Research in Yoga

Dr Swami Nirmalananda, Bihar School of Yoga, Munger, Bihar

In comparing yoga and research, I found that there are many similarities between the two. In research, no matter what we study, we try to discover something, looking at it from all aspects. The same thing happens in yoga also: we try to be aware. We try to know totally what is happening around us and within us. Satyananda Yoga is especially known for its two components that make it unique and successful: awareness and an integral approach in life.

Swami Sannyasananda quoted the words Sri Swamiji always said, and I will quote again: "Every yoga practitioner is a researcher. He is essentially a researcher who experiments in the laboratory of his body throughout life, and he learns and learns until he unites with himself, until he knows the answer to 'Who am I?' and 'What am I?'" That is the process of yoga. A yoga practitioner becomes a yoga sadhaka, a yogi and a seeker in that step by step manner only if he becomes a researcher of his own self. That is personal research. However, institutes do external research, and research done using only the five external senses is limited as compared to the yogic method, where the wealth of its research lies in being experience-oriented and deep.

To quote an example, we were studying the effects of bhastrika pranayamaon Bihar Yoga Bharati postgraduate students. We went into Matri Sadan hospital in Munger run by the Goenka family. The study group had a small instrument attached to the finger that would show the oxygen saturation in the blood. You know how it is with bhastrika pranayama, if you do it nicely, at the end of the practice you do not want to breathe at all. Spontaneous kumbhaka, breath retention, happens. In one person, actually in many students, although I will refer only to one, the saturation started falling down from 100% to 90%.

I have the samskaras of an anaesthesiologist. When we administer anaesthesia to a patient, if the saturation goes below 95%, then our eyes open up and we start becoming active. Less than 90% and the surgeon will start giving a dirty look to the anaesthetist, asking, "What are you doing with my patient?" If it is 80%, then everyone from all operating theatres around will run to help you because the alarms are going off crazily.

In this person that we were studying, the saturation went down to 54%. I had not seen this ever in my life, a person being alive below 75%, and my heart stopped beating because I was only researching with my eyes and my ears, but she was experiencing the bliss of yoga practice; she was nicely sitting and enjoying a state of elevated consciousness. I learned then that anubhava, experience, is totally different from research; it is much deeper.

Sri Swamiji established the Yoga Research Foundation and he has been our source of inspiration and teacher in how to be a researcher. With that introduction to the Yoga Research Foundation, I will give a few summaries of research conducted with children, as this is today's theme.

The first project was conducted over a period of five years in our Indore Yoga Centre. We wanted to study the effects of certain yoga practices given by Sri Swamiji on young children of the age of eight years. The theory is that when a child practises nadi shodhanapranayama, surya namaskara asana and Gayatri mantra, the onset of puberty becomes very smooth. The pineal gland stays functioning a little longer and the age of puberty is delayed. This is what we tried to study and we had good results in that.

We did a second project in Chennai with the help of our Chennai Yoga Centre. They had a population of adolescents going for their major exams, Class 10 and Class 12, and this age group is usually very tense before the exam. The school authorities allowed us to conduct a one-year study throughout their academic year. We found that the left brain functions of memory and rational intelligence drastically improved in students who practised yoga regularly, and they felt less tense before their board exams. We also studied self-confidence, as it is also related to a child's performance during exams and education. I would say that this was a modern, educational, system-oriented research.

We conducted a study with the Bal Yoga Mitra Mandal, the children's yoga fellowship created by Swamiji. In this project, we studied their ability to evolve in education, in the learning process. A child learns not only through the left brain, through memory and intelligence, but she also learns intuitively and by living in the natural environment, considered as right-brain learning.

The unique aspect of this project in particular was that the children did everything themselves. My job, or the job of the Yoga Research Foundation, was only to give a scientific design for the research and to do the statistical analysis at the end. Otherwise, the children gathered the group, the data, by holding a huge shivir or camp in this very place, the Polo Ground of Munger. They held a shivir for about 4,000 children and from among these children, they received the population for research, constituting of over 400 children.

They conducted all the psychological tests that were sent to the BYMM from many of our overseas acharyas, and the BYMM children became proficient in this research. They collected the data, they scored it, they conducted the yoga classes, and ultimately they handed all the data to me. I just had to apply the statistics. The results of this study are excellent, not only from the children on whom the research was done, but also from the children who were the researchers. Thus, this project had two sets of results. The presentation of this study will be given at the workshops being held at Ganga Darshan today by one of the children of BYMM.

In this way, we studied the creativity and education of children. The Yoga Research Foundation, with the help of Bihar Yoga Bharati students, also tried to study samskaras, the deep impressions in the subconscious, which is very difficult to study on a scientific basis. The students, in collaboration with a few gynaecologists who are connected to the ashram, conducted a study researching the practice of yoga during pregnancy. The question was: if the mother practises yoga during a certain month of the pregnancy and is chanting a prayer, prarthana or stotra, what will the effect be later on the child?

We studied the newborn baby for one year: the behaviour patterns, the feeding patterns, the sleep patterns. It was noticed that when the baby was cranky or crying unnecessarily and the mother repeated the same mantra, prayer or stotra that she had been doing during her pregnancy, the child again started smiling. These children were also found to be more content as compared to their older siblings in the same home environment. This study displayed the positive effects of yogic samskaras given to babies before their birth.

In this way, Sri Swamiji's legacy of yoga and research, the Yoga Research Foundation, continues to spread the experience of yoga, both for those involved in conducting the studies by analyzing the data and seeing the results, and for those upon whom the research is conducted, through measuring the experience within themselves. It is an inspiration for us all to become sadhakas of self-study, using the laboratories of our own bodies and minds.

Address, 25 October 2013, Polo Ground, Munger