I’ve made no secret of the fact that I can be pretty sceptical about some of the things I hear in yoga. I’ve blogged before about the fact I don’t believe in leaving your intellect at the door of your yoga class.
However, I do often come across vehemently anti-science views within yoga and the yogic community. I can understand where some of this distrust comes from. It’s why I believe efforts to address and unravel science’s colonial legacy are so necessary. That said, I believe adopting a default anti-science stance does an injustice to the integrity and intentions of much of the scientific community. I also think that the principles of the scientific method are far more yogic than most people realise.
Recently I attended a Pint of Science event in Nottingham (highly recommend!). The scientists there inspired me to reflect on what yoga can learn from science. This is what I came up with.
3 ways that science can be yogic:
- Non-attachment. There’s a misconception that science is arrogant, assumes it knows it all and has an explanation for everything. My experience listening to these intelligent, thoughtful scientists speak about their work was that they were about as far from arrogant as you could get. They explained that when research corroborates your hypothesis, it’s actually an uncomfortable position to be in. At that point you need to try to break your own theory. You need to test it and probe it and search for holes in it. You can’t become attached to the perfection of your own work, because the search for the truth is more important than the neatness of any hypothesis.
- Humility and collegiality. During the question and answer session, the scientists would happily redirect questions to their colleagues. 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 expertise.
- Curiosity. The most common answer the scientists gave 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.
So where does this leave us?
I believe we need to stop placing science and yoga in opposition to one another. For example, I’ve deliberately chosen to train with schools of yoga that embrace research. I respect they way they adapt their teaching as new evidence comes to light about the safety and efficacy of types of yoga. And there is learning to be had on both sides. I believe the scientific and the western medical community are gradually waking up to just how valuable many of the traditional yogic approaches and techniques are.
The history and tradition of yoga is incredibly valuable. Ancient yogis had some mind-blowng insights into how the world works. But that doesn’t mean they had everything right, or that their practices are always appropriate for our lifestyles today. Surely the greatest advances can be made when we honour the tradition of practising yoga at the same time as remaining open, humble, curious and (dare I say it?) scientific in our approach?