alan little’s weblog

yoga science

11th July 2004 permanent link

Michael Smith points to bindu, a quite interesting Scandinavian (in English) yoga magazine that has some reports on scientific research into yoga and meditation. Unfortunately, I find the level of detail and follow up references really isn’t enough to find out if there really is much substance to some of the potentially interesting things they are saying.

They have an article on the health benefits of lotus position, and quote the results of a 1975 study by an Indian researcher, Dr. Salgar, which found that:

Under a heavy load which demanded great muscular strength, the physical fitness training group showed the best results. However, under normal strain, the Lotus group surpassed the physical fitness group. Even though there had been no actual muscle growth, the Lotus pose people were better able to make efficient use of their strength. The control group showed no changes whatsoever.

With her findings, Professor Salgar was able to show that merely sitting in the Lotus pose has a positive influence on the metabolism and on the overall body fitness, which was significantly improved.

Which I find very interesting; also very frustrating because they provide no link and no reference for the study they are quoting. I’m immediately suspicious when I read something that appears to be telling me exactly what I want to hear – I want some more basis for assessing whether this result is really real than somebody’s third hand paraphrase of something they once read.

Fortunately, google is my friend and quickly comes up with a list of research papers on Psychophysiological Effects of Yoga with a reference to Salgar’s paper in the Indian Journal of Medical Research[1], along with a whole pile of other interesting-looking stuff. But how hard would it have been for bindu to just add one little footnote to their article?

Now, where can I get hold of the archives of the Indian Journal of Medical Research? Ah, here, but apparently not as far back as 1975.

Bindu has another piece on the brain’s activity during Yoga Nidra, showing completely different patterns in PET scans of brain activity between yogic relaxation and normal waking consciousness. Quite interesting, but just showing two scans begs a whole lot of questions: what about other forms of yoga or meditation practice? What about sleep? They also say “Researchers have for the first time succeeded in taking pictures of the brain during a meditative deep-relaxation” (my emphasis) - this may or may not be correct depending on when the study they are quoting was done, which they don’t tell us. I have read about another study of advanced Tibetan Buddhist meditators that was looking at something similar.

If I’m sounding carping, negative and un-ahimsic here, it’s because of frustration. I find this kind of serious research into whether and how yoga really works very interesting, but I want more than one-page gee wow articles that don’t offer me any way of going further if I find I’m interested in what they have to say. So thank you, Scandinavian Yoga and Meditation School, for your worth efforts producing bindu – just a few more links & references, please.

[1] Salgar, D.C., V.S. Bisen, and M.J Jinturkar. Effect of padmasana, a yogic exercise, on muscular efficiency. Indian Journal of Medical Research, 1975, 63:768ff (just so’s I’m not guilty of the same sin I’m accusing other people of)

related entries: Yoga

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