Yoga, science or art?


Giving yoga a label is really not my thing, however embracing all that yoga has to offer is. I was inspired by a fantastic clip of street art by David Zinn to consider his words in context with one of my own passions – yoga.

Not only is David Zinn’s art so clever and addictive, (I have watched it several times and each time pick up something new…the petals?), but his words resonated with me completely:

“Science is how we sort problems and art is how we cope with them.”

David Zinn

I had considered the issue of yoga as a science or art before when wording the introduction on my website where I talk of “…a trusted way for many to learn the art of yoga.” This could just as easily have been “…the science of yoga.” Some might also believe yoga to be a religion or sport, however since I don’t really consider my style of yoga as religion, or sport, I am not going to raise this here, though those words may definitely come in to other styles of yoga.    

Yoga as a science

In yoga we can use science to help us understand how certain facets of our yoga practice and teaching may be beneficial. For example, Prana, or as I sometimes explain – life force, can be likened to the oxygen that we inhale and which is then absorbed into our cells for energy. Many people understand that oxygen in the air brings energy to the body, so this is a useful way to introduce the concept of Prana. This doesn’t quite paint the full picture though. It doesn’t explain why the sea breeze of our very own North Sea seems to be more rich in Prana. The same is true for forests and lakes and mountain air. I personally find shopping centres and air conditioned offices very depleted in prana.  I am sure that yoga students also feel this difference in Prana in different environments and are happy to accept this without understanding the reason why.  The act of breathing with a view to harvesting the energy is called pranayama and for a more in depth knowledge and understanding of the scienc and art of pranayama I can highly recommend Pranayama – The Yoga of Breathing by Andre van Lysebeth.

Science is always playing catch up with what we as yoga practitioners already know. We hear of negative ions, auras of energy being recorded around bodies, even detection of thought waves beyond our physical bodies. This knowledge is more an “aaah…yes” moment for us, if you have felt it and experienced it, you don’t need the science, but as teachers, the science may help explain tricky concepts to other students. Of course Prana comes from other sources – the sun on our bodies (vitamin absorption), the food we eat (sustenance), but none of this explains the immediate “feel good” response we have to it. Absorption of food and vitamins take time to benefit our health and wellbeing, the effect of Prana on our health and wellbeing is immediate.

Scientific knowledge of anatomy is very helpful to yoga asanas, certain muscle groups for example being stretched or strengthened in various poses can help us as yoga teachers give cueing advice. I use my knowledge of anatomy in yoga in conjunction with how the body feels when teaching, but almost exclusively the sensations I feel in my mind and body when I am doing my own yoga practice.

 Yoga as an art

If you consider that art is creative, what could possibly be more creative than creating a shape with your body and then simply feeling, letting emotions arise? If dance is creative, then surely yoga flow should be too. The linking of yoga asanas to flow artfully from one to another is a very creative experience. One that is very popular among my students.

When we use chakras, it is often in conjunction with colour. I understand many students find picturing colour difficult, so as a starting point I encourage students to think of an object of a certain colour, perhaps even something personal to them. The colours of my garden often provide inspiration. When connecting with the chakras we can use chanting of the sounds of the chakras. In our Core Yoga classes we first use the vowel sounds and the vibrations these produce in various areas of our body to begin to understand how sound can be so profoundly healing and restorative, the science of sound and vibration working very nicely with the art of sound and music.

Prana is not only our life-force, it is the original creative power, the energy of consciousness, our connection to the universe. These are quite tricky concepts to appreciate. I like to remind my students of the film Avatar, the scene where each being is connected to each other and also to the tree that they are sat around. It is then not too much of a leap to see how we are all connected through Prana, the universal energy, to all that is around us and the cosmic energy.

In restorative yoga we can use many different routes to connect with the creative brain. Through yoga nidra, pranayama, focussing on the senses and the space inside our bodies we can arrive at that point of relaxation and inner peace where our creative brain can be released. These pathways are not mutually exclusive, they intertwine and react together; pranayama with asana, asana with inner space, pranayama with yoga nidra, in much the same way that art and science blend together.


I want to return to some more words from David Zinn in speaking of science as solving problems and of art as coping with problems he comments;

“This is good because science can take a long time.”

The problem solving, the learning and information of science can indeed take a long time. In the meantime, we need a mechanism to cope with the problem and Art is there for us instantly, the release into the creative world, that inner peace and stillness of total focus that allows the solutions to our problems through our own instinct to arise. Much can be achieved when we listen to the inner voice.

A final note of positivity and encouragement:

“Self-doubt should never be allowed to win”


Categories: Core Yoga