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The downside of yoga
Posted by: good enough ()
Date: February 27, 2012 11:31PM

While there has been mention made on other threads about yoga (including Recovering from New Age Mumbo Jumbo), I think it would be helpful to have a thread devoted to this topic.

Here's an article I posted on the above mentioned thread from The Toronto Star:


“The Science of Yoga”: Author William Broad talks about the risks and rewards of yoga
February 16, 2012

Nancy J. White

Yoga, the ancient tradition associated with enlightenment, holds many secrets that science is beginning to unlock. The soothing practice, now booming in North America, can lower blood pressure, spice up sex — and kill you.

That’s according to William Broad, Pulitzer Prize winning science writer and investigative reporter at The New York Times. Broad, 60, a longtime yoga practitioner, is the author of The Science of Yoga: The Risks and the Rewards.

He spoke to the Star about dangerous poses, the weight-loss myth and philandering gurus. Here’s an edited version of the conversation:

The hype about yoga — improves health, prolongs life, juices up sex — makes it sound miraculous. What’s the biggest myth?

By far, the number one myth is that yoga is safe. Decades of science contradict that. Yoga can be quite dangerous in ways that are worse than routine sports injuries. Some poses restrict your neck in ways that can produce strokes. Part of the brain is damaged and some of these strokes end in death.

People die from yoga?

I don’t want to hype this — it’s not common as far as we can tell. There’s not a lot of yoga epidemiology. But because the consequences are so high, people should be aware. It certainly shocked me as I discovered the science and saw the clinical reports. I dropped the Shoulder Stand and Plow poses. The danger is with a pose that involves extreme neck flexing.

Briefly, how does yoga cause a stroke?

The vertebral artery goes through the bony labyrinth at the top of the neck. You tweak your neck with extreme stretching and this delicate artery’s inner lining can tear. Blood clots form. When you move around, the clots move to your brain.

What are the more common yoga injuries?

Every joint tends to be liable. Scientist and medical doctor, Loren Fishman, associated with Columbia University, worked on an extensive global survey of yoga injuries. They found hundreds of reports and ranked them by prevalence. The greatest number of injuries centred on the lower back, then the shoulders, knees, neck. This is the underside of yoga people don’t talk about.

Let’s get to the good news: scientifically-proven health benefits. What are a few of the most important?

It’s clear that yoga releases natural chemicals in your brain that lift mood and outlook. A big study at Boston University and Harvard showed that yoga releases the neurotransmitter GABA, a feel-good brain chemical.

Overall it’s extremely good for your health, the relaxing, de-stressing, unwinding. Studies are clear on this. It’s great for cardiovascular health, lowers blood pressure, and acts against urban stresses that wear down the body. Some emerging evidence suggests — I went into the research thinking this was a myth — that yoga fights aging by protecting spinal deterioration and on a cellular level.

Yoga can prolong your life?

This is sketchy. But some studies show an increase in telomeres (the whorl of DNA at the tip of chromosomes that is critical to cell function.) There’s evidence that yoga may work to increase their lifetime, which means the cells live longer and you do, too. That’s the leading edge of the science. The yogis I interviewed all looked 20 to 30 years younger than their chronological age.

Fact or fiction: yoga is an aphrodisiac?

Yoga stirs sex hormones and acts as a stimulant. The evidence is incontrovertible. You can see it on brain scans. Researchers at the University of British Columbia measured increased blood flow through the genitals from fast yoga breathing. One of the wildest areas, people are studying advanced yogis who can think themselves into ecstatic bliss. Researchers at Rutgers University looked at their scans — their brains lit up in ways identified with sexual orgasm — and without messing with their private parts. I say, throw away the little blue pills, guys. And get ye to a yoga studio.

It was one of the super surprises. But there’s also a dark side. You’ve got philandering gurus, guys in their 60s and 70s with one woman after another. I’ve talked to some of the women who, as young attractive girls, got seduced. It took a long time for them to work through the fact that these guys were not gods and not enlightened. They were horny old man who took advantage.

Is yoga good for losing weight?

No. That’s a big myth. The science shows over and over that yoga relaxes you and allows your metabolism to lapse into a lower state of activity. That means you burn fewer calories. If you burn fewer calories and eat your same diet, you will gain weight.

But yoga does other things on a psychological level that can help you lose weight. It helps build discipline and it helps break the stress-eating cycle. Most yoga teachers are lithe not lumpy.

Can you get fit through yoga?

That’s the third myth. It does wonderful things for fitness, such as flexibility, strengthening. But the ultimate magic bullet in modern fitness is aerobics and cardio stamina. You need to get the heart pumping and circulating a lot of blood and oxygen to vital organs. Many yoga brands and teachers advertise as offering a good aerobic workout. But science has demonstrated over and over, it’s not true. The hardest yoga workout does not meet aerobic requirements.

You don’t get the cardio highs, the aerobics. But you do get cardio benefits, such as lowering blood pressure. So the glass is kind of half empty, half full in the cardio situation.

With injuries in mind, what should you look for in a yoga teacher? And what style is good? There are so many: Anusara, Bikram, Ashtanga, Yogafit, etc.

I’m no expert, but I have opinions. Someone with experience will better know the range of human flexibility and be more likely to tailor the pose to you than you to the pose. The people who teach Iyengar yoga use lots of props — blocks, blankets — to respect your body’s limits. There haven’t been exhaustive studies on different styles, but some are gentle, some more extreme.

Why do you do yoga?

First, it relaxes me. It helps me cope. Second, it helps my bad back. First thing every morning I do Child’s Pose and Upward Dog. It helps loosen the damaged part of my spine. It’s a great way to start the day. It’s like my religion.

Is your spine damaged from yoga?

No. I believe it’s from jogging on hard pavement.

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Re: The downside of yoga
Posted by: corboy ()
Date: February 28, 2012 12:10AM

Yes, this is great. A separate thread for yoga would be valuable.

Note: the only way one can be 100% certain one is getting an 'aerobic workout ' is this:

1) Get a check up from your physician to rule out any pre-existing condition such as silent heart disease, that could be worsened by aerobic exercise. If you have a history of heart disease or diabetes in your family (untreated type 2 diabetes and insulin resistance can cause silent and severe heart disease without ones being aware of it), get a pre-execise check up and lab tests from your doctor no matter how young you are, especially if you have not vigorously exercised before.

2) Get advice at the doctors office on what your proper heart rate zone is for exercising aerobically. It differs for everybody.

3) Get a heart rate monitor and learn how to use it. The heart rate monitor is the only way you will know whether you are maintaining a STEADY aerobic exercise pace for the needed 30 minute minimum.

Thing with yoga is that most persons dont wear heart rate monitors during class, so they are stuck taking an instructors word for it that they are getting an aerobic workout.

If all of this is new to you, get advice from someone trained and certified through the American College of Sports Medicine, whose main interest is aerobic exercise and who will not try to sell you any product other than evidence based medical knowledge.

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Re: The downside of yoga
Posted by: good enough ()
Date: February 28, 2012 12:24AM

I never understood why some people believe that being fit means having to perform extreme movements under extreme conditions. And yet yoga is revered as being better, safer and more spiritual than other forms of physical exercise and its gurus get away with a lot of big, unproven promises.

Here's another article:


Thinking of trying hot yoga? Read this first

dakshana bascaramurty

From Monday's Globe and Mail
Published Sunday, Jun. 19, 2011 4:00PM EDT
Last updated Sunday, Jun. 19, 2011 11:33PM EDT

A group of 25 men and women fold their sweat-drenched bodies forward, clasping their heels with their hands. They’re in a room set to about 41 C.

A young woman, her shoulders shaking, breaks from the pose and lies down on the yoga mat under her feet. Every inch of exposed skin is beaded with perspiration that won’t evaporate. She looks overwhelmed.

The booming voice of a svelte yoga instructor cuts through the oppressive heat. “Maybe you feel a little bit nauseous sometimes. Maybe you feel a bit dizzy. Good. It’s working. You’re getting all the toxins out,” she says.

At Bikram Yoga Bloor in downtown Toronto, students engage in what seems like athletic masochism (the practice’s founder, Bikram Choudhury, refers to his studio as a “torture chamber”) to “release their toxins” and treat myriad conditions including asthma, carpal tunnel syndrome and hypertension.

Students Ann Jervis, 57, and Hayley Dineen, 23, remember unpleasant first experiences with Bikram yoga, but stuck it out because of the perceived advantages of the practice.

But some health professionals question the efficacy of the trendy style of yoga, practised for 90 minutes in stifling heat.

“As a scientist, I wouldn’t say there’s a huge stock in sweating out your toxins,” says Stephen Cheung, the Canada Research Chair in Environmental Ergonomics, whose area of expertise is heat stress. The body only releases them through sweat to a very limited extent, he says.

The extreme temperature and humidity in Bikram yoga and its less regimented spinoff Moksha yoga can be risky for those with heart conditions, as well as for those with low or high blood pressure in the normal range, says Nieca Goldberg, medical director of New York University’s Women’s Heart Program.

Review sites such as Yelp, yoga forums and Twitter are rife with tales of students feeling dizzy, passing out and being tended to by paramedics.

Bikram is no stranger to controversy: About six years ago, when it first gained popularity in North America, participants complained of injuries and pulled muscles. Doctors blamed the hot conditions, which sometimes allow students to stretch too deep.

But the dizziness and blackouts are of concern to Dr. Goldberg, a cardiologist, because hot yoga’s proponents give students the impression that light-headedness is to be expected.

When Sheila Madsen attended her first Moksha yoga class in Toronto two years ago, she was overwhelmed by the heat and felt dizzy. She continued, because an instructor told her things would get easier. She says that since she could get through tennis practice and Pilates class without difficulty, she wondered why she was struggling so much at Moksha yoga.

“Some people do well in high levels of humidity. I do not,” Ms. Madsen, 64, explains. “I couldn’t get my heart rate down sometimes for half an hour, which is really dangerous.”

She would go into “child’s pose,” a resting position, but the room’s conditions made relaxing difficult. On four occasions, she left the 39 C room to recover. Then she quit.

The science behind fainting is simple. “Your blood vessels normally expand to go to your exercising muscles,” Dr. Goldberg says. “There’s an even magnified response when you’re doing it in a very hot environment. That’s taking blood away from the blood vessels that are going to your brain, so you faint.”

She has treated otherwise healthy patients who fainted in hot yoga classes.

Dana Moore, co-owner of Bikram Yoga Bloor, says there have only been a few cases of fainting in the studio’s two-year history. Instructors, trained in first aid, usually spot warning signs and guide students down onto their mats. And, as at all reputable studios, students must fill out a form disclosing any injuries, ailments or health conditions. Staff call new students to see how they’re feeling within two days of their first class.

When a student faints, “we always recommend staying in the room and that is really more for the safety of the student,” she says. “[Outside the room], no one’s there to keep an eye on them.”

But Dr. Cheung says, “That sounds completely counterintuitive to the whole point of fainting.”

In a small study conducted at Dallas’s University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in 2002, researchers raised the body temperatures of nine test subjects and then tilted them upright to the point at which they’d faint. They conducted the same experiment again, but cooled participants’ skin before and during the tilting, and found those subjects were able to tolerate standing.

In the case of fainting, Dr. Cheung says, “I would get them in a cooler room and … have cold towels to really cool their skin down.”

Instructors say the body can tolerate the extreme heat of Bikram and Moksha yoga because sweating is its “natural air conditioner.” It’s not sweat itself, but evaporation of moisture off the skin, that cools the body down, Dr. Cheung explains. “If you’re in a hot and humid environment, your ability to lose heat from sweating is hugely decreased because the air is already saturated,” he says.

At Moksha Yoga Uptown in Toronto, manager Jen Blanko says variations in class size make it difficult to regulate humidity – which is supposed to be at 40 per cent. “If we have a class of 10 people, it’s one thing. If it’s 55 people, it’s a totally different environment in there,” she says.

At times the room’s extensive exhaust system isn’t enough, and instructors have to crack a window open, she says. But Ms. Blanko believes that on the odd occasion that a student has fainted, it has been the student’s mistake – not eating before class or not properly hydrating. However, the studio does remove students from the room if they’ve fainted.

If a student mentions blood-pressure issues or heart disease, Ms. Blanko and her colleagues suggest they check with their doctors before they sign up for a class. Moksha Yoga Uptown’s website notes that women in their first trimester of pregnancy should avoid the class if they haven’t been practising hot yoga for at least six months. It also says children should not participate until their sweat glands have developed.

Dr. Cheung says that if patients feel dizzy in class, they should rest. “There’s a fine line between what is discomfort and what is pain,” he says. “This is supposed to be about health.”

Hot yoga tips

- Don’t starve yourself before class, but don’t scarf down your lunch just before you go into the hot room. Avoid eating for two to three hours before class in order to give your body time to digest what you consumed earlier. If you forgot to eat, you can have something small (half a muffin or a banana).

- Avoid drinking coffee before class (it will dehydrate you).

- Drink plenty of water before and during class to make up for all the fluid your body will lose through sweat.

- You’ll lose electrolytes (sodium and potassium, mostly) as you sweat, so add a pinch of salt, sugar and a squeeze of lemon (natural sources of electrolytes) to the water bottle you take to class. Coconut water and electrolyte tablets (which can be dissolved in water) are other good alternatives.

- If you have a history of irregular blood pressure or heart disease, talk to your doctor before you sign up for a class.

Sources: Bikram Yoga Bloor, Moksha Yoga Uptown, Bikram Yoga Hamilton Dundas

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Re: The downside of yoga
Posted by: good enough ()
Date: February 29, 2012 12:49AM

Yoga teachers are revered as being on a higher level than regular fitness instructors, but that doesn't mean they don't lie, cheat, lust, etc.

Here's an interesting piece called Yogis behaving badly.


Another story, An Illicit Yoga Love Story -- an interview with celebrity yoga teacher Rodney Yee who surprise, surprise appeared on Oprah and is mentioned in the above article. This guy cheated on his wife when he slept with his students and eventually moved in with Colleen Saidman, one of the women he slept with.


One more, this time about Baron Baptiste, another well known yoga teacher and this one is about his legal battle with his business partner Rolf Gates. Downward Dogfight is an interesting read.


So much for peace and love in the yoga community.

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Re: The downside of yoga
Posted by: good enough ()
Date: February 29, 2012 03:38AM

Some questions to consider...

What qualifications must people have in order to call themselves yoga teachers? Do they have to take regular refresher courses on first aid? Do they apprentice before being able to start teaching on their own? Are they expected to keep up to date with new findings about body mechanics?

Can anyone apply to yoga schools and expect to be accepted in the teacher training programs? Being a human pretzel who looks good in yoga wear shouldn't be enough. People with teaching aspirations should also have to demonstrate that they are good teachers... patient, effective communicators who care about the well being of their students.

Is there any kind of standard regarding yoga schools -- the length of training, course curriculum, qualifications of the teachers, etc., or is it all about the money?

Yoga is very trendy these days, not just with celebrities like Jennifer Aniston who want the perfect body, but also with every day people with injured knees, weak necks, bad backs and high blood pressure. Enthusiasts try to sell us on yoga as being the perfect blend of mind body discipline for everyone. After injuring my back several years ago my physiotherapist warned me about neck rolls, head stands, shoulder stands and the plough. The info has been around for a long time and yet these moves are still being taught to people who shouldn't be doing them.

Doctors and lawyers go to school for several years and aren't let loose to start a practice until they've paid their dues, including working with experienced practitioners. Is this the case with yoga teachers? It should be. Yoga students come in all shapes and sizes, different ages and with different strengths and weaknesses. Are yoga instructors provided with enough knowledge to deal with the various situations that can arise or are they expected to fake it as they go along?

What about ethics? I recently came across a blog post by a woman in her late 20s, a self-described housewife, who started a yoga teacher training course in October 2011. In her post she boasts about subbing for a yoga instructor and lying to the class about her qualifications. In other words, even though she hasn't finished her course, has only been taking it for four months and had never taught a full length class, she told the class she had been teaching for a while.

The yoga instructor she substituted for and a second instructor who looked over the intended class plan all knew she wasn't qualified. Seems no one considered the safety of the class a priority and no one had any respect for what yoga supposedly stands for, including doing no harm and no lying. Had anyone been injured during the class, I would imagine that several people would have been held legally responsible: the yoga teacher trainee who lied to the class about her qualifications, the two yoga teachers who knew she was going to teach the class, the manager of the yoga studio and the owners of the company. Would have made for quite the newspaper story. At the very least this kills the credibility of that yoga studio and all the people who knew what was going on.

Imagine if you were told by the person standing in front of your class that she was a qualified yoga teacher who had been teaching for awhile, only to later learn that she had lied. How would you feel? What would you do? If I was in that class, I would have requested a refund and would have reported the situation to the owners. I would also have gone to the local media.

The following article Why incompetent people are too incompetent to know they're incompetent doesn't focus on yoga instructors or cult gurus, but it is still relevant because how many people (like the lying wannabe yoga instructor mentioned above) are honest enough or insightful enough to know their true level of incompetence?


One thing I've noticed is that it seems many of the people who become yoga instructors/gurus are self-serving narcissists. Reading this young woman's blog was not a pleasant experience. She got away with deceiving her class. People could have been injured or worse and yet she feels good about what she did. There is nothing right about this situation and this is probably not the only time something like this has happened.

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Re: The downside of yoga
Posted by: Misstyk ()
Date: February 29, 2012 09:20AM

William Broad just dropped a bomb today in the NY Times science section about why there are so many sex scandals among yoga instructors, and cites Swami Muktananda and Satchitananda, as well as a Western yoga instructor. He traces yoga's roots back to tantra. This is what my research has turned up, as well. The yoga postures were originally designed to prepare the body for tantra.

Yoga, Tibetan Buddhism, Hare Krishna, Vedanta, almost any "spiritual" movement from India, all are based in tantra. According to professor Sarah Caldwell, who has a paper analyzing this available online, these movements do their best to put on a respectable veneer suitable for marketing to the West, but tantra is secretly behind all of them.

W.J. Broad's article: []

Caldwell's article: []

Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 02/29/2012 09:22AM by Misstyk.

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Re: The downside of yoga
Posted by: good enough ()
Date: February 29, 2012 11:02PM

I've always heard that yoga wasn't supposed to be competitive, but according to an article in the Toronto Star yoga pose competitions have been taking place for quite awhile:

Yoga pose competitions take place in India, where yoga originated, and elsewhere around the world. Choudhury took part in them growing up, as did her husband, Bikram Choudhury, founder of the Bikram Yoga form of hot yoga, which consists of a series of 26 poses done in a heated room.][/quote]

[quote=She says the competitions can be a way to interest people in yoga who might be put off by the spiritual aspect, by showing them the athletic aspect.

Seems one way or another yoga practitioners want to recruit everyone.


Competitive yoga as an Olympic sport? That’s a stretch, say critics
Published On Tue Feb 28 2012

Jordan Ciambrone of Tempe, Ariz., assumes a yoga position for a panel of judges during the first International Yoga Asana (Posture) Championship at Yoga Expo 2003 in Los Angeles.


Deepti Hajela Associated Press

NEW YORK- The judges will be watching — were the competitor’s knees locked? Were the wrists straight? Did the forehead and the knee connect? If not, points are going to be lost.

Seeking the perfect pose will be the order of the day at the National Yoga Asana Championship, being put on March 2-4 by an organization that wants to see yoga asana, or posture, competition become an Olympic sport.

Wait, competitive yoga? Isn’t that counterintuitive to something that’s usually presented as a spiritual, meditative discipline? Not according to Rajashree Choudhury, who founded USA Yoga, which is holding the competition.

First of all, she says, the focus is on yoga postures. “I’m not trying to measure anybody’s ‘eight states,’” she said, referring the meditative and spiritual aspect of yoga practice. “The posture can be competitive.”

Participants must do a series of seven yoga poses in three minutes. Five are compulsory — standing head-to-knee pose, standing bow-pulling pose, bow pose, rabbit pose, and stretching pose. The participants are allowed to pick the last two poses themselves.

The poses show “how someone can have perfect strength, balance, flexibility in the body,” Choudhury said.

Competitors who have come in first or second in state meets are expected from 32 states. The New York competition is March 2; the national semi-finals on March 3 and the finals on March 4. The winners will take part in an international competition scheduled for June in Los Angeles.

Yoga pose competitions take place in India, where yoga originated, and elsewhere around the world. Choudhury took part in them growing up, as did her husband, Bikram Choudhury, founder of the Bikram Yoga form of hot yoga, which consists of a series of 26 poses done in a heated room.

She says the competitions can be a way to interest people in yoga who might be put off by the spiritual aspect, by showing them the athletic aspect.

But not all yoga practitioners agree.

“The roots of yoga are based in acceptance and non-violence and compassion toward self and others,” said Roseanne Harvey, 35, of Montreal, who’s been practising yoga for 15 years and blogs about it at

She pointed out that in most yoga classes, “what we’re trying to do is encourage students not to compete,” she said.

While saying that the universe of yoga had “room within it for lots of different approaches,” Harvey had some concerns about what yoga pose competitions would be promoting, that people could get hurt if the idea filters down that it’s about being able to get into the perfect positions.

She also wondered if that emphasis on the perfect pose would put off people who would look at the competitors as attaining a physical level they can’t reach.

“It can deflate people, it can intimidate people from wanting to try it,” she said.

Choudhury isn’t too concerned about those put off by the idea of competitions.

“Yoga teaches people to be non-judgmental,” she said.

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Re: The downside of yoga
Posted by: good enough ()
Date: February 29, 2012 11:42PM

A blog post about yoga related injuries and ego.


Is yoga ruining your body?
zosia bielski

Globe and Mail Blog
Posted on Friday, January 6, 2012 10:10AM EST

"How Yoga Can Wreck Your Body," [] a controversial article in this weekend's New York Times magazine, is stirring debate between devotees and those who question the Westernization of the practice, which counted some 20 million disciples in the United States last year.

The piece is adapted from William J. Broad's book The Science of Yoga: The Risks and Rewards, publishing next month. Mr. Broad found temporary relief in yoga after rupturing a disc. Then disaster struck.

"In 2007, while doing the extended-side-angle pose, a posture hailed as a cure for many diseases, my back gave way. With it went my belief, naïve in retrospect, that yoga was a source only of healing and never harm."

He argues that several factors have increased injury risks, most significantly yoga's shifting demographic.

"Indian practitioners of yoga typically squatted and sat cross-legged in daily life, and yoga poses, or asanas, were an outgrowth of these postures. Now urbanites who sit in chairs all day walk into a studio a couple of times a week and strain to twist themselves into ever-more-difficult postures despite their lack of flexibility and other physical problems."

Mr. Broad cites decades worth of medical journal entries warning about yoga injuries. The lower back is the most common victim, according to a worldwide survey of yoga teachers, therapists and doctors published by Columbia University's College of Physicians and Surgeons. He interviews scores of (embarrassed) adherants: students with pulverized hips, teachers with bad backs and those complaining of the terrifying "yoga foot drop," a nerve condition that makes it hard to walk. []

He also points to Bikram yoga, the heat of which has been known to raise the risk of muscle damage and blackouts. []

Mr. Broad interviews Glenn Black, an exceedingly careful yoga teacher who helps people rehabilitate after yoga related injuries: "Today many schools of yoga are just about pushing people," Mr. Black said, blaming teachers' egos. "If you do it with ego or obsession, you'll end up causing problems."

Commenters on the story seemed to get the picture: "It's so like us Americans to take a perfectly harmless and even beneficial form of exercise, and turn it into the ridiculous charade that yoga has now become," wrote Victor from California.

Over at The Atlantic, writer Elspeth Reeve seized on the piece to eviscerate the "purply plum"-swathed masses yoga has attracted in the West. []

"Admittedly, yoga attracts some of the worst people on the planet: The image obsessed girls... super-hippies and self-righteous spiritual types. But any human that's obsessed with a type of exercise is generally intolerable. Talk to a marathon runner lately? Everything in moderation."

Perhaps Roger, a carpenter commenting on the NYT piece, said it best: "I am sure that I was able to avoid surgery due to yoga. Common sense and the willingness to get in touch with your own body make an enormous difference. I think the danger lies more in the perils of the American ego."

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Re: The downside of yoga
Posted by: good enough ()
Date: March 02, 2012 07:29AM

An interesting article on yoga teachers and narcissism.


Bow Down to the Yoga Teacher
Feb 20, 2011 12:00 AM EST

Marco, the tattooed instructor at the front of the room, is all charisma. He stalks; he pounces; he perches on my back as he corrects my Janu Sirsasana pose (otherwise known as a forward bend). “If you tell it to me from your mind, I’m not interested,” he announces, to begin the class. “That’s just drama. I’ve got my own drama.” It can be difficult to exit the studio when Marco’s class is over: people lingering to talk to him block the door.

Do yoga, transcend your ego, and discover your inner humility—at least that’s the idea behind this ancient spiritual practice. The enlightened person is “friendly and compassionate, free from self-regard and vanity,” promises the Bhagavad-Gita. But in the recent past, around the time that $100 yoga pants became as common as designer jeans, the once inconspicuous yoga instructor has morphed into something more grandiose. Now certain teachers display all the monkishness of Keith Richards cooling his heels in the greenroom as adoring fans reach a peak of anticipation.

The aura of high priest surrounds not just celebrity instructors like Marco, who teaches at Pure Yoga, and is known throughout the New York yoga scene for his godlike presence, but the ranks of proletarian instructors as well. The New York City–based filmmaker Ariel Schulman goes to a weekly class at Kula in Greenwich Village. He knows the instructor is in the building when he arrives. “But she comes into class late. She waits for the room to fill up—I feel the drumroll, sitting cross-legged waiting for her—and she makes her grand entrance.” The lights dim, and her patter begins: “Who don’t I know?” she asks. “Who haven’t I met?”

In America, yoga has become a mainstream and marketable cult—20 million people practice regularly, according to some estimates—and its teachers are, in a sense, performers. That’s why the narcissistically inclined can be drawn to the job, says Miles Neale, a Buddhist psychotherapist based in New York. Becoming a yoga teacher allows an insecure person to act spiritually superior. But the dynamic is two-sided. For the yoga teacher to become inflated, the student must inflate. Yoga acolytes, like rock-band groupies, hang on the approval of their favorite gurus—thus allowing that narcissism to flourish. “People elevate because they want to be accepted by the one that’s elevated,” Neale says. “That makes them feel good.”

Some yoga-diva antics would be considered bad manners even in Hollywood. Jennifer Needleman, a film editor, woke up before dawn recently to attend a new class at her local Venice, Calif., yoga studio. So few students showed up that the teacher declined to teach. It simply wasn’t worth her time, she said. Matt White, a member of the L.A.-based band Earl Greyhound, remembers resting on his back at the end of one class when the instructor seized the chance to burst into song. “I could be wrong, but I swear to God, he was singing something from a musical, like from Pippin,” says White. Carrie Campbell, a Pilates instructor in New York, was midpose at the notoriously purist Jivamukti studio, when her instructor approached, paused, and sniffed. “I can tell by the smell of your sweat that you’re not a vegetarian,” she announced for the whole class to hear. Campbell has not returned since.

Instructors concede that there’s a lure to giving in to their egotistical impulses. “When I start to feel powerful—that’s a dangerous place to be,” says Emily Wolf, a yoga instructor who is also studying to be a psychologist. When she begins to feel that way, she remembers her own teachers “who continue to put me in my place,” she says. The megalomaniacs, she believes, have lost sight of the fact that they were ever students themselves.

Casey Schwartz is a staff writer at Newsweek and The Daily Beast. She is currently at work on her first book, a personal look at the culture of modern psychiatry.

For inquiries, please contact The Daily Beast at

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Re: The downside of yoga
Posted by: good enough ()
Date: March 03, 2012 05:33AM


The oversexualization of yoga
amy verner
From Saturday's Globe and Mail

Published Saturday, Oct. 02, 2010 12:01AM EDT
Last updated Sunday, Oct. 03, 2010 7:00PM EDT

By the standards of women’s fashion magazines, there is nothing particularly racy about Yoga Journal. Stories in the October issue include a step-by-step illustrated guide to achieving poses, versatile yet stylish clothes to wear outside the studio, nourishing beauty rituals and a recipe for dosas.

Toward the back of the magazine, however, there’s a black and white Toesox ad featuring well-known yoga teacher Kathryn Budig in a variation on a handstand. Apart from a pair of the organic-cotton non-slip yoga socks, she’s naked, strategically positioned to reveal no body parts that would be considered scandalous on Sesame Street.

But while the image, shot by respected fitness photographer Jasper Johal, is unquestionably beautiful, not everyone was happy to see the practice of yoga portrayed in a sexy, commercial context.

Judith Hanson Lasater, a leading voice in the yoga world and one of the founding editors of Yoga Journal 35 years ago, wrote a letter to the magazine that ran in its September issue. In it, she expressed her sadness and confusion over the “photos of naked or half-naked women” and how they relate to the practice of yoga. Yoga blogs and message boards jumped on her response, mostly in agreement.

“Hats off to Judith for having the courage to speak out against sexualized yoga advertising!” wrote Montrealer Roseanne Harvey on [].

Since yoga first became popularized in North America in the 1960s, its growing mainstream appeal has to some extent overshadowed its meditative origins, placing greater weight on its body-enhancing abilities than on goals of the mind or spirit. This idea of yoga as just another pastime – and its emergence as a significant business opportunity – has created a widening grey area between commercialism, sex and the discipline, fuelling concerns about whether the centuries-old discipline is getting proper respect.

These days, there are books and DVDs promoting yoga as the answer to a better sex life, hybrid classes that emphasize mojo over mantra and myriad studies suggesting yoga can boost sexual performance. The proliferation of flirtier attire, from Lululemon bra tops to Yoga Tart booty shorts, underlines the sexual aspect. In movies and on TV, a yoga class often serves as a pick-up joint.

“Yoga is a sensual, body-based activity and there’s a lot of potential for beautiful bodies and a lot of skin, so it can be exploited by people who want to market it,” says Vancouver teacher Eoin Finn. “When I hear the term ‘sexy yoga,’ I don’t picture spiritually ascending; it might be fun, but there might not be [any] spiritual thrust to it.”

Ruth Ann Dargan, the Oshawa, Ont.-based director of the Yoga Conference and Show, currently under way in Vancouver, agrees that yoga’s spiritual focus can be diminished in a sea of sweaty, provocatively clad hard bodies. “In the yoga class, we would wish to remove [anything] creating an arousal of desire or distraction, thus providing a more fertile environment for awareness and management of physical, mental and emotional sensations.”

Now that yoga has permeated the mainstream and is being adapted in many different ways, it’s easy to see how its original intention could be lost on newcomers. “Everyone thinks they know what yoga is and it’s become just about asana [poses] and body,” says Hanson Lasater, the former Yoga Journal editor. Yoga’s true goal, she says, is self-awareness. “[Nudity] is a natural thing and not a bad thing,” she adds. “I love beauty in all its forms, but is this objectification what we want to combine with yoga?”

Not that practising yoga and enjoying sex are mutually exclusive – it’s all about context. “The idea [behind yoga] is not to remove distraction or desire from our life,” says Dargan, “but to learn to mindfully self-manage and direct them.”

Kaitlin Quistgaard, Yoga Journal’s editor-in-chief, doesn’t think readers are necessarily prudish or unaware of the way advertising works. “It’s that they’re protective of yoga,” she says from Sebastopol, Calif. “They might subscribe to Yoga Journal and also to Vogue … and have different expectations.”

Yoga has become a big business, generating $5.7-billion in U.S. sales in 2008, according to Yoga Journal, and ensuring not everyone making money from it is a disciple.

Garvey Rich, the New York-based founder and creator of both the Yoga Tart clothing line and the Better Sex Through Yoga books and DVDs, is both an entrepreneur and a long-time yogi. And he embraces the sexual crossover. Rich hatched the idea for his DVDs in 2002, when he realized that his experiences in the bedroom were heightened whenever his partner also practised yoga. Yoga Tart, with its belly-baring ballet tops and provocative hot pants, came soon after. “It always amused me how puritanical some of the situations were in yoga studios,” he says. “Some people say the products are so targeted toward sex and, to me, it’s unfortunate that sex has a bad connotation. If you think about all the times that you have sex, those are great times.”

Indeed, practising yoga has proven physiological benefits in the bedroom, says the Yoga Show’s Dargan, who has been training teachers for over 15 years. “[It] brings the body back into its natural alignment and strengthens the muscles of the pelvic region,” she says. But as Yoga Journal’s Quistgaard points out, back bends and twists aren’t really conducive to lustful thoughts. “When doing the practice of yoga, it would be pretty hard to be focused on anything [else]. We live in this modern world where people care about their clothes and what they look like when they walk out the door, but that seems to me to be something different than what happens when on the mat. And I would go so far to say that if you are so focused on what you look like and what other people look like, you’re not in your practice.”

Dargan would like to see yoga regulated and licensed in Canada, partly to circumvent some of the confusion about what does and doesn’t qualify as germane to the practice, from props to novelty classes. Quistgaard doesn’t go that far, but does admit the myriad interpretations of yoga don’t make settling the sexual discussion any easier.

“People who devote their whole life to it can’t agree on definition, so of course the general public will be at a loss. That’s what fuels the issue. Is it yogic to have an advertisement that features a naked woman? There’s no counsel of yoga judges to go to.”

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