Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Yoga Meets Science

Speaking as yogini, yoga teacher and librarian, I relish when new books are published on the subject of yoga. The Science of Yoga, which was five years in the making by New York Times science writer, William J. Broad, offers a collection of “scientific evidence” regarding yoga.

In yoga’s social media scene, (facebook and twitter) this book has gotten a lot of attention. Most of the book’s buzz relates to the portion of the book dedicated to “risks.” For dedicated yoga practitioners and teachers this "risks" perspective can be alarming.

I once had a yoga teacher say, “all feedback is neutral, it’s how we respond to the information that makes it positive or negative.” I’m taking that approach to Broad’s book. Sure, there’s plenty of content that makes me scowl a little. I feel skeptical regarding the methods of certain cited scientific studies. Although, ultimately, this book gets more information out there on the topic of yoga and science. As a librarian, I think more information is always a good thing. Access to information is how we make graceful, educated decisions about many things in life including the bigger stuff like how to live each day. I especially like Mr. Broad’s plea, near the end of the book, for more scientific research on the effects of yoga.

Several of the book’s most potent bits of information come right at the beginning. There’s a useful yoga history timeline and a list of yoga “characters” with brief summaries. Both of these tools are detailed and in alignment with what I’ve studied, without being too complex, esoteric or inaccessible to yoga novices. The book’s reporting is delivered through endearing stories of how the author came to discover it, which makes it easy to relate to and conversational. Broad concentrates on the topic of the physical poses (asana) and their effects, while avoiding the more veiled and complex subject of yoga philosophy and its effects.

Although much of the book’s media hype is a result of the controversial image of yoga portrayed by Mr. Broad, it’s worthwhile to know that Broad has been practicing yoga since the early 1970s and continues today. He read, studied and collected all this scientific information, thought it over, incorporated it into his personal practice and decided to share the information with others, (meanwhile making some extra bucks selling a book). The fact that he keeps on doing yoga after learning all that he did, is testament enough to me that the rewards far outweigh the risks. And what’s the risk of getting more information anyway? That you might make an educated choice about how you do your yoga. I think that’s pretty positive!

For this book and other books on the topic of yoga please see this month’s 2nd floor book display.

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