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Customer Review

on February 7, 2012
Review of William J. Broad's "The Science of Yoga" by Leslie Kaminoff, author of Yoga Anatomy-2nd Edition

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 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.
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