Breaking news in the yoga world

Big press and little press

Fast becoming the muckraker of yoga, William Broad has written another controversial New York Times article: “Yoga and Sex Scandals: No Surprise Here” (February 27, 2012) posits that it’s no surprise that yoga produces “so many philanderers”—and that “scientific” research shows heightened sexual response from hatha yoga. (See responses from it’s all yoga, babyYogaDork, and Leslie Kaminoff.)

The same day that article was published, I read a few back issues of the Iyengar Yoga Centre of Victoria newsletter that I’d recently acquired. A slim, homemade-looking pamphlet back then, the newsletter impressed me with timeless content, including exclusive interviews with BKS Iyengar and wise essays by Shirley Daventry French.

Prashant Iyengar on yogasana’s effects

The July/August 1997 issue contained a piece by Prashant Iyengar on how yogasana affects not only one’s physical state, but also one’s psychological and physiological states (and beyond). He gives an example using brahmacharya, explaining that one might avoid overindulgence but that “[i]nvoluntary desires may be tainting us from within.” If trying to follow an moral code, asana can help calm the pineal and pituitary glands, thus “quieting the physiology behind sex.”

In Iyengar yoga, poses affect our bodies and minds in particular ways. We can either rev up or tamp down our energy, including sexual energy. This differs from Broad’s generalization that yoga primarily enhances sexual desire.

Further, Broad implies that doing random yoga classes can markedly affect our physiology. Change does not come easily. It’s tough enough to loosen tight muscles, much less change the workings of inner organs. Would Viagra be a zillion-dollar industry if a round of deep breathing cured sexual dysfunction?

In contrast, Prashant states that asanas must be “done with a sensitive diligence, to experience their depth.” What an understatement!

Power of the pen

Reading Prashant’s and Broad’s articles on the same day, I was struck by the difference between a yogi’s perspective and a journalist’s. I admit that I somewhat empathize with Broad because I, too, am a journalist. On one hand, I believe that a good investigative journalist can do justice to any subject, regardless of personal expertise. On the other, it’s exasperating to read a non-yogi’s statements on yoga.

Actually Broad took up yoga in 1970 (!). But listen to this February 8 CBC radio interview, in which he admits that he sustained his first yoga injury in 2007 in an “advanced” class:

“…. There were a lot of beautiful ladies around, stretching and bending themselves into all kinds of great shapes. I had a gorgeous partner with me. And I was, you know, feeling pretty good. I was strutting. I was talking to her. I was bending way over, and—ouch!—my lower back went out….

What the—?

Don’t get me wrong. Watching his February 9 video interview with Roseanne Harvey, Broad comes across as likable enough. I’d argue against some of his conclusions, but he probably means well—and, as a journalist, he needs catchy hooks for his articles. But why is he becoming the yoga source?

The Times and other mass media have a huge footprint. The Victoria newsletter and scads of blogs, even well-trafficked ones, have a limited audience. Alas.

On choosing well

I haven’t even touched on the John Friend revelations. But my conclusion regarding mainstream yoga coverage applies to my thoughts on his behavior (and especially on the behavior of his followers):

Are you choosing well? This goes for yoga teachers and trusted allies, reading matter and beliefs, thoughts and actions.

There’s a sea of choices out there. It’s up to us to choose well.

Images: newspapers, Apartment Therapy; Vitruvian Man, Wikipedia; Pololu Valley, Hawaii, YogaSpy.

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11 thoughts on “Breaking news in the yoga world

  1. Hey Yoga Spy,
    What a great analysis. I love that quote from William Broad’s CBC interview.
    Who talks mid pose?
    And your point on Viagra is very well taken.
    A friend of mine who was a judge in Prince George for many years once said that in any charitable organization, someone would inevitably be stealing money, and in any religious organization, someone would be engaging in sexual abuse.
    I’m not quite that cynical. But I do think that religious energy, and more broadly, spiritual energy, is not really different from sexual energy.
    It’s all the same stream, and the difference is in how it’s expressed –
    and that’s a choice.
    Kudos on a very thoughtful piece.

  2. Hahaha! I loved your point on Viagra. But, as funny as it may sound, it is true. Yoga is not an “instant pill” or medicine that will instantly change your body (for better or worse) but a system based on discipline and self control. Otherwise it is not Yoga (though it may be called that).
    It really seems to me that this guy (Broad) has no idea what he is talking about, and even if his assumptions may resonate with some readers, they are merely scratching the surface of something much deeper and elaborate. This gets even clearer to me when you mention Prashant’s point of view on the subject. Here is someone who has studied and LIVED Yoga for his whole life, not someone wanting to attract readers or publicity.
    To be fair to Broad (maybe his intentions were good, who knows), the positive thing about his article is that it will make people wonder, question things and systems, “gurus.” It is like you said: in the end it is up to us to choose well.

  3. Thanks, Eve and Roberta, for GREATLY APPRECIATED COMMENTS.

    The line that stopped me was, “… I was strutting.” Strutting?!

    I did hear another interview that he did with NPR’s Terry Gross, one of my absolute favorite radio journalists. Again, while he came across as thoughtful enough, two things stood out:

    1. He seemed to have learned about Iyengar yoga and other anatomically or therapeutically oriented yoga (i.e., what he calls the “reform movement”) only after the NYT article was published. Why didn’t he discover these established methods and ideas while writing his book?

    He said positive things about Iyengar yoga, but he seemed to imply that it is a new movement, believe it or not.

    2. He is adamantly opposed to the Sarvangasana/Halasana family of poses, considering them dangerous, even lethal. Has he ever tried using a stack of blankets?

    Also, the pose that injured his low back (while he was chatting up his gorgeous partner) was, he told Terry, “Side Angle Pose.” He said that this pose was not part of his routine. Huh? Utthita Parsvakonasana is among the basic, essential standing poses.

    1. One of my students mentioned Broad’s book and interview, particularly the point about Iyengar Yoga. What stood out for me is that this beginner student seemed to really take Broad’s opinion into consideration, as if he was some sort of “authority” in the subject of Yoga. It was almost as if Broad’s sympathy for the Iyengar method made it more acceptable to her. It is the old “power of the press” striking again.

  4. Great article! I, too, have been practicing Yoga since the 70’s. One difference is that my practice has grown, evolved, and matured over these 40-odd years. Pratyahara and pranayama are pillars of my practice, but only after several years of devotion to the sadhana. I am disappointed that the big footprint media remains so shallow, but I’m truly grateful for journalists like you. Thanks and keep on shining!

  5. I started taking yoga classes a few years ago, just after I turned 40, and although I am still a ‘beginner’ beginner, I realise that the path to learning is ongoing – more a journey than a goal. Calmness and physical well being are the characteristics I associate with this path. And as little as I know, the one thing that seems to stand out for me is an underlying mature respectfulness for all aspects of the art. I am not sure that this gentleman (Mr Broad) has a sense of this side of it all.
    Thank you for your interesting posts. They are helping me along the path.

  6. Dear Luci
    A great rsponse to the W. Broad article in the New York Times. I am so happy to see you using our old newsletters and finding the timely article from Prashant, even though from an old issue from our Iyengar Yoga of Victoria newsletter.
    Namaste, Leslie

  7. Hi,

    Great site! I’m trying to find an email address to contact you on to ask if you would please consider adding a link to my website. I’d really appreciate if you could email me back.

    Thanks and have a great day!

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