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Posts Tagged ‘The Science of Yoga’

Whereas yoga in the late twentieth century began to splinter into scores of brands — all claiming unique and often contradictory virtues — now there are hundreds.  Yet, for all the activity, yoga makes only a small contribution to global health care because most of the claims go unproven in the court of medical science.  The general public sees yoga mainly as a cult that corporations seek to exploit.
   —   William J. Broad
From his book:  “The Science of Yoga
.
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By definition, creativity goes to deep issues of psychology and ultimately what it means to be human — areas that science has always had a hard time investigating.  Science tends to do the easiest things first.  It is nothing if not practical.  This fact of scientific life suggests the magnitude of the challenge that investigators face.
Even so, the importance of the subject and the potential richness of the returns make it attractive.  Big risks can produce big rewards.  It is the kind of topic that might flourish in the decades ahead.
  —   William J. Broad
From his book:  “The Science of Yoga
.
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Life holds few mysteries greater than those concerning the wellsprings of creativity.  Thinkers down through the ages have developed many theories about what keeps the springs flowing and what causes them to dry up.  Freud proposed one of the most enduring when he suggested that the sublimation of sexual energy fosters the artistic temperament and the creative impulse.  But he denied that he, or psychoanalysis, could provide much else by way of explanation.  “Before the problem of the creative artist,” Freud remarked in a study of Dostoyevsky, “analysis must, alas, lay down its arms.”
    —    William J. Broad
From his book:  “The Science of Yoga
.
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The timeless image [of yoga] is a mirage.  Yoga has changed many times over the centuries and needs to change again.
The stakes are enormous — and not just for the millions of practitioners who expect a safe experience.  The really gargantuan issue is helping the discipline realize its potential.
Physicians talk about breakthroughs in personalized medicine and pharmacogenetics —  of using information from a person’s genetic map to tailor medicine to his or her own particular needs.  But yoga can already do that.  It can turn our bodies into customized pharmaceutical plants that churn out tailored hormones and nerve impulses that heal, cure, raise moods, lower cholesterol, induce sleep, and do a million other things.  Moreover, yoga can do it at an extremely low cost with little or no risk of side effects.  It has the potential to usher in a genuine new age, not one of wishful thinking.
Western science tends to view the body as a fixed thing with unchanging components and functions.  But yoga starts from a different premise.  It sees a lump of clay.  The body in this view is awaiting the application of skilled hands.
    —    William J. Broad
From his book:  “The Science Of Yoga
.
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As a science journalist, I have devoted my career to writing about science and trying illuminate its findings and methods.  Science is incredibly tough in practice despite its often gentle and glamorous image.  By nature, it seeks to limit the role of faith, to make as few assumptions as possible, and to subject the information it gathers as well as its own tentative findings to withering doubt.  A synonym for “science” is “organized skepticism.”  The process can be intellectually brutal.  The constructive side is that science, done right, also works to suspend judgment, to collect and test and verify before coming to firm conclusions.  In theory, it can see without prejudice.  That makes it a rare thing in the world of human institutions.
But science — even at its best, even with its remarkable powers of discrimination and discovery — is nonetheless extraordinarily crude.  It can quantify and comprehend.  What gets set aside can be considerable — the wonders of the Sistine Chapel, among other achievements.  Science, for all its triumphs over the last four centuries, sometimes fails to see the obvious.  It is blind to the individuality of a snowflake and the convulsions of the stock market, not to mention ethics.  No equation is going to outdo Shakespeare.
What I know with certainty is that science cannot address, much less answer, many of the most interesting questions in life.  It’s one finger of a hand, as a wise man once said.  I treasure the scientific method for its insights and discoveries, as well as for the wealth of comforts and social advances it has given us.  But I question the value of scientism — the belief that science has authority over all other interpretations of life, including the philosophic and spiritual, moral and humanistic.
  —  William J. Broad
From his book:  “The Science of Yoga
.
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Today in sports medicine and exercise physiology, peak oxygen consumption is known by the ubiquitous acronym VO2 for oxygen in its usual chemical notation, and “max” for maximum.  VO2 max is accepted around the globe as the best single measure of cardiovascular fitness and aerobic power.
In the early days, the question was whether coaches and individuals could raise the maximum uptake so as to increase athletic performance.  The answer emerged quickly: very much so.  Regular aerobic training turned out to increase the size of the heart, most especially its left ventricle — the heart’s largest chamber, which pumps oxygenated blood into the arteries and body.  A bigger left ventricle sent out more blood per beat and more oxygen to the tissues and muscles.  Scientists sought to measure the rise.  It turned out that the cardiac output of elite athletes was about twice that of untrained individuals.
The benefits extended to most anyone who took up vigorous exercise.  In time, scientists found that three months of endurance training could raise VO2 max between 15 and 30 percent.  Two years raised it as much as 50 percent.
The new perspective was a breakthrough.  At last, after many decades of mistakes and misapprehensions, scientists had uncovered what seemed like a dependable guide to human fitness.
The topic was long obscure.  Then Kenneth H. Cooper came along.  A track star in his native Oklahoma, the physician worked for the Air Force and early in his career devised a simple test that provided a good estimate of an individual’s VO2 max.  The test measure how far a person could run in twelve minutes.  Cooper’s rule of thumb let the Air Force quickly assess the fitness of new recruits.  Eager to popularize his insights, he invented a new word, “aerobics,” and in 1968 authored a by the same name.  It drew on his years of research to show what kinds of exercise produced the best cardiovascular workout.  Cooper found that such muscular activities as calisthenics and weight lifting were the least effective.  Participant sports like golf and tennis came in second.  And the big winners?  Challenging sports like running, swimming, and cycling, as well as vigorous participant sports such as handball, squash, and basketball.  His analyses caught on rapidly and helped get millions of people off their chairs and into the streets.  Starting in the 1970s, jogging became fashionable.
The surge of activity resulted in a number of scientific inquiries that examined what aerobic exercise could do not only for athletics but health.  The results were dramatic.  Perhaps most important, the studies showed that aerobic exercise lowered an individual’s risk of heart attack and heart disease — the leading cause of death in the developed world.  It also reduced the prevalence of diabetes, stroke, obesity, depression, dementia, osteoporosis, hypertension, gallstones, diverticulitis, and a dozen forms of cancer.  Finally, it helped patients cope with all kinds of chronic health problems.  Frank Hu, and epidemiologist at the Harvard School of Public Health, praised the benefits as exceptional.  For general health, he called vigorous exercise “the single thing that comes close to a magic bullet.”
Why did it do so much good?  Scientists found that forceful exercise improved the performance of virtually every tissue in the human body.  For instance, it produced new capillaries in skeletal muscles, the heart, and the brain, increasing the flow of nutrients and the removal of toxins.  Scientists also discovered that it raised the number of circulating red blood cells, improving the transport of oxygen.  Still another repercussion centered on blood vessels.  It caused their walls to produce nitric oxide, a relaxant that increases blood flow.
    —    William J. Broad
From his book:  “The Science of Yoga
.
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