Questions for William J. Broad

Published on March 21, 2012 by      Print
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By Vanessa Fiola

Perhaps the only time the yoga world has a unified voice is when they decide they hate something. Currently, that something is William J. Broad, two-time Pulitzer Prize winner and author of the polarizing new book The Science of Yoga. Criticism about his research and commentary on the man has ranged from mild indignation to scathing disdain. As someone who has spent the last 10 years practicing, teaching and/or writing about yoga, I found this curious. So I did what any good recovering yogi would do: I sat down with Bill to get his take on the controversy.

* Photo credit: Della Bass

Vanessa: Are you surprised by the backlash about your book?

William: Totally. It’s a measure of my innocence and my naïveté that I thought the reaction to the book would be “Oh, how interesting! This will really help me make my practice safer and better. This guy’s found some great and cool information and it’s really solid. And it can help me.” I mean, it helped me! I did yoga as basically stress management. I have a very, very hard job and it helped me relax. It helped me unplug. It helped me center. I had sort of a mediocre, not an advanced super freakazoid [yoga practice]. I had a very hum-drum approach. And yet I found, in my research, that yoga has some incredible extremes. Both good and bad. Some of these postures that stress your neck a lot can result in strokes and brain-damage. How often that happens? No one knows. But they do know that the consequences are extremely high. They can send you to the emergency room or even, in some cases, to the morgue. So I thought, golly! I’m going to avoid that! And I kind of naively thought that would be the overall reaction, and I was wrong.

Vanessa: You have a largely home-based practice?

William: Yes. I mean, while I was researching the book, I went out with Glenn Black and studied with Mel Robin; I went to all our local studios; I went to Bikram; I felt obliged to get out there both for the science of it — in the case of Mel Robin in Pennsylvania and for the hidden injury story in the case of Glenn Black — but even though I’m not an expert in all contemporary styles, I felt I had to get out there and see what’s hot and what people are doing. But my practice is my own. I did yoga this morning. I’ll do yoga tomorrow morning. It’s something that I do every day.

Vanessa: I started as a yoga practitioner in Bikram, and later taught Vinyasa. And then I assisted with Baron Baptiste and his teacher trainings for a couple of years. And then I went to Anusara training, and that’s what turned me off. And I stopped teaching after that.

William: You got out just in time!

Vanessa: I did, didn’t I?

William: I’ve gotten such interesting insider mail from Anusara. I get such interesting mail [in general]. I’m getting this extremely intimate view into the yoga community that I don’t think anybody anywhere has ever gotten.

The vast majority of my mail is positive. [But] I was shocked by both the vehemence of the invective, the attacks, but also by the number of “If you think that’s bad?” horror stories.

Vanessa: If there’s one thing I’ve experienced in the yoga world — it’s a very fractured world, as you’ve pointed out — but they tend to have one voice when they all hate the same thing.

William: And that’s me right now!

Vanessa: That’s you right now! Yes. What shocks me is the lack of introspection in the personal attacks.

William: It’s unbelievable, the invective. I’ll read you my favorite letter. “Listen Moran!” — and moron is spelled “m-o-r-a-n.” “I have been using yoga and karate for over 35 years and it has improved everything in my life. So before you open your mouth idiot, know what you are talking about!” And I don’t think, charitably, that these people have read the book. I don’t think they’ve read The New York Times article. I think they’re on this 140 character Twitter universe of “like” or “dislike” that’s about as deep as it gets. And right now, I’m disliked. But you know, what? I think the tide is turning. I’m getting some very interesting invites and some very interesting feedback. And the book is selling.

Vanessa: I, too, am curious if those who are critical have read your book. I’ve heard more than one person dismissing it because they don’t like the way you pronounced “Iyengar” in your NPR interview with Terry Gross.

William: It’s pronounced Ahy-yungar!

Vanessa: I think there’s a couple of different pronunciations, so…

William: You say tom-AY-to I say tom-AH-to.

Vanessa: It seems like some people are okay with just reading excerpts.

William: You know what it is? Yoga is surrounded by this certain mystique. Even though people know that it’s not that, they still love the existence of the mystique. The idea of perfection. Spiritual perfection, physical perfection, and anything that shakes that mystique is bad. Right? But to me, that’s like the Roman Catholic church sweeping the bad priests under the rug. There’s just going to be more victims.

Vanessa: Do you think that the reason that people have sort of ignored the vast benefits that you’ve laid out in the book has more to do with the threatening of that mysticism?

William: I don’t know, it’s so complex and there’s so many levels. It’s this sense of the mystique of perfection, and there’s also the real economic interests, right? I mean, I don’t like using the phrase “the yoga industrial complex” because it makes it sound like this monolithic military thing, which it’s not. It’s fractured. But there are real economic interests that feel threatened by somebody saying “Yoga can result in serious injuries.” It’s been a little bit like going to Philip Morris to ask “Can cigarettes cause cancer?” and Philip Morris saying “Well of course cigarettes don’t cause cancer. Cigarettes make you feel wonderful!” There is a deep economic interest in selling good news.

Vanessa: Some of the things people have taken issue with were two of the biggest chapters: the Divine Sex chapter and the Risk of Injury chapter. How do you respond to claims that the connection between Hatha and Tantra is overstated?

William: All you have to do is go into the scholarly literature. Don’t go to Wikipedia. I mean, a lot of the stuff that people cite is laughable. Go to Yoga: Immortality and Freedom, one of the great, early scholarly texts, and see what it says about Hatha and Tantra. Hatha is a branch of Tantra. Period. [But] go to Iyengar – however you want to pronounce it — go to Light on Yoga. Does the word Tantra appear anywhere in that text? The answer is no. There is one reference towards to the end to “Tantric” and it has nothing to do with the origins of yoga. There has been a long, long, long, deep, powerful, concerted effort on the behalf of the re-inventors of yoga to remove every possible association with Tantra. Don’t look [to] popular gurus. Go to the scholars, look at the serious books. They’ll tell you the truth.

Cobra is an old pose. It dates back to Tantric days. These [old poses] were designed for specific purposes of sexual arousal. Not to give you a lot of new supplements in your lower spine. That might have been a side effect, but they were meant to do other things, and they worked! You’re down there pressing your pelvis into the floor as hard as you can and, guess what? Circulation increases there. Tantra works!

Vanessa: One thing I struggle with regarding the sexual nature of yoga, is, well, who cares?

William: I think that learning the science and learning about this can help [yoga students] understand what’s happening with their bodies. There’s another class of people that have low libido. This can be good, free therapy! Why spend billions of dollars on little blue pills when a little yoga can. . .you know? “Get me to a yoga studio!”

Vanessa: Do you think you’ll ever write about yoga again?

William: I have no plans to write another book, but I feel that I could write an encyclopaedia. For instance, the injury chapter. I tried to set it up for the reformers. The Iyengar people, blocks, blankets. “We are going to customize the pose to the person rather than forcing the person into the pose.” That’s genius! That’s smart! That’s reform! That’s saying that yoga can evolve and grow.

Vanessa: You spoke earlier about the economic interests being threatened. Certainly with the reformers, you can’t fit a class full of 80 people with a bunch of blocks and straps.

William: Yes, definitely. But if you go to the economics of this, I think the issue that the community needs to think about is teacher certification. That’s where the money is. And I think that’s where the states are worried. Are these schools real or are they diploma mills? And what is the Yoga Alliance? What do they do with their money? And why are they bossing 200 hours in sort of a magic bullet?

Vanessa: That’s a book unto itself!

William: I’m a science reporter, and these are on the periphery of my vision. I’m not an economics person. But I think for the community, these are issues. Ultimately, the commercialization of yoga does raise issues of bias.

I don’t claim any special expertise in regulatory stuff, but I do know that these issues are out there.

William: So why did you quit [teaching yoga]?

Vanessa: I didn’t really believe what I was teaching anymore. And then around the time I stopped, two other friends of mine from teaching from Baptiste, we were just so tired of all the platitudes. Platitudes about everything. From information about the postures, the alignment about the postures, to more traditional platitudes…. Things like: Savasana is the hardest pose. What does that even mean?

William: Well you know, my Twitter account is mostly monitoring the platitudes. It’s so herd-like and reflective.

Vanessa: But I think that there’s sort of a tide-turning. When Recovering Yogi first started, basically people hated us. I think that people saw it as threatening the good that they found in yoga.

William: I feel that turning happening with me on the basis of the invites that I’m getting. I’m going to be speaking to a Yoga Journal conference.

Vanessa: And you seem to have a pretty decent sense of humor about it too.

William: Well I try! I mean, you have to in this situation right? You do this thing thinking, “Look at my little baby, it’s so pretty and it’s really going to help you!” and then people are like “Get me a knife!”

About Vanessa Fiola

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  1. Rachel says:

    Ballsy interview. Awesome. Thank you. (God forbid we think critically!)

    “The yoga industrial complex.” Shivers. But at least somebody said it out loud.

  2. kk says:

    SUCH a good interview vanessa! Also? Everyone knows that child’s pose is the hardest pose! Savasana! pfft. Pussies!

  3. Tracie says:

    You know, I never understood the crazy, hostile outpouring of venom from otherwise peaceful and supposedly non-reactive yogis when this book came out. As a yoga teacher, I am intimately aware that yoga can injure and safety is always my first priority. This book was simply a reminder for all of us practicing and teaching to pay attention and keep it safe. No more, no less.

    Thank you, Vanessa for giving Mr. Broad a voice and I think it’s fab that he will be speaking at a Yoga Journal Conference. I can only imagine the comments and outcry that will generate. Could be fun to watch. Stay strong, Mr. Broad, stay strong!

    • vanessafiola says:

      Tracie, I think we saw the book similarly. Thank you for your comment.

    • Joe says:

      You will frequently get a hostile outpouring of venom from someone if you threaten their core sense of who they are. If someone’s core sense of who they are includes the syllogism “yoga is good, I do yoga, therefore I am good” then you’d best not threaten the “yoga is good” part. See “How to Reduce Cognitive Dissonance” here: Villifying a critic is an application of the “reduce the importance of the conflicting belief” strategy that is mentioned there. This kind of cognitive dissonance response is also why it is often a good reason not discuss religion if you want to keep the friendship of the other person. And I’m sure it’s at least one reason why the RY site gets as much flack as it does in general.

      The “cognitive dissonance” concept is quite cold, detached and clinical, but it becomes quite a bit “warmer” if seen as a way to better understand and work with other people. For example, it is key to understand this if you want to help someone out of a cult (as I was helped out of TM). And I think it explains a great deal about how the world works in general.

  4. Lisa says:

    Great interview. I will make a point now of seeking out this book and reading it.

    I love this site – it has me laughing all the time, and is a place that captures how I’ve felt about yoga (and many of the people who practice it) for at least 20 years. It is wonderful to finally find some kindred spirits, who love the way yoga makes them feel but have a HUGE sense of humor about themselves and look upon the inconsistencies and hypocrisies we all witness when we practice with others with a grain of salt.

    Thank you!

  5. Katie says:

    I am really enjoying William Broad’s book right now! It is very well researched and fascinating. It’s a shame that so many “yogis” feel threatened by it. I have been taught by both Glen Black and Beryl Bender Birch. Both are unconventional American teachers in their deeper embrace of the sutras and their tendency to avoid the trendy. Birch was also kicked out of the Temple of Jois, which makes her that much more appealing to me: she thinks with her own mind and teaches from her own experience. If you apply your own experience and intellect to yoga, you will most likely be kicked out of the tribe. Mr. Broad is the latest to be chucked -we should all aspire to this great achievement!

    • vanessafiola says:

      Hi Katie, One of the things Baron used to quote when I was a Baptiste teacher was something about Abe Lincoln, or Abe’s mom, ohidon’tknowwhatever, saying that those who rise above the crowd get stoned. <- Pretty sure I butchered that. My point is, I agree. Thanks for reading. *need coffee* *sigh*

  6. Barb says:

    Thank you Mr. Broad and Vanessa. This was an excellent and balanced interview. I applaud and agree with Mr Broad’s comparison to the Catholic church. Yoga is a tool (spiritual or otherwise) not a sacred cow.

  7. Niki says:

    Nice one, Recovering Yogi, the only yoga site with the manners to let William Broad speak for himself. Kudos to you Mr Broad for speaking about the Elephants in the Room when it comes to yoga and injury

  8. West says:

    Excellent interview with William J Broad! I have not read his book but will certainly give it a look. I like his assertion about the Economics of Yoga. I feel so many of the big names in Yoga are one scandal or misstep away from disaster, like a “house of cards”.

    “It’s this sense of the mystique of perfection, and there’s also the real economic interests, right? I mean, I don’t like using the phrase “the yoga industrial complex” because it makes it sound like this monolithic military thing, which it’s not. It’s fractured. But there are real economic interests that feel threatened by somebody saying “Yoga can result in serious injuries.” It’s been a little bit like going to Philip Morris to ask “Can cigarettes cause cancer?” and Philip Morris saying “Well of course cigarettes don’t cause cancer. Cigarettes make you feel wonderful!” There is a deep economic interest in selling good news.”

    My observations of “Yoga-Industrial Complex” have me not questioning the practice and theory of Yoga, which is solid, but questioning the motives of the people selling Yoga. I am so glad to live in a small but vibrant Yoga Community where I feel that I personally know the “Yoga Leaders”. If I were in a much larger area I probably would have given up on public Yoga.

    • VQ2 says:

      Which, of course, I have. But I’m not perfectly self-sufficient. I still need the online stuff. At least, online, they try to keep it to yoga instruction … there are very little “upsales” and no “ambushes” …

    • vanessafiola says:

      Thank you, West, for your thoughtful comments. I live/work in big cities and, though I don’t go to public classes as often now, when I do I find that there are still a lot of delightful teachers out there… Or I care less… Or both. :)

  9. Kari R says:

    I haven’t read the book, but even from the above conversation, it sounds like the book should have been called the science of asana. Asana is one eighth of the eight limbs of yoga and all of this commentary is about this fraction of the greater whole. I would challenge anyone who feels frustrated by ‘yoga’ i.e. asana to delve into the other seven limbs and truly understand the entire form. I’m not surprised Vanessa has quit teaching she studied under three groups that primarily focus on asana. I don’t practice those types of yoga any more because they are unfulfilling to me…As for savasana being the most difficult pose, I was told this is because you are supposed to let your body go to such a point that it is lifeless. And I think that letting go is one if the hardest things to do. I’m trained in the sivananda style which is not the coolest forms of yoga, but it is well rounded :)

    • Joe says:

      “I’m not surprised Vanessa has quit teaching she studied under three groups that primarily focus on asana.”

      That’s *extremely* dismissive.

      Not everything necessarily fits into the “you weren’t doing it right” mold (I get that all of the time from my old neo-”yoga” Transcendental Meditation buddies). I trust Vanessa will correct me if wrong, but I like this site and I’ve read a bit of the archives and I get the impression that it’s more complicated than that. This ( looks pretty cultish to me, although perhaps just a cult of personality that hasn’t gone seriously destructive (as for example TM went seriously destructive), I don’t know. To me it certainly reeks of being an unhealthy group to belong when lead by an ego like that. It takes strength to leave a group like that after having invested so much into it.

    • vanessafiola says:

      Hi Kari, thanks for commenting. I actually understand what is meant by “Savasana is the hardest pose.” I think what’s lost (in favor of brevity) is the explanation that we, as asana teachers or otherwise, (I’ve taught meditation, too), often quote things that our teachers have told us, and whose teachers have taught them, without believing it for ourselves. The sayings become rote and lose meaning. Btw, I have literally said that in class — Savasana is the hardest pose — so I was partially calling out myself here, too.

    • mike says:

      Actually, no. The interview focused on two chapters. Broad makes a huge point that yoga was not historically primarily asana and relies on scholarly research to show as much.

      Broads main interest seems to have been to dispel myths around the yoga that is practiced now. Some of those myths being that yoga IS asana, that we are “flooding our bodies with oxygen” when we use yogic breath, and that asana is “as safe as mother’s milk”. He talks about how a large part of yoga was altering blood chemistry to move into a semi-hybernation state.

      I loved this book.

      I started with Sivananda. I loved it! It’s so out of favor right now. I’m considering re-exploring it without formally rejoining a community.

  10. Laura says:

    Down with yoga orthodoxy! :-)
    I am reading Broad’s book and really don’t understand why anybody would take issue with it.

    A mindful yoga practice for stress relief is not going to hurt anyone, but some advanced poses should only be performed by those who are extremely flexible (a tiny minority), or those who started yoga as children. There is a reason why gymnasts and ballet dancers must start before puberty!
    A physiotherapist i met at a party confirmed what Broad exposed in his book. He told me that yoga studios keep him in business, and yes, he has seen all sorts of yoga-related injuries.

    In my experience, too many teachers demonstrate poses that are beyond their students’ ability and create a competitive atmosphere in their classes. This is certainly dangerous and doesn’t advance the yoga cause.
    And by the way, what are the health benefit of a full split? Would touching the floor help your meditation or fast track you to Samadhi?

    We need more awareness of the dangers of yoga and not only its benefits. William Broad should be commended for saying it loud and clear.

  11. Georgie says:

    This is good stuff. I think the most interesting thing about his book, this website, other blogs that look at yoga in a critical way, is the reaction of so many yogis. I’ve never seen a group as a whole more offended when their practice gets looked at in a negative way…and it isn’t even like this book is saying DON’T DO YOGA!…none of us are…but even asking questions about what yoga lacks and where it can be improved and how to make it safer and where its contradictions lie is enough to make yogis insanely angry. Why? Why are we so afraid of making our practice more real by asking hard questions about it, like Vanessa has done here? Yes, we will find contradiction, maybe even lies, but if we aren’t brave enough to do that…how authentic is our practice?

    • VQ2 says:

      Prospective students will now have the ammunition to question the sideshows that yoga teachers perform, in their trying to attract new students. A lot of the research is coming to THEM!

      If this sets back the “yoga industrial complex” 20 years, I’m all for that.

    • vanessafiola says:

      “I’ve never seen a group as a whole more offended when their practice gets looked at…” <- That's exactly what lead me to want to interview him. Thanks, Georgie!

  12. Georgie says:

    Oh, and:

    “One thing I struggle with regarding the sexual nature of yoga, is, well, who cares?”

    :) priceless.

  13. Branáin says:

    Excellent interview. I haven’t read his book either, but as a yoga teacher I feel qualified to comment on it, just as I feel qualified to go on about the health and sexual benefits of yoga straps and toe shoes.

    Very brave of Mr. Broad to show his face in public, although I’m not sure associating with the likes of Recovering Yogi will do anything to improve his reputation. I do hope he received a t-shirt in his size.

    Do you envision a cartoon of Mr. Broad on a t-shirt in the near future? I would certainly buy one. I don’t have enough bottles of coconut water thrown at me, so that would help greatly.

    I will certainly link up with him on Twitter so he can monitor the platitudes I picked up in my yoga teacher training.

    Namaste and all that jazz.

  14. Lucy says:

    Hmmmm, time to get that book, methinks.

  15. Kanani says:

    One would hope that the harshest critics (ironic because they also probably see themselves as open minded yogis) read the book and then decide. It’s one of the freedoms we enjoy.

    Good point on the platitudes, as well. Over at WarRetreat, we call it yoga-babble. And it’s distracting, often non-sensical, lends itself to stereotypes, as well as a feeling of admonishment and can be filled with the teacher’s personal ego.
    It doesn’t surprise me that he’s speaking at a Yoga Journal conference. It makes good business sense to figure out what he’s saying.

    • VQ2 says:

      Then after that, headlining at Kripalu and Omega for him.

      If a lot of power yoga and vinyasa yoga teachers learn to straightjacket their class teaching approaches, the rancor now and the arguments would have all been worth it. The drill sergeants will leave to teach actual bootcamp classes.

      And yoga students who aren’t young, skinny, strong and bendy will feel safe enough to go to yoga class again.

      And if they feel the class did not put them through the ringer, they will come back for more …

  16. Karen says:

    I practise following the Krishnamacharya tradition which is technically classified as tantra yoga. As far as my understanding goes, the origin of the word tantra and the meaning of tantra yoga, is yoga where “the emphasis is on certain energies that are normally squandered being directed in such a way that they can reduce the blocks that stand in the way of the prana.” directly from The Heart of Yoga by Desikachar. I think there is a lot of misconception surrounding the newage common interpretation of tantric and the original meaning dating back thousands of years ago.

    That said, I’m currently waiting for Broad’s book to arrive in the mail, ordered it earlier this week after coming across further articles and videos about the book. Instead of believing everything I read, I agree with many others who commented that we should decide for ourselves after we read it. Look forward to seeing LOTS of book reviews on the book in the weeks ahead!

    • mike says:

      Hi, be prepared for an eye-opening regarding the Krishnamacharya ‘tradition’. I also recommend the The Yoga Tradition of the Mysore Palace. Krishnamacharya appararently borrowed much from Indian wrestling and British gymnastics, and was part of a concerted campaign to present a yoga that would be more palatable to the West. Definitely not Tantric. More like asana for health and fitness. I was surprised to discover all this, but also think the truth is a lot more fun that make-believe.

      Warning: Yoga Tradition of Mysore Palace is a dry and scholarly read. A sizable preview is available on google books.

  17. susan queen says:

    maybe if he’d written a better book, or one not meant to titillate but teach, and didn’t say yoga/tantra is from a sex cult in every interview with no evidence, there wouldn’t have been a “hate” storm. but then, i’ve only read the critical non-moran reviews and his slop lazy articles, not his book, so obviously i need to give him money, bleh. and after this languorous interview about how hes so put-upon and blase about it all anyways, ah, meh.

  18. BigProfMan says:

    been practicing for a long time, and in various studios. Only once did a teacher ever say “if you do this in this posture, you will injure yourself”. I’ve heard admonitions to whole classes, but only once was it ever directed to me individually. I ignored the advice, and two weeks later continued a bad form to a posture. The injury occurred as that teacher has said. For economic reasons, I rarely returned to that studio. However, the fact that the studio had a relationship with a hospital gave me a great impression of this teachers knowledge of the human body…something lacking from the great majority of yoga teachers. I think an answer might lie in some sort of certification training in injury awareness granted through medical schools or nursing programs. This would turn the yoga world upside down, especially with the economics of the “medical training industrial complex”. As for the bits I’ve read on the Sex chapter, many views seems like the views of Victorian colonialist in India: that the vast majority of Hindus were under the thumb of “lascivious priests”.

  19. Chrissy says:

    Awesome questions! He seems like SUCH a sweet guy! Too bad so many people are narrow minded! I’m buying his book!!!!! Thanks for an insightful interview Vanessa!

  20. mike says:

    Wonderful interview!

    I have read the book, and it is not without fault. He collapses the background of yoga considerably when he says it evolved from a sex cult. That being said, the Tantric/sexual end has been so thoroughly scrubbed from the modern yoga myth that he should be commended for reasserting the truth. I think where he was going with it was that we should be using yoga to increase sexual health, but he did sort of over-simplify the history.

    Also, while he focuses so highly on these rare (and old) reports of strokes, I forgive him for that since the bigger issue is all of the shoulder and knee injuries, which he also discusses. Yes, these aren’t as sensational, but they are so common and studios have been effective in hushing them.

    What is here is a readable summary of how yoga was reinvented as physical culture for the West, a discussion of how yogic breathing actually changes brain chemistry through CO2 build up (not oxygen), a look at risky poses and associated injuries, and a wealth of information that supports the transformative power of yoga– to heal us physically and emotionally and to give us access to our own powers of creativity. It is not a trashing of yoga by any stretch.

    I enjoyed this book as well as his recommendations for further reading.

  21. David D says:

    I found this a difficult book to analyze. Having read almost all of it (I’ll finish this weekend), I have found it slopply for something touted as being rooted in science. In essence, it may be more misleading than accurate.

    For example, he seems perfectly happy to indicate that a “wave” of injuries have plagued yoga. Then he spends an inordinate amount of time discussing a few medical case reports related to strokes that span decades, literally decades of reporting. Several problems immediately arise. How did he determine that a “wave” actually exists? From the book, it seems largely anecdotal. Setting that aside, what is the baseline it is being compared to? Is there actually an increase, per capita, or is there an increase because more people overall are doing yoga? These questions are never raised and never addressed, but they should be critical to what that chapter is about, regardless of whether strokes, knees, or hips are being investigated.

    Moving on a bit, the focus on strokes and using case reports raises numerous problems related to methodology and reasoning. Case studies are the basest of reported incidents (n=1 after all) and cannot really be used to say you “know” anything. They are narrative based, and they often confuse the precipitating event with the “cause.”

    As an example of this problem, Broad himself says that he had an untoward yogic event. He was doing side angle pose in a class, lost his concetration talking to a mat neighbor, and had some form of back pain. He readily admits that his back was damaged by another sport (running, if I remember right), but still wants to to draw causation to yoga. To be clear, the cause of his injury was something else, the trigger for the pain event was yoga-related. (You see something similar when you hear that lifting a suitcase overhead “caused” someone’s back to be damaged. In all likelihood, their back was previously damaged and the suitcase was a triggering event for the pain.)

    But this is exactly the problem with case reports. The stroke may have happened during yoga or immediately after, but that does not mean that yoga caused the underlying condition. It does not even mean yoga was related to the onset (i.e., the even may have happened roller blading, sitting in chair, or sleeping, if that activity was being done at that time). It is impossible to make a causal determination from case reports, but that does not stop Mr. Broad from claiming that the case reports speak a truth (e.g., yoga can cause strokes in the general population), and then deriding the yoga community for not speaking up and addressing something that has not been proven in the first place. Further, this telegraphs that Mr. Broad does not understand the difference between medical reporting and science. (He’s not alone. But it’s a significant problem from someone writing a book on the science of yoga.)

    This is a microcosm of problems that infest the entirety of the book. I could go on for pages and pages about this book’s issues. But, having said that, it seems the book is a pivot point for some people about examining some of the “truths” of yoga. In that sense, it may be useful, if seen as part of the beginning of an inquiry, not an endpoint itself. I just wish he’d been more rigorous in his examination. As it is, I found the book largely unhelpful and likely to lead people astray more than it leads them to understanding.

    Of course, your mileage may vary. :)

  22. Andrew Gurvey says:

    This was a really balanced interview and well-done. Great idea, too! Here’s the only question that I didn’t feel got answered (or maybe it did and I missed something). I felt that the NY Times articles took a lot of the negatives about which Mr. Broad speaks, and which clearly hold truth, and only wrote that. It painted Mr. Broad in more of a demonic light, and less in a balanced, scientific light. Was that excerpt chosen by the New York Times? Could the article have been more balanced? When I read the article, I felt like there was a sweeping generalization towards how yoga can hurt, and less balance regarding the benefits. Anyway, I really appreciated reading this interview and Mr. Broad’s candidness. I also appreciate that there are people out there willing to shine a light, if you will, on the shadow side of yogic consciousness, and on the ego-driven darkness that exists within the community. Very interesting, indeed.

  23. Swapan says:

    Candid interview. As a long term practitioner (30 years) and teacher of asanas, pranayam and dhyan, I found “Science of Yoga” refreshing, thought provoking, at times reductive, but something that was needed. Undoubtedly, there are limitations when it comes to translation and interpretation. “Yogi” means someone who has mastered Yoga, i.e. reached “Samadhi”. You do not become a “Yogi” by simply performing asanas, or even after “200 hours of study” !! Even Broad failed to quote any of the original yogasutras of Patanjali in his book. His premise that yoga (again he really means asanas, pranayam) originates mainly from Tantric sex reveals his limited understanding. Barring a translated source he does not quote a single original Tantric text. In this he falls into the same mould as western teachers in making a miniscule part the whole. Lastly, as far as pronunciation goes, most yoga teachers in the US mispronounce yogic and Sanskrit terms. So let’s not take Broad to task for pronouncing Iyengar in a particular way!

  24. Mike Dynie says:

    People keep talking about the “reactions of the yogis” as if it is “unyogic” and temperamental to be critiquing this book. I think the strong reaction is warranted, because the author is so obviously sensationalizing the knowledge he has come across, and even worse, portraying it as being “new” knowledge yogis are either blissfully unaware of, or deny to protect an industry.

    Yoga has been constantly evolving, and the use of props to support students where they are at is nothing new, nor is it limited to certain “reformers.” To paint the picture that there are a select few “reforming Yoga” to make it safe also obscures the truth, and exposes Broad’s very novice understanding of Yoga, despite claims to a life of regular practice. Anything is going to hurt if you do it wrong. Any good instructor I know drives this point home, but some people don’t seem to hear it–this is why physical adjustments are necessary, to take the student out of the pose, and into alignment and proper action of muscles. There is a safe variation of every pose.

    Most full-time instructors obsessively study how to make it more accessible and safe to people to avoid injury. The idea of emphasizing the “function” of the pose rather than conforming to a “form” has been discussed for decades now — see the work of A.G. Mohan, student of Krishnamacharya. The true science of yoga is everywhere, its been documented by tons of teachers who outline injuries and proper alignment. Checkout Gregor Mahle if you think “athletic” yoga like Ashtanga is dangerous. People are going to great lengths to make things safe and accessible, this is nothing new.

  25. ros angeline says:

    BTW. Tantra isn’t necessarily about the sex act per se. Both Hatha and Tantra are studies (or art forms, or states of consciosness) cultivated to lead to enightenment through Union with the self, the Divine in self and all that is by elevating the body and it’s experiences through the senses, as aspects of the Divine experiencing this form (body). it is about allowing the pure experience of bliss (Divine) and full aliveness in this body.
    There is the ascetic path of denial and control of the body and it’s senses, as diversions off the path to enightenment, and tantra removes the polarization (or war with the self), through allowing body experience to be the vehicle to the One.

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