Jul 10, 2009

yoga and unscientific explanations

Like always, we have been guarding people against wrong/ improper/ unscientific interpretation of yoga. This post was provoked by some new expressions we found on the net.

Have you seen such explanations for the efficacy of yoga in curing ailments, increasing vigour and overall health? ‘Inhale from the chest and not stomach because most of the oxygen is absorbed in the chest.’ ‘Inhale deep and let the chest bulge like a balloon  so that it absorbs oxygen efficiently.’ ‘When you do a pranayama, the oxygen or prana recharges organs.’ ‘Pranayamas and asanas cause pitta to flow up and reduces kafa/ phlegm and exits vata.’

We would call such explanations pseudo-scientific and believe that these are harming the knowledge of yoga by misguiding people. A lot of research is going on to find exact benefits of individual yoga procedures on human body and mind, and till it all is scientifically examined, we will have to depend on (i) ancient wisdom – which is by no means unscientific; (ii) experience of genuine yogis and yoga gurus, and long-time practitioners; (iii) scientific experimentation undertaken so far. So, there seems to be a tendency to not only copy what others say about the benefits of a particular exercise but also to add something from one’s imagination. Worse, people give reasons that defy logic [western logic as well as ancient oriental logic]. For example, it is known that our lungs [which are akin to sponge] cannot bulge like a balloon [as a frog’s lungs]. Similarly, prana in yoga is not oxygen but in its very basic definition it would mean life itself and the substances and energies sustaining it. As per Indian spiritual thought, prana is more than that. Yogic procedures, mainly pranayamas, do have guided breathing as their integral part, but to say that the purpose is to give the body more oxygen or to think that extra supply of oxygen would do wonders is too far-fetched. We are not sure, when yoga was discovered and during the time it evolved, people knew about oxygen as such, though they must have known the life-giving property of air and discovered how regulation of breathing in different ways helps the body.

When people talk of vata-pitta-kafa, they tend to equate them with their literal meanings, even equating kafa with its English homonym cough! Traditional doctors in India have been curing ailments – mostly with long-lasting cures and without side-effects – with Ayurveda, the oriental medical wisdom, and Ayurveda aims at a balance between these three ‘doshas’ [in very basic sense, the states of the body]. But to talk about balance of these doshas with a particular yogic exercise, without even knowing how that dosha works, is to confuse the eager but unknowing people.