Is yoga an art or a science?

Creative Commons License photo credit: neurollero

Dendrites, the treelike extensions at the beginning of a neuron that help increase the surface area of the cell body and are covered with synapses. These tiny protrusions receive information from other neurons and transmit electrical stimulation to the soma

–About.Com, psychology

Yoga is not a science, it is an art.

Who on earth would say such a thing? I won’t name names, to protect the innocent-of-statement, but let it be known, this was said by the teacher during a recent yoga teacher training I was observing. I won’t name the specific style of yoga, to protect my vow not to speak negatively about yoga traditions other than my own, but… I believe he was dead wrong. I stand firmly in Richard Rosen’s camp when he answers the question, Is yoga a science? this way:

The answer to our question then is, “It all depends.” If you interpret scire, [science] “to know,” in a strictly Western sense, then no, yoga isn’t a science. But if we allow ourselves to expand the territorial limits of this “knowing” to include the subtle and spiritual provinces – as the yogis do – then in this sense, yoga is the supreme science, the science of all sciences.

I also see yoga as the supreme (“para” in Sanskrit) science, a yoga world view I’ve gained from my “great-grand teacher,” Swami Rama, who said:

Yoga is a science that deals with body, breath, mind, soul, and ultimately, the universe itself.

Creative Commons Licensephoto credit: Ron Sombilon Gallery

Have I gone Thomas Dolby on you…  blinded you, with science? Do you think about yoga more as poetry in motion? Maybe you’d rather simply luxuriate in the art of yoga as a beautiful expression of body, breath, mind, and soul without putting it under a microscope. Dear yoga students, please tell me: are you practicing for a BA (Bachelor of Arts) or BS (Bachelor of Science) in yoga?

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- who has written 41 posts on Yoga Modern.

Barbra Brady is the Art Editor at Yoga Modern. She holds an MA in Museum Exhibition Theory & Cultural Studies, which she has exercised as a museum curator of contemporary art, nationally published writer, leader of a venerated nonprofit yoga retreat foundation, and now, yoga with a slant on channeling creative energy. When not practicing or teaching yoga in the tradition of her teacher, Yogarupa Rod Stryker (as a Certified Level IParaYoga teacher) or as an iRest Yoga Nidra practitioner, Barbra practices the yoga of “curiosity.” The curiosity that fuels her imagination may be through writing, curating, a turn of leaf or phrase, cinema, a century ride on her road bike… She’ll be sharing her curatorial picks and original musings, as she whispers in the ear of the Yoga Modern community: “Hey, look at this!” She lives in Sonoma, California, an Eden which naturally prompts her reflections on nature, food, and yes, wine (in meaningful moderation).

13 Responses

  • BH (Bachelor of Humor)…sorry, I couldn't resist.

    • veloyogi says:

      Oh, yogadawg, that's okay, I have an MD (master of dilettantism)!

    • Chelsea says:

      Haha, YogaDawg, I think you've already earned yourself an honorary Masters in all things funny (from the first ever Yoga Alliance certified university of yoga, of course).

  • Shea says:

    Speaking as a yoga student I view yoga as an art; I find often after practice I feel inspired to write poetry and those times when doing a practice and everything feels in perfect sync, it feels like my body is singing.
    I enjoy reading your articles.

    • veloyogi says:

      Thank you, Shea! I so understand what you say…one of my favorite ways to enter a pose is as if it were timeless in feeling…like catching a thermal…writing after a practice is perfect, as the creative energy, the shakti prana is flowing unimpeded…

    • Should you not view yoga as your muse instead? If art is food, yoga would be the ingredient that combines the other ingredients, ok that makes it sound like an egg!

      • dsunshine says:

        –Apple-Mail-13-112829687 Content-Transfer-Encoding: quoted-printable Content-Type: text/html; charset=us-ascii approve

  • This is such a thought-provoking article, something I have asked myself many times. Speaking as an Artist and a yogi, I believe saying yoga is either "this" or "that", is limiting. The meaning of yoga, is "union". It is an art and a science, and so much more. It is so hard to define yet we try and try to fit it into a definition that makes sense in our heads. Yoga encompasses all. It is a state of being. Thank you for sharing your questions with us.

    • veloyogi says:

      Gina, I'm right there with you. It is a both/and rather than an either/or. I do hope people begin to see the "science" in Hatha Yoga, because it truly is–it is alchemy, which is surely science. Mixing certain ingredients in a certain sequence, "vinyasa krama," can be powerful "science." If we follow a certain "recipe" of asana, pranayama, meditation, mudra, bandha, visualization, and lifestyle…it is an artful science!

  • mary says:

    To me, it's both – the science helps me find optimal alignment so I can sink into my soul. The two are not mutually exclusive. Great article.

  • Elizabeth says:

    Definitely both. It is a science in that we experiment within ourselves to see what happens, again and again, as we come back to these methods each day. We don't have to believe anything, we just have to do something and observe the results. However, western scientists would not consider it a science because we are not repeating in the exact same way each time with "controlled" variables (we accept that things will be a little different each time) and we do not seek to disprove a theory (except perhaps "I am this body/mind" :-) . It is an art because we wield the techniques of asana, pranayama, dhyana, kriya, and so on like brushes and paints that expose the beauty present on the space of the blank page.