NY Times reviews book on yoga injuries: ‘An open mind’?
Barely a dozen words into her review of the book that we all think will be about how yoga can hurt you, the New York Times reviewer says this of its author: he has an “open mind.”
That’s probably not what many in the yoga world are expecting following the reaction to a snippet from the book that ran in the New York Times magazine last month.
Do we all have to re-judge?
Judging by the review of the book – The Science of Yoga, by NY Times science journalist William Broad — there is a lot of interest, although maybe a lot that yoga experts know already: the history, how its a relatively modern phenomena and how its continuing to change into a “yoga industrial complex.”
But all we really care about is the section on whether yoga can hurt you, right?
The review doesn’t add much to that part other than we already know. We do get this:
The notion that a person can be hurt while engaging in yoga, Broad writes, “runs counter to yoga’s reputation for healing and its promotion of superior levels of fitness and well-being”; many current practitioners turned to yoga after being injured by more high-impact activities. Nevertheless, he makes a strong case that without careful precautions, yoga can produce painful or incapacitating impairments in the form of torn Achilles tendons, nerve damage, back injuries and even stroke.
And we get this:
But Broad isn’t done yet. His chapter on injuries is followed by discussions of yoga’s power — real or not — to heal disease, enhance sexuality and uplift the spirit. His conclusion? “The discipline on balance does more good than harm.” It can relieve stress and decrease pain, but along with the possibility of serious injury, it can also lead to disappointment for those expecting a miraculous change to their bodies or psyches.
What the review does push is that Broad is not only a solid authority to discuss these issues but that he’s done exhaustive research with tons of people and in obscure corners of obscure libraries. And that’s probably the bit that will interest yoga defenders, who seemed quick to dismiss Broad when his magazine article was published:
This dogged pursuit of the truth about yoga enables Broad to excavate its remarkable history. He combs through decades of studies, talks to hundreds of scientists and practitioners and roams the world in search of the real deal on yoga. Locating its origins in India thousands of years ago, he recounts his visits to “historians, archives, literary societies and more, traveling by bus, subway, bicycle rickshaw and train (open doors, looking out over villages and smoky morning fires).” In Calcutta, he visits a library so obscure and little-used that dust covers the books and cobwebs hang, horror-movie style, from the ceiling.
A question I’m not sure gets answered — and seemingly never do in modern-day reviews, whether of books or movies or anything else — is this: “Should I read the book?” The reviewer does write this: “Though “The Science of Yoga” lacks the clarity of a book that sets out to define and defend a preconceived position, what it does offer is an intellectually honest exploration that is true to yoga’s own winding path.”
If that sounds like something that is up your alley, then it probably is worth your time and dollars.
For my part, I’m pretty interested in how yoga developed as a modern physical practice that traced roots back to ancient times. That, too, gets tackled:
Yoga’s bid for respectability began with its home country’s campaign for independence from Britain. In 1924, an Indian nationalist named Jagannath G. Gune established a sprawling compound dedicated to the scientific study of yoga. The goal was to give the ancient and often unsavory ritual “a bright new face that radiated with science and hygiene, health and fitness” — to present it as an indigenous practice that Indians could point to as proof of both their traditional wisdom and their swift modernization. The rebranding was a spectacular success. Yoga as a means to physical fitness and psychological equilibrium spread quickly around the world, and once it reached the United States in the early years of the 20th century, it changed yet again. Broad uncovers the fascinating fact that many of the practices we associate most closely with yoga, like the flowing series of poses known as the Sun Salutation, have no ancient pedigree, but are instead modern inventions.
I’m not sure that fact is exactly “fascinating” to those of who know it already, but I think I will end up having to pluck down some money to get a considered — and its sounds like the book is nothing if not “considered” — take on the modern asana form.
Which means I need to speed up my reading of A Song of Ice and Fire.
Posted by Steve