Wednesday, 8 February 2012

A heads up: My NYT, 'Yoga wrecks your body' response on elephant journal UPDATE: William J Broad's 'The Science of yoga' reviews

PREVIOUS POST
Not really a blog post, I've gone cave yogi for a bit after all, but rather a note to say that my 'Hey NYT, my body was wrecked before yoga' blog post has been turned into an article on elephant journal, here's the link

Hey NYT, my body was wrecked before yoga on elephant

This was suggested to me after I put up the blog post a couple of weeks back and I felt strongly enough about it to send the post off to their editor to see if they wanted it (we'd talked last year about me submitting something but I never got around to sending anything in).

The original article, that this is kind of a response to was a provocative piece  How yoga can wreck your body in the New York Times magazine, no doubt designed to drum up interest in it's own Science correspondent William J. Broad's book “The Science of Yoga: The Risks and Rewards that was being published the following week. Plus of course a provocative piece sells copy. The UK press, no doubt noticing that the NYT article went viral, came up with their own provocative piece, this one from the Telegraph 'Green' yoga teachers could Kill. My response in elephant isn't denying the possibilities of injuries which are of course  possible in any physical activity, whether it's a sport, a martial art, dance and/or as a result of poor teaching or lack of common sense, we should always be seeking to minimise the risk and and at least balance that risk with the rewards, my article seeks rather to refocus on the positive and the transformative. There are of course some legitimate reviews of Broads book now doing the rounds, this one from the LA Times for example who put their finger on this particular issue '...But his chapter on bizarre injuries will get the most attention'.

Anyway, Tanya wrote back to say she liked the idea and the title but could I develop the post a little more, turn it into an article. I cut and pasted a few things from those old Developing a home practice series of posts and their assistant editor, Soumyajeet Chattaraj has done a nice job of pulling it into shape and making it readable, thank you Soumyajeet (added a nice Calvin and Hobbes cartoon too).

I'd actually thought about about asking them to return the article and forget about it after the editorial intrusion on the recent Kino article 'Let her fall...' which I thought undermined Kino's article somewhat. I'd made a comment, on that which they seemed to think was unfair criticism, a difference of opinion but certainly worthy of comment I thought, never mind, no disrespect to Tanya was intended (who seems a lovely person by the way, going by the mail I received recently in relation to my article).

I still think the following is kind of an important point so glad they've gone ahead and published it.

'The curious thing was that I had not really noticed that I had got so out of shape, so unhealthy; and find it quite shocking looking back at the old photos now…how could I not know?

...I see guys on the street my age, perhaps younger than me—I am not talking about the clinically obese, but regular guys who probably believe they are no less healthy than the next guy. I am sure they think they should cut back on the drinking a little, eat a little better, or walk the dog more often; but that is probably not going to do it.
There needs to be a government campaign—one of those awareness-raising ads—that says, “Hang on a minute, you do not just need to lose the odd couple of pounds, you need to rethink how you are living your life”, and it is important because people are dying from this.
For me it was yoga, for them it might be something else—but it needs to be something and it needs to be encouraged and supported.'


Anyway, you can read the whole thing  here

Hey NYT, my body was wrecked before yoga on elephant

me, I'm back off to the cave....honest.

Oh btw, my Vinyasa Yoga at Home Practice Book, I did one of Kindle's promotions yesterday, think it's still free until either midnight or midday tomorrow ETZ
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UPDATE: A couple of reviews of William J. Broad's "The Science of Yoga" by Leslie Kaminoff and Mark Stephens from Amazon.com



Amazon preview

I haven't picked up a copy of this yet, no doubt I will sometime or other, the scaremongering that surrounds it has put me off a bit. 

Sure, injuries can happen in Yoga, practicing at home without a teacher we have to be extra careful and rely on a great deal of common sense. Often that's not a bad thing as we put our trust in ourselves and our own body awareness rather than putting our trust completely in a teacher. As a Repairer I see a lot of dodgy Chinese saxophones brought in for repair, the customer tells me '...but I thought it would be OK, came from a proper music shop not ebay'. How do you tell a good teacher from one who's just done the cheapest 200hr Yoga Alliance Cert around. How do we know that somebody authorised after their fourth or fifth trip to Mysore say, is a safe pair of hands, have they served an apprenticeship assisting under the guidance of another more experienced teacher or merely been assisted themselves for a number of years, surely not the same thing? Even after a lot of research and finding the best teacher we can it's surely still important to listen to your own body and put that first, another reason I've tended to be suspicious of the 'Surrender to your teacher' mantra. 


I should add that though I consider My own teacher training with Ramaswami one of the best introductions to yoga and developing an integrated practice around and yet the the anatomy section of the course was minimal and there was almost nothing on the dangers and risks of asana. That said, there was almost no hands on adjusting (in keeping with Krishnamacharya's own teaching), no pulling one into postures. The instruction was to try something if it felt comfortable and when passing on the teaching to choose asana and subroutines that best suited the student. The subroutines themselves work from the simple to the more challenging, in a sense they are self teaching, you start with the simple variations of an asana within the subroutine and work up to the asana proper and then perhaps more challenging variations, also one tends to work into an asana, going in a little deeper on each breath and as far as is comfortable. This aspect of practicing safely at home is something I've tried to bring out in my own Vinyasa Yoga at Home practice book, I've added notes of caution, suggested prepratory variations but there's always the feeling that one could do more, where does one draw the line.

So, until I get to review it myself here are a couple of interesting ones from Amazon.


Leslie Kaminoff (Great Barrington, MA USA)
In spite of the fact that I have some highly critical things to say about this book, I am recommending that every yoga student, yoga teacher and teacher of yoga teachers read "The Science of Yoga." The issues that Mr. Broad raises are too important to be ignored, and need to be openly and objectively discussed by anyone who cares about truth, clarity and safety.


When he's at his best, Broad does a great service to our field by throughly investigating the history of yoga research and reporting on the actual science that's available to either support or refute many of the claims that are commonly made about yoga's promises. Several of the myths that he exposes are ones that I have been trying to debunk for years. He also does a great job of documenting the evidence of yoga's benefits - for health, creativity and mental balance.


When he's at his worst, he's attempting to make his book more colorful by spinning speculative yarns about the personalities of his cast of characters. Most of them are long dead and cannot dispute Broad's assertions about their motivations, ambitions and ethics. However, some of his subjects are very much alive and I know for a fact that at least one of them takes extreme exception to the manner in which he was portrayed (full disclosure: I am referring to a good friend of mine).


Broad also loses his objectivity when, in chapter 4, he launches into the controversial issue of yoga injuries. I am the last person to deny that asana injuries happen quite regularly, as a significant part of my practice consists of helping practitioners who have sustained them. Nevertheless, the truly scary picture painted in this chapter is not based on any science that would pass Broad's own muster if he was reviewing it in the first 3 chapters of his book. He can cite no serious scientific studies done regarding the actual cause and frequency of severe injuries (stroke, pneumothorax, paralysis, etc.) because there are none. Instead, Broad reports on a handful of case studies dating back to the 70's, and some surveys of emergency room statistics. He then extrapolates from those numbers to conclude there must be a minimum of 300 strokes caused by yoga asanas per year. Any indication of how common these injuries are in the non-yoga practicing population? No. Any context for where asana practice ranks in relation to other "risky" activities (it's safer than golf)? No. Any mention of the fundamental logical rule that correlation is not causation? No. Is this good science? Hell no.


What becomes clear in his epilogue is that Mr. Broad is a man with an agenda. He wants yoga to gain more credibility and acceptance in mainstream health care delivery by medicalizing its educational standards and subjecting itself to governmental regulation (something I've been fighting against for the past 3 decades). This explains why he needed to build the case for yoga's riskiness, and why he felt compelled to unfairly and inaccurately portray the International Association of Yoga Therapists as a non-credible group with shady origins whose main agenda is to provide its members with "phony credentials." He even absurdly proposes the formation of a "Yoga Education Society" whose mission would be to collect information about yoga and disseminate it to the public - the exact same mission the IAYT has been splendidly fulfilling since its founding. Shameful.


Broad's misplaced faith in his own agenda, the medical model and in governmental controls has blinded him to the fact that much of yoga's popularity as a healing modality is precisely because we are an alternative to all that. We are not medical practitioners nor should we aspire to be. We are educators and should fight to remain so.


Nobody asked Mr. Broad to push for the medicalization, accreditation or licensing of yoga. He took it on himself to make a case for it, and its up to us as yoga professionals to show him that he's wrong by continuing to raise the standards of our educational programs, and by keeping our profession free from coercive forces of any kind. That is why I say it's important you read this book and then let your voice be heard.

Mark Stephens (Santa Cruz, California)
The Science of Yoga offers considerable original insights into the risks and rewards of doing yoga, yet it is also profoundly unbalanced and selective in reporting on various instances of injury. It's also not at all surprising that only one of one his seven advance reviewers whose comments appear above, David Gordon White, has any claim to yoga expertise - and White is an insightful philosopher and historian of religion, not a yoga teacher or yoga posture expert.


Broad betrays a very limited reading of the classics, such as claiming that the legendary B.K.S. Iyengar never addresses risks in yoga poses, and confused knowledge of basic things like functional anatomy (as when he confuses hyperextension with hyper-flexion is his discussion of shoulder stand and cobra pose). So we can reasonably approach this book aware that we are being given a limited perspective buoyed by bombastic assertions certain to stoke controversy but not shed much helpful light on teaching and practicing yoga.


Broad's idea that "yoga can wreck your body" reifies yoga - makes it into a thing that is given the power to affect other things (say, your body). But yoga is not a thing. Rather, yoga is a world of practices that one can do; you do yoga, yoga does not do you. Once one gets this basic idea, then it's a simple step to realize that how one does yoga along with what sort of yoga one does will have different effects. If you skip over the first couple hundred pages of Iyengar's Light on Yoga (as Broad apparently did) to the few pages on shoulder stand, look at the pictures, read the brief instructions, then attempt to do it without all the preparation discussed in the previous two-hundred pages, then you're likely to end up like some in Broad's book who feel that yoga is hurting them. Forget for a moment, as Broad seemingly has, that Light on Yoga was written 50 years ago and that Iyengar has published extensively since then and given more nuanced guidance around things like how to reduce hyper-flexion of the cervical spine. That's not exactly responsible scholarship.


There is no question that many students (and teachers) are getting injured doing yoga, and Broad marshals some credible evidence to establish this fact. And he is right that yoga teachers need better training and ongoing support. Unfortunately, this book does little to inform the ongoing conversation about teaching, practicing, regulation and related issues.

10 comments:

  1. Saw that, VERY good article!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Great post and lovely, inspiring story! Have you thought about sending it to the NYT editors just as a "hey, thought you might be interested in my response to your piece" kinda way?

    ReplyDelete
  3. Hi Anthony,
    I have lurked around your blog for quite some time now and have really enjoyed your posts and insights to your practice etc. Today, after reading your post (adapted over at Elephant) I just really wanted to tell you how much of an ispiration you are me. Keep doing what you are doing, and I'll keep lurking ...
    Thanks

    ReplyDelete
  4. Thank you D. I looked into how i could send this direct to NYT. It would be preferable, with elephant we're preaching to the converted, readers of their yoga section are most likely already doing yoga it's those people who perhaps had considered yoga or had just started and yet perhaps put off by the NYT article that I'd like to to reach with my post.

    Thanks for delurking Nomen, i appreciate it.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Seems I cannot put a comment on the latest post on the K's book... very interesting!

    ReplyDelete
  6. Turned comments off for that one in keeping with my non-blogging cave status : ) have written to see if I can make it available along with the Makaranada in which case I'll add a link to the post.

    I'm interested in that second picture where it says fourth revised and enlarged edition 1981. Wondering when it was originally published. Think the pictures were shot for one of the later editions.

    This is what else i know about it

    It's in Kanada
    Supposedly there is a kanada keyboard for Mac now, thought i might be able to transcribe the book then put it through google translate which translates kanada. Wont be perfect but might give an idea of what's going on, lot of work though.

    re the charts
    'the asana chart does not correspond to the picture order. It is a list of asanas, it has a krama sequence number and its effects on organs, done on inhale/exhale etc'.

    Tone of the book
    supposedly mellow, the aggressiveness of Makaranda is not there, more wisdom and advice in it than the makaranda

    ReplyDelete
  7. Have added a download link to make it freely available. hey Claudia, it seems it was first published in 1941.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Cool! will check it out now. 1941? WOW!

    ReplyDelete
  9. I know, puts Vinyasa Krama slap bang in the middle of the Mysore palace period. If I was blogging and as we know I'm retired but I think I'd be raising questions concerning lineage and tradition : )

    ReplyDelete

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A Reminder

from Kalama sutra, translation from the Pali by Bhikkhu Bodhi This blog included.

"So, as I said, Kalamas: 'Don't go by reports, by legends, by traditions, by scripture, by logical conjecture, by inference, by analogies, by agreement through pondering views, by probability, or by the thought, "This contemplative is our teacher." When you know for yourselves that, "These qualities are unskillful; these qualities are blameworthy; these qualities are criticized by the wise; these qualities, when adopted & carried out, lead to harm & to suffering" — then you should abandon them.' Thus was it said. And in reference to this was it said.

"Now, Kalamas, don't go by reports, by legends, by traditions, by scripture, by logical conjecture, by inference, by analogies, by agreement through pondering views, by probability, or by the thought, 'This contemplative is our teacher.' When you know for yourselves that, 'These qualities are skillful; these qualities are blameless; these qualities are praised by the wise; these qualities, when adopted & carried out, lead to welfare & to happiness' — then you should enter & remain in them. Buddha - Kalama Sutta
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