Updated: May 5
May 1, 2021
I hope by now you’ve had occasion to listen to our first episode entitled (provocatively!) “Lice, Lice Baby”. We’ve heard that some friends are squeamish about bugs--this includes some dearly beloved listeners! And probably most everyone is a bit more triggered by this particular topic lately. But IF you’ve listened and/or contemplated on some level your own and others’ actions and reactions, perhaps this little stat will hit home:
Apparently when the US Census Bureau surveyed people in 2020, more than 42% reported symptoms of anxiety or depression. This is an 11% increase from the previous year. And apparently data from other countries suggests similar trends.
Bleak. But honestly I wasn’t all that shocked to learn about this universal dip in well-being AND that people are more anxious and depressed now than ever before.
However reading further, I was kinda shocked to discover that researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison are addressing this growing problem by creating a “training-based framework for the cultivation of human flourishing.” Um...you mean yoga?! I always love it when science catches up and “proves” YOGA!
The researchers are right, of course. Some of us have been working on “the cultivation of human flourishing” for years! When science gets behind us, it is a major endorsement. And yet something inevitably gets lost in translation. I mean, yoga is ineffable, a particular magic you can only know after years of practice. It is boundless! We try, but it is tricky to define with even the most lofty and precise language of poetry. In the hands of science, it becomes an app with “evidence of trainability” and “interventions that develop skill building”. And like “human flourishing”?? I don’t know, it suddenly gets so corny. It’s like somehow we’ve all become droids who have to relearn how to function as humans.
In this first episode, we don’t use any sanskrit, we’ll get there. I am not a sanskrit scholar, to be sure, but I certainly do appreciate it--I’m not a poetry expert either, but I read it! Sanskrit is a timeless and profoundly beautiful language, the very expression of which is said to be divinity made manifest in word. This makes sense to me because one sanskrit word is fodder for hours of meditation. The intractable depth of it reminds me of a moment I had in high school. I wasn’t then, nor am I now, a theologian--but I’d been through a full decade of Catholic school by age 16, and it occurred to me all at once that much of what I’d learned about the Bible and religion, well, it all seemed a bit far fetched! My friend and I, both immediately thrust into doubt, took our curiosity to a priest (one of the good ones). He listened attentively as we pleaded our case, and then he told us, “Look, people devote their entire lives to understanding this stuff. It is ancient and confusing and beautiful. You’re not supposed to just swallow it whole.” I think we were so shocked that he’d validated our crisis of faith that we took this as an answer. And actually I’ve devoted a lot of years since to thinking about it, and he was right. That’s the only possible answer. You just have to keep asking the big questions and unraveling it strand by strand.
I often return to Iyengar’s simple directive that yoga is only half art, the other half is science. There’s the part of the practice that is ongoing and takes a lifetime, or several, to master. And there’s the part that can be researched and catalogued and strategized and applied. There are incredibly useful tools within this body of knowledge that are not in themselves, perhaps, juicy. In fact they might be prescriptive and sometimes irritatingly simplistic. But if practiced with accuracy and consistency, these tools may lead you into something incredibly rich within yourself.
One such technique is introduced in our first episode. It is the acronym S.T.O.P. This comes from mindfulness practice, which is an offshoot of yoga. And in one pithy, little word, it gives you an entire handbook.
You’re not supposed to swallow it whole. You have to do it and do it and do it a million more times. And then remember again to do it. And then eventually you get to a point where the whole thing suddenly seems like such S.H.I.T. (That doesn’t stand for anything. It’s just for emphasis.) And then you have to ask another question, sometimes a real hard question, and go deeper.
I will say, on a slightly less cynical note, that anything is possible, and maybe this app will have a real positive impact. I’m sure these scientists are on to something good. Or at least they probably have about the same chance of saving the world as a podcast about yoga!