The Yoga Industrial Complex

We at The Confluence Countdown have been diligently following the release of William Broad’s book, and have struggled to keep an open mind. But a recent interview with Broad on NPR’s “Talk of the Nation” has really set us off (transcript here). Every turn of Broad’s mind is a full-on non sequitur that had me eye-rolling right out of my mind. A woman calls in to talk about how much yoga has helped her blood pressure, and is helping her daughter learn in school. True, it can do that, says Broad. But then tells the story of how he threw his weak back out showing off for a cute girl, and segues into, somehow, a little tirade about how there are too many inexperienced yoga teachers out there.

Was the yoga teacher supposed to come over and tell him to stop acting like an idiot so he wouldn’t hurt himself? Really?

And then there’s this bit. John Dankosky, the interviewer, is trying to be reasonable about this. How many serious injuries are there in yoga, really? How many strokes? Broad then blames….wait for it….the federal government.

BROAD: No one knows. The federal government doesn’t spend a lot of money on yoga. It spends no money on yoga epidemiology. The drug companies don’t, right? But what you see are – and what I lay out in the book, over and over, are these case studies, right? One clinical report after another: yoga practitioner stroke, yoga practitioner stroke – over and over. And in response to the excerpt of the book in The New York Times article – The New York Times Magazine – the number of letters I got of injuries, including strokes, they don’t show up in the medical literature so much anymore because it’s a known threat.

Doctors, orthopedic surgeons, all these people know that extreme bending of the neck in yoga can be a risk factor for stroke, right? But they don’t write about it anymore. It’s known in the medical world, but not in the yoga world.

DANKOSKY: You would think somebody will be looking at this, but nobody is because?

BROAD: My own theory?


BROAD: The yoga industrial complex has an economic incentive, right, to look the other way. Ask Philip Morris: Do cigarettes cause cancer? Absolutely not. Cigarettes are wonderful for you. Ask the complex: Does yoga cause injuries? Yoga is safe and wonderful. They just – if they know, they ignore it, right? Many of these people are uninformed. They don’t know about the serious risks. And I hope they look at the book, so that they can get the details.

For those of you who don’t recognize the reference here, Broad is playing off President Dwight Eisenhower’s warning in his farewell address against the “military-industrial complex.” That’s right. Yoga: a post-Cold War death machine. I’m a yoga teacher. A death dealer like Big Tobacco. And I look the other way when you stroke out in my class because it makes me the big money.

This had me spitting obscenities. These are all conclusions I’d be all over my writing students for making: generalizations (of the sweeping variety), lack of causal connections, false parallels–it just blows my mind.

Right. That’s enough about Broad. Last post on him. Promise.

Posted by Bobbie

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Two Ashtangis write about their practice and their teachers.

3 thoughts on “The Yoga Industrial Complex”

  1. “This had me spitting obscenities. These are all conclusions I’d be all over my writing students for making: generalizations (of the sweeping variety), lack of causal connections, false parallels–it just blows my mind.”

    I understand: I feel the same way too. But all this also makes me question the credibility of NPR as a news source… to think that there was a time when I got most of my news from NPR…

    1. I wouldn’t shoot the messenger. If you look at the transcript, the NPR guy is trying to be direct while still being fair, but there’s only so much he can do. It’s the New York Times I’m worried about. Broad is their big science writer. How’s that possible?

  2. As a science “writer” he is certainly stirring the pot and having people read his columns. After all, we all have already, haven’t we. Cheap tabloid journalism. Can I say that and be yogic? I hope so.

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