The book is out. And we still wonder: Can yoga kill you?

Finally, after we’ve been bitching about this for weeks and weeks (without having read it, of course, but hey – such petty details don’t hold us back), the book is out. You know, the one hat contains the infamous “How yoga can wreck your body” piece that got published in the New York Times. Exactly – the one.

“The science of yoga – the risks and the rewards” is written by William J. Broad, a NYT senior science writer, and business minded as he is, the author is now travelling the world, promoting his work. He’s in the UK at the moment, creating a big stir. Here’s just some of the headlines the British press (known for its measured approach, ahem) used:

More risks than rewards?

  • Can yoga classes kill you? (Daily Mail) – “The startling question posed by a leading science writer.”
  • ‘Green’ yoga teachers could kill (The Telegraph) – “Performing yoga while being instructed by an inexperienced teacher can be deadly as they sometimes put pupils in life threatening positions, an expert on the activity has warned.
  • Can yoga kill you? (BBC)

Something major is going on here. Non yogis will hear about this and may decide not even to give it a go. Beginner yogis will hear about it and may decide to stop their practice. While I don’t think that committed yogis with a daily practice will feel their life is upside down now, the majority of people will fall into the first two categories.

Sure, the author has landed a big coup in terms of marketing (after all, we’re talking about him right here, right now…), but:

Will yoga teachers around the world pay a high price for Mr. Broad’s cheeky marketing methods?

The book’s just a few clicks away, right here. However, should yogis support the author’s “science” with their hard-earned money, teaching yoga?

What do you think?

Categories: Controversial, Trends, Yoga

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12 replies »

  1. I love yoga and it has transformed my life in a very positive way. However, a book like that should have been written a long time ago. There are a lot of people around who wanna become a yoga instructor the fast way. Hence a lot of courses are being offered for a 4 or even 2 week training to become an instructor. I believe that those kind of offers are the ones Mr. Broad is writing about. There is lot of superficiality around in regard to yoga. Some believe simply by being able to do the most difficult asanas they are IT. Are they? There are a lot of must and don’t and should’s about in yoga class and I think its those that push people into harming themselves or others.
    This controversy is a good thing as it shows that not everything to do with yoga is wonderful and life transforming and that everyone one of us needs to look at things closely. My conclusion: The book will not lessen the effects of yoga and it’s probably only the ego that is outraged about someone who dares to criticise something we love. He pushed our button and as I meditate a lot at the moment I don’t react. That’s a nice little exercise for the practise of yamas. 🙂


  2. I hate the headlines here – so much for journalism being unbiased. British journalists have such a knack for magnifying the negative!

    I certainly don’t think yoga can kill you. Sure, it can make you a bit uncomfortable (“productive discomfort” as my yoga teacher puts it), and you might be a bit stiff the following day, but the benefits of yoga far outweigh the cons if you are practicing safely, with a qualified instructor, or have done enough research and watched enough videos and taken some classes before practicing at home. The number of people who hurt themselves in yoga are far fewer than those that reap the amazing physical and mental benefits. I really hope this kind of negative promotion doesn’t put people off. Yoga is like anything – if you do it right, chances are you’ll be fine. It’s hardly a dangerous sport. And provided you take it slow and listen to your teacher, I don’t think it’s very easy to do yoga ‘wrong’.

    Thanks for posting this. I’d read the one article about the guy who hurt himself but wasn’t aware of this book.


  3. I can only HOPE that this silly marketing will not deter non-yogis or beginners from practicing! We can do our part to spread the good word about yoga 🙂 I know I do always through my Twitter and blog!! I also read an interview w/this guy in People, he claimed that if you do yoga and don’t change your diet, it slows your metabolism and makes you GAIN weight. This is EXACTLY what our image-obsessed society does NOT need to hear. Not to mention, this is the kind of ridiculous marketing that leads men and women alike to develop disordered eating/workout habits and body image. Thank goodness for blogs like this and others out there to spread the word on yoga’s BENEFITS!


  4. I just bought the book. I suspect that I’ll have more than a few issues with it, but I like to come from a completely informed place before I bow up with my rebuttal 🙂 Yoga has changed so many more lives for the positive. I’m still waiting for the “Pilates Kills” or “When Running Goes Bad” books. There are quite a few sports and activities out there, none of which are getting this type of microscopic inspection. When did yoga become scientology?


  5. There are a lot of other books I would rather spend my money on. He is reprehensible for hawking his book by stoking fear. It doesn’t seem like he has learned much about the Yamas and the Niyamas in all of his years of asana practice. But I love your blog post. Made me laugh to think of the possibilities if we went farther with this idea that yoga kills. As a mystery story fan, I can imagine a killer planning a murder with headstand or the wheel.


  6. Reading the review of the book on Amazon it does seem to be more pro yoga than against.
    Typical of the UK press to pick out the negative stuff and sensationalise it. Anyone who is put off by that is probably no great loss.
    I note he argues that yoga is becoming too competitive. Surely it shouldn’t be competitive at all?
    Also says that practice without awareness can be dangerous. Well thats true too.
    So maybe we should be glad about this book. Perhaps it will help to drag yoga back to its roots.


  7. I just made some research on the book and it seems very interesting, I’m probably going to buy it actually, it doesn’t seem to be all negative at all, just talking about the risks which are good to know as a practitioner 🙂


  8. I’m not really planning on reading it, althought I might.
    I don’t think yoga needs to be defended, the practice speaks for itself. I am aware that unsecured and unwise practice can be dangerous, so is life 🙂
    Yoga has brought so much peace into my life that I am not afraid for this book to influence in anyways potential student, what it might do is simply bring to me only most motivated students, what a bless 🙂
    And I know I’ll always have my own practice, and that is really all I need 🙂


  9. Thanks for posting – reposted link to your blog on my facebook, should raise some debate among the Yorkshire yoga community at least. However I come from a medical background so will be likely to do as the above bloggers have said, read it for myself, way up the evidence and formulate my own opinion 🙂


  10. I caught a bit of his interview on NPR last night (after yoga class). He didn’t sound like a crank. In fact, he sounded like he loves yoga – he says he’s been practicing since 1970. He is a highly regarded science writer, so I don’t get why the excerpt in the NYT was so cheesy – Really? He blames yoga for some college kid sitting in vajrasana all day? But a lot of knowledgeable people have said there is good research and good information in the book. So bearing in mind that mainstream, commercial, sensational media accounts of yoga all sound like Rita Skeeter to me, I’ll probably have to buy the book so I can see for myself.


  11. Unfortunately I plan on buying the book because I doubt my local library will stock it anytime soon. I think that it is important for me to know the arguments he makes in his book simply because most people will only pay attention to the headlines they will read. In order to essentially “defend” yoga I’ll need to know what issues he raises in the first place.


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