Stretch like an astronaut
May 23, 2018 by Pigalle
Yoga enthusiast Charlie Ely took part in our Space Yoga class at the Book Club in East London in May. She discusses her thoughts on the cosmic experience of combining yoga with interstellar travel. Thanks to Charlie for stretching and sharing!
Practising yoga and pondering space travel. Grounding the body and allowing the mind to glide. The combination of space and yoga might sound strange on first hearing, but as a great aficionado of all things stretchy and all things stellar (though not a yoga or science professional as someone who works in the arts), it actually made a lot of sense to me, and I knew I had to participate in this experiment. So, on an unseasonably wet and windy Wednesday evening, I headed to the trendy Book Club bar in Shoreditch, exchanged my shirt and suit jacket for a leotard and glitter, and settled down on my mat to learn more.
Guerilla Science have created a class which aims to explore some of the physical and mental effects on astronauts of their space travel. We did a variety of strong balance poses – useful in preparation for the loss of muscle mass that occurs in a microgravity environment. We then embarked on more challenging balances, where we put all our weight on one limb, which has the incredible effect of increasing bone density – another thing that is useful for astronauts before and during flight. I’m always keen to do inverted postures in yoga (to upset gravity’s regular effects by turning upside down), but the experience took on new meaning when I learnt that we were trying to replicate the feeling of being light-headed, dizzy even, that many space travelers feel during their first few days and again on re-entry to Earth.
I’ve been doing yoga for almost 10 years, but the range of styles and teachers out there can make me nervous when attending a new class. This practice, led by yoga teacher and environmental humanities researcher Gemma Hart, was both accessible to beginners and challenging. Tess Morris-Paterson, an extreme sports performance specialist and researcher in space physiology, co-captained this voyage, providing detailed scientific information and amusing space anecdotes throughout. It was also great to hear the two in conversation and answering audience questions after the class. Tess is even training to take part in the next European Space Agency astronaut selection process!
Perhaps the most striking thing about this event, and the relationship between yoga and space exploration, came at the end of the practice, when we relaxed into our shavasana (corpse pose). Through a guided meditation, we were invited to consider the powerful psychological effects of being out in space, feelings of being very, very small, of seeing the earth as a mote of dust in a vast emptiness, and of a sense of oneness with the universe. I know you might have just cringed at the word ‘oneness’ there – it sounds emotional and unscientific, right? Yet we learnt that many astronauts have reported this exact feeling, a cognitive shift in awareness known as “the overview effect”. This awareness has the potential to create a more compassionate and unified earth, and since we can’t all be astronauts, I highly recommend taking part in the next space yoga event as an alternative means of reaching that awareness.