As the daughter of a NASA scientist I was raised
to have an analytical mind. A part of me craves method,
data, and evidence. I started journaling at the age of
seven, carrying my notebooks everywhere. I lled
them with charts, graphs, observations, and plans
concerning everything from what I ate that day to
what to rent at the video store.
I was a curious child, constantly asking, “Why?” My
parents would send me to the trusty encyclopedia to
look up the answer.
At the same time, I have always been artistic, creative,
and interested in spirituality. My notebooks are also lled
with elaborate stories, poetry, and colorful drawings.
My undergraduate studies in art led to burnout. Like
many people, I came to yoga hoping to relieve stress
and anxiety during a dicult time—with the added
bonus of staying t. I didn’t expect that yoga would
transform me in an ineable, seemingly magical way.
When I started practicing, I aimed to make the
perfect poses. I slowly realized that yoga isn’t about
performing the pose “perfectly,” but instead about being
perfectly okay with my body and mind in the moment.
Now I know that many of the most profound eects of
poses transcend my anatomy of muscles and bones
to shape my neurology, psychology, and energetic body.
I vividly remember lying on my mat at the end
of a yoga class with my eyes wide open, looking
impatiently around when I was supposed to be
relaxing. I thought “What a waste of time; I have work
to do!” With practice, I started to enjoy the way
relaxation and meditation practices made me feel.
Now, through reading research, I know that when
I meditate, I am literally reshaping my brain. Ultimately,
I am impacting every single system of my body, and
optimizing function. What more important work
could I possibly do?
My shifting mindset drew me to the Himalayas to
study yoga, massage, and healing arts. My teacher,
Yogi Sivadas, renewed my interest in science. I
returned to the US and completed the pre-medicine
courses, in pursuit of understanding how and why
yoga works in such life-changing ways.
I will never forget the rst time I held a human
brain in the cadaver lab. The experience was
neither antiseptic nor clinical, but deeply spiritual.
That three-pound folded gray mysterious mass
once both computed mathematics and felt the
depths of love. Holding that brain, I knew that the
mind-body connection was a key mechanism
behind yoga’s benets.
US_006-007_SOY_Foreword.indd 6 02/11/2018 14:00
Science of Yoga is the book I wanted to read when I
rst started practicing yoga. In classes, teachers oer
(sometimes conicting) cues and claims—“Calm your
nervous system by elongating your exhales;” “This
pose will boost your immunity;” “Align your knee over
your ankle”—and I constantly wondered, “Why?”
For the past decade, through workshops, reading
research papers, and completing my Master of Science
in yoga therapy at Maryland University of Integrative
Health, I have continued to ll my notebooks with
facts, gures, sketches, and stories. Science of Yoga
summarizes the notes I found most fascinating as a
yoga student and teacher. This book is intended as
neither a comprehensive text on human anatomy and
yoga, nor a medical reference book; it is just the
beginning. My intention is for this material to spark
more curiosity and discussion about the science of
yoga, and lead
to more inspired yoga practitioners and
professionals, more rigorous research, more public
policies that encourage yoga in schools and healthcare,
and, ultimately, more accessibility and acceptance.
Through my research, scientic principles and
evidence have demystied so much of the practice.
Surprisingly, this made my transformative experiences
feel even more magical. There is just so much more
to discover. In the grand scheme of scientic inquiry,
yoga research is in its infancy. However, now is an
exciting and pivotal point in the eld, with a
remarkable increase in the quality and quantity of
yoga research papers in the past few decades;
the evidence supporting yoga’s benets continues
to grow rapidly.
Science can explain the hows and whys of
many things, but research studies, no matter how
rigorously conducted, cannot compare to your
personal, experiential evidence of healing and
transformation. Only you can harness the power of
yoga through practice. As with any scientic inquiry,
I hope this book leaves you with more questions
than answers, and brings out your inner child to
playfully enquire, “Why?”
Be well,
Ann Swanson
Mind-body science educator and certied yoga therapist
Scientific principles and
evidence have demystified
so much of the practice.
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