William J. Broad and The Science of Yoga

Pulitzer Prize winner William J. Broad’s book, The Science of Yoga: The Risks and the Rewards, certainly created a lot of controversy among the yoga cognoscenti…. Without wading too deeply into it, I think it’s important to remember: IMHO it’s not that yoga can/cannot cause certain things. Rather, it’s that overemphasis on the forms, as articulated by Iyengar and then deified by many of his disciples (NOT him), leads practitioners away from the ultimate Y of yoga….Union…that goes back to Krishnamacharya who said the practice has to be about the person not the posture.

Unfortunately in our American iteration, the more popular the teacher, the less able h/she is to pay attention to individual differences…Guys tend to have tighter muscles, and more importantly, less open hips…IN GENERAL, men require a much different approach than women; but then women need different approaches from each other.

A look at Broad’s reading list offers ample food for thought:

The readings go from newest to oldest. Many thanks to Victoria McColm of Prevent Yoga Injury for suggesting that I assemble a list, and to authors and publishers who brought books to my attention. Their concerns, and the wide discussions that have arisen since The Science of Yogawas published, suggest a growing interest around the globe in making a great practice even greater.


Benjamin Lorr , Hell-Bent: Obsession, Pain, and the Search for Something Like Transcendence in Competitive Yoga
(New York: St. Martin’s Press, November 2012), 320 pages. An insider’s romp through extreme yoga that brings to light an obsessive subculture fraught with lies and sweat, popped ribs and hallucinations.

Tony Wolff, Lightening Up: The Yoga of Self-Acceptance
(Big Sur, California: YOSA.co, October 2012), 242 pages. “A funny thing happened on the way to perfection,” Tony writes. “I kept hurting myself.” Gentle teaching and wacky illustrations on improving yoga, especially by cultivating a positive attitude. Draws on Buddhist traditions.

Peter Blackaby, (Brighton, U.K.: Outhouse Publishing, June 2012), 174 pages. A teacher’s plea for safety through individualization and anatomic savvy. Filled with beautiful photographs and illustrations. “Some of us are supple, others are stiff,” Peter writes. “We need to establish our limitations and work within them.”

Victoria E. McColm, The Contraindication Index for Yoga Asanas (Washington, D.C.: Citizen International Group, 2012), 64 pages. A manual for avoiding and modifying poses that can exacerbate injuries, ailments, and medical conditions.

Michaelle Edwards, YogAlign, Pain-free Yoga from Your Inner Core (Book with DVD) (Hanalei, Hawaii: Hihimanu Press, 2011), 384 pages. Argues for safety through natural alignment. Michaelle, who teaches in Hawaii, also runs a website, www.yogainjuries.com, where hurt practitioners can fill out a survey. Her goal is to help people achieve “maximum benefits with no pain or injuries.”

Kevin Khalili, , X-Posed: The Painful Truth Behind Yoga & Pilates (West Conshohocken, Penn.: Infinity Publishing, 2011), 130 pages. A doctor’s take on dangers and their avoidance. Kevin is a chiropractor in Santa Barbara, California. He also wrote Super Human Yoga & Pilates(Infinity Publishing, 2011), 224 pages.

Mel Robin, A Handbook for Yogasana Teachers (Tucson: Wheatmark, 2009), 1,106 pages. Chock full of charts and tables, diagrams and text that science fans will find enlightening. Mel, a scientist and Iyengar teacher, devotes Appendix II to “Injuries Incurred by Improper Yogasana Practice.” Moreover, under Injuries, the Index cites many entries – one, for instance, on the anterior cruciate ligament of the knee.

Michael J. Alter, Science of Flexibility – 3rd Edition(Champaign, Illinois: Human Kinetics, 2004), 355 pages. The inside story on extreme bending. Chapter 14, “Controversy over Stretching and Controversial Stretches,” includes a discussion of X-rated poses. Michael, like The Science of Yoga, raises questions about the Plow and the Shoulder Stand.

Jean-Paul Bouteloup, Yoga sans dégâts (Yoga without damage) (Paris: Robert Jauze, 2006), 190 pages. A yoga teacher in Paris, Jean-Paul puts his emphasis on proper alignment. “Have fun!” he wrote me in a note accompanying his book. Excellent advice.

Noelle Perez-Christiaens and Louis Creyx, Attention, le yoga peut etre dangereux pour vous! (Attention, yoga can be dangerous for you!) (Paris: Institut de yoga B.K.S. Iyengar, 1980), 287 pages. This cooperative effort between a practitioner and a doctor is long out of print but shows that concern about yoga injuries began decades ago.


My New York Times article on yoga risks for men, “Wounded Warrior Pose.” Tells how injured guys brought their upended lives to my attention and how I found that men go to hospital emergency rooms more often than women.

My New York Times article, “The Healing Power of Yoga Controversy,” a short excerpt of the paperback’s Afterword pegged to the first anniversary of The Science of Yoga’s publication.

My Elephant Journal article, “Improvement by Uproar: The Science of Yoga” a longer excerpt of the Afterword in The Science of Yoga’s paperback edition.