As someone who follows and subscribes to numerous blogs and Facebook pages about Yoga and wellbeing in general I'm fascinated by the sheer number of articles and posts that point to research about how yoga helps everything from anxiety, to arthritis, cancer symptoms, confidence building, depression and even the Holy Grail of weight loss and the effects of ageing. They vary in their degree of rigour as studies of course, and as with all research findings we need to be mindful of our own viewpoint. Like those clever pictures that are optical illusions like the well known one shown below we see what our mind chooses to see.
This week I've been fascinated by two different studies. The first was one I heard about on a programme called Supersense Me on Radio 4 which was about experiments which result in the brain being able to develop new senses beyond the 5 we normally think of as human senses. In the main example the reporter wore a vest which enabled her to feel vibrations through her skin in response to sounds. In other words she was learning to interpret the world in en entirely different way and her brain was being reprogrammed. For example, she experienced a trumpet sound as a skittering sensation across her shoulder blades. I found myself nodding agreement to the radio (luckily I was on my own at the time!) and thinking about the senses that know our pets have which can be trained to help humans in all sorts of ways from medical assistance dogs who know before their owners that an eplileptic fit is on the way, through to dogs that can smell cancer. There are many stories of dogs and cats with an uncanny ability to know when someone is about to die. At the same time there are some humans whose senses are more fully developed or naturally present than average e.g. people who create perfumes who have a sense of smell way beyond that of an ordinary person. How exciting to contemplate a future where we can employ new senses to enhance and interpret our world.
The second study that caught my attention was an article about research that has been done using CT scanning to show how there is a difference between the acupressure points on the body used since ancient times in Asian medecine , and non acupressure points. Basically it shows that the acupressure points have a different structure in terms of larger blood vessels and that they oxygen pressure levels are higher at acupressure points than elsewhere on the body. In other words things we can't see even with dissection exist.
So what's all this got to do with yoga? Well I guess my fascination with this stuff is at least partially because of my viewpoint which is that I have both experienced in myself and witnessed in others the beneficial effects of yoga that go way beyond the work that is done with muscles, bones and even the breath. However, as a true Westerner I have a degree of scepticism in my make up and that's where all the studies and research is invaluable, because if it can jump my own hurdles of scepticism then there's a good chance it will do the same for others. It's my contention this has a part to play in spreading the benefits of yoga ever more widely, because until the point where we 'get it' in our own bodies and minds then we are in a place where research studies can help us give tangible reasons to others as to why yoga is one of the best ways to spend time you could ever experience.
There truly are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in our philosophy as Shakespeare's Hamlet said to Horatio. How great that we're starting to discover some of them.