Yoga without the bloat
May 30, 2010 4:25 AM   Subscribe

Where can I find a rational, skeptical approach to meditation and yoga? I've been doing both for a while and I think that they have tangible benefits, but I refuse to listen to even the tiniest bit of childish bullshit about chakras and energy lines from suburban white women or insane Indian men. I'd like to know what's actually going on in my body and mind - isn't there a practical guide that completely separates these activities from spiritual context (both traditional and new age) and presents them in a way that people who aren't retarded can stomach?
posted by borkingchikapa to Health & Fitness (20 answers total)

This post was deleted for the following reason: It seems like there's a totally okay question in here, but you really, really need to do a better job of asking it for this to fly. -- cortex

I think you're going to much better responses if you remove the word retarded from this question. Right now it comes off pretty ranty. Maybe one of the mods would let you reword it?
posted by Mouse Army at 4:31 AM on May 30, 2010 [19 favorites]

Zen and the Brain provides an academic overview of the physical changes that meditation promotes.

Also, I've always found John Kabat Zinn's writing and recorded meditations to be extremely informative without crossing over to too new-agey. He's been a long standing, well-regarded, fixture in the medical community.

Bear in mind, though, that these practices do have spiritual origins, and as a result I think you'll be hard pressed to find experts who deride the history of their chosen subject matter.
posted by MediaMer at 5:06 AM on May 30, 2010 [2 favorites]

When I am making use of tools for living, such as yoga, that are cryptic or spiritually arcane, I find that it works well to just assume that the people who came up with the stuff knew IN PART what they were talking about, and were IN PART limited by their worldview.

Example: OK they say that Chakras exist, as in actually and concretely being there. I believe that to be wrong. But they are on to something - and it is up to me to figure out what they really mean. For instance if my "stomach chakra" is full of "bad energy", my "throat chakra" will "close up" ... Sure - if I am anxious, I have a harder time talking freely.

Another example: People say that God exists, and that they believe in Him. I usually believe that to be wrong. However, they are on to something. In what they call God, I see ... a group conscience built from a desperate, beautiful scrabble of evolution. I see real and true altruism based on fragile human culture. I see in most of us a strong sense of justice, and I look and find in myself an ancient mechanism that will make me feel divine if I do divine things. And I can believe in that. This is what they are pointing to - the effect of what they call God.

The good thing is that you don't have to reinterpret ALL of it - there are others who are transforming and translating old culture to fit into the shifting collage of modern thought. Just gotta find 'em.
posted by krilli at 5:08 AM on May 30, 2010 [19 favorites]

You sound angry. I recommend meditation and yoga.

But seriously: you should separate two questions. 1) where can I find scientific evidence that meditation and yoga have benefits? For this you can look to the large clinical psychology literature on mindfulness. 2) where can I find a scientific description of the physical mechanism by which meditation and yoga produce benefits? Here it seems to me you are more likely to be out of luck; we just don't know very much about why the mind responds in certain ways to certain things, or for that matter what the mind, you know, is. You might look at Richard Davidson's work. He studies, among other things, FMRIs taken of Buddhist monks while meditating, so knows a certain amount about what's going on in the brain while meditation takes place. But of course this won't tell you why the practice produces the sensations, insights, and benefits that it does.
posted by escabeche at 5:12 AM on May 30, 2010 [5 favorites]

isn't there a practical guide that completely separates these activities from spiritual context (both traditional and new age) and presents them in a way that people who aren't retarded can stomach?

No, because the scientists who'd perform the sober analysis and research to grok those underlying processes and express them in ways you'd find palatable all consider that stuff to be childish bullshit. See the problem?

Why should anyone devote serious inquiry into bullshit?

My practical advice (from 35 years of yoga and meditation) is to continue the practices until what you're self-observing becomes entirely impossible to deny (much less ridicule). Then go to grad school, become a scientist, and spend your life researching to come up with palatable explanations for those predisposed to smirk at what they don't fully grok.

Here's a nice stripped-down practice that's unusually efficacious, fwiw:
posted by Quisp Lover at 5:16 AM on May 30, 2010 [5 favorites]

There are many people who practice meditation here on AskMe in a variety of contexts. Meditation in a Buddhist context (for example Vipassana) doesn't have to be more arcane than mindfulness of breathing, and 'letting go'.

But the way you have worded your question is, to me at least, provocative and offensive.
posted by TheOtherGuy at 5:18 AM on May 30, 2010

"But the way you have worded your question is, to me at least, provocative and offensive "

Per above, I've been into this stuff for 35 years, and I wasn't offended. I suspect the OP is posting in a defensive manner to avoid being flamed by super rationalist mefi types. I.e. "I don't really believe in this crazy crap....but....."

Meditation (and the effects thereof) seems to be contagious. It's easier to get further sooner as more and more people do it. I suspect in a decade or two, this stuff will be so mainstream that no one will feel a need to defensively couch their discussion anymore. Hopefully at that point, there'll be a lot more scientists looking into the effects so they can be explained in a more rationalist way (not that quantum physics, string theory, and much of other cutting-edge science seems terribly rationalist on the face of it!)
posted by Quisp Lover at 5:26 AM on May 30, 2010

You might look at medical and psychological research on trance states for a rational approach to 'what's actually going on in your body and mind.' (Contrary to what Quisp Lover says, there is actually quite a bit.)

Yogic meditation is a type of trance state. The visualization exercises, mantras, and the notion of 'centering your energy' in different parts of your body are way of focusing your mind a certain way in order to induce a trance. The concepts of chakras, and energy lines, etc. are a traditional way of conceptualizing what your doing.
posted by nangar at 5:30 AM on May 30, 2010

nangar, you should reread my posting.

And while it may be argued that meditation puts you into a trance state (or that it's something else), trance alone (which can be generated in all sorts of ways) is not the same as meditation. It's way too complex to get into here (especially because I'd have to go through myriad traditions to explain the diffs between each of them and pure trance) but I'd suggest that would not be the approach.

Agreed, though, that it's all conceptualization. The experiencing - like all pure experiencing - is beyond words.
posted by Quisp Lover at 5:35 AM on May 30, 2010

"Krilli is a smart man "

But Krill is a condescending man (though not in any sort of nasty/negative way; I appreciate what he's aiming for and am not trying to start a fight! :) ).

There's danger in judging and translating what the proponents of a certain thing are describing or experiencing. You can't possibly know unless you've deeply experienced it yourself. Otherwise, you're just frittering speculatively around the edges.

Over 35 years I've grown more and more immersed in yoga and meditation. I started off thinking much like Krill, that the trappings were baloney. Then, like the OP, I thought they were baloney but there's something there. Then, like Krill, I figured it was just a matter of superstitious misapprehension by primitive non-rationalists of something that was, at the core, clearly real to some extent in some way. But, again and again, all the cockeyed eastern cliches that had once perplexed and dismayed me, have solidified as I personally experienced them. I don't use all the jargon, or wear groovy love beads, and I haven't taken on a sanskrit name, but I'm forced to buy it all. And to accept that the ancient dudes who created these practices were super rationalist.

This stuff is experiential. Unless you've spent a good amount of time experiencing for yourself (and everyone can; its' just a matter of 20 mins/day), you can't really know and you can't really judge. Well, I can, but you'd be missing it!
posted by Quisp Lover at 5:49 AM on May 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

"I started off thinking much like Krill, that the trappings were baloney"

ack...bad edit. Please mentally delete "much like Krill". His perspective is the stage three of the continuum I described.
posted by Quisp Lover at 5:50 AM on May 30, 2010

The benefits of meditation and'll have to perceive them for yourself, that is, the experience is inherently subjective. If it does something to you, you have proof that it does something to you.

And, seconding Kabat Zinn as a good start. His books, or here, for example. You'll need some time and patience here.

I believe that meditation and yoga could help you with not finding "bullshit", "insane Indian men" and "retarded" people an insurmountable problem.
posted by Namlit at 5:51 AM on May 30, 2010

posted by krilli at 5:55 AM on May 30, 2010

Here are a few papers to get you started (recommended by my girlfriend, a published neuroscientist. Thanks babe!):

Meditation increases the size of your hippocampus.

Meditation increases gray matter density in certain regions of your brain.

Meditation allows you to focus chaotic brain activation patterns.
posted by saladin at 6:17 AM on May 30, 2010 [7 favorites]

Have you tried taking a yoga class in a gym? The 'bullshit' is minimal there. You also won't find much else in the way of explanation of what's going on in your body, but at least you can experience the benefits of practice there without the part you find objectionable.

Also, this question is offensively worded. I'd recommend some personal studies in multiculturalism as part of your practice.
posted by and hosted from Uranus at 6:31 AM on May 30, 2010

Yoga Journal actually has lots of good, non-woo articles written about the physical aspects of yoga. Also, you may be interested to know that yoga as currently practiced in the us has significant roots in 19th century british fitness practices.
posted by yarly at 6:36 AM on May 30, 2010

I understand your frustration. You might check out the book Yoga Anatomy, which is pretty low on woo.
posted by grouse at 6:42 AM on May 30, 2010

This meditation teacher knows his math and science.
posted by zeek321 at 6:52 AM on May 30, 2010

Another example: People say that God exists, and that they believe in Him. I usually believe that to be wrong. However, they are on to something. In what they call God, I see ... a group conscience built from a desperate, beautiful scrabble of evolution.

All these examples are based on the concept of reframing. What we consider sensible and what we consider retarded [SIC] is largely cultural and other cultures' models are often hard to take seriously. The goal (in so far as there is one) to meditation is ultimately to free yourself from the cultural cruft that makes you bound to a single point of view. You could take the opportunity to not reframe instead of fighting to make things familiar. You could even meditate on the sound of one hand clapping, which has the advantage of having its illogic intentionally out there where you can see it.
posted by Obscure Reference at 6:53 AM on May 30, 2010

For yoga it is entirely possible to find a teacher who rarely (if ever) mentions chakras or energy lines. I managed it accidentally and was particularly pleased. And then I stopped going because I was lazy or it was too hot or there were too many people or some other ridiculous excuse.
posted by that girl at 7:18 AM on May 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

« Older How to hide/block all text in firefox   |   Term for these color combos, other than "Agh, my... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.