Is 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!