A fair, well-reasoned assessment of the many extraordinary claims made for yoga.
Based on ancient ideas about the effect of body positions and breath control on mind and spirit, yoga first flowered in India as the centerpiece of Tantric cults that searched for enlightenment in sexual ecstasy. Its mostly male practitioners claimed the art endowed them with not only sexual prowess but also magical powers. One famous 19th-century yogi astonished his noble patron by seeming to come alive after being sealed for 40 days in a tomb with no food or water. Early-20th-century Indian rationalists proved many of those feats to be nothing more than magic tricks, but the art had a second flourishing in the West in the form of mostly low-impact exercise and meditation. Modern yogis and yoginis (their female counterparts) have continued to claim extraordinary powers for the new varieties of yoga, calling them miracle exercises that are completely safe and more aerobic and slimming than even running or swimming. New York Times senior writer Broad (The Oracle: The Lost Secrets and Hidden Messages of Ancient Delphi, 2006, etc.), who has practiced yoga since 1970, carefully pulls apart these claims, citing decades of scientific research and medical practice. Even the most energetic poses, such as the Salutation to the Sun, writes the author, are barely more aerobic and trimming than sitting and watching those poses performed on TV. The author also shows that yoga, far from being “completely safe,” can often result in serious injuries, including stroke, brain and nerve injury and even death. However, Broad makes a convincing argument, firmly rooted in science, for yoga’s powers to heighten concentration, inspire creativity, improve moods—even to cure some physical conditions like torn rotator cuffs.
A fascinating, persuasive case for demythologizing yoga and recognizing its true value to mind and body.