‘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

Stern on yoga as religion, Iggy Pop and the fallacies of Dowd

I’ve been seeing some photos on Facebook purporting to be work going on at the Ashtanga Yoga New York studio. I wasn’t sure I was making proper sense of them.

Seemingly, I was. There’s work a plenty going on there, and that has Eddie Stern behind on his news. But he catches up on Tuesday (a Moon Day… any coincidence?).

His latest is here and includes more on Iggy Pop’s backbend and two New York Times stories we highlighted over the weekend. I’m sure I’m being sensationalistic when I say he takes them both down. Two excerpts:

In Mary Billard’s October 7th article in the New York Times, titled “In Schools, Yoga Without the Spiritual”, the issue of whether yoga is a religion, or part of a religion, is further confused by equating spirituality with religion.

[snip]

Further, we should not confuse the use of a foreign language, like Sanksrit, with religion and thereby exclude it from schools. That would be like not teaching Latin because it is used by the Pope.

He goes on to dive more deeply into something Krishnamacharya and adds this: “What was left out of Billard’s article was that Bent On Learning teaches from the very first class that yoga is a practice of kindness – for oneself, one’s neighbor, and the space that one inhabits. This is the essence of yoga, made approachable for the needs of the kids in the public school system – teachers and administration, too.”

That seems a pretty solid “definition” of yoga to me.

Stern’s reaction to Maureen Dowd’s piece on an upcoming book on yoga perhaps is best summed up in the “headline” he gives it: “Oh, Maureen, Why?”

Maureen Dowd’s October 8th op-ed piece, titled “How Gardo Learned to Stand on Her Head“, was made all the more annoying by the fact that the book she is writing about, William Broad’s “The Science of Yoga”, is not due out till February, 2012. So we can’t even read it to check to see if he provides any solid science for some of the silly things Ms Dowd attributes to him.

[snip]

For Ms Dowd to flippantly pull such quotes from a book that cannot yet be referenced seems, to me, irresponsible towards the field and study of yoga.

There you have it. I guess we can assume Dowd doesn’t practice at AYNY.

Posted by Steve

New book: Does yoga make you fat?

The hits keep coming from the New York Times.

Along with asking the question “Om or not“, the Times today has a column by Maureen Dowd that focuses on a new book by a Times science writer. It’s called “The Science of Yoga: The Myths and the Rewards,” by William Broad.

Here is a bit from Dowd’s piece:

But as I read on, I began to feel a little stressed out.

Does yoga make you fat?

“For decades, teachers of yoga have hailed the discipline as a great way to shed pounds,” Broad writes. “But it turns out that yoga works so well at reducing the body’s metabolic rate that — all things being equal — people who take up the practice will burn fewer calories, prompting them to gain weight and deposit new layers of fat. And for better or worse, scientists have found that the individuals most skilled at lowering their metabolisms are women.”

Broad follows that up with another of yoga’s “dirty little secrets,” writing: “Yoga has produced waves of injuries. Take strokes, which arise when clogged vessels divert blood from the brain. Doctors have found that certain poses can result in brain damage that turns practitioners into cripples with drooping eyelids and flailing limbs.”

Now I was very tense. The next paragraph made me coil tighter.

“Darker still, some authorities warn of madness,” Broad advises. “As Carl Jung put it, advanced yoga can ‘let loose a flood of sufferings of which no sane person ever dreamed.’ ”

Guruji, I believe, talked about too much Pranayama too soon doing that. I’m not sure I’ve heard of the poses causing it — although I’ve definitely had waves of emotion during practice. Possibly not floods, though.

I’ll be interested to see how Broad’s book is received, both by the yoga community and the mainstream. It could add a valuable, authoritative voice to the discussion about yoga’s benefits.

Posted by Steve