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The British spin on ‘The Science of Yoga’: Can yoga kill?

February 8, 2012

The reaction to the new book The Science of Yoga may, in fact, be getting out of hand. Quickly.

As I noted yesterday, the book’s author, New York Times science writer William Broad, is in England promoting the book. An initial reaction wasn’t very positive or even very measured.

It’s looking like that is the basic takeaway by the British press, which I suppose isn’t exactly known for its calm, non-tabloidesque ways.

But I am not sure I expected this:

  • The Daily Mail‘s headline: Can yoga classes kill you? The startling question posed by a leading science writer
  • The BBC, which trust me isn’t tabloid, goes with: Can yoga kill you?
  • And, as already noted above, the Telegraph also included the work “kill.”

Just what’s going on here?

Well, not having heard everything Broad has said, it could be that he is emphasizing some of the more salacious and controversial parts or just that he’s being backed into a corner by the questions he’s being asked.

Either way, thus far the press from this book is not going in a helpful way. Or is it?

If the spin on the book continues to go this direction, it just might force yogis — especially the yoga stars — to respond. And in their responses, they might be able to bring to a wide audience the benefits — that come with inherent risks — of practicing yoga.

And it is that wide audience that intrigues me. It’s a reason I think Broad’s book is a major “event” for yoga in the West.

I haven’t yet gotten my hands on the book to do my own, first-hand dissection of how valid it is. I’ll admit that I’m expecting it to be a fair, reasonable, well-researched and appropriately critical look at yoga. (In that sense, not like the excerpt from the New York Times Magazine that first caught everyone’s attention.) I think Broad’s decades with the New York Times give him a pretty good amount of credibility. (Despite said magazine article.)

I know other journalists will think that, and that is one reason why this book is going to get reviewed in lots of places. At some point, I’m pretty sure he’ll make it on the morning TV talk shows.

The big audience he is going to command is why I don’ t think we can just dismiss the book. It’s why I absolutely intend to read it, sooner than later, even though I have lots of other books in my queue I’d rather read. But Broad’s book is of the moment. It is going to get big, mainstream play. Non-yogis will hear about it.

And if they only hear that it suggests “yoga can kill you,” that will be a step back and not a step forward. If Broad isn’t going to offer counter arguments, or if he doesn’t really get the chance, it will end up being on our backs to do so.

For that, we’ll have to know a little about what he’s saying. (Yes, that serves his end game: selling books.) I just don’t see anyway around it.

On the positive side, from the reviews it sounds like Broad’s book offers a fresh look at how asana developed during the past century and putting a scientific lens to the practice could produce some interesting results.

In other words, I’m not expecting it to be a waste of our time. And I am optimistic it will add to our understanding of yoga and encourage us to value it more than we already do.

Or, maybe it will save all our lives!

[Quick update: A seemingly better interview / review is at NPR. It includes a few longer quotations from Broad. It includes a link to a Fresh Air segment with him, which may run more than 30 minutes. Required listening…?]

Posted by Steve

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. rkoman permalink
    February 8, 2012 1:56 am

    Steve, thanks for this. As I said here – http://www.ujayii.com/2012/02/07/yoga-dangers-continue-to-be-blown-out-of-proportion/ – it’s pretty apparent that it’s not the case that Broad is not giving interviews where he extols the virtues and mentions these few extreme claims as an afterthought. No – the press is in the dangers: the medical press always wants to talk about the dangers. And it’s quite obvious Broad is now giving interviews focused on the alleged dangers, the lethal strokes.

    Even so it is pretty shocking that the british press is saying yoga will kill you. Or rather inexperienced teachers will kill you. After all, as the article pointed out (at the very bottom) the british stroke association has ZERO cases of yoga-induced stroke, never mind lethal strokes.

    So if Broad is going around saying “kill” – that is more than just a question of emphasis. It is an outrageous hysterical drum beating for the sole purpose of scaring people and selling books.

    • February 8, 2012 4:37 am

      Well, it is and it isn’t shocking about the British press, right? It’s shocking they didn’t hack Broad’s phone! :)

      It does get back to needing to read the book for ourselves. It’s putting $$ in Broad’s pocket, but I’m OK with it. When I write my amazing tell-all yoga book, I’ll be pimpin’ it like there’s no tomorrow.

      That’s a joke.

      Or… is it?

      Steve

  2. February 9, 2012 2:05 pm

    The NPR interview is disappointing. Around minute 25 he claims that historically yoga and sex were closely linked but that in the 1920 the Indians tried to “clean up yoga”. So first yoga was all about sex, then – after the cleanse – it became a lethal weapon? I must have missed the bits in the Upanishads/Vedas/Sutras that talk about sex. And were they not written slightly before 1920?
    Sadly enough, the interviewer, having no clue about yoga, just lets him go on, giving him a platform to promote his work without questioning his sources.

    • February 10, 2012 3:56 am

      I haven’t had a chance to listen because I’ve been traveling. I’m sort of surprised at the poor review. Terry Gross is usually pretty solid. This is making me go, “Hmmmm.”

      Steve

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  1. I think maybe I will skip reading ‘The Science of Yoga’ after all « The Confluence Countdown

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