The Science of Yoga

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

William Broad talks about yoga, a practice thousands of years old. His book The Science of Yoga describes what’s uplifting and beneficial about the practice of yoga and what’s flaky and even dangerous. He looks at the burgeoning global yoga industry, which attracts true believers and charismatic hustlers.


William Broad

Comments [25]

Kayla from ny

I think it's all about portion size... in America, we like to take in as much good thing in the largest amount as possible and as soon as possible. Too much of a good thing will harm you! Your body needs to readjust to the change you just made. It's not magic!

Just go slow and modify if you can't do something. I do know about those instructors who will egg people on even when they are not physically ready to do certain things too. USE COMMON SENSE PLEASE. At the end of the day, you are the one paying money to take a class and always go somewhere else with skilled and knowledgeable instructors.

I do agree that there needs to be a lot more research into yoga and yoga claims.

Feb. 14 2012 12:57 PM

I agree that yoga is becoming more scientific. I attend a back care yoga class in NYC grounded in Iyengar interlaced with some physical therapy techniques. It is excellent. I have scoliosis and my back is slowly getting straighter. It isn't a miracle. It is a serious mindful individualized practice.

Feb. 14 2012 12:46 PM

Why didn't we realize it sooner?
The yoga teachers need to be government certified!
I wonder what role predatory yoga played in the recent financial collapse?
What does Elizabeth Warren have to say about it?

Feb. 14 2012 12:39 PM
db from new york

"Yoga" you refer to should be called "hatha yoga" Yoga is an overall discipline, philosophy and lifestyle, not only a series of asanas (postures).

Feb. 14 2012 12:39 PM
Tom from UWS

A great teacher of mine absolutely recommended aerobic exercise before class. Among other things, the aerobic workout warms up the body, good preparation for stretching. And it's especially helpful after the aerobic workout to have a good, slow program of stretching and balance. Balance is what yoga is all about.

But it is indeed possible to be injured, even seriously. I've seen a substitute instructor enter a room filled with strangers, in a class of mixed ability, throwing them into the kind of advanced poses that can cause neck and head injuries. My own worst injury happened during the benign early minutes of a class, when I became distracted by another practitioner who arrived late, made noise, etc. As I focused on her the irritation all located itself in the place where my focus HAD BEEN - my back. I learned then the importance of staying in MY yoga, not worrying about the antics or progress of others in the room.

Welcome the science. It is knowledge, and knowledge is thoroughly compatible with self-knowledge!

Feb. 14 2012 12:37 PM
jgarbuz from Queens

I learned my yoga on TV back in the early 1970s from a guy named Richard Hittleman who had his young lady assistants do the poses. He was cautious, warning people never to push, but always try to do 40% of what they THINK they can do, and modify it. Yoga is not a competitive sport. It is not a sport at all. It is for helping to "tune up" and maintain flexibility, and can increase flexibility for many. But it must be done SLOWLY and very carefully and tailored for individuals, not for "groups." I would never spend a moment or a dime in a school. You can learn all you need, which is only maybe a half dozen postures, which are all you need to do what you need done.

Feb. 14 2012 12:36 PM

I am unclear about the author's time reference to The Sun Salutation, which goes back to the Vedas (see clip from Wikkipedia below). Could he please explain? Thank you.

There are numerous references to praising the Sun to enhance good health and prosperity, in the Vedas. Some of these Vedic hymns were incorporated into Nitya Vidhi (Daily mandatory routine for a Hindu). These daily procedures were termed Surya Namaskara (literally translates as "sun salutations"). The forms of Surya Namaskar practiced vary from region to region. Two such popular practices are Trucha Kapla Namaskarah and Aditya Prasna

Feb. 14 2012 12:36 PM
Carol from Manhattan

Your guest mentions Glenn Black in the context of teachers you won't get injured with. I sustained one of my two worst yoga injuries in a workshop with Glenn Black. He behaved just the way your guest characterized the "green" teachers, egging us on, into more and more challenging poses.

Feb. 14 2012 12:35 PM
Maude from Park SLope

I appreciate this interview so much--thank you both. I've been doing different kinds of yoga for 20 years or so, and I finally went to teacher training for Kundalini yoga. It was amazing, one of the best things I have ever done. But unfortunately I became extremely disenchanted because I felt like there was a cult-y aspect that started to freak me out, and I didn't feel like the "science" they were teaching was backed up. Now I've come back to Kundalini yoga because I feel so much better when I do it--I love the practice. Anyhow, It's great to have someone from they NYT look into the science and history. Thanks!!

Feb. 14 2012 12:35 PM
keith from NYC

Ridiculous. You cannot cure a torn rotator cuff by any yoga pose. I'm an athlete, and I saw the MRI of my rotator cuff that showed the tear. Yoga may be a good practice for range of motion and strength exercises, but it is no substitute for conventional medical attention if needed.

Feb. 14 2012 12:34 PM
desdemona finch from Brooklyn

Anything done in extreme is going to be bad for you ultimately. Doing yoga to spice up your workout schedule is a great thing. Bikram yoga is terrific when not taken to extreme but after a while, I just got bored doing the same thing. I joined a local YMCA where I could do a wider range of activities.

Feb. 14 2012 12:33 PM
josh karan fro Washington Heights from northern Manhattan

Is there any evidence that yoga can increase heart functioning to help surmount heart muscle damage?

I have a damaged heart due to a valve problem, which has led to what technically is called a low ejection fraction; each contraction results in an inadequate amount of blood being pumped through my body.

Can the impact that yoga has on breath control impact on strength of heart pumping action?

Feb. 14 2012 12:32 PM
Steve from Manhattan

Two things have always bothered me about yoga:
1. I can't stretch like that.
2. The religious aspect is obnoxious -- I insist on exercising free of faith.

Feb. 14 2012 12:30 PM
Marc from NYC

What is the best type of Yoga for stress reduction that also combines limbering-up middle aged formerly athletic legs?

Feb. 14 2012 12:29 PM
Amy from Manhattan

I've heard that chiropractic neck adjustments can cause strokes the same way.

Feb. 14 2012 12:29 PM
Chris from Queens

Wonderfully interesting topic, but I have one quibble. The guest's research and comments seem to refer only to the act of performing the poses. Yoga is a meditation technique, not just a set of asanas. I would prefer if, when speaking of yoga and its benefits, we could speak of the whole thing: physical, mental, and spiritual.

Feb. 14 2012 12:27 PM
jgarbuz from Queens

To Henry

Whenever I feel anything coming on, such a headache, which I have not had in 40 years, I immediately go into a headstand. Head stand is one of the most difficult to learn iniitially and one must BE VERY< VERY VERY careful and slow in learning to do it properly, because you can hurt yourself, especially lifting up your head, which has to be done VERY GRADUALLY and SLOWLY, but it is one of the most important and useful yoga exercises. I believe it can do wonders in keeping the head and mind clear of headaches and stresses, if done as directed, safely, and not carelessly.

Feb. 14 2012 12:26 PM


Feb. 14 2012 12:25 PM
Susan from nyc

This guys smarmyness is harshing my mellow. The assumption that science holds all the answers is limited. Broad's medical model mindset has blinded him to the fact that much of yoga's popularity as a healing modality is precisely because it is an alternative to all that.

Feb. 14 2012 12:24 PM
Wendy from NY

If yoga helps you sleep better it will in fact decrease appetite and assist in weight loss. Sleep loss causes increases in ghrelin, the "hunger hormone."

Feb. 14 2012 12:24 PM
jgarbuz from Queens

I've been doing a little bit of yoga every other day since 1972. It can definitely be useful, but it's not enough by itself. A bit of other exercises, such as aerobics, light weights, isometrics and such complement yoga and are equally important to maintain a degree of flexibility and fitness. Yoga alone is no panacea, but should be part of a variegated "kit bag" of minimal exercises.

Feb. 14 2012 12:21 PM
Ralph Seliger

A cardiologist suggested to me that yoga can help with my hypertension. Did Mr. Broad's research examine its impact on blood pressure health?

Feb. 14 2012 12:20 PM
Connie from nj

How can it be a surprise that yoga isn't an aerobic activity? I thought an aerobic activity makes you breath heavily thus using much more oxygen. Isn't that the definition of aerobic?

Feb. 14 2012 12:18 PM
John Sealock from NYC

Please see if your guest will discuss if there are any comparisons in the benefits of "actual" Yoga and an equivalent amount of time with controlled breathing, relaxation, and stretching without the names and poses.


Feb. 14 2012 12:12 PM
Henry from Elizabeth NJ

Are there any scientific proof of the benefits of the 'head-stand'?
I read about it (reverse-flow) and sounded too fantastic honestly.

Feb. 14 2012 11:51 AM

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