March 5, 2014
In keeping with the theme of branching out and writing more, even if there is no knitting to speak of, I bring you a book review. Not so much a review, as a meandering ramble, really.
I may or may not have mentioned previously that in what spare time I have I’m partaking in a yoga teacher training. Not so much because I have an overwhelming desire to teach – as my nerve wracked only class taught left me relieved that it was over. But because I felt I could only get so much from going to group classes a handful of times a week. There was never much in terms of philosophy brought up save for a word or two thrown in here and there. I’m a big fan of book learning, a fact that my worn library card will attest to, but I can only get so much out of a book before it would be very useful to have an actual teacher guiding the process.
I signed up shortly after I moved to Toronto because I knew that even when I got a job I would probably want something a little more going on to challenge myself. Having landed a solid retail job I am working about 45 hours a week but so few of those hours are really challenging. Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy to have the job, but I know I have training to be working above and beyond keeping shelves looking spiffy and helping folks find a well fitting shoe. There is a yawning gulf between being self employed as a massage therapist and running a retail establishment. All of the mental gymnastics I was accustomed to with massaging – all the anatomy and physiology and whatnot – I’m literally not allowed to use in my current job lest anyone infer that I am trying to pass myself off as an expert (you know, for legal reasons).
While I was excited for the program I was worried that there would be a lack of science involved. I know there is a time and place for talk of energy work and I don’t wish to imply that I’m anti-that. I’m actually very pro-that, I get that it is a useful way to explain things to people who don’t care for the science backups. But I live with someone who’s life has been science and academic rigour, that shit rubs off on you whether you like it or not.
This year I decided to supplement my school training with some extra side learning and kept my focus on biographies of Krishnimacharya and books that studied the science of what I was learning. I managed to find two good biographies and was glad to have read them, as they gave me a bit of history on the lineage my teachers approach things from. The one heavier science book I found was a boon to my desire for critical looks and studies.
Oh the many claims of yoga that have been dashed by the actual studies, so many of them. This isn’t to say that yogis are entirely wrongheaded, the claims they make have some basis in reality – just not in the way they’re claiming them. Case in point, the popular claim that yoga is a great way to slim down. Yoga has actually been shown to slow the basal metabolic rate which is very interesting for me.
I know that my unfortunate weight loss was instigated by many factors, but I do attribute some of it to the 5 hours a week of yoga. The reason I do so, now after reading the book and articles in question, is not because it “ramps up metabolism” but because it has taught me mindfulness in eating. I am more likely to eat slowly, eat fewer processed things, and I only eat until I am no longer hungry as opposed to stuffed (ok, I still do that last one sometimes).
The issue I have isn’t with the claim, it’s with the evidence presented. The Science of Yoga presents a myriad of claims and breaks them down point by point without getting high and mighty about it. There is never an air of “oh man, look at these hippie weirdos” and the author does a very clear job of bringing in voices of authority who can speak to the useful nature of yoga as well as the side of it that can, and sometimes does, lead to injury.
If I hope to one day provide classes for groups or individuals, I want to have the know how to back up my claims with reality instead of wooo. Given the availability of studies and research now a days this isn’t tricky (it took me less than 15 seconds to find an article about yoga and metabolism, for example). An educated populous is a strong populous and that is something I am eager to contribute to.