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How Yoga Can Wreck Your Body

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William Broad
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PainSci notes

This “yoga bashing” piece was the New York Times most-shared article for a while in early 2011. It’s an excerpt from a forthcoming book, and describes potentially serious yoga hazards, such as stroke. Broad raises a legitimate concern about a gap between a popular belief (“most yoga is safe and beneficial”) and the more likely reality: some fairly common postures and practices are almost certainly at least somewhat dangerous, and there may well not be enough yoga-specific benefits to justify even small risks. Plus, the rationale for some extreme yoga is just total bollocks, and certainly deserves to be challenged. It makes me I wish I’d been meaner to yoga in the past, and I don’t think Broad’s piece is particularly “sensationalistic” (as many yoga apologists have asserted, of course). It’s a given that any athletic activity has both rewards and risks. (Look no further than head injuries in football for a prime example.) The problem is that risks are a really rotten price to pay for many of the more ridiculous motives for bothering with yoga in the first place.

It’s not a perfect article by a long shot. After a too-positive initial review on Facebook, many of my readers pointed out valid science-based criticisms, primarily that Broad relies quite heavily on anecdotes, and in particular concludes the piece with a doozy based on pure speculation: that decades of yoga was the direct cause of a severe case of spinal stenosis, which is really not a safe assumption at all (stenosis happens, with or without yoga). The worst-case scenario is that the article is fear mongering based mostly on a handful of nasty anecdotes without citing much in the way of real risk/benefit data. For instance, for all we know, average yoga injuries per hour may be less than soccer, or even showering ... and we can't do a real risk-benefit analysis without that information.

~ Paul Ingraham, PainSci Publisher

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  3. The Tyranny of Yoga and Meditation