A Physiological Handbook for Teachers of Yogasana

A Physiological Handbook for Teachers of Yogasana


Mel Robin

On graduating from the University of Washington in 1960 with a Ph. D. degree in chemical physics, Dr. Robin took a position at Bell Telephone Laboratories, Murray Hill, New Jersey, in the Molecular Spectroscopy research area. Though he published 4 books and over 100 technical papers during the next 28 years, in hindsight, the most fortunate event of that exciting time was having wandered into Judy Freedman’s noontime yoga class at the Labs, which proved to be a turning point in his life. On retiring in 1988, he spent time between studying and teaching yoga, and working as Director of Student Research at Science High School in Newark, New Jersey. During the 8 years spent at Science High, he was the recipient of the Science Mentor of the Year award from President W. J. Clinton, the first such award ever given to a high-school teacher.

Enchanted with the idea of writing a book exploring the possible connections between yoga and science, he retired from high-school science, and entered into the full-time practice and teaching of Iyengar Yoga, interspersed with more and more research into how yoga and medicine might be related. This Handbook is the culmination of that effort. Nothing could make him happier than to think that there might be something in this Handbook that would advance some teacher’s interest in and understanding of the subject.

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Western doctors make quantitative, objective observations on the bodies and the minds of others, and from such experiments are able to construct a general model of the body/mind. On the other hand, Eastern Yogis make qualitative, subjective observations of their own bodies and minds, yielding a model of the body/mind with little or no apparent relevance to that of the Western Doctor. This Handbook attempts to reconcile these two points of view, discussing many basic aspects of physiology and then applying these ideas to the practice of the yogasanas, as well as pointing out many phenomena well known to yogis, for which Western medicine has only a feeble explanation.

In the course of this study, many interesting questions are raised, and answers are put forth using modern concepts. We discuss questions such as, How can inversions lower blood pressure? Why are backbends energizing? If one has a heart condition, what is the best time of day to practice yogasana? How does yogasana practice blur the line between the conscious and the subconscious? Can practicing in colored lights intensify the physiological effects of various yogasanas? How can one balance in yogasanas without leaning against the wall? Why must one turn the femur of the forward leg outward in trikonasana but inward in parsvottanasana? Answers to these and many other questions can be found in this Handbook.