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

Book by William J. Broad

Broad gives readers something unique—a dispassionate evaluation of the science surrounding yoga. He unearths a century’s worth of studies and tries to separate facts from unfounded claims repeated in yoga studios around the world. His book is just what the doctor ordered. It reads more like an exposé than a clinical review of the literature and, to keep us interested, Broad sprinkles in talk of sex and money. Lululemon’s famous Groove Pant gets a mention, as does Ontario’s Institute for Consciousness Research.

Back to the sex. Broad finds that studies support yoga’s effect on the libido. Russian researchers proved that cobra pose, in particular, raises testosterone 16 per cent in men and 55 per cent in women. Broad finds equally compelling research supporting claims that yoga helps lift depression and unlock creativity. But he also upends commonly held beliefs, such as: yoga fills bodies and brains with extra oxygen; it burns a high number of calories; it’s the only form of exercise needed to maintain optimal fitness. Not so. Yoga slows the metabolic rate and will not, alone, make you slim. Broad also talks about poses that are prone to cause injuries, like paralyzed limbs, droopy eyelids, yoga foot drop, and a collapsed lung. Headstands can be perilous, considering the rash of poorly trained yoga teachers.

Broad is particularly good at dismantling the credibility of Yoga for Dummies, written by a yoga enthusiast with a Ph.D. from an unaccredited institution, and disdains the Yoga Journal’s lack of rigour, but notes that yoga literature is improving with a new generation of reformers worrying about their practice’s reputation. There’s an air of urgency about the book, as Broad suggests ways to improve that reputation before the profit motive takes over. A transparent accreditation process, he concludes, is a good start. In this book, he’s trying to goad and cheer the yoga community into better regulation, and it just might work.

Looking for more?

Get the Best of Maclean's sent straight to your inbox. Sign up for news, commentary and analysis.