The book I choose was The Science of Yoga: The Risks and the Rewards, by William J. Broad.
This book provides an overall look on the aspects of yoga ranging from its inception, to how it is accepted and practiced today. He discusses the concept of yoga greats such as Iyengar. Although this book created a stir amongst the yogis and scientists, William J. Broad took five years to write the book. This tells me that much effort went in to effective research. I also liked that he was a yogi since 1970 and the chief science writer for the New York Times. This just gives substance and integrity to his work.
I chose this book because it delved into current science, related to the overall practice of yoga, in addition to the spiritual aspect. It opened my eyes to stories of the positive and negative repercussions that yoga has, thus maintaining my awareness when I represent yoga in its eight fold path, in particular the asanas.
As I was focusing on the asanas I want to bring your attention to the chapter, Risk of Injury. Although William speaks of yoga as a very dangerous practice that can cause “paralyzed limbs, bulging eyeballs, damaged brain…”. (p. 104) He did go on to recognize that modern yoga has rejected the “one size fits all mentalities of early styles and instructors”. This roots my philosophy to act with care when teaching the asanas. I liked this part in the book…it is where Broad is in discussion with Glenn Black (studied at Iyengar’s school in Pune, and spent much time in solitude). “Black said that he had never injured himself or, as far as he knew, been responsible for harming any of his students in 37 years of teaching. ‘People feel sensations, sure, and find limitations. But it’s done with mindfulness, not just because they are pushing themselves. Today, many schools of yoga are just about pushing people.’”(p 108). I know this through my own experience as a student with a yoga instructor, and do not want to do this to others.
I found that Broad takes a long time to get to his point. Albeit, the cases are extreme: a man in Manhatten meditates for hours a day in kneeling pose and, over time, loses the ability to walk. (pg 110) In one part he mentions stroke as being a result of too much bending at the neck in shoulder stand and cobra. (pg 114) At first I thought this was far-fetched, until I recently met a woman who suffered a stroke 7 months ago. Her physiotherapist moved her neck improperly in a stretch and caused a tear in a vessel to the brain, over a period of 2 days the bulge filled with blood and sent her to the hospital with a stroke. Her recovery is progressive. The next phase in her journey is to actually tell the physiotherapist what she did to her. I thought – this physiotherapist does not know what she did, imagine how many others she may effect – or not. I know we do not put our hands in the same manner as physiotherapists, but it was another wake up call.
I do like how Broad says, “My research has prompted me to change my own routine,” Broad writes. “I have deemphasized or dropped certain poses, added others, and in general now handle yoga with much greater care.”
Even though the book has a slight scent of a spooky Halloween ghost stories, it does offer a good reminder on the actual risks and rewards to yoga and how important the yoga instructor’s role is in the class. This leads me to the chapter of Healing. Broad moves on to discuss the rewards of yoga. He speaks with Loren Fisherman, who graduated from Harvard medical school and incorporates yoga with his clients. He used yoga to heal his rotator cuff. He was scheduled to have surgery on his rotator cuff and did yoga during his waiting period (2 months) for his surgery, he eventually does head stands and finds that when he widens and raises his shoulder stance as far from the floor as possible he is able to teach his shoulders to use different muscles, in which it had “cured’ him from having the surgery. (pg 141) Fisherman goes on to say that “there are bad things in yoga, but not enough to outweigh the benefits.” (142)
He also has conversations with Larry Payne, the founding president of the international association of Yoga Therapists. He discusses how yoga saved him from pain that was a cause from great stress at work. He eventually left his sales job and went to India to study at Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram, founded by T.K.V. Desikachar. He ended up writing Yoga for Dummies. He states that “Yoga has won a global following because… effective at undoing urban stress and the tensions of modern life.” (pg 158) I found that to be so true and fitting to the abundance of yoga studios opening up since 2000.
In sum, this book was informative on various levels. It is not a book to help you determine a class outline. I would, though, use it as a resource to provide an understanding of the importance of effective and safe yoga practices.
Submitted to: Heather Greaves
Submitted by: Michelle Baldin
Submitted on: October 29, 2013