I liked it, I really liked it.
When this book was first released there was a lot of noise around it. Lots of talk and furor. Even a friend who has never stepped on a yoga mat in his 60+ years said "hey, I hear people are getting hurt doing yoga" when it came out. So I chose not read it until the dust settled.
Recently, a student of mine brought me her copy because she said that my teaching style reflects a lot of what is said in this book. I talk a lot about alignment, yoga helping creativity, and the use of the breath to calm and sooth. I want people to be safe. I want people to reach their creative potential. And I want people to be able to relax themselves, themselves. I thought, I guess now is the time to read The Science of Yoga: the Risks and the Rewards.
William J. Broad is a scientific journalist, a senior writer at The New York Times, and has practiced yoga since 1970. The fact that he is a scientific journalist automatically allows for the impression that this book will be chocked full of facts and some very interesting ones at that. He discusses many studies. Among them the affects of breathing on the body, how yoga lowers metabolism, the injuries that arise from the posture practice, how yoga affects us sexually, and how the Kundalini energy can unleash creative power.
The controversy stemmed from the fact that our beloved practice can very seriously injure and permanently debilitate us - maybe even death. I feel in no way is Mr. Broad condemning the practice of yoga but rather wanting all of us to examine our practice and what is being taught. One of his points that I strongly agree with is the speed at which new teachers are being created. Students that have been only taking yoga for a short time, perhaps a year or two, are now teaching others. That isn't to say they are bad teachers, yet they haven't experienced the process of yoga for long in their own bodies to give them the personal knowledge from which to grow.
I will say, quite honestly, that I have sustained injuries from my practice. I have tendinitis in my right hip from aggressive hip openers and thousands of sun salutations. I have arthritis in my right shoulder from repeatedly doing sun salutations. I used to have miserable neck pain from doing shoulder stand and plow even though it didn't feel right. I cannot twist deeply because of scoliosis in my spine, but it took me pushing myself too far and throwing myself out of whack to find this out. I use myself as an example openly with my students to hopefully try and have them avoid what I've been through. A lesson to listen to how the posture feels and whether or not to do it or modify it.
Overall, I think that this was quite a positive look at yoga. Yes, some mystical stories may have been dispelled, but the benefits of yoga are extolled as well. The experts and studies Mr. Broad chose to talk about spoke the faults but also discussed how we can improve the practice. He isn't saying he's concretely right or concretely wrong. Whether or not one agrees with what he has to say, this book is a valuable examination of yoga today.
I leave you with this quote from the epilogue:
"Yoga may see further, and its advanced practioners, for all I know, may frolic in fields of consciousness and spirit of which science knows nothing. Or maybe its all delusional nonsense. I have no idea.
But even if the otherworldly view has its merit, this book and the long studies of the scientific community show the bottom line. The transcendental bliss starts with the firing of neurons and neurotransmitters, with surges of hormones and brain waves.
It's the science of yoga."
An interview with Joni Yong on @yogachat: Episode 68 - Sex, Science, and Self-Transformation