In preparation for the launch of Space Yoga Youtube, we invited yoga instructor Gemma Hart to tell us about her explorations in intergalactic asana. 

One way to think about yoga postures is as experiments with gravity. Whether you’re standing on your head and inverting your blood flow, or standing upright and “grounding” your feet into the floor, if you’re practicing yoga you’ll probably be more aware of the effects of gravity on your body than usual. If you’re an astronaut, on the other hand, you have to learn to deal with a very low gravity situation—although you’ll be equally aware of the effects of gravity through its absence! So while space travel and yoga might not seem the obvious pairing, there are, as I discovered, plenty of ways in which doing yoga can help us to get an idea of some of the challenges astronauts face in space.

When creating Space Yoga, I met with Andrew Kuh from the UK Space Agency, and Julia Attias, a spacesuit researcher at King’s College London, to work out how best to concoct our space yoga cocktail. We began by picking out some of the key physiological and psychological effects of space travel, and discussed how we could translate these into different yoga postures. So, for example, because of the low gravity situation, astronauts will find that their spine actually gets longer while they are in space, and this kind of spinal decompression is what we actively try to achieve in yoga. Also (again because of the low gravity), astronauts have to deal with the constant sensation of lots of blood going to their head—which we can simulate by going upside down in an inverted posture like headstand or a forward bend. We even invented a yogic spacewalk—to give people an idea of what it feels like to move around in a space suit!

My favourite bit (and the bit that our intrepid space yogis always love), is doing the relaxation at the end, in which we try to reflect on the profound psychological change that going into space has on you. Astronauts call this cognitive shift the ‘overview effect’. Seeing the earth from space brings a radical new perspective, and can illicit a quite (dare I say it on a science blog?) spiritual response. But if you think that sounds a bit far out, then you’ll have to come and try Space Yoga Youtube series, and see—or feel—for yourself.

Don’t forget to subscribe and we’ll see you on the Space Yoga launchpad soon!