a sceptical yoga teacher. 

I’d love to know what your experiences are of this – let me know in the comments below?

Have a lovely day, and Merry Christmas everyone!

Jade xxx

 

Five Reasons Why Meditation Is So Hard

meditation (1)“I’m really bad at meditation.” I’ve heard this from many yoga students, and I’ve said it myself. I blogged about my meditation challenge here in fact. But what are the reasons why sitting still in meditation is so hard?

  1. It seems to go against everything we’ve been brought up to believe, in terms of striving for goals and taking action. You can read all the scientific studies you like about the benefits of meditation (and there are plenty of them – try this article for starters) but it still seems counter-intuitive that to enjoy all these lovely benefits you have to sit still and be quiet.
    2. It’s not actually just sitting there. If you come to meditation believing that it will be an easy, relaxing experience, you won’t be prepared for the sheer effort it requires. It takes focus, concentration and discipline to meditate. And that can be hard. The main feeling I used to experience on hearing the bell to mark the end of meditation was relief that it was over, and that I could stop trying to focus. This is normal, and it has lessened with time.
    3. Most people don’t understand the real purpose of meditation. The point of meditation is not to relax. Although meditation can, and does, help you feel relaxed, contrary to popular belief, that’s actually not the intended purpose behind it. The actual purpose of meditation is to understand the nature of the mind. Through that understanding, you gain the potential to harness the power of your mind, rather than being at its mercy.
    4. It’s said that your ego does not like this, which is why you experience such resistance to meditation. When you meditate, you recognise the way that thoughts and feelings arise, seemingly from nowhere, and fall away. And you realise that you are not those thoughts and feelings. You are the observer or the witness of the thoughts and feelings – a much deeper state of consciousness that’s completely unaffected by the events that happen to you. This brings the realisation that so much of what you think matters really doesn’t. Your ego doesn’t like this, so it resists.
    5. Being alone with your thoughts can be difficult. Sometimes they’re negative, disturbing, or (a lot of the time!) just plain boring. Meditation is so hard because your mind doesn’t want you to be doing it. It craves stimulation and distraction, and will try any number of things to get you to stop.

So what can you do about it?

There’s so much information out there about how to start meditating – a Google search returns 1,790,000 hits. The most crucial thing though is deciding that you want to meditate, and that you want to enough to put the effort into overcoming the challenges. It’s worth asking yourself – do you want to understand the nature of your mind? Do you want the potential to master your mind, rather than being enslaved by the random thoughts and feelings that pop into your head for the rest of your life? And if the answer is yes, meditation is probably a good place to start.

Have a wonderful week, everyone!

Jade xxx

P.S. All credit for my latest learning about meditation goes to my wonderful teacher Vidya at Frog Lotus Yoga.

 

 

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