The Marriage of Evolutionary Biology & Dharma Yoga
By Kristy Meyer on August 6th, 2012
The acting world has their triple threat – 3 talents (acting, singing AND dancing) that are marks of greatness, and the science world has Dr. Holly Bik. She combines DNA lab work, computational biology, and science communications in the world of ocean science. (Personalized medicine and healthcare genomics, don’t be sad, but after 14 years of adoring you alone, now I also have a crush on Marine Biology.)
As a post-doc for evolutionary biologist Jonathan Eisen at UC Davis, Holly’s research goal is to understand the evolutionary bridge between microbes and larger animals. She uses high throughput sequencing (Illumina, 454) to identify microbial eukaryotes from sediment on the ocean floor, bypassing traditional classification. By computationally stitching together the resulting DNA fragments, Holly searches for novel organisms that may bring insight to the evolutionary history of complex organisms.
As part of her work, she is a regular blogger at Deep Sea News. She and the other bloggers at DSN work to communicate issues that the environment is facing, and ways that the public can help to prevent them. Their mission statement: “Demystifying and humanizing science in an open conversation that instills passion, awe, and responsibility for the oceans.”
While the hectic pace of her science career keeps her working long hours and travelling all over the world (Twitter tells me she is currently in Dublin for the SMBE meeting there), she keeps her sanity, and inner calm…by practicing Dharma yoga. Dharma yoga is one of physical action, with intricate poses requiring strength and flexibility. Dharma Mittra, the founder of Dharma Yoga (and many of his students) can do beautiful headstands in which they balance on the crown of the head keeping their neck strong and their face as serene as sitting in a chair observing the world.
Why twist the body and put it into so many different shapes? Bringing the body into a pretzel, changes your reality and your perspective. Modifying and surpassing physical limits enables yogis to go beyond limits fabricated by the mind. By regularly practicing these asanas, we can translate this experience “beyond the mat” and into our lives.
As her practiced continued and deepened, yoga became a way to manage the hectic and driven world of scientific study. Holly’s undergrad, grad school, and post doc years are an international gauntlet. She did her undergrad in 3 years in the King’s College, London with a 6 month study-abroad in Australia. Then she traveled Asia and India for a “gap year”. Grad school back in London, an East Coast (USA) Post doc, and now her second Post doc at UC Davis.
In the midst of such major changes come a number of emotional and mental challenges. By practicing yoga regularly, she was able to temper the uncomfortable feelings and negative thoughts that accompany so many quick changes in a short period of time.
We talked about the overlaps between yoga and science and Holly said that the yoga she practices is very scientific and logical (much like my interview with Ingrid Borecki). Yogic lifestyle and techniques teach her to apply a process to difficult situations. With regular practice, she can step back from a powerful emotion or a negative mindset and effectively turn away from the thoughts that aren’t serving her, allowing her to process the situation.
Settled at UC Davis (for now), Holly says that she sees some more benefits of her yoga practice during her day-to-day research. Yoga supports her ability to be creative when designing experiments and writing code, or connecting disparate dots and communicating them to others.
In Holly’s own words:
In our post-genomics era, researchers must now pull from many scientific disciplines (biology, computer science, statistics, and mathematics) to make sense of unprecedented data volumes–it’s easy to get overwhelmed. Yogic techniques that promote a clear mind facilitate “big picture” thinking, allowing one to step back from trifling details that may cloud the overarching message.
Which is exactly where we and the ocean need her to be.
Holly’s Favorite Pose
Have a few minutes before group meeting? Drop into the Eka Pada Rajakapotasana (aka, the One-legged King Pigeon pose). It’s a wonderful backbend and throat opener, as well as quite a great quad/thigh stretch. OK, few of us just pop into this advanced pose, so here are some prep poses to get you there on your own schedule.
Begin on all fours, with your knees directly below your hips, and your hands slightly ahead of your shoulders.
Slide your right knee forward to the back of your right wrist; at the same time angle your right shin under your torso and bring your right foot to the front of your left knee. The outside of your right shin will now rest on the floor.
Slowly slide your left leg back, straightening the knee and descending the front of the thigh to the floor. Lower the outside of your right buttock to the floor. Position the right heel just in front of the left hip.
Bend your left leg, bringing your foot towards your head. Reach back with your right hand to grab the foot.
A special note from Holly! I am participating in a global benefit called “Yoga Aid”, on September 9th. Over 20,000 people in 20+ countries will be completing 108 sun salutations to raise money for charity. My donations go to Yoga Across America, a foundation supporting improved health through Baptiste Power Vinyasa Yoga and health and wellness programs in schools, parks, low-income communities, homeless shelters, nursing homes and many other locations where people don’t have access to the practice, or can’t afford it.
Make your donation here → http://yogaaid.com/hollybik
Kristy’s main mission in life is to demystify complicated science and health concepts. In her job, she does this as a social media marketing professional for life science companies, and in her off hours Kristy studies/teaches yoga and meditation…and carefully navigates the alternative health world. Keep up with her latest thoughts on Twitter.