I’m sure I don’t have to explain what Yoga is. If I do, I’ll just refer to it as an amazing exercise that has been known to do wonders for the body. Much like meditation, it’s also known as a wonderful mental exercise that allows people to enter deep states of concentration.
What’s the problem then?
The problem is that while Yoga, as an exercise, is incredibly empirically effective, there are fringes of Yogis who seem to feel there is something deeper. The spiritual end of Yoga is well-known, and of course, none of it is empirically proven, as it involves areas of mythology that have never been proven – many of which have been conclusively disproved, and other aspects are negatives which cannot be disproved under any circumstances, i.e., the existence of God or the Invisible Pink Unicorn.
This is only a real problem because there are many people in the world who seem to think this religious/spiritual aspect of Yoga is rooted in science. Let’s explore these religious and spiritual aspects of Yoga and any and all science that exist to support them – Spoiler Alert: There is absolutely none.
The main religious aspect surrounding yoga is the belief in seven rotating spheres of energy in the body called Chakras. The origin of this idea comes from Hindu texts and is Sanskrit for “turning wheel” or “motion wheel”. The Chakras are known as force centers or energy sources in the human body in the Hindu faith, and are also described as rotating vortices of “subtle matter” as described by John Cross and Robert Charman in their book Healing with the Chakra Energy System. Anyone familiar with faith systems already sees the problem here, but if not, the issue is the usage of vague or non-existent words or terms.
According to most disciplines of the mythology, there are seven Chakras in the body: The Crown, The Third Eye, The Throat, The Heart, The Solar Plexus, The Sacral, and The Root Chakra. In the image above, they are listed from top to bottom, along with their mythological names. They have also been associated with astrology (yet another pseudoscience) as is also illustrated above.
1) It is never described what types of energy Chakras emit.
Here is a list of the types of energy with a foundation in proven fact: Potential energy, kenetic energy, thermal energy, chemical energy, electrical energy, electrochemical energy, electromagnetic energy, sound energy and nuclear energy. What is never defined is which of these types of energy it is that Chakras are said to either emit or of which they’re said to be made up. Well, at least, like I said, none of these particular energies are said to have anything to do with Chakras. What Chakras are said to emit is spiritual energy.
I have a neighbor who has a very, very misguided friend who seems to think there is a pure science behind the idea of Chakras. This is also a woman who thinks testimonials are a form of evidence, but I digress. I asked her one night to find me some form of evidence to support the idea of either Chakras or spiritual energy. Lo and behold, she couldn’t. What she found at first was a video of a testimonial – as I previously mentioned – of a very happy, happy man who claims Yoga changed his spiritual life. I explained to her, or at least tried to explain to her the difference between concrete, empirical evidence, and anecdotal, circumstantial evidence. After this was explained, I asked her to find something from an official human physiology or biology textbook, or something from an actual peer-reviewed scientific website, noting the existence of Chakras or spiritual energy. All she could find is what I described earlier on in this piece: Yoga is a great source of physical exercise (NIH official website). Again, nothing of note about the existence of the energy spoken of in Yoga theology.
In fact, to date there has been no hard, empirical evidence to support the very existence of this type of energy, nor these energy sources, let alone, evidence to support the idea that Yoga has any affects on these so-called energy sources at all. Funny thing is that I not only kept all of my college textbooks, but I actually buy them frequently from places such as Half Price Books, in order to continue my education as much as possible. In all of my biology, chemistry, or physics books, I’ve never heard one mention of this type of energy, nor seen mention of these magical spheres in the body. Imagine that.
Conclusion: Absence of evidence is evidence of absence, as that which is asserted without evidence, can just as easily be dismissed without evidence. That was easy.
2) It is never described of what type of force Chakras are made up.
Here, again, we run into the same type of problem. What is the force these chakras are said to made up of, or to emit. There are four scientifically known forces: Gravity, electromagnetism, strong nuclear force and weak nuclear force. These types of forces are clearly defined, as are their functions. And while, admittedly, even today, there is much to be known about gravity, what we do know is well within the lines of factual and empirical evidence. Once again, the scientific method leaves absolutely no room for guess work, and neither do I.
Once again, as with the case above, there is no conclusive evidence that leads anyone to believe there are extra forces in the world related to the human body. Everything we do that requires force has a known source, just like with energy. For instance, we eat food in order to store energy, and we utilize that energy in order to move. These are known as potential energy and kinetic energy. When we walk, we push back on the ground with one foot, using kinetic energy to take advantage of the ground’s wonderful friction. If we didn’t eat, we wouldn’t have the energy to move. The same is true with forces. Everything that happens within the body has a known source in regards to its force. We stay on the ground because of gravity, our brains are able to function, among other reasons, because of electromagnetic energy, our atoms maintain themselves using the weak nuclear force, and if we happen to be exposed to radiation, we experience the work of the strong nuclear force. There is no room for extra forces when it comes to the body, and if they do exist, their effects are negligible at best, since we don’t appear to use them at all.
In summation: Again, no evidence in support of any external force emitted by Chakras, nor evidence of Chakras themselves.
3) What precisely is “subtle matter” and where does such a type of matter fall into a proper scientific methodology?
Matter is something that is most certainly defined. We have a universe comprise of two things: Matter and antimatter. Antimatter is just how it sounds, it’s the opposite of matter. For every proton, there is an antiproton, and for every electron, there is a positron. Quarks comprise matter in two different ways. They comprise baryons by grouping into threes and they comprise mesons by one quark pairing up with an antiquark. One of the problems that plagues modern day physicists is why almost all of the known universe – the universe that doesn’t stretch beyond our 14 billion lightyear visual horizon – is predominantly matter, without equal parts antimatter. The answer to this question probably lies beyond the visual horizon of space – the part of space that we cannot see because the universe hasn’t existed for long enough for its photons (light) to reach earth.
The point I’m making is that we have a pretty damn good grasp on what matter is. There is, of course, dark matter and dark energy which is still to this day plaguing our best minds, but this most surely isn’t existing inside of our bodies, especially dark energy, and thank Jebus for that. Another type of matter that is purely hypothetical at this point, comes from the quantum world, and I might mention, the outer fringes of it. It is called exotic matter. Exotic matter is defined as ” Exotic matter is a hypothetical concept of particle physics. It covers any material which violates one or more classical conditions or is not made of known baryonic particles.” In other words, these materials would possess thus unobserved qualities like negative mass and could also, hypothetically speaking, be repelled by gravity, instead of attracted by it. But what, my dear, is subtle matter?
There to date has been absolutely no scientific frame of reference for subtle matter. In fact, it was very hard to find any reference to subtle matter, flipping through almost fifty pages of a Google search, that wasn’t in the field of parapsychology or metaphysics – despite their names sounding impressive, neither of these are considered, even by the most liberal of empiricists, as scientific fields. Subtle matter is defined by almost every bit of information I found on it, as “Spiritual matter. Thought and consciousness.”
There’s that word again. So much for this aspect of Yoga being a scientific, rather than religious concept. In fact, the term stems, again, from Indian mythology, and describes a type of matter of which our consciousness is made up.
I want to take this time to remind people that consciousness is nothing more than the collective workings of the brain. It’s something that cannot be described per se, because it is entirely different all the time, as the brain is never really functioning in the exact same way throughout the day. There are too many variables. However, one thing that is for certain is that all of the brain’s parts are always working together to keep you thinking, breathing, seeing, hearing, feeling, moving, tasting, smelling, and doing numerous other phenomena that the body is known to do. This was something that couldn’t have been known to ancient peoples, as obviously, they didn’t have the kind of testing technology we have today. In fact, they didn’t have much of a grasp on anything that we know scientifically today. Why would they? Civilizations evolve with technology.
Therefore, they needed to explain the workings of the body in the same way the ancient Romans had to explain thunder by inventing a god for it, or a type of magic to explain it. The same can be said for any ancient or even modern superstition. They exist for the sole reason of explaining phenomena of which a culture does not have a natural/scientific explanation. Today, we know that thunder and lightening are not the work of gods, but are the result of atmospheric discharges of energy. This is where the “god of the gaps” philosophy fails us; the gaps keep getting smaller.
The point I’m attempting to make is that the concept of subtle energy is that of mere ancient superstition with no more water in today’s scientifically evolved culture, than the ancient practices of witchcraft, voodoo, or shamanism. In fact, one could say that the ideas behind Yoga stem from the Eastern versions of what we in the west knew as shamans only centuries ago, or what we still to this day call priests.
However, in this day and age, we have another name for them: Charlatans, snake-oil salesmen. These men and women have existed in every generation, taking advantage of gullible people who are scientifically uneducated, and don’t understand their surroundings or bodies as well as they should. In today’s society, scientific illiteracy runs rampant. Walk up to the average person and ask him just how much floor is underneath him compared to what he sees. When after you tell him that the floor is made up of atoms that are 99.9999999999999% empty space, he may ask why you don’t fall through. Then you explain to him the Pauli exclusionary principle, and watch his face turn to that of a dear with a bright burst of photons shining into its eyes. We do not have high enough graduation standards today in any field of education, namely science, and until we do, charlatans like Yogies, anti-vaccers, homeopaths, anti-GMOers, and various other scientifically illiterate groups will continue to form for the profit of charlatans everywhere. We get dumber – they get richer.
In summation, nothing of the type of matter describes as “subtle matter” has ever been proven to exist, and once again, it must not do a whole lot, as we’ve summed up the universe with just a few other types of matter known to science. Again, that which is asserted without evidence can be easily dismissed without evidence. In science, it’s up to the person making the assertion to prove him or herself right, it’s not up to others to prove them wrong. As my fiancee just said to me, “If I have one more person suggest Reiki for my back, I’m gonna punch a mother.” I couldn’t have said it better.
Absence of evidence is evidence of absence.
American science writer and editor in chief of Skeptic Magazine, Michael Shermer, says in his book The Skeptical Encyclopedia of Pseudoscience, “The chakra system… has no proven relationship with the anatomy or physiology of the human body. Nothing resembling the energy of the Chakras has ever been detected, despite the exquisite sensitivity of modern instruments.” This is absolutely correct, and studies that have been done conclusively show nothing related to how Chakras are defined are present in the human body, nor are any of the energies or forces they’re said to be related to in ancient Hindu mythology. Chakras and their forces and energies, are just that: Mythology. They will never be taught outside the liberal arts classroom, and even most “disciplines” of the liberal arts wouldn’t even mention the existence of something so absurdly untrue and unproven in their walls. Even the psychology classroom.
Yoga is strenuous exercise. I do it myself from time to time. I hurt like I’ve just been put through some kind of unique torture, and I sweat like a Catholic priest in the It’s a Small World ride at Disney. Afterward, I am in a state of relaxation, namely because my body has just been put through an amazing workout, and obviously, we feel that in our brain as well. Any kind of exercise is immense stimulation that releases numerous chemicals in our bodies that make us feel good. That’s just simple evolution, and we don’t need any kind of witchery or magic to explain it. It’s in the natural classification of things – not the supernatural. In the same way that meditation acts in a positive way by clearing our heads and allowing the brain and bodies time to relax, it requires no magic or alternate dimensions or alternate planes of existence to explain it. It’s a great workout and it feels amazing, but it’s nothing you cannot do at home, nor is it anything you need to attend higher education in order to practice, as some very, very, very gullible people are doing these days. Far too many in my neighborhood, if you ask me.
Note: I normally go out of my way to quote peer-reviewed studies as much as possible. The problem with this piece is that there absolutely are none in support of the existence of Chakras. And other than their magical energy being useless, it’s impossible to prove through clinical trials that they don’t exist, much the same with any supernatural being. You cannot disprove a negative. I’m sure I don’t have to explain that. The problem with this is that there are many who feel if something cannot be disproved, it must exist. This is obviously not the case. It is the very mythological rabbit hole science has been fighting since it first broke from the church during the Enlightenment. Anyone can make up any crazy idea and ask that it be disproved. Our courts don’t work like that, and neither does science. Disproving a negative is nothing more than a tool that charlatans have used for centuries, and for whatever reason, the general public never seems to catch on.
Thanks for reading.