NY Times writer at it again: This time, it’s women in danger from yoga

William Broad, the New York Times writer who ticked off a bunch of yogis (including Eddie Stern) with his book last year, and excerpted article in the Times, highlighting the dangers of yoga, is at it again.

Last time, it was mostly men who were at risk from yoga. With less flexibility than women, many tended to use their muscles to wrench them into poses, he said, resulting in injuries.

Now, it’s women he’s got his eyes on. From a piece in this Sunday’s Times:

Earlier this year, the picture of female superiority began to blur when a prominent yoga teacher in Hawaii wrote me about a poorly known threat to women.

The teacher, Michaelle Edwards, said that women’s elasticity became a liability when extreme bends resulted in serious wear and tear on their hips. Over time, she said, the chronic stress could develop into agonizing pain and, in some cases, the need for urgent hip repairs. Ms. Edwards sent me her book, “YogAlign.” It described her own hip pain long ago and how she solved it by developing a gentle style of yoga.

Her warning contradicted many books, articles and videos that hailed yoga’s bending and stretching as a smart way to fight arthritic degeneration.

I put her cautions aside. Finally, in late summer, I got around to making some calls.

To my astonishment, some of the nation’s top surgeons declared the trouble to be real — so real that hundreds of women who did yoga were showing up in their offices with unbearable pain and undergoing costly operations to mend or even replace their hips.

“It’s a relatively high incidence of injury,” Jon Hyman, an orthopedic surgeon in Atlanta, told me. “People don’t come in often saying I was doing Zumba or tai chi” when they experienced serious hip pain, he said. “But yoga is common.”

[snip]

Women’s hips showed particular vulnerability. By nature, their pelvic regions support an unusually wide range of joint play that can increase not only their proficiency in yoga but, it turned out, their health risks. The investigators found that extreme leg motions could cause the hip bones to repeatedly strike each other, leading over time to damaged cartilage, inflammation, pain and crippling arthritis. They called it Femoroacetabular Impingement — or F.A.I., in medical shorthand. The name spoke to a recurrence in which the neck of the thigh bone (the femur) swung so close to the hip socket (the acetabulum) that it repeatedly struck the socket’s protruding rim.

[snip]
Surgeons agree that women who moderate their practice can probably avoid hip trouble. Unfortunately, yoga teachers too often encourage students to “push through the pain.” That’s not smart. Pain is nature’s warning system. It’s telling you that something has gone awry.

Better to do yoga in moderation and listen carefully to your body. That temple, after all, is your best teacher.

This piece strikes me as having many of the same issues as Broad’s earlier work: It doesn’t put any of the number of surgeries in context. For instance, it quotes one surgeon as saying he does 50 to 75 surgeries on mostly women who were dancers or did yoga each year. But it doesn’t say how many patients, total, he has.  Another doctor sees roughly 100 middle-aged women per year. But how many total patients does he see? It doesn’t say.

There’s no baseline.

And that makes it sloppy journalism, which I can’t help saying seems to be Broad’s M.O.y

It also contains the same logical fallacies of Broad’s earlier reporting. There is a problem with causality here. You can’t just assume because women come in to an orthopedic surgeon’s office complaining of hip problems and these women also do yoga that yoga caused them. Or, following the line that Broad draws, that their teachers caused them by forcing these seemingly powerless women to push through the pain.

I should also note that the Times is famous, in its Style section, for doing “trend” stories that are anecdotal. There’s a whole arena of media criticism on those Times trend stories: Moms are drinking more often during the day; men are waxing their bodies more; kids are asking for more feng shui design.

Nothing to suggest, actually, that there are any trends. Just that the journalists heard these stories from a couple of people, typically in their NY social circles.

Broad’s work seems to fall firmly into this “trend” at the Times.

But… I’m sure it still will get lots of attention, beginning with us.

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