Call for Responsible Research

Only in the last fifty years or so have scientists been able to utilize objective techniques to rationalize the paranormal accomplishments fit yoga. For many years the yogi was seen as a miracle worker, sleeping on a bed of nails, climbing the magic rope, and living for hundreds of years. Some yogis could be buried underground for prolonged periods to re-emerge as one resurrected. In the last two decades yoga has come to be viewed as a respectable and independent science, capable of adding valuable information to conservative esoteric sciences in all the fields of life from general education to family planning.

Even with sophisticated biomedical engineering, where does the modern researcher start his investigations into the vast ocean of yogic knowledge and practice? The range of philosophy and technique can be overwhelming for the uninitiated. Perhaps only those who have practiced yoga themselves and have experienced its benefits can really investigate yoga in depth. According to Dr. Hiroshi Motoyama, an eminent yogic researcher from Japan:

"Study of yoga has to be done from varying angles, e.g. physiology, psychology, psychosomatics, parapsychology, biophysics, etc Nevertheless, what gives direction and basis to these studies, is the wisdom obtained by those who have experienced yoga."

Just as training in biology is necessary before scientific experiments can be conducted in these fields, similarly, research into yoga requires breadth of experience in the yogic field if correct conclusions are to be drawn from it. Yogic practice gives us the insight and intuition to design better experiments and draw deeper interpretations, better related to the whole of human life and existence. The scientist must overcome our society's basic assumption that this present culture's specific achievements make up the total possibility of human knowledge, and that no other system can contribute acceptable practical knowledge of any significance.

The long-existent, short sighted approach is giving way to acceptance of the wisdom of other cultures which, in the fields of mind and spirit, is far in advance of that presently existing in most technologically developed countries. Of course we must maintain at balance and not unthinkingly accept all techniques at face value, without first looking deeply within them. Honesty and a degree of skepticism are needed, otherwise it is possible to be swept away by the promises of 'instant' enlightenment, psychic powers and the cheap, flashy, spiritual sideshows.

Researchers and scientists, as influential spokesmen for and against the newly developing spiritual awakening occurring today have an important and responsible position in informing the public of the positive and negative attributes of the many different esoteric traditions.

We must sort out the valid techniques from the fraudulent and impractical. A broad vision is required for this task, and will result in a merger of technology and spiritualism, 'East' and 'West', caste and creed - the union of mankind.

Investigators looking for proof to backup the claim that their meditative technique is the only effective one may use physiological and psychological data to support wild claims, for example, that:

  • The results of their experiments and investigations are due solely to their technique.
  • The changes are good and desirable.

Meditation research has skyrocketed over the past few years. Though many researchers are genuine in their interest and honesty, there are also many who merely wish to commercialise and sell a cult - a system promising 'the' technique to end all techniques. Robert E. Ornstein, research psychologist at San Francisco's Langley Porter Neuro-psychiatric Institute, has emphasized the need for honest and reliable research. He states that:

"Those who undertake to validate rather than to impartially investigate, use science to sell a product. This use of science is like promoting drugs with a television commercial that shows one pill racing into the bloodstream faster than another. The objective approach would be to investigate the real effect of meditation."*1

Ornstein claims that the EEG is an unstable measure, and unless the researcher maintains strict controls, he cannot be sure that changes reflect significant brain activity. Recording an EEG, he says, is like placing a heat sensor on a computer to determine its program. It can be nearly useless, unless one has a clear idea of the physiology underlying the EEG. Interpretation of the EEG is also sometimes fraught with difficulties. What may look like coherent synchrony of the brain may only be epilepsy.

Ornstcin devises a theoretical experiment to point out the fallacies inherent in this approach:

"Assume for a moment that reading does not exist in our society. I might claim that reading sacred literature, such as the Bible, not only leads to increased goodness, but also actually causes physiological changes. In my laboratory, I would take physiological measures on people before they read sacred books, while they read, and after they finish. I could choose eye movement for the measure in my experiment.
The data would show that before reading, eye movement was at a low level, during reading it dramatically increased, and afterwards returned to its original level. Such physiological change, I might say, conclusively proves the benefits of Bible reading. However, my experiment would not explain how eye movement, an arbitrary measure, relates to the supposed benefits of reading. Nor would it show whether other types of reading would have similar effects on eye movement."*2

The EEG plays a big role in the latest meditation research and is proving to be a useful tool in detecting changes in altered states of consciousness. However, it does not prove that these states of consciousness are good, bad or otherwise. It only points out that changes have occurred. These results then can be subjective feelings. Therefore, in trying to use EEGs one must be aware of all possibilities, the physiology of the brain, and other experimental results, before making rash claims and statements.

Honesty and insight are prerequisites for researchers who are trying to prove scientifically what yogis and others have been experiencing down through the ages. Yogi and scientist are now coming together to study the phenomena associated with yoga. Many of the scientists are also yoga practitioners, and many become sincere advocates for yoga once they see the results of their experiments. Research to date has shown that yoga, when practiced under expert guidance and in a systematic way, can only benefit the human organism. No adverse effects have yet been reported. Moreover, researchers are pointing out that yoga, when incorporated into one's lifestyle, promises to fulfil one's innate potential, expand awareness, increase health, energy and vitality, make the personality positive and dynamic and lift the whole of our existence to a higher level. The need therefore is for future researchers and experiments to uncover the truth and show why yoga is beneficial, and how it can be adapted to become even more so. In this way our whole social and personal environment can be improved by even greater leaps and bounds.


*1, *2 Ornstein, R.E., The Mind Field, Grossman, 1976