My body being a temple, it will probably come as no surprise to learn that I have never found the need to practise yoga. My close observation of yogaistas over the years has taught me three things, though.
Firstly, they are obsessed with breathing – and rightly so. My (unscientific) research has revealed that 100% of deaths are consequent upon the poor saps failing to breathe. So we ignore this important ingredient of survival at our peril. But I find that the body is pretty proficient left to its own devices at inhaling and exhaling air at the requisite times. There is simply no need to learn quaint and exotic techniques to inhale air through one nostril at a time.
Secondly, yogaistas seem obsessed with what can only be described by the layman as contortionism. I find my body is flexible enough to do most of the things I need to do during my hum-drum existence without requiring it to adopt postures for which my skeletal system and muscle structure was not designed to strike. Am I really missing out by not being able to put my feet around my ears? I don’t think so, somehow.
Thirdly, they seem to be obsessed by chanting Om – a word with sacred connotations for those who follow religions such as Buddhism, Hinduism and Janaism. To pronounce it correctly you need to give it the space you would allot to a trisyllabic word. I suppose it gives some verisimilitude to their contortionism but, to the surprise of an old cynic like myself, there are some real benefits to be had from intoning the mystical word, if some research published in the ever popular journal, Cognition and Emotion, is to be believed.
The researchers conducted an experiment which involved subjecting 21 men to the mantra whilst they were strapped to a scanner which monitored their brain activity. What they found was that as the chanting progressed, that part of the brain which was used in day-to-day activities slowed down whilst the part, specifically areas of the cerebellum, left middle frontal gyrus and right precuneus, involved in emotional awareness came to the fore.
To check that what some might term the onset of brain numbness did not occur when you were subjected to any intoned sound, the same group were subjected to a recording of people chanting Tommm. Apparently, it did nothing to relax them, although the report does not indicate whether any or indeed all of them were called Tom which, obviously, might have heightened their anxiety. The next stage of the experiment will involve the researchers repeating the experiment on groups displaying other cultural and racial mixes just to ensure there is not a cultural bias to the results.
The inevitable conclusion is that chanting or being subjected to the sound of Om has a relaxing effect on the brain. I’m going to give it a go – after all, I’m always on the look-out for cheap, easy and vaguely legal ways of enhancing my sense of inner well-being. Just don’t ask me to stick my ankles behind my ears while doing it.