Science and Yoga: Where Do They Meet?
Last week, I was fortunate to be able to attend the Science and Yoga Conference hosted by certified Ashtanga teacher Eddie Stern. The conference brought together eight brilliant minds who have been researching at the intersection between science and yoga.
You can read through a list and bios of the speakers here.
You can read a summary of the conference and its intent here.
Why a conference on science and yoga?
So why a conference on science and yoga. The first speaker addressed this and it was a great place to begin the day of presentations. If we are already having the experience that yoga works, why research it?
…a few reasons
- We’re curious about how it works. What is yoga doing anyway?
- We’d like more support from all of the stakeholders involved in making yoga more accessible. As these folks are not necessarily practitioners, it’s helpful to be able to present some facts when asking people for their support or help.
- We’re curious about whether yoga could work better! The modern “yoga experiment”, as my teacher calls it, practiced as we do in the west, is a fairly recent development. Are there ways that we can take the practices we do or the ways in which we practice and make them more effective for any of the intentions we have for our yoga practice?
Highlights from the Science and Yoga Conference
The speakers at the Science and Yoga Conference addressed all those topics and more.
Yoga’s benefits for many aspects of health and wellness are becoming more well-established all the time. The quality and depth of that research is improving as funding agencies are becoming more willing to support the research.
Where less research has been done, but pilot and preliminary studies suggest that results are just as interesting, is in the areas of yoga’s impact on mind-body awareness (mindfulness) and yoga’s impact on states of consciousness. It sounds like there are exciting developments for future research in these areas.
Newer research is exploring the impacts of whole systems, the whole package of yoga and ayurveda for example. It looks like the whole may be bigger than the sum of its parts.
Some really fascinating work is being done on the breathing aspect of yoga practice. Breath is both a tool in our yoga tool box that we can use to impact our experience and a reflection of what we are experiencing.
Researchers have been curious about adept practitioners of yoga and what looks like a connection to super-longevity (really long lifespan). A group of researchers have been digging into this very topic and are beginning to understand what might be contributing to these virtuoso practitioners living longer than average.
Many aspects of how yoga works are being unraveled. It looks like lots of exciting developments are coming in this research area in the future!
It’s Still About the Experience of Yoga
The conference ended with the last speaker, the lineage holder of the Ashtanga vinyasa practice, Sharath Jois.
Sharath brought the conference back around full circle and spoke from the perspective of a long-term practitioner about the experience of yoga and the importance of breath.
I thought it was a fitting end to the conference as I think all this enthusiasm for research comes from the well of enthusiasm we all have about our experience in practice and how it has impacted our lives.
“Have the experience (sadhana) to understand yoga.” -Sharath Jois
We were able to continue the experience of yoga by spending our last morning in NYC practicing with a couple hundred other Ashtangis while Sharath counted us through led primary. There are few things that are more inspiring to me than a full room of Ashtangis breathing! It was science and yoga in action. 🙂