Many people don’t realise it, but yoga is meant to be approached like a science. The attitude we cultivate in us when practising yoga is the one of the objective, detached scientist, who is driven through all that he does by a desire to know. What we come to learn through practising yoga isn’t based on belief, faith, hope or desire, it’s based on experience.
In yoga, the scientist is you, the subject is you, and all the many practices of yoga are the experiments at your disposal.
Through understanding yoga as a science, the detached curiosity that is taken doesn’t interfere. There’s no meddling for a scientist in his/her experiments to get a desired result. And so too in yoga do we not make our bodies do things that they cannot do, nor do we force our mind go to places that they aren’t ready to go, nor do we make our feelings positive towards a practice that we might feel negative towards.
It’s not the role of the scientist to meddle. It’s not the role of the scientist to judge the body, the mind, the thoughts. The scientist simply runs the experiment and watches what comes.
The dissipated, chatty mind – noted. The “Oh crap, why, why are we doing this practice again?” thought in the head – noted. The leg, or the hand, or the knee or the toe that just will not do what it is being told to do and every one else in the class is doing it except you, ONLY you and you feel like one big idiot – noted.
It’s not to say that a person can’t go to a yoga class with the aim of improving their core strength, or feeling more relaxed or becoming more flexible, or enjoying themselves – and these things do come about naturally anyway when a person does the practices often enough – but, rather, the attitude that is being cultivated is one of detached curiosity.
I know I can do this. I know I can’t do that. I know that I like this. I know I don’t like that.
Self-knowing. Which leads to more self-knowing –
Why can I do this but not that? Why do I like this but not that?
And yet still more self-knowing –
Is this the same for other people? Or is this uncommon?
There doesn’t need to even be much energy put into answering the questions either. The simple act of thinking them seems to be enough, with time some sort of answer comes around.
The beautiful thing that this attitude brings into our lives is that the only other times we ever really seem to pay attention to our bodies is when there’s something wrong with them, or when we want them to be better than they are.
For instance, if we’re having digestive problems we might go to see a nutrionist, who’ll advise us to cut out dairy or wheat or whatever from the diet (and if it’s anything like the nutrionist I went to see, to replace those foods with other foods that are significantly more expensive), and then to see what effect that has on the body. And so, only because we’re having this digestive problem, do we begin to notice how the body responds to certain things.
Or if we’re suffering from back problems, neck problems or migrains, a physiotherapist might suggest to try certain excercises or to change certain postural habits. And so again, only to fix these problems do we place our awareness on the body and how it is responding to the things that we do to it.
Or we go to the gym, and many people pay a lot of attention to their bodies there, pushing them, molding them, sculpting them, defining and refining them, there’s pictures on the wall of people with amazing bodies. And we think to ourselves, “I wish my body was like that.” Because the point of all of that work and sweat and handling of gym-equipment that smells shockingly bad, is to have a better body.
So, for many people the only time that they pay any attention to their bodies is when their bodies are doing something wrong, or when they’re trying to make them better. “You, body, have a problem, so I pay attention to you now to fix you.” “You, body, I don’t accept just as you are now, so I pay attention to make you better.” We say this to our bodies, not consciously, but sub-consciously we do. It’s not necessarily bad to do this though, it is good to work-out and it is good to find what’s causing physical problems. But, it’s just that, if these times are the only times that we stop to notice our bodies, then these unaccepting messages are the only messages that we ever send to them, and that’s a little bit sad.
The science of yoga gives us a space where we can watch our bodies without this attitude of fixing or improving it. In yoga the idea is that we watch our bodies so that we may know them. And even though the practices that we do in yoga often do resolve many physical problems, often do mold and sculpt and improve our bodies, the attitude being cultivated is not of the goal-chaser or the problem-solver, but of the curious detached scientist, who simply wants to know the body, just as it is. And through the body, to know the self.