Whenever people said “yoga changed my life for the better”, I always thought that it was because of physiological benefits from physical exertion/exercise e.g. improved fitness, increased confidence, better sleep, enhanced overall mood through various factors such as release of endorphins, etc.
As a physiotherapy student, I am a firm believer of science. At university, the concept of evidence-based practice is hammered into us. If a piece of information is not supported by high-quality research, its likelihood to be true is small. Therefore, it was hard for me to believe that the “life-changing” effects of yoga could be due to anything but physiological benefits. My passion in anatomy/physiotherapy was actually one of the reasons I joined this course – to gain a better understanding of the bodily aspects of yoga. Specifically, I wanted to: 1) learn what was required of the body to perform specific asanas e.g. strength in psoas major, length in hamstring, and 2) explore the possibilities of integrating yoga practice into physiotherapy treatments through asanas.
Through this course, I am starting to develop insight on how yoga is beyond just a form of exercise – it is a way of life. The Eight Limbs of Yoga provides a guide on living happily. I especially like the yamas and niyamas of the eight limbs, which to me are great moral guides. Yoga also touches on spirituality, which I was initially sceptical about since I wrongly understood it to be associated with religion. Religious people are spiritual but spiritual people are not necessarily religious. I now see spirituality and achieving enlightenment as another way of perceiving life, which enables us to overcome life’s obstacles with greater ease.
However, delving deeper into yoga theory has not been easy, as it also means challenging my strong scientific beliefs. While some of the techniques can be supported by evidence and logic (e.g. the physiological effects of deep, slow breathing in pranayamas), there are others that I haven’t been able to find (e.g. the association of the right nostril with the sun and the left nostril with the moon). As I found that it was difficult for me to fully immerse myself into something I had doubts about, I decided to look at things in a different way.
Through my own reading (I highly recommend ‘The Power of Now’ by Eckhart Tolle and ‘The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F***’ by Mark Manson) and conversations with Sree, I learned that whatever we attach ourselves to becomes a source of suffering. And one of our biggest attachments is to our identity or life roles. Attachment to identity becomes somewhat a form of self-imprisonment as it limits me from doing or believing anything that could potentially contradict that false identity. For me, my role as a physiotherapy student and my loyalty to science and evidence was limiting me from truly absorbing what I was learning in the course.
I am also starting to accept that science does not yet know everything. After all, it wasn’t so long ago that we believed that the earth was flat or that smoking had no negative health implications. To think that we know everything is to shut our minds out to new information and the potential to learn and be better than we already are. If there is evidence supporting the benefits of certain components of yoga, who is to say that in the future, the rest of it would not potentially be proven to be true too?