Title: The Science of Yoga: The Risks and the Rewards

Author: William J. Broad

Why I Read It: As a yoga practitioner and teacher, I have experienced the transformational power of the practice, so I was curious to see how Western science, a reductionist endeavor, would parcel out a holistic experience and to what effect.  The book looked and quacked like science when I flipped through it quickly at the bookstore. Besides, Yoga Journal said it was “a well-researched book that belongs in the library of every yogi” right on the book’s cover.  Surely I needed this?

Synopsis: The author, a journalist and yoga practitioner, gives a brief account of yoga’s history and describes some of the gurus’ claims on health, mood, healing, sex, and creativity.  He smatters in various sorts of research tidbits in the attempt to substantiate those claims or refute them.

Highlights: The book provides an introduction to some researchers and practitioners of interest.  The chapter on the risks of yoga was an original and helpful contribution that added to my knowledge base for particular poses.

Lowlights: If you’re going to use the word “science” in a book’s title, you really need to bring it. The science reporting here lacked rigor and clarity.  It was a mishmosh of personal anecdotes and poorly explained studies delivered with the sort of content and writing style better suited to a gossip magazine. I give you an example: “Ranjit Singh was an ugly little man who liked to surround himself with beautiful women” (p. 13).  What this has to do with yoga or science is beyond me. Also, I think the author tried to cover too many topics with too little depth and he was overly focused on the sensational (like the sophomoric chapter on sex) at the expense of the substantial.

 

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