Is Yogic Science Metaphysical Mumbo Jumbo?

What happens when you encounter a western mind who has a strong opinion against Yoga and dismisses the whole science behind it as a metaphysical mumbo jumbo thing?

This post is an attempt to capture a few glimpses of a heated debate which happened in a closed Facebook group of Yoga Teachers.

Below were some of their opinions
▪️Yoga does more damage than it helps.
▪️Yoga has two aspects – the stretching & bending one, and the metaphysical one. The stretching one is fine but the metaphysical one is illogical and unscientific.
▪️Human consciousness is nothing but the brain and the evidence is clearly steering in that direction.
▪️Inner experience is based on past knowledge.

The following are some of my responses/thoughts to counter their opinion.

▪️We cannot compare something which is of subjective experience to scientific studies. Just elaborating on what subjective experience means – say if someone sits in a particular Asana, his experience and impact of this Asana will be unique for him and cannot be compared with anyone else.

▪️Because there are so many factors involved to make this experience unique – his focus, intensity, involvement to name a few. So the effect of this Asana cannot be proven in a laboratory as the impact is subjective as opposed to testing a drug/ medicine in the Allopathic system of medicine which is objective in nature. What it means is, it does not matter who takes the medicine it attempts to alleviate the symptoms of the disease. I’m not trying to compare Yoga with Medicines, this just gives an analogy for objective-based practice. So there is a fundamental difference to what we call a subjective experience. It is naive to dismiss something just because it cannot be proved in a laboratory.

▪️My evidence on Yoga comes from my own experience. I was going through some very tough times in 2012. Pills, counseling, workouts – nothing worked. All gave me some slight temporary relief. That’s when I was introduced into a practice of a simple Kriya. Just a few weeks of practice and I was bouncing back and I continued my practices and it totally transformed me. Now external situations do not bother me at all, I can just be happy alive. I also had the first-hand experience of seeing this working for many people and have gone through tons of testimonials from real people. I consider my experience and what I have seen as evidence, though I know from a scientific approach perspective this is not good enough, but I don’t have a need to prove this to anyone.

▪️Yoga does more damage than it helps: Is it true? There are a few instances recorded where some people had some damaging experience by practicing yoga. But they are very less in number and the net effect of these negative experiences is an empirical question and should be considered on a case-by-case basis. As Sadhguru mentions, Yoga had undergone so many distortions in the last few decades. All sorts of funky Yoga styles are being practiced, especially in the Western world. Yoga is a tool, if you learn it from a proper source and do it following all the instructions properly, then it is certain that it will not have any adverse impact. This is the reason why I feel it’s high time to make the classical form of yoga popular. This should become the norm. Yoga taught in Isha is a classical form with all its purity. Teachers go through months of rigorous and intense training to impart this ancient science with all its depth and dimension. We need more classical yoga teachers in the world to demonstrate what Yoga can do to the people. Customization of Yogic postures based on an incomplete understanding, and disregarding the spiritual aspect of it dismissing it as a metaphysical thing is immature and irresponsible.

There are studies that suggest a positive impact of Yoga & meditation on the human system, some body parts that are positively impacted include – Parasympathetic Nervous system, Vagus nerve; Pineal gland, Anandamide; and Neuronal regeneration. You can find one such study about the effects of Shambhavi Mahamudra Kriya which is an ancient yogic practice offered by Isha foundation as part of their flagship program called Inner Engineering.

Human consciousness is still a mystery in the scientific community. Concluding that consciousness is just brain is very rudimentary. Traditionally, scientists have tried to define the mind as the product of brain activity. But growing evidence from the scientific community shows that the mind goes far beyond the physical workings of the brain. Yoga has deeper definitions for Human consciousness and various aspects of the brain. The yogic system is much more evolved in that sense when compared to modern science.

This argument can never be concluded easily as we are comparing a subjective experience, with a system designed for objective-based research. People having an open mind, not having any prejudice or preconceived notions about the subject can surely experience first hand the efficacy of Yoga and appreciate its subjectivity. Otherwise, this could be a never-ending discussion which essentially is not going to solve any problem.

Ram Nathan, Isha Hatha Yoga Teacher, Yoga Sadhana Melbourne

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