The Science of Yoga: The Risks and the Rewards Paperback – Dec 25 2012
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"William Broad is optimistic and hopeful in pointing the way to its future as a major force in preventing and treating disease."
--Gail Sheehy, author of "Passages in Caregiving"
"After reading "The Science of Yoga", I am even more awed by the magnificent complexities of the human body and mind, and astonished that we can exert so much control over this invisible realm through the practice of yoga. Broad has not only thoroughly researched his topic, he has lived it."
--Alan Lightman, author of "Einstein's Dreams"
"If this book doesn't motivate you to practice yoga, nothing will. Broad sheds light on yoga's health benefits and hoaxes, covering everything from headstands to hypertension, the vagus nerve to the YogaButt. Finally I understand why I feel so good when I do yoga. His lively exploration of its evolution from Benares to Beverly Hills flows like any great practice should - with intelligence, good humor and some mindblowing insights."
--Priscilla Warner, author of "Learning to Breathe - My Yearlong Quest to Bring Calm to My Life" and co-author of "The Faith Club"""
""The Science of Yoga" offers a riveting, much-needed, clear-eyed look at the yoga mystique. In this investigation, science journalist William Broad pullsback the curtain on the little-discussed world of yoga injuries and risks, while setting the record straight about the numerous potential benefits. Downward dog will never look the same."
--Daniel Goleman, author of "Emotional Intelligence"
"Yoga, an ancient practice with millions of modern practitioners, has been the subject of overheated speculation and grandiose claims; it has been dismissed without warrant as well, underappreciated by some who might well benefit from it. "The Science of Yoga" is a lucid and long overdue account of what scientists have found in their attempts to ferret out the truth about what yoga can and cannot do to heal and make better the body and mind. It is a fascinating and important book."
--Kay Redfield Jamison, author of "An Unquiet Mind"and "Touched With Fire "
"Dramatic...a flair for provocation...valuable."
"In this compelling work of investigative journalism, William Broad exposes the "scientific" claims made about yoga--from its much-vaunted healing powers to yogasms--to scientific scrutiny. "The Science of Yoga" is a wonderful read that any yoga practitioner thirsting for authenticity should study carefully before suiting up."
--David Gordon White, author of "Kiss of the Yogini"
About the Author
William J. Broad has practiced yoga since 1970. A bestselling author and senior writer at The New York Times, he has won every major award in print and television during more than thirty years as a science journalist. With New York Times colleagues, he has twice won the Pulitzer Prize, as well as an Emmy Award and a DuPont. He is the author or coauthor of seven books, including Germs: Biological Weapons and America’s Secret War, a #1 New York Times bestseller.See all Product Description
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Top Customer Reviews
As I have a scientific background, it always bothers me about the claims that yoga teachers often parrot out about the benefits of yoga. Everything from weight loss to curing every disease to " yoga is the greatest total work out there is". Often they preface "scientists have found that yoga blah blah blah". The latest was last week when a Birkram teacher informed us "The standing Bikram series is the equivalent to running for 40 minutes at 4 mph." I understand this to be nonesense.
I really appreciate the second chapter of William Broad's book about the scientific research on yoga. Like any other form of exercise, yoga has strengths and weaknesses. Let's focus on yogas strengths and to get the cardio, we can do something else to get that. Let's cut the BS and love yoga for what it is.
I think yoga consumers should start a movement to hold these teachers to task who claim unproven benefits of yoga. Too many of them sound like modern snake oil salesmen. It is difficult because we are supposed to respect our teachers but William Broad's book gives us a new approach to this discussion.
I found an excellent instructor who recognizes that it is important to be gentle yet precise. She gives excellent classes in backcare and for seniors. She has produced some audio CDs that are available online. Her name is Kumari and is based in Aylmer, Quebec. Her maiden name is Catherine Gillis. She will be giving teacher training at the Sivanada Yoga Ashram in Val Morin, Quebec, Canada from April 13 to 20, 2015.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Where the Pulitzer Prize winning science writer shines is in debunking various myths, which continue to be spouted by well-meaning, but misinformed yoga teachers. Thus, yoga will not help you lose weight by revving up your metabolism, fast yogic breathing does not increase oxygen delivery to the brain (it actually has the opposite effect), and asana, even vigorous versions, won't give you anything like the aerobic workout of running or swimming. The book focuses on modern, athletic yoga styles, with little talk of meditation, cultivating awareness, growing spiritually, or finding your life's mission.
And sometimes in his glee to overturn sacred cows, Broad oversimplifies the science, or ignores research that doesn't support his point of view. For example, while yoga has been shown to lower the metabolic rate, we don't hear the evidence that suggests it does facilitate weight loss, likely via such mechanisms as encouraging mindful eating and better food choices, and reducing the level of the hunger-inducing, fat-depositing stress hormone cortisol. That cortisol -- implicated in everything from depression to diabetes to immune dysfunction -- is barely mentioned in the book is one of a number of curious omissions.
Though the book's injury chapter is more balanced than the Times excerpt, I still have problems with it. Strokes, the most devastating risk, do happen, but the means used to calculate how common they are (Broad estimates 300 per year) are dubious at best. Further, he fails to mention that with some teachers and some styles of yoga, and in therapeutic yoga tailored to the individual, serious injuries are exceedingly rare. And while Broad takes obvious pride in debunking myths, he's not beyond propagating a few of his own, probably nowhere more than in the chapter on sex. Yes, yoga improves sexual function and satisfaction. And, yes, some Tantric yogis employed sexual rituals. As for his assertion that "the entire discipline itself began as a sex cult"? Oh, please! He doesn't know what he's talking about.
Whatever its limitations, this provocative book has much to offer and I highly recommend yoga teachers and serious students read it, even though many will find themselves disagreeing with some of the author's conclusions.
Timothy McCall, MD, Yoga Journal's Medical Editor, teaches Yoga As Medicine (therapeutic yoga) seminars worldwide.
This review was originally published in Yoga International. You can also finds critiques of some of William Broad's more recent NY Times articles on my web site.
In spite of the fact that I have some highly critical things to say about this book, I am recommending that every yoga student, yoga teacher and teacher of yoga teachers read "The Science of Yoga." The issues that Mr. Broad raises are too important to be ignored, and need to be openly and objectively discussed by anyone who cares about truth, clarity and safety.
When he's at his best, Broad does a great service to our field by throughly investigating the history of yoga research and reporting on the actual science that's available to either support or refute many of the claims that are commonly made about yoga's promises. Several of the myths he exposes are ones that I have been trying to debunk for years. He also does a great job of documenting the evidence of yoga's benefits - for health, creativity and mental balance.
When he's at his worst, he's attempting to make his book more colorful by spinning speculative yarns about the personalities of his cast of characters. Most of them are long dead and cannot dispute Broad's assertions about their motivations, ambitions and ethics. However, some of his subjects are very much alive and I know for a fact that at least one of them takes extreme exception to the manner in which he was portrayed (full disclosure: I am referring to a good friend of mine).
Broad also loses his objectivity when, in chapter 4, he launches into the controversial issue of yoga injuries. I am the last person to deny that asana injuries happen quite regularly, as a significant part of my practice consists of helping practitioners who have sustained them. Nevertheless, the truly scary picture painted in this chapter is not based on any science that would pass Broad's own muster if he was reviewing it in the first 3 chapters of his book. He can cite no serious scientific studies done regarding the actual cause and frequency of severe injuries (stroke, pneumothorax, paralysis, etc.) because there are none. Instead, Broad reports on a handful of case studies dating back to the 70's, and some surveys of emergency room statistics. He then extrapolates from those numbers to conclude there must be a minimum of 300 strokes caused by yoga asanas per year. Any indication of how common these injuries are in the non-yoga practicing population? No. Any context for where asana practice ranks in relation to other "risky" activities (it's safer than golf)? No. Any mention of the fundamental logical rule that correlation is not causation? No. Is this good science? Hell no.
What becomes clear in his epilogue is that Mr. Broad is a man with an agenda. He wants yoga to gain more credibility and acceptance in mainstream health care delivery by medicalizing its educational standards and subjecting itself to governmental regulation (something I've been fighting against for the past 3 decades). This explains why he needed to build the case for yoga's riskiness, and why he felt compelled to unfairly and inaccurately portray the International Association of Yoga Therapists as a non-credible group with shady origins whose main agenda is to provide its members with "phony credentials." He even absurdly proposes the formation of a "Yoga Education Society" whose mission would be to collect information about yoga and disseminate it to the public - the exact same mission the IAYT has been splendidly fulfilling since its founding. Shameful.
Broad's misplaced faith in his own agenda, the medical model and in governmental controls has blinded him to the fact that much of yoga's popularity as a healing modality is precisely because we are an alternative to all that. We are not medical practitioners nor should we aspire to be. We are educators and should fight to remain so.
Nobody asked Mr. Broad to push for the medicalization, accreditation or licensing of yoga. He took it on himself to make a case for it, and its up to us as yoga professionals to show him that he's wrong by continuing to raise the standards of our educational programs, and by keeping our profession free from coercive forces of any kind. That is why I say it's important you read this book and then let your voice be heard.