The Science of Yoga

Science, including medical science, has begun to embrace the effects of yoga, as scientific methods confirm its profound effects.

Our two special articles explore this intersection of science and yoga. To start, some background on the authors and their work.

Raymond Long, MD, FRCSC

His surgical and sports medicine background, computer analysis, and cadaver dissection all inform the way Raymond Long, MD, FRSCS, looks at yoga.
Long's books on yoga describe and illustrate what occurs in the body as it assumes yogasanas. In this issue, we present an exclusive excerpt from one of Long's new books.

Drawing on nearly two years of experience in Pune, Long's approach to yoga "all came from watching Mr. Iyengar, and the precision of the Iyengar system," he says. After he finished medical school in the mid 1980s, Long spent seven months in Pune; another lengthy stay lasted six months, and he was most recently at R.I.M.Y.I. in February.

A fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons, Canada, Long no longer practices medicine; instead, he works on his series of books, his website, bandhayoga.com, and workshops that showcase his melding of yoga and science.

Guruji, Long's inspiration, supports the work, Long says. "This approach basically describes anatomically and biochemically what he [Guruji] is describing in other ways." Completion of a book entails about two years of full-time work, including computer analysis and reference to cadaver studies and the medical literature.

Most important, though, are the many hours spent observing Guruji. "I'd sit there and watch him, draw him, analyze what muscle groups would position him in that way. I'd analyze the breathing techniques….

"Western medicine is focused on disease and abnormal processes, while yoga takes you to a higher level of functioning. The average person might not have a disease, but might not be functioning at their highest potential. If they go to a doctor, the doctor says, 'I can't help you.' But yoga can help expand your potential. Guruji realized that, and was so much ahead of his time when he brought yoga to the West."

Incorporating detailed awareness of anatomy into yoga yields better results, Long says. "Western science can really augment the effect of yoga. You can deal with injuries in an intelligent and scientific manner…. Take this method of working with the body to open the channels of energy [yoga]. Approach it scientifically, and you can prevent injuries, accelerate the learning, and augment the effects and make them predictable.

"If you integrate that kind of detail into yoga—if you do it with greater precision—you're going to get better effects." Long's Yoga Mat Companion Series, published by Greenleaf Book Group, includes Anatomy for Vinyasa Flow and Standing Poses (which includes our excerpt), Anatomy for Hip Openers and Forward Bends, Anatomy for Backbends and Twists, and Anatomy for Arm Balances and Inversions. The book's computer graphics are by Chris Macivor.

Instructions in Long's books may not exclusively reflect the Iyengar method.
As in all cases, teachers and students are referred to Guruji's Light on Yoga and other source books by the Iyengars.

Mel Robin, PhD

Mel Robin is a certified Introductory Iyengar Yoga teacher and is the author of A Handbook for Yogasana Teachers, the comprehensive 2009 manual that incorporates neuroscience, physiology, and anatomy into yoga. Currently, he is working on two projects. At Guruji's request, he is writing about a young Israeli woman who came to Guruji five years ago with a brain tumor that is now in almost complete remission. He is also updating the Handbook with new information from the medical literature, which will appear on a website so owners of the manual can easily update.

Dr. Robin, who holds a doctorate in chemical physics, was conducting research on molecular spectroscopy at Bell Telephone Laboratories in New Jersey when he attended a workplace Iyengar Yoga class taught by Judy Brick Freedman.

Later, he worked as director of student research at Science High School in Newark, New Jersey, receiving the first Science Mentor of the Year award given to a high school teacher. His earlier book, A Physiological Handbook for Teachers of Yogasana, came out in 2002.

Now retired, he continues his exploration of the connection between yoga and science, practicing and teaching Iyengar Yoga in Upper Black Eddy, Pennsylvania. He credits his teachers, Theresa Rowland, Gabriella Guibilaro, Nancy Stechert, and Judy Freedman, with his progress.

Robin's "Bone-on-Bone Contact in Yogasana Practice" draws on the recent Handbook, but was assembled exclusively for Yoga Samachar.

— Richard Jonas

Eka Pada Sarvangasana, by Kurt Long, www.kurtlong.net