‘American Veda’ author takes down Dowd

A few weeks ago, we dropped New York Times’ columnist Maureen Dowd’s yoga-related column on you.

“Yoga makes you fat” was the catchy idea from it, and not surprisingly that caught people’s attention.

You can now add to that list Philip Goldberg, author of “American Veda” (which I’m reading right now). He has a new post up at (ugh) the Huffington Post. Here’s the gist:

Well, entertaining it was. Informative? Kind of, but not in a reliable way. Dowd, who practices yoga for stress-reduction, was reporting on a forthcoming book by New York Times science writer William Broad called, “The Science of Yoga: The Myths and the Rewards.” I haven’t seen the book, which won’t be out until February, so I can only hope that Dowd did not do it justice. I’m afraid she perpetuates the superficial coverage of yoga so common in the mainstream press.

Goldberg goes on to argue with the main points in Dowd’s column: that yoga causes a lot of injuries, that it causes brain damage and that it causes madness. (He discounts Carl Jung’s take on this by pointing out that Jung probably knew fewer Hatha yoga practitioners than live on Goldberg’s street.)

But what about the really important point? Here’s his answer:

Dowd also discusses Broad’s assertion that yoga might not aid in weight loss, as some proponents claim, but can have the opposite effect since the practices lower metabolism. Again, we don’t know whether this is a theoretical statement of if Broad cites data showing that yogis are prone to weight gain. My response is a resounding au contraire, as a glance at random yoga students would affirm. I suggest there is at least one mitigating factor: people who do yoga regularly are likely to be more in tune with their bodies and therefore eat healthier diets.

Goldberg also points out what I’d say is the most important thing he has to say: “Nowhere in her column is there any indication that there is more to yoga than the asanas(postures) and pranayama (breathing) that dominate most classes. Meditation, the centerpiece of classical yoga, is not mentioned, and one can only hope that Broad’s book does not ignore the hundreds of studies on meditation in peer-reviewed publications.”

He also writes that he hopes Broad’s book doesn’t fail to mention all the other aspects of yoga.

My guess is it doesn’t. But we’ll have to wait to February to see. (Maybe it will make for good reading at the Confluence.)

Posted by Steve

A wee bit more on whether yoga makes you fat

It turns out — surprise! — that people are interested in whether yoga makes you fat.

Our blog’s little search term counter during the past few days has turned up a bunch of variations on “yoga makes you fat.” It is by far the most searched term for people who are happening, via search, onto the site.

Well, I have a little more to offer you on this. It’s not me, but a fellow Ashtangi we met this year at Tim Miller’s Mt. Shasta retreat, Jennifer Pilotti. She has a degree in exercise physiology and is a Health Fitness Instructor via the American College of Sports Medicine. You can find out more about her here.

Here’s what she wrote on Facebook in response to one of our “does yoga make you fat?” posts.

Instead of working on my paper re: high intensity exercise and weight loss, I ran a pubmed search on yoga and weight loss. I found an interesting study performed by Mody (2011) that examined the acute effects of surya namaskar on the cardiovascular and metabolic system. While the study was quite small (6 individuals), the researcher found the participants were performing SN at 80% of heart rate max, which is high enough to cause a cardiorespiratory effect. 30 minutes of sun salutations burned an average of 230 calories for someone weighing 60kg. As long as the person isn’t consuming large quantities of chai tea after practice, this should lead to weight loss, not weight gain.

60kg, for those who don’t have the calculation right in front of you, is about 132 pounds.

I think this is in the same vein as my earlier point: Maybe this — yoga makes you fat (because, you’ll recall, it eventually slows the metabolism) — is true of asana practices that focus on relaxation and stretching and calming. But Ashtanga? No way!

Of course, we all consume mass quantities of chai, right? (After all, no wheat in it!)

Posted by Steve