Posts Tagged ‘The Science of Yoga — book review’

The Science of Yoga”  —  book review
Today’s book review is for “The Science of Yoga” (2012©), written by William J. Broad.  Broad is a science reporter for the New York Times newspaper.  He has received multiple awards in his career including two Pulitzer Prizes for his reporting.  Broad is also a yoga practitioner for over three decades.  Broad’s basic job is explaining science to the masses.  As such, he writes in a “friendly” style without any actual references to formulas or analysis of data.  When he uses “hard” numbers at all, it’s of the “two studies” with “about half” or “mostly women / men” variety.  This is not a criticism, per se, as this is pretty much the deepest level of science / math one can reasonably expect in a “science” report for the masses.
I am not a “serious” or even moderately proficient yoga practitioner.  I have had an interest in yoga since my early teens and have gone through the normal flexibility phases most athletes and wanna-be athletes go through every decade or so of my life.  I have also been interested in yoga for breathing and meditation and, so, also had (brief) periods where I “practiced” yoga for those purposes.  My point being, I am neither a devotee nor a complete novice in my understanding of yoga.  I picked up the book at a steep discount purely by serendipity when my local “Half Price” bookstore closed to relocate.  I paid $10 for a bag you could load with as much as it could hold.  I managed to get over 30 books – which I considered to be exceptional value.  This book was one of those.
Anyway, the book is broken down as you would expect for an academic report rather than popular reporting.  There’s a prologue, seven chapters, and an epilogue.  There are also a number (4) of introductory sections (lists of illustrations, main characters, styles of yoga and chronology of yoga) and a similar (5) number of end sections (further reading, notes, bibliography, acknowledgements and index).  The chapters deal with health, fitness, moods, healing, sex and “muse” (stimulating creativity).  Not counting the before and after, the book (my hardbound copy) is 222 pages in length and it is a quick read.
The book is sub-titled: “The Risks and the Rewards“.  The “risks” are that you can hurt yourself if you don’t know what you are doing, go to an instructor who doesn’t know what they’re doing, and / or if you push yourself too hard – too fast.  So far, that’s all pretty much common sense…  By hurt yourself, the author means, have a stroke or a serious muscle / tendon tear, etc.  The rewards are “perhaps” a longer life span, a extended period of healthier life, increased flexibility / mobility, relief from depression, less stress, faster healing, better (longer and more) sex, and you may also end up being more creative in work and in your personal life.
Is Broad convincing?  No.  Not really.  There have been some studies done on yoga.  Are they scientific?  Some.  And, kind of.  Better than nothing and better than purely anecdotal.  Broad ends the book asking which direction is likely for yoga: will it be religious and mysterious, or will it be examined under scientific conditions and thereby aid in the general health and welfare of society.  He clearly favors the second option.
Final recommendation: strong.  If you are interested in the history of yoga and “some” of the risks and rewards, this book is a FAR better introduction than most of the “Illustrated” and “For Dummies” books you’ll find at your bookstore.  It will help you manage your expectations of what you may get out of yoga practice.  It is, however, not a “starter” book at all as there are very few illustrations or explanations of postures / poses.  If that is what you are looking for, this book is definitely NOT for you.  Having said all that, I really did enjoy reading this book.  The topic (yoga) is of interest to me and it was interesting to have someone else to the work of researching the history, styles and players in the field.  It was also interesting to find yoga described with common sense supported by a lack of contradictory evidence, i.e. no levitation, no stopping your heart and still living, no surviving indefinitely without food or water (or breathing).  There is a saying that absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.  This is a refrain which struck me over and over as I read this book.  Broad doesn’t flat out say none of the yoga “miracles” are impossible; he just states that on review of the available literature, there is no proof.  At the edges of yoga accomplishments, that is the science of yoga.
On This Day In:
2019 #LyingDonald’s Problem With The News And Truth
2018 Oh, Hell
2017 No Welcome Mat Here
2016 Making It Up
A Missed Beat
2015 We Are All Explorers
2014 Still Trying To Cope
2013 Dear Diary (A good chuckle!)
2012 Conveniently Sequential
2011 King’s Speech Number Four
Rational Probability

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