We invited yoga teacher Gemma Hart to join us at the last ever Secret Garden Party festival, and instruct festival-goers in Space Yoga. She tells 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.

Before Secret Garden Party, I met with Andrew Kuh from the UK Space Agency, and Julia Attias, a space suit 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 at SGP really loved), was doing the relaxation at the end, in which we tried to reflect 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 next time, and see—or feel—for yourself.