The Battle between Science and Yoga


In my various trysts at engaging so-called Scientific people via various media, I have often run into a brick wall when trying to discuss any phenomena or topics that delve slightly off the proverbial "beaten track" (vis-a-vis Science).

I have written a few articles earlier on this topic —

 I had written on similar topics (Anahata, The Sanyasi – dealing with alternate states of awareness) but not delved into the aspect of the jarring disconnect between science and what are obviously alive and verifiable traditions beyond that latter article (listed above).

This is a follow-up to the original, but perhaps in a more in-depth way. In order to understand this discord between Science and these other phenomena (and their study thereof), we have to first define Science and The Scientific Method (Process if you may).

What is Science 1?

To quote from my favorite reference medium aka wikipedia, this is what Science is —

  Science, in the broadest sense, refers to any system of knowledge which attempts to model objective reality. In a more restricted sense, science refers to a system of acquiring knowledge based on the scientific method, as well as to the organized body of knowledge gained through such research.


{sidebar id=22}"Then what is this Scientific Method2?" one may ask. To which, we can refer back to our trusted Free and Open Wikipedia for an answer —


Scientific method is a body of techniques for investigating phenomena and acquiring new knowledge, as well as for correcting and integrating previous knowledge. It is based on gathering observable, empirical, measurable evidence, subject to specific principles of reasoning.


Okay, so we come up with "Specific Principles of reasoning3" now. What might that be? The reference link in the Wikipedia article pointed to this —


Isaac Newton (1687, 1713, 1726). "[4] Rules for the study of natural philosophy", Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica, Third edition. The General Scholium containing the 4 rules follows Book 3, The System of the World. Reprinted on pages 794-796 of I. Bernard Cohen and Anne Whitman's 1999 translation, University of California Press ISBN 0-520-08817-4, 974 pages.


Come on now, Isaac Newton? We have definitely come a long way since the times of Sir Newton now, haven't we? I'll hold my tongue (okay fingers) till later on this matter.

Moving on — we have…


Among other facets shared by the various fields of inquiry is the conviction that the process must be objective to reduce a biased interpretation of the results. Another basic expectation is to document all data and methodology so it is available for careful scrutiny by other scientists, thereby allowing other researchers the opportunity to verify results by attempting to reproduce them. This also allows statistical measures of the reliability of these data to be established.


Okay, so the keywords here are "Objectivity4" and "documentation". Let's dig a little deeper now. What is Objectivity?


Objectivity in science is the property of scientific theories to make unequivocal predictions that can be tested independent from the the individual scientist (the subject) who proposes them. It is intimately related to the aim of reproducibility. To be properly considered objective, the relevant theory, hypothesis, assertion or proposition must be able to be communicated from person-to-person, and then demonstrated for third parties, as an advance in understanding of the objective world. Such demonstrable knowledge would ordinarily confer demonstrable powers of prediction or technological construction.


Anyone who has done Science Laboratory work (even at the high-school level) knows about Documentation. You need an objective (target), you need to document the process/procedure of the experiment, you need to document the theoretically deduced results, you need to document the measured/observable results. Then you need to document whether the experimental results satisfactorily met the theoretical results. When this can be repeatedly replicated, it will rule out "Chance" via means of Statistics and can allude to the fact that "Hypothesis/theory" was indeed correct (to the side of Statistical validity).

Why not Quantum Science?

Indeed, why not Quantum Science? Quantum Physics has been popularized in the Public Imagination by authors such as Fritjof Capra and Gary Zukav. And Quantum Science does share a lot of the insights with the Esoteric disciplines such as Yoga, Taoism, Vedanta. But the problem with clubbing Quantum Science with Classical Science is in the fact that those insights (of the Quantum world) haven't been applied to the Scientific method of the classical world.

Now, one might argue "The very reason for the distinction between Classical Science and Quantum Science is because they operate on distinctly different set of rules". The Rules of the Classical world cannot be applied to the Quantum World (in general) and vice versa. But that doesn't change the fact that the "dogma" of the Classical Scientific method needs to be thrown out of the window (perhaps keep it in a museum for posterity) and a combination of the Quantum view (and the methods thereof) be integrated into the Classical view/method.

Hard Science vs Soft Science

There is of course another delineation in Science – that between Hard Sciences and the Soft Sciences. The description of Science described above generally holds good for Hard Sciences. Let's see what the term “Soft Science” means —

Soft science is a colloquial term, often used for academic research or scholarship which is purportedly "scientific" while its adherence to or rigor of scientific method is considered to be lacking, not based on reproducible experimental data, and/or a mathematical explanation of that data. The term is usually used as a contrast to hard science.

Within the natural sciences, research which depends upon conjecture (sometimes called hypothesis), qualitative analysis of data (compared to quantitative analysis), or uncertain experimental results is sometimes derided as soft science. Examples are evolutionary psychology or meteorology. When soft science refers to a natural science, it is usually used pejoratively, mainly due to the term's association with social science, implying that a particular natural science topic described as "soft" does not belong to the field of natural science.

When "soft science" is used to refer to social science, the references are not usually used pejoratively because it is accepted that that social science isn't as objective, and thus as open to interpretation as natural sciences such as physics or chemistry.[citation needed] The term is often employed by social scientist themselves without any projective implication though some might use it for self-deprecation.[citation needed] As a response, some social scientists refer to the "hard sciences" as "simple sciences", and the "soft sciences" as "complex sciences".[citation needed] This is based on the observation that in "hard sciences" results are more black-and-white than in the social sciences, where research is far more qualitative. In its broadest sense, even largely non-quantitative, non-experimental fields of the humanities like literary criticism or gender studies are described as soft science when the said topic makes reference to empirical (scientific) matter in sweeping generalized manner which is akin to scientific theory.

Despite the condescension, what we are going to deal with in the rest of this article would fall under the category of Soft Science and fields such as Parapsychology, Consciousness studies fall under this (category). However, since the general (and popular) acceptance of the definition of Science is that of it's “Hard” version, I will tend to refer to Hard Sciences with the term Science and as the subject (and object) of my critique.

What does that have to do with "weird subjects such as Psychic Abilities"?

What is known today as "Psychic Ability" in yesterday's parlance was called "Siddhi5" (in India) and was known by various names in different parts of the world, based on the benignity or malignancy of their use (and degree of adeptness in them respectively). The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali deals with the achievement of "Siddhis" through Yogic practices.

  • Anima: reducing one's body even to the size of an atom

  • Mahima: expanding one's body to an infinitely large size

  • Garima: becoming infinitely heavy

  • Laghima: becoming almost weightless

  • Prapti: having unrestricted access to all places

  • Prakamya: realizing whatever one desires

  • Isitva: possessing absolute lordship;

  • Vasitva: the power to subjugate all.

Those are the Eight primary Siddhis. There are ten secondary siddhis as well (see reference url for more details).

The Five Siddhis of Yoga and Meditation

  • tri-kāla-jñatvam: Knowing the past, present and future;

  • advandvam: Tolerance of heat, cold and other dualities;

  • para citta ādi abhijñatā: Knowing the minds of others and so on;

  • agni arka ambu visha ādīnām pratishambhah: Checking the influence of fire, sun, water, poison, and so on;

  • aparājayah: Remaining unconquered by others;

How many ever times we look at these, they seem very far-fetched and it probably seems ludicrous to believe that they are "real". But why can't these be possible?

From an insider's perspective, I can tell you, that these are very possible and there are people who have achieved these Siddhis. The cultivation and control of Prana (Chi) will lead the practitioner to be able create the condition of immense mass, incredible lightness, take full control over another's motor functions, etc.

Let me narrate some anecdotes from a Tai Chi class —


The Master, with the intention of demonstrating Chi and it's externalized manifestation (Jing) tells the students to try and hold his hand up (and these are several fully grown adults), and they suddenly seem to be holding a crushing weight. Usually four adults would be able to hold up about upto 200 lbs of weight for a few minutes? This was one person's arm and it became a crushing weight for them. How?

Another time, the Master literally throws his student several feet away from the point he (the student) originally was, merely by touching him with the tip of his finger. The student later expresses the feeling stating “It felt like suddenly gravity had stopped working, until the wall behind me crashed into me. It was as though the earth continued spinning and something was holding me still, suspended in air until the wall came and crashed into me”. How?


What Chi is to the body internally, so is Jing to the external world interacting with the body. In order to convert Chi to Jing (externalized manifestation of Chi, or in other words Power), a process known as “Condensing Breathing” is performed and it's a step that is subsequent to first sensing and then circulating “Chi” (Prana) within the body (via the Meridian system).

Condensing Breathing is done by directing the breath (and the Chi) into the bone marrow through out the body (it is also known as Bone Marrow Nei Gung) and is a Taoist technique used over millenia to convert Chi to Jing.

To quote from a world-renowned source of Tai Chi training (Master Waysun Liao's – T'ai Chi Classics ) the following few lines —

Jing can be converted into thirty-four specialized forms which vary according to how the waist and arms are used to control the physical direction and how the mind is used to shape the form of power in a given situation.

He then goes on to describe the applications of Jing, which I will only summarize in the subsequent lines here (the reader is advised to buy a copy or borrow one from his/her local library for a detailed read).

Sticking Power (tzan lien jing)
Listening Power (ting jing)
Understanding Power (tong jing)
Following Power (tzo jing)
Neutralizing Power (fa jing)
Borrowing Power (tzeh Jing)
Drawing-up Power (ying jing)
Uprooting Power (ti jing)
Sinking Power (chen jing)
Controlling Power (na jing)
Open-up Power (kai jing)
Close-up Power (ho jing)
Deflecting Power (boh jing)
Rubbing Power (chou jing)
Twisting Power (jzeh jing)
Rolling Power (jen jing)
Spiral Power (dzuen jing)
Cutting Power (tze jing)
Cold Power (nung jing)
Interrupting Power (tuan jing)
Inches Power (chuen jing)
Fine Power (fuen jing)
Vibrating Bouncing Power (dow tiao jing)
Vibrating Power (dow so jing)
Folding Power (tzo the jing)
Distance Power (ling kung jing)
These are all described in Martial combat applications and the names are self-explanatory in most cases.

For example, In a martial situation —

Sticking Power allows the student (of Tai Chi) to “stick” to his opponent (just as chewing gum can be stuck to the body). The opponent feels as if he were being attracted (like magnetic attraction) to the student.

Uprooting Power is the ability to cause an opponent to bounce backward and upward, and thereby uprooting him.

Vibrating Power is an application in which a smooth flow of projected energy hits the opponent and drive shim steadily backward until some solid object halts his progress.

Master Liao also describes the process of generating Jing as follows —

“After having successfully cultivated ch'i within the body, the awareness of ch'i and it's circulation should reach a level that can be sensed and controlled easily by the student. As soon as Ch'i is condensed inward towards the center of the body, the mind actively “burns” or “accelerates” it and converts it into a different form of energy – one that feels like an electric current and in some cases even like an electric shock. By following the proper practice procedures, one can then achieve control of this feeling and success in fah jing, the transfer of power.”

And then a little more about the process itself —

A passage in the T'ai Chi Classics attributed to Master Chang San-feng states that “the ch'i must be drummed and vibrated.”

What is a drum? According the the dictionary, it is “a musical instrument sounded by beating and made of a hollow cylinder or hemisphere with parchment stretched tightly over the open sides”. To be a drum, then, several conditions are required.

  • It is sounded by beating. Similarly, you must “beat” the ch'i , or it will not vibrate.
  • It is made of a hollow cylinder or hemisphere. A solid round rock would not make anything but a crashing noise, no matter how hard it was hit. A drum must be hollow within. In the same way, when you practice T'ai Chi you have to relax the body and concentrate on the lower abdominal area. Moreover, Lao Tzu says in the Tao-te-Ching that you should “empty your stomach” and “weaken your will”.
  • It has parchment stretched tightly over the open sides. If the material is not stretched with enough pressure, the instrument will no longer be a drum because it will not vibrate in response to being hit. On the other hand, if the material is stretched with too much pressure, it will be torn apart when it is hit. So, as with ch'i, the material has to be stretched not too much and not too little, and extended to the “ultimate margin”.
What unfolds in this practice is a complex system of psychosomatic evolution (and then something beyond too). The practitioner first learns the physical aspect of the techniques, then uses his mind to focus on the sensations (that arise with the cultivation of Chi). In course of this focus (meditation), he develops an understanding of the nature of his mind (the quintessential Ego, the quiet mind, the loud mind, the constant chatter and trains of thought), and begins to quieten it down, till the Chi can take over.

When an adequate level of sensory evolution is reached (meaning the Chi can be felt at will and with greater strength), the practitioner is ready step up to the next stage and so on, till he can control the Chi and the Jing at will.

The point is not in the Martial application, but in the fact these are well documented and time-tested methods of bringing forth the unknown (in our general, everyday context) into our conscious life. And a careful study (in the first-person if possible) will unveil the mysterious Esoteric sciences and their results.

A point to be noted is that the Taoists and Tai Chi practitioners generally tend to focus on the goal of self-improvement and unity with the Tao. These are people who don't even advertise these phenomena — they don't want to, they think these are hurdles in the spiritual path and advice instead to not dwell on them too much!

Refer to my other article on Tai Chi for more details.

In light of such overwhelming evidence, a few pertinent questions may arise.

When was a realistic study done on these phenomena? The dominance of the Materialist has been so over-powering, that any such ideas and thoughts have probably gotten scoffed off the face of the planet, right?

My question is — the same seers who have created Sophisticated Philosophy such as the Indic Darshanas, Taoism, could they have been self-delusional fools to think that such achievements were possible?

So then, the question remains — were such studies ever made?

And the answer is an affirmative — indeed such studies were made.

Research on the Esoteric Unknown

The Menninger Foundation6,7,8 (Now known as the Menninger Clinic) was a pioneer in the field and in Biofeedback9 research and the pre-eminent scientist in this discipline Dr. Elmer Greene (and his wife Dr. Alyce Greene) led the 1965 NIH grant-based research project.

To quote from the Menninger Clinic (see reference) website —

Elmer Green, PhD, researched and applied biofeedback techniques he developed in his ongoing study of "subtle energies," a field in which he remains preeminent. Dr. Green, the father of autogenic biofeedback training, was the first person ever to receive a National Institutes of Health research grant, which was given for his autonomic research program (involuntary internal stimuli) at Menninger in the mid-1960s. The techniques he and his wife Alyce Green developed were used to train individuals how to achieve more control over their bodies in order to increase their physical and mental well-being.

Elmer Green, PhD, researched and applied biofeedback techniques he developed in his ongoing study of "subtle energies," a field in which he remains preeminent. Dr. Green, the father of autogenic biofeedback training, was the first person ever to receive a National Institutes of Health research grant, which was given for his autonomic research program (involuntary internal stimuli) at Menninger in the mid-1960s. The techniques he and his wife Alyce Green developed were used to train individuals how to achieve more control over their bodies in order to increase their physical and mental well-being.

In course of this study, they performed experiments on volunteer subjects such as Swami Rama6 and Uri Geller. The outcome of this research is documented in their book titled "Beyond Biofeedback7" (see also link to the Swami Rama foundation in the references section below).

Another gigantic research project was undertaken by the DIA and CIA (a 20-million dollar project spanning several decades — Code named Operation Stargate10,11,12,13,14). This was an offshoot of the work done by the Stanford Research Institute, co-founded by Dr. Russell Targ11 (a noted Physicist and inventor of the Laser).

To quote from the Wikipedia page on Dr. Targ —

Russell Targ is an American physicist and author who was a pioneer in the development of the laser. At the Stanford Research Institute in the 1970s and 1980s, Targ and his colleague Harold E. Puthoff investigated the reality of Uri Geller's psychic abilities. Targ and Puthoff both concluded Geller had genuine psychic abilities.

The Project on Remote viewing12 was canceled by the CIA in 1995 (after two decades of research), stating that the subjects/topics investigated were not useful to the CIA. That did not however negate the fact that Psychic abilities were statistically proven to be existent and some of that research has since been declassified.

To quote from UC Davis' Professor Jessica Utts'14 (she was part of the Stanford Research Institute13) paper titled — AN ASSESSMENT OF THE EVIDENCE FOR PSYCHIC FUNCTIONING —

Using the standards applied to any other area of science, it is concluded that psychic functioning has been well established. The statistical results of the studies examined are far beyond what is expected by chance. Arguments that these results could be due to methodological flaws in the experiments are soundly refuted. Effects of similar magnitude to those found in government-sponsored research at SRI and SAIC have been replicated at a number of laboratories across the world. Such consistency cannot be readily explained by claims of flaws or fraud.

The magnitude of psychic functioning exhibited appears to be in the range between what social scientists call a small and medium effect. That means that it is reliable enough to be replicated in properly conducted experiments, with sufficient trials to achieve the long-run statistical results needed for replicability.

A number of other patterns have been found, suggestive of how to conduct more productive experiments and applied psychic functioning. For instance, it doesn't appear that a sender is needed. Precognition, in which the answer is known to no one until a future time, appears to work quite well. Recent experiments suggest that if there is a psychic sense then it works much like our other five senses, by detecting change. Given that physicists are currently grappling with an understanding of time, it may be that a psychic sense exists that scans the future for major change, much as our eyes scan the environment for visual change or our ears allow us to respond to sudden changes in sound.

It is recommended that future experiments focus on understanding how this phenomenon works, and on how to make it as useful as possible. There is little benefit to continuing experiments designed to offer proof, since there is little more to be offered to anyone who does not accept the current collection of data.

Indeed, in the late 60's through the mid-90's, there was a boom in Psychic research. The intent of this article isn't to go into details about what kind of research was done — maybe we can visit that at another time (another article, same place). The main issue I wish to address with this article is the stubborn resistance to even "Considering" the viability of Psychic phenomena by majority of the scientific community.

Why? I think the reasons are manifold. Let me quickly summarize them —

Social conditioning — In today's Materialist culture, it seems almost sacrilegious to even consider non-Materialist subjects.
Materialism – Materialism can succinctly be defined in the following few bullet points —

  • everything that is of value in this world is material

  • everything that is real is material

  • If you can't see it, taste it, smell it, hear it or physically feel it, it doesn't exist (or measure it with an instrument capable of doing the aforementioned sensory activities).

  • what doesn't exist can't possibly be real

  • when something doesn't exist and isn't possibly real, why waste time trying to analyze it when we can make some more "material" development?

But the point is — NO! There is more to reality that meets the eye. A boxed-into-his-pet-theory Materialist might not be able to see that (since he has the blinkers of his conditioning on), but those who are a little more open-minded (almost all of us are Materialists, purely by virtue of the times we live in and the kind of upbringing we've had), can see that the "Mind" is not the effect of the "machine" (brain/human body); there are other phenomena (which can be brushed away as co-incidences or chance occurrences) which definitely seem to indicate that there is more to reality that what our sense-organs can fathom or even what the sensitivity of our modern measuring tools can capture. One reason for that (both the aforementioned cases) is the total desensitization that has happened from an outwardly-fixated psycho-physiological profile (of the modern man). As a result, his instruments too are incapable of seeing, understanding or sensing these phenomena.

The Scientist vs The Yogi

Let me give an example. If tomorrow, the Top Physicist in the world announced that he has solved the paradox of Time Travel18 and gives elaborate explanations of how due it can be done (by utilizing the ability to access a closed-loop worldline19) and then details a plan to "How to access that worldline", it will become a “ground-breaking” discovery!

But if a Yogi, who after deep meditation and Yogic practices, prescribed a replicable, documented process to see the Past or the Future; he would be branded a charlatan, without even the most precursory of glances.

Why? It's not just because of their respective qualifications (which also plays an important role in the process), but because of their approach. The Physicist's approach is external (and even though it might be impossible to achieve), it will be considered valid (at least until proven false), because the external approach is accepted as a valid approach.

The Yogi's approach on the other hand is an internal approach, "non-objective" (since internal approaches are "subjective" in nature), and not only does that defy the dogma of Scientific Inquiry, but also takes time and patience to develop.

The Battle between Subjectivity and Objectivity

The battle between Subjective and Objective is perhaps as old as the “modern” Scientific Method. In order to prevent “Personal bias” from coloring the results of experimental data (to be used to support or reject any specific scientific hypothesis), the Scientific Method calls for Objectivity. But when it comes to the field of Cognition (and Consciousness studies), how relevant can this distinct division remain?


Unlike other natural phenomena, Consciousness (the Mind) is something that can be only explored by the subject. Why? Because we don't have the “scientific” mechanisms to enter into another's mind (mind-reading isn't acknowledged or practiced by the Scientific Community). So then the paradox of employing the “Scientific Method” in studying Consciousness should be obvious to everyone in this light.

“How can we remain Objective when we are obviously the subject, the object and the Method – all at the same time?!?”

Does that mean that Consciousness studies should not be done at all? Is this a shortcoming of the Scientific Method or the prospective researcher? I happen to think the problem is with the Scientific Method — which is still dictated by medieval rules (remember Sir Isaac Newton's rules?)!

Perhaps we need to change the rules a bit? How about stepping out of the box for a change?

The Institute of Noetic Sciences16,17 does just that. They define their attempts to study Consciousness thus —

The institute explores consciousness from three perspectives:

(1) First-person perspective — Supporting individuals exploring and developing their own subjective consciousness (e.g., meditation and other spiritual practices). Emphasis on inner knowing and personal transformation.

  1. Second-person perspective — Exploring and supporting transformative relationships and inter-subjective consciousness (e.g., compassionate dialogue, community building, a global wisdom society). Emphasis on transformative learning and collective wisdom.

  2. Third-person perspective — Gathering data about objective physiological correlates of consciousness (e.g., research using rigorous scientific protocols, including experiments in psi, mind-body healing, and subtle energies). Emphasis on scientific understanding.

Now this seems like a better approach to deal with Consciousness. The Noetic Sciences Institute has three main research categories (I've provided the description of each of these fields from their website along with the categories listed below) —

  • Extended Capacities —
    This program area investigates states of consciousness suggesting the existence of human capacities that extend far beyond conventional assumptions of who and what we are.
  • Integral Health and Healing —
    This program area focuses on the integration of ancient healing practices, contemporary medical science, and emergent worldviews. We are transforming our understanding and our approaches to individual and social health, and the nature of the healing system within us all.
  • Emerging Worldviews —
    Never before in history have so many cultures, belief systems, and new scientific discoveries come into contact so quickly. The "postmodern" times ahead are indeed exciting and challenging. Our dominant ways of knowing about the world science and religion—are still often in competition, but neither can be exclusively correct.
    As old societal structures are stressed, exploring emerging paradigms and worldviews grows in importance. Can a blend of ancient and contemporary wisdom help to generate transformative models for how to live life in the 21st century? Or must we seek something entirely new?

Their website ( ) contains a list of their research programs on each of the aforementioned fields.

Interestingly enough, in course of their research and studies, they have developed some games to test/show how one fares in Psi Games —

Try it out in your spare time to see and test your psychic abilities.


Amidst the humdrum of the modern material evolution that we all are a part of (as consumers, patrons or researchers), it is very easy to forget the innate and wonderful potential that might exist in this “other” world (the world of the Yogi, the Taoist, the Mystic). While it is not necessary at all for one to be “troubled” by these views, it might be a good idea to stop, slow down and pay heed to that little voice in our head, that from time to time whispers profound truths in the most understated manner.

Too often, we are so busy trying to eke out a living in this fast and technological world of ours, that we don't listen to what this little voice (call it Intuition if you may) has to say. But I have found from bitter experience, that this voice speaks the truth. And it tells me that there is more to life and this universe than our Material Scientists certify as reality. By re-inculcating these unique perspectives in our lives, a minute at a time, until it builds up enough impetus to topple over the edifice of rationality that we have inherited from our “modern” ancestors, to level the playing field once again, between the Rational and intuitive.

It is time to give the sciences of Yoga, the Tao another look, from the place of popular awareness, at a grass-roots level. A unified approach to Science, that doesn't reject Spiritual and “a-loukik” (other-worldly) concepts, but walks hand in hand with them is essential as we (Humanity) look to evolve further, tempering the matter with spirit and strengthening the spirit with matter.


OTE: Americans seem to have taken to the Science of Yoga in large numbers, as I can see, based on the numbers quoted by magazines such as The Yoga Journal and other such publications. By some estimates, there are about 12 million “Yogis and Yoginis” in the US today, all practicing some variation of Hatha Yoga. However, the general tendency seems to be some variant of the existing physical culture (with the narcissistic focus on the self, the body and the physical) coated in new-agey Spiritual interpretations of convenience (I'm not saying that it is the case across the board, but my analysis from the approach in general, seems to lean in that direction).

It would be interesting to see what figures exist in the country of it's (Yoga) origin, India


23.The T'ai Chi Classics by Master Waysun Liao (Shambala Classics)


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