Yesterday I ordered the Kindle version of a new book “The Science of Yoga: The Risks and the Rewards,” by William Broad a NY Times Science writer who has practiced yoga since 1970.
One reviewer sums up the book this way: Broad’s objective is simple enough: to evaluate in scientific terms the claims made for yoga. But this turns out to be more complicated than it seems. For one thing, there are the sheer number and variety of those claims: yoga, it is said, can prevent heart disease, reverse aging, eliminate pain, and bestow serenity and peace. Broad patiently and exhaustively examines the evidence for each of these assertions, revealing surprises along the way. Yes, yoga can reduce anxiety and improve mood. No, it won’t help the overweight shed pounds.
What I found intriguing was a recent surge of interest by scientists in the health benefits of yoga. The National Institutes of Health recently put up millions for one such study These studies have documented benefits that practicing yogi’s have long reported anecdotally. On the physical side, yoga’s gentle range-of-motion exercises and focus on alignment keep the spine strong and supple–in part by reducing a common aging effect, the drying-out of the disks that cushion your vertebrae. The controlled breathing in yoga also lowers blood pressure. On the emotional side, yoga .makes you happier and calmer by stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system – the part that strengthens reflective and optimistic thinking.
At the same time Broad debunks other health claims about yoga that have become rather widespread.Two examples: (1) Yoga has aerobic benefits: In fact it has no effect at all on the aerobic system. (2) Yoga increases metabolic rate, helping produce weight loss. In fact the opposite is true. Yoga slows metabolism; if you practice it regularly, you’ll gain weight unless you reduce calorie intake. Why are yoga teachers so often lean and lithe? Well, teaching 3 to 5 hours a day can burn a lot of calories.
Broad is also the first high-profile writer to describe a darker side to yoga–instances of serious spinal injuries; it surprised me to learn that a high percentage of yoga teachers have required surgery or long periods of rehab. Back and hip injuries occured from pushing too far in bending or twisting poses. Of far greater concern are instances of disabling strokes, and even fatalities. These resulted most often from people flexing the neck nearly 90 degrees,damaging blood vessels that supply the brain, while doing Shoulder Stand and Plow.
Yoga’s rapid growth is at least partly to blame. As tens of millions have taken it up in the last decade, there are ever more novices and older folks, ‘blissfully’ unaware of the dangers of overexuberance, striving to match the extreme flexibility of their teachers–or the young and supple women that one so often finds on the next mat. Rapid growth has also resulted in a flood of inexperienced, poorly-trained and uncertified teachers leading students who are also inexperienced and ill-suited–because of age and years of sedentary living–for advanced poses. As well, the ‘yoga-industrial complex’ has created a confusing profusion of yoga styles. Broad writes that there are a ‘jillion schools of yoga’— many making breathless and unsubstantiated claims. So Broad’s book performs a valuable service in making it possible for ‘yoga consumers’ to be better informed.
The beauty of TI is that it offers all of yoga’s benefits, along with many more, yet none of the risks.
- TI does improve aerobic health and–when your skills are ready to be practiced at higher tempos–increases metabolism.
- TI drills and skills improve the strength and suppleness of the spine and work all the muscles of the body, with a particular emphasis on core muscle.
- TI Mindful Practice improves brain function,stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system.
- TI makes your stroke longer–and TI drills require a degree of breath control. This combination of drills and stroke length makes breathing deeper, steadier and more rhythmic, and improves exchange of carbon dioxide for oxygen in the lungs, bloodstream and muscles, while lowering blood pressure.
- TI’s Kaizen emphasis on targeting skills that can be refined and expanded over decades can give you a higher-functioning brain, and maintain mental sharpness into advanced age.
- The nature of the movements we practice, along with the aquatic environment, is entirely risk free.
- And finally, most of the examplars people aim to emulate in TI, and the people you typically find in a TI class or group practice, are not those with unusual physical gifts, nor the young and athletic, but people who are distinctly ordinary in a physical sense, and usually middle-aged or beyond.
To be clear, when practiced in a regular sound and sensible way, yoga is unequivocally beneficial. I’ve practiced since my early 40s, have mostly managed to avoid injury, and have gotten great benefits–including to my swimming practice. I intend to practice yoga regularly for the rest of my life. But TI is unequivocally an ideal complement to yoga, which brings all of the benefits–and more–with none of the downside. I’m certain that the combination of TI and Yoga is better than anything else I might do to realize my goal of being strong, supple, happy–and still pursuing personal growth–at age 85 and beyond.
Read a NY Times review of “The Science of Yoga.”
Read a transcript and hear a recording of William Broad on Talk of the Nation’s Science Friday.
Hear Terry Gross of Fresh Air interview William Broad.
VN:F [1.9.22_1171]TI Practice: All the benefits of yoga. None of the risks.,