Sat Bir Singh Khalsa, Ph.D. is the Director of Yoga Research for the Yoga Alliance and the Kundalini Research Institute,
Research Affiliate at the Osher Center for Integrative Medicine, and an Associate Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School at Brigham and Women’s Hospital.
He has conducted research on yoga and yoga therapy since 2001 and has been a practitioner/instructor of Kundalini Yoga since 1973. His research has evaluated yoga for insomnia, chronic stress, and anxiety-related disorders, and in workplace and public school settings. He works with the International Association of Yoga Therapists promoting yoga research as scientific director for the annual Symposium on Yoga Research and as editor-in-chief of the International Journal of Yoga Therapy. He is medical editor of the Harvard Medical School Special Report Introduction to Yoga, and chief editor of the medical textbook The Principles and Practice of Yoga in Health Care.
We talked about:
(0:59) What trends happened in yoga in the last 50 years?
(4:21) The barriers for yoga to enter the mainstream
(6:38) Why do people enter yoga and why do people stay with yoga?
(9:38) Why people don't stay with their yoga practice?
(11:59) How did you stick with your discipline in the last 50 years?
(14:23) The limitations of modern medicine
(18:56) What's spirituality to you? How do you distinguish science and spirituality?
(25:11) How do you study mystical experiences?
(29:46) Have you seen any promising funding mechanisms to fund the spiritual aspects of yoa?
(33:33) How has being media savvy helped you with your research?
(40:49) How did you end up choosing your field of research?
(45:12) If you could design any experiments, how would you study altered states of consciousness through yoga?
(50:23) Is there a parallel between research about hallucinogens and research about yoga?
(52:29) Why is a multi-discipline practice like yoga more beneficial than other single-discipline practices
(58:57) How do you find the yoga teacher, environment, and philosophy that best suits you?
(62:57) Why yoga is the better mind-body practice than others?
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[00:00:00] CK: My next guest is an associate professor of medicine at the Harvard medical school.
He is also a yoga prac practitioner for the last 50 years. He's a yoga researcher since 2001. He's the director of yoga research for the yoga Alliance and the kundalini research Institute. His current studies include clinical trials of yoga for PTSD and chronic stress and burnout. Please welcome professor sat bir khasla
[00:00:30] Sat Bir: thank you. It's a pleasure to be here.
[00:00:32] CK: Thank you so much for being here. I so appreciate the breathing practice that we did before we start, uh, rolling the camera. Uh, so one thing I did notice is you said that you've been a yoga practitioner for the last 50 years, and that in itself is a accomplishment.
What have you observed for, for the, the, the, uh, coming and going of the yoga [00:01:00] trends in the last 50 years? Well,
[00:01:03] Sat Bir: it's been interesting to see that the change over time. Uh, one of the remarkable things is just the shift in the popularity of specific traditions and the actual, uh, leadership of spiritual masters, which has shifted and changed over time.
Um, many of the spiritual masters, the yoga masters that were around in the late sixties and early seventies have now, uh, pretty much passed away. And so now we have a whole new, um, You know, uh, group of leaders, uh, many of them are in India, uh, and it's, it's been interesting to watch that shift. It's been interesting to watch the shift in, in, in the types of yoga that's been practiced and the popularity of, and the popularity of yoga has been really one of the most remarkable things, cause that has been growing exponentially, um, over the past couple of decades.
And, and that's really remarkable to see. We just, uh, [00:02:00] saw a survey that was published outta the university of Michigan of, uh, the elderly talking about, have you ever practiced yoga? And that represented 24% of, of the elderly population, which is really, uh, staggering, a number mm,
[00:02:17] CK: 24%. I mean, my perspective is yoga has definitely gone mainstream.
I think, uh, in some of your, uh, uh, research presentations that you've given you've you've cited time magazine covers and sort of the regular perception in media. Uh, I think at the time it was desperate Housewives. What are you most excited about these days about the, the, you know, what's, what's, what's been what what's popular in the yoga world.
[00:02:49] Sat Bir: Well, I'm, I'm starting to see the implementation, uh, of yoga into mainstream society in a way that it never was before. I mean, we, you know, this, this increase in the [00:03:00] popularity is happening at the grassroots level in the general population. Um, so we have federal surveys that have shown, um, the most recent one in 2017 that, that, you know, uh, 15% of the population had practiced yoga within the past year.
So we're waiting on the 20, 22 survey results, but, um, that increase in popularity. It has been at the grassroots level, but what we're starting to see now is sort of the transformation of yoga from that grassroots level into mainstream society. And when. Refer to mainstream society. I'm talking about mainstream societies, institutions, the public schools, the workplace, uh, and the healthcare system.
And we're starting to see that implementation happen. Um, and, uh, that goes along with research, that's showing that that yoga has benefit for those, uh, particular populations and, um, um, medical conditions.
[00:03:58] CK: Oh, that's interesting. So [00:04:00] for you, mainstream is workplace schools that that's as simple as the real
[00:04:07] Sat Bir: world.
Yeah. When you walk outside, I mean, that's, you know, what you see and where you go, it's in, it's in the gyms, it's in your schools, it's at your workplace. It's mainstream. It's it's right there on the street, on, on the street corner. Mm.
[00:04:21] CK: What do you think is the barrier of more adaptation of going mainstream?
[00:04:30] Sat Bir: I think, I think one of the problems is the perception of what yoga is. Uh, and that's been colored and, um, tainted in, in sort of a negative way with respect to what the media shows, uh, because most people will, you know, associate. Anything with what they've seen in the media, whether it's a newspaper article or magazine cover, or a news story on, on television.
And, you know, [00:05:00] the media wants to portray something that's going to draw viewers mm-hmm and, you know, just someone sitting there with their eyes closed, just some guy with ordinary clothes, just sitting closed eyes. Doesn't look very photogenic. So what we see when, when yoga's talked about is one of the impossible yoga postures, mm-hmm, , uh, that's a very acrobatic, uh, that very few people can perform.
And then of course, it's a woman, a very SELT woman with, you know, marginal clothing on and that's what draws readers. And so that's what the media puts out and, and, you know, the yoga magazines are no, except. um, to that. And so that is what the general public has seen with respect to yoga. And so they say, oh, that's what yoga is.
It's something that, you know, rich middle aged women in leotards practice. Mm. And, um, that is problematic because we know that yoga can be practiced by, uh, [00:06:00] literally any population mm-hmm . Uh, and so that's a big barrier, um, uh, that we see into that transformation into the mainstream. Um, because you know, the elderly will say, well, I can't practice yoga.
I'm not thin, uh, and 18 year old adolescent boy will say, I don't, I don't wanna practice yoga that's for girls. Uh, so we have this, um, you know, mistaken perception of what yoga is and can be.
[00:06:26] CK: Mm, well, I mean, you also had cited. some surveys that you have conducted or you have review, um, why people get into yoga in the first place and also, uh, why do people stay.
In yoga practices for, let's say 50 years. Can you tell us a little bit about that?
[00:06:49] Sat Bir: Yeah. The, these are surveys that have been done by my colleagues and, and they have asked questions. Like, what were your original reasons for, for, we did one survey actually in, in Austin, Texas, [00:07:00] and mm-hmm , um, You know, the major reasons why people were signing up to practice yoga were for physical reasons, for physical health, for physical appearance, um, to some degree for, you know, fixing some kind of, you know, physical problem, like a backache or a neck ache or something like that.
Um, next to that is, is, you know, things like stress. Um, and so on mm-hmm and then more recent surveys have been done asking the question is okay for the long term practitioners who have been practicing for quite a while, what are their current reasons for practicing yoga? Those were the reasons they started, but why are they continuing to practice yoga?
And that becomes very interesting because the Domin one of the dominant, um, reasons becomes spirituality. Mm-hmm it becomes stress. So the, um, you know, the physical reasons are still [00:08:00] there. But to a much less degree. And what has really taken over has been mental health and spirituality. Hmm. Um, and so the classic example is someone who says, you know, I have, I've got knee problems.
And my neighbor said, you know, I take yoga and, and help my knee. So I went to a yoga class to fix my knee. Mm-hmm . So indeed, you know, eight weeks later, the knee is better, but Hey, during that eight weeks I experienced some other stuff. Mm-hmm, you know, I got calmer. I, I felt less stressed. Uh, you know, my mood improved, I was less anxious.
I was less depressed and geez, and some of those classes I sent, uh, uh, you know, I experienced this deep sense of peace and inner calm, and boy that's really valuable to me. Um, and so that's why I'm continuing to practice. So that's, that's the kind of shift that we see and, and, you know, it goes from this misperception of yoga as being, just doing this physical stuff, to what, all of [00:09:00] what yoga can do, which encompasses all kinds of human functioning.
[00:09:05] CK: Do you feel cuz you've been doing it for 50 years and I'm gonna keep going back to that. Cuz to me that's really impressive. So and then, and then I'll make it personal because I have been the guy that you talked about and wanted to fix my knee and I experienced deep sense of peace and calm and yet I don't continue to practice.
So, so as someone who is, you know, an active practitioner for 50 plus years, who is also a teacher, if I understand you correctly, um, what would you say to someone like me, right? Who, who have experienced the deeper benefits of practicing yoga, but who couldn't or haven't rather who haven't stay with this beautiful practice.
Let's go yoga. What would you say to someone.
[00:09:54] Sat Bir: Well, I mean, I think that's, that's a personal trajectory. That's a personal life course. [00:10:00] That's a personal, um, life change. Um, I think the positive is that that you've had an experience which changed your sense of goals in life. Mm-hmm, this, this changed your life purpose and meaning, and you may not have continued with yoga, but, um, you know, you're doing this podcast, which is not, it's not about materialistic game mm-hmm
Um, and so it, it, it, it is life changing and whether people continue by meditating or they continue by, um, you know, changing behavior in more non materialistic ways, that's a permanent change mm-hmm and some people will continue with yoga and some people may switch to Chiang or Tai Chi or martial arts or meditation alone.
Mindfulness is very popular. Um, so, so the important thing is that. That sort of initial experience that, that, you know, where people, uh, get to touch that deeper state of consciousness, um, that non, [00:11:00] everyday state of consciousness that that's so difficult to describe that unitive state, but you get a taste of that and that is life changing.
So, so it does, does change your life trajectory, even though you may not continue, uh, to practice well,
[00:11:14] CK: I'm gonna push you a little bit on that sat bir because I would say yes, I have experienced that deeper sense of calm the unit of state. Right. Um, I can't remember exactly what's called plural, right? That, that sense of, you know, being in one and almost in the, in the Soma enlightenment state, mm-hmm , um, through many different modalities, but I will say.
The challenge is in experiencing that state. It's the effort, it's the work, it's the time that it takes to get there. So for you, someone who has been doing this for 50 years, uh, I am projecting now, inevitably there's a sense of like boredom or like, uh, monotony. Um, as, as humans, we experienced that. How did you, [00:12:00] how were you able to overcome that inner resistance of like, oh man, I'm gonna sit on that cushion again or doing these sub practices.
Does that make sense?
[00:12:11] Sat Bir: Yeah. And different people have different levels of engagement. Let me say that with, with their yoga tradition, their lo their, you know, their yoga lineage, their yoga practice, and I'm no different. And, and some people, uh, require some kind of structure, some kind of pressure to keep them practicing.
Whereas other people. They're not, they're not ready to go for the day unless they've got their practice in and they really love to do their practice. So it's a continuum from one extreme to the other. I actually sit on the non-practice side of extreme. Cause if, if I'm not under any pressure or any commitment, I will probably not practice as much.
And so I have to put [00:13:00] that structure into my week, uh, to make sure that I get those practices in. And when I do that, I do experience the benefits of it, but I'm just too lazy or not motivated in that way. Mm-hmm to, to just have myself motivation. Make that practice happen, whereas other people are, um, but either way, the more you practice, the more you benefit that's, that's the truth.
That's the reality. And we see that in research studies as well. Those people that practice get the benefit. You don't practice, you don't get the benefit. That's the fatal flaw in mind, body medicine, you actually have to do something. Um, you don't,
[00:13:39] CK: I would say, yeah, I would say it's not a fatal flaw because you can look at it as a flaw, but I could also look at it as a benefit.
I'd say it's, it's a, a hell yes. Benefit for it. Well,
[00:13:48] Sat Bir: of course it's a, it's a huge benefit because you can, you can do things to change your internal state, both psychological and physical without having to resort to surgery and pharmaceuticals and, and [00:14:00] other technical medical procedures, which most of which don't address the underlying.
But these practices do address the underlying issues. Mm-hmm um, and so they're extremely valuable and, and, and when people can, uh, comply with the practice and, and, and be regular, they'll get the benefit. But, uh, you know, one of the problems in modern society is that we've been lulled into modern medicines, um, set up in which the doctor is the one that dictates, you know, what we do.
And, and the, so the responsibility for our own health and our daily. Um, wellbeing is in the hands that we've given that over to the doctor, as opposed to taking it on ourselves. So these days you get headache, you go to the doctor and say, I want a pill for this. And, and I expect you to gimme the pill and I want instant gratification.
I wanna be good tomorrow. I don't wanna to do anything. Uh, you know, I don't wanna have the time. And, and so just gimme the pill. I wanna take care of it. And you're responsible if you don't gimme a good pill, I'm gonna complain. [00:15:00] Yeah. And, and that kind of an attitude is, is, is problematic, uh, as opposed to taking responsibility for your own health on a day to day basis.
[00:15:08] CK: So you're an expert in the, my body medicine, um, space. So I'll definitely talk more about that, but I want to come back to, um, modifying, hacking one own behavior a little bit more, if you don't mind. Cause you had talking about, especially because you are a practitioner 50 years, you're also an instructor, right?
So I'm sure you've seen students who. Uh, want to do this, about who couldn't stay with it. Yeah. So you said that you apply pressure to yourself. How did you do that? What kind of pressure? Like, are you taking class? Are you putting your own calendar? Do you, you know, put an alarm on your phone? Like, what exactly did you do?
[00:15:51] Sat Bir: you know, I lived you practice unfortunately, is in a community yoga practitioners who are within the same lineage. And, you know, [00:16:00] we have a daily practice that's been set out in our lineage of practice. And so. Set myself up to lead that practice in the morning for a certain number of days per the week.
And so that's my sort of structure I've committed to that. And so when you know, three 30 in the morning comes up, my alarm is set I'm up and I'm leading the practice at 4:00 AM. Um, three days a week. And so that is my structure. Um, but for people who are not part of a spiritual community, there's yoga classes, you set up a yoga class schedule, um, where, you know, it's Tuesday and Thursday nights as your yoga nights.
And you go, uh, and you have an interaction with the other people that are there at that class. So it becomes an event. It becomes something that's part of your schedule. Mm-hmm . Um, and, uh, you Revere that because it's important to you. So you, you, that, that structure helps you. Uh, and it's the group, uh, sense that also helps you [00:17:00] because then people say, Hey, you missed last week.
Were you? Where were you? So there's this sense of community and this sense of belonging to a group of people that's practicing and group practice is very important, uh, in yoga.
[00:17:11] CK: Mm. I love that I'm actually looking for a teacher slash community. So maybe you can help me find someone. Or some, some, some groups, uh, near Southern California area.
[00:17:26] Sat Bir: Well, you know, everything these days is on the internet. So you just search, uh, you search Quinlin, yoga, or agar yoga, you type in your city and boom, there you go. You get 20 hits and you start going through them. And, uh, you find that there's a, you know, yoga center will block away from you. That's got a class exactly where you want it.
So it's, it's, it's, it's really much easier than it used to be in the, in the seventies and 80.
[00:17:49] CK: Mm. Right. Right. So, uh, 20, 22 people complaining about, they couldn't find communities for someone who has been doing this since the, the seventies. [00:18:00] Um, you know, let's just be quiet about that.
[00:18:03] Sat Bir: yeah. You know, the seventies you'd find out about something by walking on the street and seeing a poster up yoga classes are here at this yoga center or on the campus yoga classes at the campus center, you know, and, and that's the way you'd find out about it.
Or, you know, someone who might have put an ad in the university newspaper and, or a classified ad in the local paper of yoga classes, that's the way you'd find out. Yeah.
[00:18:27] CK: How important it is. Cuz you had mentioned it earlier. How did the, the, the spirituality component now you are at a you're you are a really interesting person to talk to because you are not only.
Professional researcher where it's all about data, but you're also a, you know, practitioner of these type of spiritual practices. So if you don't mind delineating and unpacking, what is the separation between spirituality? Well, number one, what is spirituality to you? How do you define it? And also number [00:19:00] two, how do you distinguish, um, the rigor of science as well as spirituality?
[00:19:06] Sat Bir: So spirituality is, it's a little difficult to define, but mm-hmm , I would say the number one characteristic of spirituality is it's it's an experience mm-hmm okay. Uh, and that distinguishes it from something that it's often confused with, which is religiosity and, and, you know, belonging to a religion because religions are based upon essentially dogma belief where a spirituality is an experience.
So it's an experience and, and the best way to describe that sort of experience, uh, is to use adjectives that, that, that somehow, um, sort of, you know, bring you to that, that, that experience. So the, the, the most powerful world is, is, uh, word is unity. There's a sense of. Experiencing a universe as a oneness.
Uh, and that is probably [00:20:00] the most fundamental description of, of it. There's a sense of oneness. There's a sense of feeling the universe as one, feeling at one with everything. Um, and then other associations with that are, you know, terms that I've used, uh, in this presentation of peace, uh, calmness. Um, and that is, is also associated with a number of other positive psychological states with kindness, with compassion.
Um, and there's a sense of ease. There's a sense of calm. There's a sense of joy. There's a sense of gratitude. Um, these are all positive, psychological, uh, emotions and states that go along with that experience. But the, the core of the experience is that deep penetrating, um, sense of experiencing all of the universe as a one.
Uh, and that's, that is the core of that experience. Now, people may not experience the full depth of that. It's been called in philosophy. It's called the mystical experience. Mm-hmm and there's a whole field of philosophy called mysticism [00:21:00] that really talks about that state of consciousness. Uh, you may not experience that full blown, mystical state of transcendence.
Um, but you'll get close to it and have some of those related experiences like the calm and the peace. So that's, that's kind of what I would describe as the core of spirituality now in terms of being a scientist. I mean, um, that's a personal choice. That's a personal career choice. I've always been interested, you know, even as a child in science.
And, uh, so, you know, I, that's what I studied in university. And then when I got turned onto yoga, I shifted my interest in science, towards yoga saying, geez, you know, this is a great experience. It deserves to be researched. And so, um, that's when I set a goal of, of wanting to do research on yoga now, unfortunately, a lot of the research that, that you're capable of doing has to be funded mm-hmm
And so, [00:22:00] uh, you can only do what you can get funded really. Mm. Um, if you're really a, a conventional scientist running a laboratory, so that's what I had to do. And so I ended up running what is more easily funded, which is clinical trials of yoga for things like mental health states, like anxiety, like insomnia, like, like, uh, uh, post-traumatic stress disorder.
Um, and. Then, you know, you can hope to be on, you know, working a little bit on the side of, of, you know, working on the spirituality component. I mean, there is, there is research on spirituality with yoga, but, uh, it's a very small area, uh, within the field of yoga research. But, um, so for me, when I was able to finally get funded to do this work, um, it was really the amalgamation of both my personal life and my professional life, uh, as being all centered on yo mm-hmm.
[00:22:56] CK: Mm mm-hmm. Well, I mean, in my [00:23:00] spirituality is this experience that you had talked about and science, you know, uh, I'm a PhD scientist as well. So, uh, it's it's about quantifying, measuring, reducing, you know, things based on, you know, specific measurements.
And, and at the surface it looks paradoxical. How, like, how do you measure something that's holistic, that's, you know, that's, that's spiritual in nature. Right. But yeah, the, the nature of science is to quantify things, to reduce things. So we can actually just see some kind of a trend line. So in my mind is fascinating that you're a yoga researcher.
Right. So how do you, um, quantify certain, you know, this, this mystical experience that is so hard to quantify, if you don't mind sort of sharing the framework of. How you do that, that would be really, um, educational.
[00:23:54] Sat Bir: So, you know, much of the work that I've done, um, the interventions that we've done are not [00:24:00] long enough and intense enough to really generate these sort of deeper changes.
They may, in a few participants have those changes, but for the most part, you're working on treating insomnia, improving their insomnia mm-hmm and you know, science is interesting because you get to learn about the mechanisms. How much is the, how much is breath regulation, changing our, um, stress systems, um, to reduce the overall stress response, to allow, uh, sleep, to happen more deeply.
I mean, those are the kinds of scientific questions that we're asking, and we can measure that through the EEG. We can measure through that through blood samples. Um, we can measure that in many different ways and quantify it and determine how much the physical postures are making that effect or how much the meditation is, is contributing to that.
And so there's a lot to learn about that aspect of. But if you want to study the spiritual aspects of yoga, um, that is now requiring a different set of tools. Mm-hmm and [00:25:00] you know, I've heard many people say, well, you can't possibly study spirituality. It's impossible to study yoga, uh, science can't study yoga.
And, and I disagree with that. Um, as long as you can describe an experience, you can study it. Um, and of course, in the field of mental health, you know, most everything that's that's measured is actually by self report. Mm-hmm , I mean, there are no blood sample measures that you can save quantifies, whether someone has depression or not, or whether one, some has an anxiety disorder.
These do, these are done by questionnaires and by interviews, by people describing their experiences. So that is the whole field of psychiatry and psychology is based upon that kind of risk. Self-reporting mm-hmm now studying spirituality is the same kind of thing. To what degree did you have that unitive state?
To what degree did you have an experience of calmness on a scale of one to 10? And [00:26:00] you can make up a questionnaire, uh, an instrument. That will measure someone's spiritual experience. There's a mysticism scale. There are transcendence scales that have already been validated by a number of researchers.
And so you can apply these questionnaires as instruments to measure those changes. And it is possible to do that. Now there is, there are some other areas that in, in modern science are really starting to be, um, applicable as well. So neuro imaging is really one area that has a, a huge potential in this, in this realm, we're able to study people meditating in the scanner, in the brain scanner, and we can see which areas of the brain are being activated during the meditation process.
So we can see the more mundane changes that occur. So for example, the focus of attention and meditation, we see the attention networks of the brain being activated and they're inhibiting, um, the emotional brain or the limbic system. And so we see those mundane things, but we can also see when people [00:27:00] report, you know, that they have a deeper experience in the scanner.
We can see which areas of the brain or which networks in the brain are being activated. So we can start to understand the neurophysiology of these experiences in a related area of research. We know that hallucinogens, a number of hallucinogens will generate these mystical states mm-hmm . And this happens in about 40% of people, um, that, that, that take hallucinogens in, in the experiments that have been conducted and these people experience these mystical states.
And so now we've got, you know, that research and, and that research can also look in terms of which regions of the brain are being stimulated by these, uh, particular hallucinogenic agents that, that happen to trigger these same regions of the brain that are triggered when we do these meditative contemplative practices.
[00:27:54] CK: Is, so that was gonna be my next question. So for you, you had [00:28:00] alluded to earlier you research where you can get funded for, right. So, so assuming you get funding for whatever it is that you wanted to research upon, what are the area of research that you really wanted to research?
[00:28:15] Sat Bir: Well, you know, the reason I wanted to do research in the first place was to study these altered states of consciousness.
Hmm. But, you know, there's no one who is going to fund that in, in, in the eighties, uh, or the nineties. Uh, it just, it just was not gonna happen. I mean, in fact, even mundane yoga research was not gonna get funded. I was fortunate enough to that. My first grant was a, you know, a funding from the national institutes of health mm-hmm , uh, to study the effects of yoga for chronic insomnia.
Um, and I think that if you had applied a grant to try and study spiritual states at that point in time, You would not have been able to get a grant. I mean, and, and probably still, you would not be able to get a grant. It would be very challenging to get a [00:29:00] grant on that topic because most of the grants are really funded for practical reasons.
I mean, you know, substantial fraction of the population is suffering from mental health problems. And of course, a lot of the funding is geared towards, uh, practical applications. Um, now I would consider spirituality to be a very important, um, but you know, you'd have to convince the reviewers of those grants who are other conventional scientists that this is worthy of study.
Um, so despite the fact that we have organizations like the world health organization, who says that spirituality is an important thing, uh, to humans in, in life, um, trying to convince a study section who are composed of the reviewers for these grants is going to be at this point in time, still somewhat difficult.
[00:29:46] CK: Do you see that changing anytime soon, especially now we have new mechanisms where, um, crowdfunding or, you know, crypto mechanisms were allowed crowds to support a [00:30:00] thing. You do you see? I have that happening anytime soon. Yeah,
[00:30:03] Sat Bir: I have not seen. And, and I have not heard of any colleagues who have been funded that way.
Um, the problem is that, that it it's, it's like an all or nothing situation here. Mm-hmm um, when we get a grant from the national institutes of health, it pays for, um, our salary. It pays for the salary of our staff, including the postdoctoral fellow, the graduate student, the research assistant, um, It pays for the laboratory space.
It pays for the costs of the study in terms of the assays and all the other costs that are involved. So when we're talking about funding, uh, for a study, a pilot study from the national institutes of health is like, you know, $450,000 in direct costs. Mm-hmm and then your institution gets, you know, a substantial fraction of that.
So it ends up being just under a million dollars, just for a pilot study for three years. Mm-hmm . And if you're talking about a full five [00:31:00] year study, Uh, at the NIH level, you're talking about one, you know, one and a half million. Now you're not gonna get that from crowd funding. And you're unlikely to get that from a wealthy donor.
Um, and so when you talk about funding from some sort of donors and lower level, uh, funding, like from the state level and so on, you're talking about tens of thousands of dollars and that is marginal support mm-hmm and, and, and really not sufficient to really allow you to get deep into a study. So this is the problem, it's it.
Research is extremely expensive and the reason it's extremely expensive is you're paying people's salaries. Mm-hmm and it's not just the salaries it's benefits as well. Fringe benefits it's salary. Plus the fringe benefits. This is a huge cost and it's 90% of the cost of, of, of research study. Mm-hmm mm-hmm mm-hmm
[00:31:52] CK: uh, Yeah, thanks for, for getting into the, the, the details.
Uh, as a former researcher, I, I feel your pain. [00:32:00] I understand, I used to write, uh, funding proposals to NIH, to NSF, and, uh, I, I, I, I get the, the grapple, the, the struggle. So
[00:32:11] Sat Bir: thank you. Yeah. And that's a struggle, as you know, I mean, these days, it's you write 10 grant applications and you expect to get one out of that.
Mm-hmm . And so that's an enormous amount of effort on an ongoing basis for work that leads to nothing. Uh, I mean, you can then revise those applications and use what you've done before, but, you know, all of that work goes for nothing because the grant is not accepted. So it it's a challenge to keep yourself funded, um, as a researcher.
And that certainly goes for conventional science. And I would argue that it's probably a little bit more taxing for those of us who are in quote, unquote, more fringe areas like yoga. Mm,
[00:32:53] CK: well, actually, let me ask you this question because, uh, just in terms of [00:33:00] researchers and media, savviness, you might, uh, my, I would consider to be quite media savvy, as in, as in your, you're talking to the communities you are doing podcast interviews like this reaching out, you're not just staying in a ivory tower.
Right. And speaking to researchers only. Right? So, so as someone who is active in the community, who also has, uh, new other jobs, like the being the director of these research centers outside of the academic institutes, how has being media savvy, uh, helped, uh, you with your, uh, research endeavors?
[00:33:45] Sat Bir: Well, I, I can't say that it has really helped that much.
Um, it it's helped in marginal ways perhaps, but when it comes down to the bottom line as to whether you, did you [00:34:00] get that million dollar grant or did you not get that million dollar grant and will you be funded for five years or will you not be funded and be out of a job? Mm-hmm um, that reputation, that media savvy, that being out in the public really doesn't doesn't play into that.
It's your grant application. It's what you've done. It's what the ideas you're presenting, what the proposal is and the, and the details of that proposal. And can you convince the, the reviewers in that, um, study section in that collection of reviewers to fund the grant? And so that doesn't play into that, but there are indirect effects and, and those indirect effects are to promote, um, you know, for those of us who are yoga researchers, we believe in, in, in yoga, we believe it has a lot of value.
And so we're dedicated to promoting yoga in general. Uh, we're dedicated to promoting the use of yoga in, you know, our modern, um, [00:35:00] institutions into healthcare, for example, uh, because we, we think there's a, a very significant value to it. It, it yoga's providing something that modern medicine does not have and probably will never have.
Um, based upon the way it's, it's it's set up right now. So, um, you know, our. Our, our presence in the media and in the public. And when we give talks and so on, it it's really a service. Um, it does help with the reputation you get invited, you, people see you, then, you know, you get invited to present somewhere else.
Um, so there are indirect things that happen. So for example, you'll get invited because you publish the paper, you'll get invited to talk at some institution in some department, and then you'll strike up a conversation with someone who has an interest in what you're doing. And suddenly there's a collaboration that develops out of that because you had the opportunity to, uh, show your work, [00:36:00] uh, and share that and then talk about it.
You to end up developing a collaboration, which could lead to a grant application, which could lead to funding. So there are secondary outcomes that, that, that occur from being out in the public, um, that, that are, that are important, that that can contribute in an indirect way to the bottom line, which is, is, is getting your grant and running your study.
[00:36:24] CK: you, our public service. Thank you so much again for being on the warrior. um, so let's see, where can we go from here? Mm. I had a question and I lost it and, um, gimme a moment.
Um, okay, so, so you have been doing this for a long time. Oh, actually I have a, I have a question for you, so. [00:37:00] There are wearables that helps us track these type of, you know, data inherently. It may not necessarily be as good for research purposes. Um, but are you paying attention to wearables helping you also track, uh, certain data while doing the postures, the asanas and meditation beyond the newer imaging that you talked about beyond molecular, uh, your transmitter collection, blood sample collection.
Is there anything that you're excited about that you're paying attention to?
[00:37:34] Sat Bir: Well, I think one of the things that's happened with the pandemic is, is the, the use virtual, um, Interventions, um, because of the pandemic. I mean, there were studies that, that, you know, suddenly were discontinued because you couldn't bring people into the laboratory.
Um, and so the whole idea of virtual interventions and virtual data collection, virtual data collection has been going on for a little while now [00:38:00] because of, you know, people can complete their questionnaires and their self-report measures online. And then you. Download that data and that's, that's the same.
And, and probably even better than having them come into a laboratory, sit down with a pencil and paper and spend an hour filling out the questionnaires in your lab. Um, so, so that whole, that whole aspect has, has improved that whole digital aspect of it has improved in terms of the wearables. I mean, depending upon the field of research that you're involved in, um, you know, we've always had wearables, I mean, except that those wearables were, were, were under laboratory conditions.
So for example, if you're measuring heart rate variability, you bring someone in, you put on formal EKG, um, sensors, and you measure very precisely the, the EKG, uh, and that gives you, uh, you have very sophisticated software that does analysis on that. So now there's wearables that claim that, you know, they can do heart rate [00:39:00] variability analysis.
Well, yes and no. Um, it's. It's much more variable it's, um, not as precise and you lose a lot of precision whenever you lose precision, um, that deteriorates your data mm-hmm . And so now you have to rely upon getting more data to try and overcome that lack of precision. So the wearables are good up to a certain point, and they're, they're only relevant depending upon what field you're interested in.
So if you're interested in studying depression, anxiety, and trauma, you know, they don't, they don't, there's nothing there. I mean, heart, rate's not gonna change that much. Heart rate. Variability may have some changes because you can, you can derive from that and measure of the stress response system. But it really, it depends upon what you're studying.
So wearable. For example for blood pressure for hypertension. Yeah, absolutely. Um, that is something that you can now, uh, [00:40:00] have a wearable thing and, and, you know, an automatic blood pressure cuff can then do 10 blood pressure measurements over the course of the day. And you can follow a, a subject in a study, um, with that, but it it's only relevant to, uh, certain particular conditions or populations.
[00:40:19] CK: Yeah. I remember what was the question I wanted to ask? Thank you so much for your patience. Um, so you had mentioned that yoga research is fringe based on your perspective, how did you choose yoga research as your path? You know, even though knowing that is a fringe, uh, area of research, even though it it's, it's hard to.
Research funding in that area. Right. How did you come to that conclusion? How did you choose that darn path
[00:40:50] Sat Bir: effectively? Well, you know, when I, when I came to this decision of wanting to do research on yoga, I was in my early twenties. And when you're in your, when you're in your early twenties, you're [00:41:00] indestructible.
I mean, , uh, you know, I, I recall meeting with the chair of the department of physiology, where I was at in terms of finding a graduate mentor and. You know, my ultimate goal was to study yoga, but in, in, in the short term, I had to get a PhD in some conventional field of science. And so that's what I was looking for in terms of a neurophysiology laboratory to that I could study in, happened to be with the chair of the department.
And I said, you know, I'm interested in, you know, working on neurophysiology, understand you're working in this particular field and so on. And, um, just wanted to talk to you about what you, what goes on your lab and you's for graduate students. And so, and so during the course of that interview, he asked me, he said, so what is your ultimate goal?
And I kinda it. And I said, you know, well, I'm interested in studying these altered in yoga practice. And he said, very bluntly. Um, well basically, if that's [00:42:00] your goal, I, I advise you not to go into science and research at all period. Now, again, as I said, I was in my early twenties, that was like water off a duck.
I mean, it just, you know, I, I. I didn't care. I was, I was gonna go forward and I found another mentor. I didn't talk much about my yoga, uh, interest, but it was there. Um, and, and I was not able to do research on yoga until there was actual funding from the national institutes of health targeted at integrative medicine.
And that didn't happen until the formation of the national center for complimentary and alternative medicine, which is now called the national center for complimentary and integrative health way back in the year 2000. Um, and so I set the goal of wanting to do research in 1975. I didn't start doing research on yoga until 2001 mm-hmm that's 25 years , uh, without being able to do [00:43:00] what my primary passion was.
Mm-hmm I mean, of course I enjoyed doing the research that I was doing for that 25 years. Uh, I was learning skills. I was enjoying the science, but it wasn't my primary, uh, Mm. So that is, is an example of, of, you know, what was available at that time. And, and it, it just was not fundable. It was just not available, but, but since 2000 in the us, it has been, be, become more fundable.
Uh, and so it's much different than it was. So how
[00:43:30] CK: did you keep going, knowing that you just trusted that eventually there would be research centers open up to help you, you know, do this type of research
[00:43:40] Sat Bir: that you're also, well, I had no guarantee that I would ever be able to do research on yoga. There were no guarantees that I could ever do that work.
I mean, I was happy being a scientist. um, you know, having a career and, and studying things that were of interest, it was a good job. I mean, academia, it, it brings you into the forefront of modern knowledge. And, and [00:44:00] so it's, you know, being an academic is a, is, is a very rewarding experience because you're on the cutting edge of human knowledge and it's exciting.
And, and so it is a good field. There are negatives to it. The grant writing is the one we talked about. Yeah. Um, publish or parish. Um, and, and that goes along with, you know, with the grants. So, so there are challenges in that career, but there's enormous amount of freedom. Uh, in that career as well. So, I mean, it was not a, it's not a bad career.
I enjoyed my science that I was studying. Um, and, and I was involved in it and it, it's just a question of whether I was able, ever to, to, to engage in, uh, my primary passion, which fortunately I was able to these days, uh, it's very different from young people who are in their early twenties and say, I wanna do research on yoga.
There are mentors out there who they could study under, and there is funding out there that is targeted in this area. So it it's now feasible a much more feasible to do it [00:45:00] now than it was, uh, when I was coming up.
[00:45:04] CK: So ultimately you had said that you want to study the alter states of consciousness doing yoga practice.
Yeah. So let's just dream right now. How would you design such an experiment such that you can measure alter states of consciousness
[00:45:17] Sat Bir: in your well, it's interesting that you say that because I'm sort of semi-retired right now and I'm no longer running studies out of my laboratory and no longer writing grants.
Um, So, so now I'm still involved in, in research, but only as sort of a co-investigator mm. As a consultant and I'm still lecturing and I'm still, you know, we run the annual symposium on yoga research. I'm still the editor in chief of the international journal of yoga therapy. So I'm still very actively involved, uh, in research in many ways.
I give a lot of, I do a lot of lecturing still traveling to conferences. Um, and so I'm still very much involved in research, but in terms of, you know, that spirituality, we are actually [00:46:00] considering, um, doing some survey studies that address this whole idea of spirituality and spiritual experiences that yoga practitioners.
Hm. Um, and so I'd like to quantify those changes and, and, and, you know, start doing some research specifically in that area. Mm-hmm, , you know, there are simple questions to ask how much yoga does it take before you have to have these experiences? How regularly do you have to practice? How long do you have to practice?
How many months, uh, what's the percentage of people that experience this? Are there certain personality types that are more likely to experience these states of consciousness than others? Um, is it dependent upon race? Is it dependent upon culture? Is it dependent upon your, you know, uh, your family? Is it dependent upon your education?
What are the factors that determine whether you have these transcendent experiences? So there's a lot of questions that, that, that can be asked, uh, in this particular area. And so I'm, I'm, I'm sort of looking towards designing and perhaps [00:47:00] conducting some humble studies in that direction.
[00:47:02] CK: Oh, I love it. So if you don't mind, let's drill in on that a little bit more, cuz I'm thinking like how would you do that?
Right. Right. So, because since yoga is a series of postures and meditation and all those things combined, the four components that you talked about. Um, do you ask them during, do you ask them before and after how, like how would you ask the
[00:47:24] Sat Bir: yeah. I mean, objective. Yeah, you could. I mean, so, so there's a number of ways you could do this.
I mean, so for example, there are teacher training programs. People who've been practicing yoga for a few months or a year, and then they say, geez, this is, this is now important to me. This is part of my life and become a teacher mm-hmm . So we now have many, many, many different line needs of yoga, who all have teacher training programs.
And these are intensive yoga practice programs as well. Teaching learning how to teach programs. And so when you go into a teacher training program, you are engaging in a good deal of practice and, and involvement with yoga practice. So what we can do is we can study [00:48:00] people who go into a teacher training program.
We can monitor their day to day experiences of transcendental states. Um, to what degree are they experiencing positive psychological states in their day to day lives, and then get to them at the end of the teacher training program and ask the same questions mm-hmm . So we might see that someone reports on the sense of peace and calm, uh, before the teacher training program is six out of 10.
Uh, and then by the end of the teacher training program, they're scoring eight out of 10 mm-hmm . So we've seen that the teacher training programs have generated more of these positive psychological states, and you can ask the same questions about transcendental experiences, et cetera, et cetera. So it's, it's, it's basic psychological research.
[00:48:47] CK: Now let's do a side by side comparison because right now there's a, uh, they call a Renaissance of psychedelics research again. Right. So, so since you're interested in studying the [00:49:00] alter state of consciousness, doing yoga practices, and there's a resurgence of, uh, psychedelic research, whatever the, the medicine may be.
Um, is there any parallel, is there any. Uh, reinvigoration of excitement that, Hey, there's another area of research. That's uh, that's, that's, uh, getting a lot of media attention right now. Is there any, yeah,
[00:49:24] Sat Bir: and it is, you know, the, the work on hallucinogens is getting a lot of attention because hallucinogen is announced, uh, starting to be considered for treatment of specific me, uh, mental health Condit.
Um, so there's that a whole new field of research, which is then related to hallucinogens, which is not tied together with the whole idea of spirituality. Um, but I see that field as very interesting, because a lot of the results that they're finding are very relevant to what we're finding. I believe that hallucinogens trigger the same regions or the same networks in the brain.
Mm-hmm that these contemplative practices address. [00:50:00] And so there's a lot of relevance there to look at what's going on in that field. Um, and, and, and see, you know, how the changes in contemplative practices are, are making similar changes. So, so to me, it's a supportive related field. Beautiful.
[00:50:17] CK: Um, Hmm. And then how would you, uh, so since you're, you're a editor in, in publication, is there any, um, sort of, uh, comparison studies that you can make from yoga practice to, um, psychedelic research at all?
[00:50:42] Sat Bir: I'm a little hesitant to, to, to go into psychedelics myself. I think that there's some concern about those from a spiritual perspective. Mm-hmm and one thing that has been suggested has been that if you consistently use these hallucinogens, you are artificially [00:51:00] stimulating those regions of the brain and you may potentially be then, um, negating the possibility that you could trigger those regions of the brain with contemplative practices.
Mm-hmm . In other words, you wear those regions out or you, you, you know, you blow them out for example, mm-hmm uh, and then you're no longer able to achieve those states through contemplative practices. I'm very much, uh, focused on the idea that these, these experiences really are most valuable. If they come from spiritual practices from meditation, from breathing techniques, um, uh, to me that is of most value.
[00:51:40] CK: Beautiful. I, I appreciate that perspective. Yeah. I think there, there should be a research song in that area specifically, right. Whether or not endogenous is as exogenous production of such a stimulation rather, um, is, [00:52:00] would, would, would actually cause irreversible harm to whatever the mechanism that produces such a biochemistry.
So I think it would be quite interesting,
[00:52:12] Sat Bir: difficult to quantify that, but, but it would be an interesting study. I agree. Yeah.
[00:52:18] CK: Um, so. Coming back to mind body medicine. So you had talked about yoga as in four components, the, uh, the postures, the relaxation, the meditation. And what was the fourth? The breathing, the prone breathing.
Thank you. Yes, the breathing. So since science is about the ability to reproduce results. So I'm quite curious to know cuz people like me will wanna know. So what are some of the most effective ways? So what are some of the most persistent way to, to, to, to have, uh, results in, um, in relaxation and then, and then addressing anxiety and so forth.
Is, [00:53:00] do you have any, uh, answers to that? Yeah, I
[00:53:03] Sat Bir: mean, I think, I think the in, if you know, and. You know, I have to be cautious here because I'm speaking in generalities and there's always exceptions to, to generalities. Of course. So, you know, you, you make a generalization and people say, well, I just met someone who, you know, violates that.
So I'm speaking in very generalizations, uh, very much generalizations. So one generalization that I, that, that I stand by is that a yoga intervention or a yoga lineage or yoga practice. Mm-hmm that incorporates all four of those components, perhaps plus others like diet, like philosophy, like, uh, group sun.
It, um, those more traditional, comprehensive multi-component practices are likely to yield more benefit, more change, more improvement, and even more spirituality than more limited practices, which focus heavily on one or the [00:54:00] other. Mm. So comparing a traditional yoga format with a yoga class that does nothing but awesome.
No meditation, no breathing, um, no relaxation or comparing it to meditation alone, where there's no breathing, no posture, no relaxation. My contention is that you're better off with the multi-component practice. It's likely to be more effective for several reasons. One is that you are affecting the same mechanism through all four of those different components.
Uh, you're affecting the stress system through the physical postures, through the breathing, through the relaxation, through the meditation, you put them all together and you are more likely to have a stronger impact. That's one aspect is that you're, you're, you're coming at it from more angles. Uh, and so the more angles you, you come at it from the more success you're likely to have the second a aspect to this is when someone starts out with.
Yoga practices with the four [00:55:00] different components. They now have an opportunity to gravitate to what they personally benefit most from. So someone may begin with a yoga class and then find that they are deeply inspired and deeply moved by the meditation practices so that they can then emphasize the meditation practice or other people may emphasize the physical component or the breathing component.
Had they not been presented with the full, comprehensive yoga in the beginning, they would not have. Not been, have been able to sort of gravitate towards the style that, that, that fits them. So for example, in the case of someone who really got turned on by meditation, if that person was presented with just a physical yoga practice alone, they never would've identified that potential passion, uh, and, and engagement with meditation.
So that's the second reason why I think that, uh, so this multi-component [00:56:00] traditional yoga is better than what I've termed, uh, is limited yoga in which, you know, the focus is, uh, heavily or entirely on one aspect of the yoga.
[00:56:12] CK: So as a Kini teacher, but also a practitioner I'm curious, are there, uh, any specific kind of lineage or, uh, teachers or, uh, places that you, we can introduce people to these multifaceted approach to yoga.
[00:56:32] Sat Bir: Well, I think, I mean the, the different yoga lineages all have their, you know, their levels of, uh, emphasis on those different aspects of yoga. Uh, some yoga lineages are more focused on the physical and some are more focused on the spiritual. I would say the KU line yoga is very much a spiritual form of yoga practice.
The goal is really spiritual develop. Mm, uh, it's not as much focused on body alignment and so on. [00:57:00] Um, that is there of course, just because it is, you know, a physical component of yoga, but, you know, the focus is really personal growth. Uh, and there are other yoga lineages, which also have a similar focus on that spiritual advancement component.
Um, and so anyone that wants to engage in a yoga practice, I mean, they have to determine, you know, what their interest. I mean, is there interest in getting physically fit or is there interest in spiritual development and that they can then use that interest to try and map, um, an appropriate yoga teacher, an appropriate yoga style to meet that interest.
Um, and, uh, you know, fortunately we have the internet today, so it's easy to do that shopping. You can, you know, find out about, you know, the different lineages and all the details, and you can even try online classes, uh, for that matter. Uh, and it's not just about the yoga lineage. It's also about the individual teacher, because two teachers from the same yoga [00:58:00] lineage will give you a very different experience.
Mm-hmm um, and that's personality issues. That's different teaching styles. And so that, that plays into this as. But it is a major issue, uh, about how people engage in a yoga practice. So, um, in, at Harvard medical school, um, the, the faculty has dictated that all first year medical students need to go through a resiliency training program in which they're exposed to many different types of mind, body practices.
So I find myself teaching, uh, yoga to several groups of first year medical students. You know, I talk to them about the science behind it. I take them through a chair, yoga practice and right there in the, in the lecture hall in which they can sort of experience some deep breathing and meditation. And then I spend a lot of time talking about how to select an appropriate yoga style and practice.
Oh, and this is extremely important because if you don't find a practice that fits [00:59:00] you, you will not engage in it. If you don't engage in it. It's
[00:59:04] CK: don't engage your own benefits
[00:59:06] Sat Bir: from it. Yeah, for sure. And so there's many people walking around and you say, have you ever tried yoga? You say, yeah, I tried yoga once mm-hmm , but what do you mean once?
What did you do? Who are, who did, what did you practice mm-hmm um, and you know, to that immediately is a clue that tells you, that person really did invest, did not investigate the opportunities in yoga mm-hmm . Um, and that's extremely important because if you don't find a yoga lineage or practice, uh, school, um, or a teacher that fits your personality and your needs, you will not engage in that practice.
Okay. So it's gotta be tailored and that, and the only way you tailored it is that you have to shop and it's like buying a car, you know, you just don't walk down the street, come to a used car shop. And the, the dealer says, buy this car. You buy that car. Nobody does that. Mm-hmm you go online, you [01:00:00] shop for all the cars.
You look at the different makes you look at their mileage. You look at their repair records, you look at their comfort, how much can they carry? And then you go to the different shops, you drive the cars, and then you look at the prices and you look at the, the different dealerships. And then after all of that work, I'm gonna buy this car.
And then when you've done that, you're satisfied with your purchase. You have to do the same with yoga. Mm-hmm you have to identify what is it that you want on a yoga. You have to go online and find out what the different styles of yoga are, match that up. And then you've gotta go and take multiple classes from different studios and different teachers.
Once you've done that, you can then finally say, I'm gonna settle on this teacher in this studio. And once you've done that, you are much more likely to engage in a regular basis with that practice and that avoids this whole situation where you just. End up in some strange yoga class, out of the blue, and then it [01:01:00] doesn't fit.
And you say, I tried yoga once.
[01:01:03] CK: Yeah. It's very similar to dating as well. You don't just meet someone and say, all right, you're it. right. Yeah. Yeah. It's, it's a, is it? And also I would, I would underline something that you mentioned, cuz a huge part of yoga practice is, is based on your personal preference, what you're looking for.
But absolutely I would assert that perhaps they don't even know what they're looking for perhaps
[01:01:30] Sat Bir: until you experience it until you're in that studio. With that teacher, you may have preconceptions about what that teacher's going to teach and what you're going to experience. Mm-hmm but nine times out of 10, it's not what you thought mm-hmm
And that is particularly true with yoga, especially with this reputation of yoga being, you know, you know, acrobatic Gumby postures for women mm-hmm
[01:01:57] CK: mm-hmm . Yeah, for sure. [01:02:00] Um, well we didn't, we haven't talked about your expertise of the mind body intervention. I know we touched on a little bit earlier.
Would you like to say some more about how, uh, modern medicine is about addressing the mind or the body versus yoga, which is focusing on the mind body intervention together? Would you say more about that?
[01:02:23] Sat Bir: Yeah, sure. The, and the term mind body says it all. Um, in the 18 hundreds, uh, modern medicine at that time went through a sort of a, a transition.
It, it separated the mind in the body into psychology, psychiatry and physical medicine. And that separation is there to this day and it really dominates our medical and psychological system. So the psychiatrist never asks about physical characteristics and the [01:03:00] internal medicine person never, or rarely asks about mental health issues and stresses.
That's starting to change a little bit, but largely physical medicine is focused on the physical body and psychology and psychiatric medicine are fo focused on mental and the two shall never meet, right? It's just like we're two separate entities and that is completely untrue. Everything that's manifested psychologically is manifested in the body and vice versa.
We are mind body, me. We are mind body entities and to treat something without referring to the other aspects that that are going on in the individual is being very superficial. So to treat someone with type two diabetes, you know, the physical medicine approach is this is, this is a case of glucose dysregulation.
And so that's how it's treated like a mechanism. And there's no sense of behavior [01:04:00] involvement. There's no sense of stress. There's no sense of mood disturbance. And yet we know that people with type two diabetes have higher levels of stress, they have sleep disturbance, um, and they have certain eating behaviors that they cannot get out of.
And those are psychological characteristics, but they're often not dealt with. And that's because of this sort of schism in modern medicine between just body only, or mind only the beauty of yoga. It's a mind, body practice. It addresses both issue. Um, and so that's, that's the virtue of, uh, of yoga in terms of how it is different from a lot of approaches, uh, in modern medicine.
Um, and, and another misconception in, in modern medicine is referring to the biggest burden in modern medicine, which is the so-called non-communicable diseases. These are lifestyle related diseases, um, things like hypertension, um, like, [01:05:00] uh, diabetes, obesity, depression. These are largely due to lifestyle behaviors.
Despite that modern medicine is treating these with pharmaceuticals and surgeries and other technological approaches, which tend to focus on the symptoms. Of the disorder rather than the underlying causes because their lifestyle diseases, it's the lifestyle behaviors that are the risk factors for these diseases.
And the major risk factors are low levels of physical activity, poor dietary choices, dysfunctional health behaviors, like, uh, smoking and excess of alcohol consumption and the inability to manage chronic stress. And those factors there's no pill for those mm-hmm , there's no surgery for those. Those are behavioral issues.
So if you really wanna change the lifestyle disorder, you have to change lifestyle. Modern medicine's not focused on changing lifestyle. It's focused on changing symptoms. Here's the pill for your type two. [01:06:00] So yoga has the provides an opportunity to actually make changes in lifestyle behavior. And these come about because yoga is extremely good at reducing chronic stress, which is, uh, part of that whole risk factor, um, uh, grouping.
It can improve physical activity because it is includes physical activity. And very importantly, through the meditative component, it's increasing mind, body awareness, mind, body sensitivity, and that is a, a vehicle for behavior change, lifestyle change. When you become more sensitive to your body, you no longer want to do those things that are unhealthy for you because you experience.
Negative experience from that unhealthy behavior. And you gravitate towards, uh, healthy behaviors like exercise, because now you are more sensitive to the positive benefits of those activities. So yoga actually has a number of elements that are actually very good [01:07:00] at lifestyle change. Mm-hmm and there, as I said, in modern medicine, there is no pill for lifestyle change.
[01:07:06] CK: So, so on that note, good question there. Uh, cause you're speaking to the converted, right? I get it. Yoga is a multidimensional solution to a lifestyle, uh, issue, right. A disease. Um, so, and if people take this on, they're gonna benefit in multidimensional ways, my body heart, spirit, all that. Right. So as, as an, as an educator, as a practitioner, as a teacher, as an evangelist, what do you see as the biggest barrier for people adapting
to this solution that's known to be super, super helpful.
[01:07:47] Sat Bir: Well, it's education, it's really education and, and that's educating the public and it's educating the healthcare providers. Educating the healthcare providers means that you have to [01:08:00] do research. It's the research that's going to document that yoga has these, uh, benefits that actually will get yoga taught into the medical schools that will generate this, the meta lyses and the reviews and the consensus statements around yoga practice.
The physicians will, and clinicians will read and respect. And so that's educating the healthcare providers, but it's also educating the public, uh, and that will come partially through the medical system. Once doctors are on board, but it can also come through. These kinds of podcasts, lectures, newspaper articles, in which the research is described, you know, a paper was just published in this premier journal showing that yoga does this or that we had a paper published, um, in the journal of the American medical association, psychiatry, major medical journal, showing that yoga had strong benefit for generalized anxiety disorder that get picked that gets picked up, [01:09:00] that gets picked up by the media.
And that, and then that, you know, hopefully it's on good morning, America, someday. And suddenly people are seeing that, Hey, yoga has been shown to do this or that, uh, for this particular condition. So it's education, it's getting yoga out there. Uh, it's getting, um, that proof of evidence to the doctors and to the public.
And it's also, um, you know, educating the public that yoga is not just for thin middle-aged women and leaders.
[01:09:32] CK: um, beautiful. Thank you so much, so well, Uh, I so appreciate you taking the time being on noble warrior out of your very busy schedule out of your research, out of your evangelism to, um, just, just educating people about the benefit of yoga.
Is there anything that you think I should have been asking, but I didn't ask at all. Is there any last thing that you wanted to say [01:10:00] for someone who's listening to this conversation?
[01:10:03] Sat Bir: No, I think we covered it all and I think, you know, some of the more important parts, uh, and one of the questions I get most often is how do I get into a yoga practice?
And we touched on that and the whole idea of really shopping and, and, and, and looking for the, the practice that fits for you. Um, it will, you will be able to find a practice and a teacher that really gives you a very powerful experience that can change your life. Mm. Uh, and that change in life can be life saving.
Many people who practice yoga, uh, over time with regular practice will, will say this exact phrase. And for some reason, it's, it's exactly the same phrase. People will say yoga changed my life as they'll say it exactly like that because they've gone through that transformation. They've gone through those experiences and that change.
Uh, and I've actually heard people say yoga saved my [01:11:00] life, especially people who were deeply into some, um, some disorder like addiction or trauma, uh, in which yoga was very, um, helpful. So, uh, that's really, that's really the most important part it's it's practice and, and practice means engaging in something in a way that, um, uh, gives you a regularity and that regularity is what's going to sustain you and give you the benefits.
[01:11:28] CK: well, noble warrior is all about living a life of deep joy and purpose and meaning. And what you just said, beautifully wraps up what ultimately brings that forth is that regular practice and persistence and keep doing the discipline. That's gonna bring us whatever, physical, mental, spiritual, emotional benefit out of that.
So thank you so much, uh, severe for sharing your wisdom, uh, as a practitioner, 50 years, [01:12:00] that is it just in itself. Just shuts up the room. I, I, I was assert, so thank you for the work that you do,
[01:12:07] Sat Bir: my pleasure to be with you and all, and all of you. Appreciate it.
Sat Bir Singh Khalsa, Ph.D. is the Director of Yoga Research for the Yoga Alliance and the Kundalini Research Institute, a Research Associate at the Benson Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine, a Research Affiliate at the Osher Center for Integrative Medicine, and an Associate Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. He has conducted research on yoga and yoga therapy since 2001 and has been a practitioner/instructor of Kundalini Yoga since 1973. His research has evaluated yoga for insomnia, chronic stress, and anxiety-related disorders, and in workplace and public school settings. He works with the International Association of Yoga Therapists promoting yoga research as scientific director for the annual Symposium on Yoga Research and as editor-in-chief of the International Journal of Yoga Therapy. He is medical editor of the Harvard Medical School Special Report Introduction to Yoga, and chief editor of the medical textbook The Principles and Practice of Yoga in Health Care.