I’m so excited to share the wisdom of my friend Ariana Rabinovitch with you. She is a yoga and movement teacher who has spent years diving head first into the science and research that supports or rejects the claims we yoga teachers make. Ariana, along with several other movement and biomechanics experts, has read through dozens of studies and looked hard at the research. They then translate that into an easily digestible review format tailored just for us yoga teachers.
Without further adieu, my friend and colleague, Ariana Rabinovitch….
Scientific literacy and yoga education
Yoga needs more science and less dogma.
Twenty-some years ago, early in my yoga practice, whenever my teachers spoke about the body or mentioned physiological benefits from yoga, I was riveted. Something in me perked up. “Now, that’s cool,” I would think. Since then, there’s been a big shift. Now I‘m dubious of it all and keen on reading the research to see what holds up and what doesn’t.
I recently read Carl Sagan’s “The Demon Haunted World: A Candle in the Dark”. Published in 1995, it contains passages that eerily capture our political predicament, particularly in how our administration is disregarding and defunding scientific research and programming. Sagan also remarks about the popularity of pseudoscience, which ties into our battle with “alternative facts” today. This confounds me. It’s 2017 and I’m defending science.
Pseudoscience is pervasive in yoga. Claims that twists detoxify the liver or that inversions increase blood flow to the brain and help us think better are still uttered and believed by yoga teachers. Yoga instructors often rely their teachers’ oral traditions or on their own subjective experience. This is all useful information and we need to stay attuned to it, however there is also a wealth of scientific objective research and data at our disposal.
Many people are intimidated by science or think that it’s for an academic elite but scientific research should be popularized and made more accessible to the masses. It shouldn’t just be for scientists or academics.
The same is true for yoga education. Giving yoga teachers more access to relevant research will give the yoga profession more credibility. With the almost factory-like churn out of yoga teachers today, it’s essential that we raise the bar for yoga education. Improving our scientific literacy is one way to do that.
Science is cool. Way cool.
I’m not sure why so many people feel intimidated by science. It’s a way to figure out the world around us. Through the scientific process, theories are tested, retested and tested again until the theory is tossed or confirmed. Along the way, ideas can be tweaked, enhanced, and combined into more powerful and useful explanations.
“Science is more than a body of knowledge;
it’s a way of thinking.”
Not only does scientific knowledge solve problems for us – enabling us to live safer, longer, more productive lives – but it helps us make informed decisions. In this sense, the process is more important than the results because it’s about thinking with an equal amount of wonder and skepticism. Wonder and skepticism. I love that combination. It’s boundless curiosity with a bullshit detector.
Science is cool for yoga teachers.
“Science invites us to let the facts in, even when they don’t conform to our preconceptions.”
Science is a process of inquiry and discovery. A search for truth. The same can be said about yoga. The two are aligned. Science is an evolving living process much like yoga itself.
The truth may be counterintuitive and it may contradict what we’ve learned from revered teachers. It may be unsettling to take in scientific information that contradicts those beliefs. Herein lies the conflict between yoga and science for some. But it’s a good thing when our biases and beliefs are exposed because it’s a sign of growth and expanded understanding.
Many yoga teachers that I’ve talked to want access to the research because they don’t want to bullshit their students. They want to bring more credibility to their profession, but feel overwhelmed by the deluge of online content and aren’t sure how to access reliable information.
Many of them are interested in the research and really want access to it but find too many barriers. These are the most common (can you relate to any of these?):
- They don’t know where to find it
- They don’t have time to search for relevant studies in hundreds of journals
- They don’t want to pay $35 dollars for each study they may find (some journals charge more)
- They don’t have time to read the lengthy articles
- If they do read it, they don’t understand the academic jargon and don’t have time to figure out how it relates to their teaching
Bringing scientific literacy to yoga education
(Making yoga research accessible)
I was experiencing the same frustrations, so I created an online library of articles about yoga and movement research written in simple terms (yamresearch.com). I invited Jules Mitchell, Jenn Pilotti and Catherine Cowey to contribute articles to the growing library. Jules and I are yoga teachers while Jenn and Cat are personal trainers. I knew they were a great fit because they regularly read research, take time to figure out what it all means and apply it to their work with their clients. I also knew that they’d apply critical thinking skills to the research itself, which is important because not all research is reliable.
Our Yoga and movement Research (YMR) reviews get to the point and objectively explain the studies, but we also provide commentary so you can read our opinions. Every article breaks it down further with suggestions on what the research means for us as yoga or movement professionals.
In creating this site, I’ve read and written dozens of studies and reviews (and can’t wait for more). Along the way I’ve learned that quality research on yoga is lacking, but is starting to improve as more studies are funded. As the studies continue to roll out, we’ll keep adding more reviews about them to the YMR library.
Candle in the dark
We’re launching the YMR library with 30 reviews on a wide range of topics. In many cases the research leads to more questions and less certainty. Hopefully that will lead to more research (and more YMR reviews). These are some of the topics that our YMR reviews explore.
- How many calories are burned in fast paced yoga classes?
- Can power yoga be considered high impact cardiovascular exercise?
- How much weight do the head and neck bear in headstand?
- How does hip strength affect ankle mobility?
- Does yoga increase bone mass density and is it safe for people with osteoporosis to practice it?
- What are the effects of ujjayi breathing?
- How does yoga impact athletic performance?
- How high do core temperatures rise in Bikram hot yoga classes?
We can use the YMR website as a resource to bring more clarity to our teaching. We can overcome the challenge of information overload and stop feeling like we’re bullshitting our students. We can use it to help us make evidence-based decisions. We can use it to give us insight, or as Carl Sagan said, use science as a “candle in the dark”. Read the research. See what holds up and what doesn’t. Be curious. Be skeptical. Be cool.
Are there studies that you’ve heard about or topics you want us to review in the YMR library?
Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and tell us. You can peruse our library of yoga research reviews at yamresearch.com