Space Yoga with UK Space Agency’s Andrew Kuh
December 27, 2017 by Marissa
This summer at the Secret Garden Party festival, we invited Andrew Kuh from the UK Space Agency and yoga teacher Jemma Deer to co-host our second year of Space Yoga at music festivals. We spoke to Andrew about his experience.
GS: What do you do and how long have you been with the UK Space Agency?
When I’m not doing Space Yoga, I’m a policy manager at the UK Space Agency. I’ve been with the Space Agency since it was set up in 2011, so that’s 6 years.
GS: How did you get involved with Guerilla Science?
I got an email a couple of years ago from one of the Guerilla Science team with this crazy idea, which I looked at and thought – space and yoga, interesting but I don’t really see the link! So I was a bit sceptical, but I was intrigued.
We had a chat and I thought the links between yoga and space could be a good way to teach people about space. We know that everyone learns in different ways, and this event was a really interesting informal setting for this – it seems to work very well even if I do say so myself!
GS: How did you collaborate with the yoga instructor?
We had a bit of to and fro on all the different things you could learn about the body in space by doing different yoga poses. Some of it is quite obvious like spine elongation, which is one of the better-known effects of being in space and obviously it’s very common in yoga.
But the more we chatted about it the more links we realised there were – even just basic things like breathing and improving the strength of the core, which is very important for astronauts and is what a lot of yoga is based around.
What is really effective is the meditation we do at the end of the session in which we built in this effect known as the overview effect that astronauts experience – it is a psychological shift and actually meditation can achieve something very similar.
GS: How has the event developed since the first time?
This year the event was less structured and more free flowing – it’s kind of a conversation between yoga and space, and between myself and Jemma. We also came up with some new poses specifically for Space Yoga, which might not be considered canonical yoga, but were really good for demonstrating parts of the resistance training that astronauts need to do to use spacesuits. It was great to see these new ideas in action.
GS: After co-hosting Space Yoga a couple of times, what stands out the most?
Most people don’t ever think about actually being in space, but Space Yoga is a really simple way of genuinely feeling what the effects are. We do all kinds of experiments on the ground to replicate the effects of microgravity – for example we confine people to bed for 60 days because that mimics the fluid distribution and muscle atrophy, or we go on parabolic flights which simulates microgravity in an aeroplane for 20 seconds. But actually, there’s really simple things that we can do in a field at a music festival that effectively does replicate aspects of microgravity – in a way all of the audience are test subjects in this impromptu microgravity laboratory.
GS: During the meditation, you shared things that astronauts experience which are not very well known. Can you tell us more about that?
A lot of astronauts won’t talk about their feelings too much – maybe because many are from military backgrounds so they have a culture where they don’t share as much. But when they do talk about going to space, they describe this profound effect that it has on them. As far as I can tell it seems to be very similar to types of meditation. It would be great if we could afford to send everyone to space to experience this effect, but I think meditation is probably the most readily accessible equivalent that we can do on earth.
This surprises people because we think about the obvious physical effects of floating around in space, but actually the psychological is not fully understood, but perhaps more profound. Maybe we haven’t sent enough philosophers or artists to space!
GS: What was your favourite thing about Space Yoga?
The positive feedback and helping everyone recharge their batteries for the festival ahead. People have come up afterwards and said: “this is amazing, I didn’t expect this – I didn’t expect to do yoga or learn about space this weekend and I’ve done both”.