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

Counterpoint: No need to thank Vivekananda

Last weekend, we highlighted a piece in the New York Times that drew a hard and fast yoga line back to Vivekananda.

The crux was: Vivekananda’s appearance in 1893 at a religion conference in Chicago kicked off the yoga craze in America.

Not so fast.

In a counterpoint at Religion Dispatches, Andrea R. Jain says it isn’t so easy to trace Western yoga back to this one guy. “No, I Don’t Owe My Yoga Mat to Vivekananda” is the title. Quick highlights:

I wasn’t surprised, since Vivekananda is often valorized as the great deliverer of yoga to “the West” or the “Father of modern yoga” in the popular press. But frankly, I’m tired of hearing it. And it’s just not true.


Before Vivekananda came to the United States with his version of yoga and gave his famous speech to the World’s Parliament of Religions in Chicago in 1893, which triggered the speaking tour that would take him all over the country, other Americans’ embrace of yoga was stirring plenty of conversation.

Jain goes on to discuss Pierre Bernard and Ida C. Craddock as to other early yogis and notes that Vivekananda was never “popular” in the way we think of that word. (He was no Bikram, in other words!) She also points out there was plenty of interplay between the “physical culture” of the West and Indian elites that created the asana practice we all know today.

She concludes: “So no, I will not thank Vivekananda for my mat. He wouldn’t approve of what I do on it anyway.”

Posted by Steve

Here’s a great source of news about India

I just totally stumbled on this.

The New York Times has a blog about India news: “India Ink: News on the World’s Largest Democracy.”

Now — putting on my former journalist hat, which is well worn but still quite stylish — for my money, the Times remains heads and shoulders above the “mainstream media” in the U.S. Is it perfect? No. Are there biases (mainly unconscious) that you would expect from a paper centered in New York City? Yes. But it does a better, more thorough, more eloquent job of covering the news than any other paper I know of here.

That said, it just recently instituted a pay wall on its online product, so unless you’re a subscriber or are paying for the online product, this link might only be of limited use. (Despite my “for my money” phrase, I don’t!)

But it looks pretty solid. Stories, or links, over the past few days include fashion, politics (why Manmohan Singh won’t go down as India’s greatest prime minister since Nehru), economics, and more.

I can see myself using up my allotted monthly views just on this blog.

Posted by Steve

Blame Vivekananda for all those yoga studios on your block

I’m not precisely sure of the reason for this article, but there’s a piece in Sunday’s New York Times on Vivekananda, who brought yoga to the West and America. It was he who came to Chicago 1893, wowed crowds, wowed the Harvard set, wowed the Hollywood types and “introduced” yoga.

My headline is drawn from a line in the piece. It also points out that “an exercise cult with expensive accessories was hardly what he had in mind.”

Apparently there will be big celebrations in a year and a half to celebrate the 150th anniversary of his birth.

Still, why this piece now? I don’t know, but it’s the New York Times. It’s yoga history. It’s Vivekananda.

So, it’s worth a read, right?

A key part:

For most of the rest of the month, Vivekananda held the conference’s 4,000 attendees spellbound in a series of showstopping improvised talks. He had simplified Vedanta thought to a few teachings that were accessible and irresistible to Westerners, foremost being that “all souls are potentially divine.” His prescription for life was simple, and perfectly American: “work and worship.” By the end of his last Chicago lecture on Sept. 27, Vivekananda was a star. And like the enterprising Americans he so admired, he went on the road to pitch his message — dazzling some of the great minds of his time.

Link is here.

Posted by Steve