Yoga, the ancient practice of stretches, controlled breathing, and meditation, dates back more than 5,000 years and is generally considered a spiritual practice. STEM — the acronym that stands for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics — on the other hand, is about as far from spiritual as you can get unless you’re the kind of person that sees God in the Higgs Bosun particle. Believe it or not, the practice of yoga and the study of STEM topics go hand in hand. Let’s take a look at the two and see how they’re not as dissimilar as you might have once believed.
Studying Human Anatomy
Yoga involves the manipulation of the human body, stretching it into shapes that you might not otherwise see. In addition to being a spiritual experience, yoga is also a fantastic type of low-impact exercise, which makes the study of human anatomy for yoga instructors so important. Anatomy is a branch of biology, a science, which means yoga instructors also have to be STEM specialists.
You don’t necessarily need to head to med school to learn about how the human body is affected by different yoga poses, but understanding how the muscles and joints move during these poses, how breathing affects each yogi’s wellbeing, and how blood flow changes during each asana can make you a more effective instructor.
A popular new technique for learning new skills or even taking classes is experiential learning or learning through experience. Schools, hospitals and even museums are fostering this style of learning as a tool to help students and adults alike hone new skills. Most people learn a lot better when they get some hands-on experience that relates to the topic that they’re studying.
One study has shown that yoga can be a valuable experiential learning tool for students studying the musculoskeletal system of the lower body. Instead of just studying the muscles in a book or on a cadaver, students were taught yoga and how each muscle moves through those poses. Students who used yoga to learn were better able to apply that knowledge a month later when tested than their traditionally educated peers.
Yoga and Life Sciences
Anatomy, and by proxy biology, aren’t the only sciences that a yoga instructor might need to study to be effective. Yoga is as much a mental experience as a physical one. You learn how to control your breathing, how to overcome your fears — especially when you’re attempting inversions like headstands for the first time — and how to be more mindful.
Mindfulness and other skills all fall under life sciences like psychology, which are also considered a STEM field. The American Psychological Association is even starting to consider using yoga as a practice tool to help them care for their patients.
Yoga has been found to be a valuable tool for treating a variety of mental health conditions when paired with therapies and medication as needed. Breathing techniques, which are an integral part of yoga, help to reduce physical tension and augment other relaxation-based exercises. Yoga has been shown to be beneficial for depression, anxiety, PTSD, eating disorders and even some types of psychosis.
While we currently don’t know how or why yoga is so beneficial, it ties directly into the mental sciences, making it part of the growing STEM fields. Your yoga instructor might not be a therapist, but your therapist might suggest that you make an appointment with a yoga instructor.
M is for Mathematics
In India, there is an ancient form of mathematics known as Vedic maths that was rediscovered in the early 1900s. This unique form of math is often easier to understand because it explains formulae and problems in the same way that the mind usually works.
It’s a lot different than the 1+1=2 that you learned in grade school. What does this have to do with yoga, you might be asking?
A 2017 study looked at both yoga pranayama and Vedic mathematics to see how they affected mindfulness, aggression and the ability of a patient to regulate their emotions. The study found that while yoga helped to change all three criteria, Vedic mathematics helped to improve mindfulness in the participants.
Math, specifically Vedic mathematics, has been an integral part of the practice of yoga for over a hundred years — and possibly longer, since that number only includes time since the practice was rediscovered and reintroduced to the modern world.
Looking Toward the Future
Yoga and STEM might seem like two totally different subjects but they’re actually two sides of the same coin and tend to go hand in hand, especially the science and math aspects of STEM. Yoga might be a 5,000-year-old practice but today we’re using it to get healthy, learn mindfulness and be more spiritual as well as teach med school students the muscles of the body and help people manage their mental health.