Kaminoff on Broad: yoga did not start as a Tantric sex cult, you idiot

Leslie Kaminoff once again responds to New York Times senior science writer William J. Broad, who has written sensationally that yoga is killing people (see Kaminoff’s response here) in order to sell his book The Science of Yoga, which Kaminoff reviews and actually recommends without totally buying into it here).

The latest bit of drama is Broad’s assertion (again in a New York Times article and in interviews that I wrote about here) that yoga began as a Tantric sex cult, so no wonder the John Friend/Anusara yoga scandal happened!

Kaminoff points out Broad’s inconsistencies and lack of scholarship and shows the evidence of artifacts depicting yoga poses from ancient times, 4 to 5 thousand years ago, greatly predating medieval Tantric cults, not to mention that yoga is one of 6 well-developed philosophical systems of Hinduism.

Now yoga creates sex scandals!!!!!! OMG!!!!!!!

Ha ha, now the same New York Times writer so focused on how yoga is injuring and killing people has written a new article in which he says that yoga fans the sexual flames, with its roots in Tantric sex cults!!!

William J. Broad writes:

Why does yoga produce so many philanderers? And why do the resulting uproars leave so many people shocked and distraught?

How does he get away with saying that yoga produces “so many” philanderers? I don’t see any data. It’s certainly not as if the majority of philanderers are yogis. A handful of anecdotal examples does not prove his case.

Um, I believe fundamental and evangelical churches have produced way more philanderers per capita than yoga has. Not to mention the U.S. government — from the presidency on down! But I guess those are old headlines. And I don’t have any data either. Does anyone have data on philandering?

And…doesn’t philandering usually end up creating uproars that leave people shocked and distraught no matter what field they occur in?

William J. Broad is riding the Anusara/John Friend scandal to capitalize on the popularity of yoga and sell more of his books. If the New York Times called him “practitioner of make-a-buck sensational journalism whose claim to scientific credibility is undermined every time he confuses causation with correlation” instead of “senior science writer,” well, that would seem to be more accurate.

I cannot wait to read what the awesome Leslie Kaminoff has to say about this article! I will post it here when he puts up another video. Leslie has been a great counterpoint to William J. Broad, with way more credibility in the yoga world, and a voice of reason, common sense, and insight among the recent uproars about yoga. Leslie, write a book! See my recent post of his video about his yoga teacher Desikachar, son of the founder of modern yoga.

My take on it? Yoga improves health, and being healthy means being alive, vibrant, and responsive. That can certainly translate to sexy! Who isn’t attracted to people with those qualities?

And, a lot of activities improve health and libido, not just yoga. Running, biking, swimming, playing basketball, dancing zumba, and many, many more.

I also believe that yoga does more than just improve health — the asanas unblock meridians, allowing life-force energy (chiprana) to flow more freely throughout the body.

Ask anyone who’s had regular acupuncture for years if it’s improved their health, energy levels, and life force/vibrancy/libido, and they will tell you it has made a big difference. Same deal, no yoga.

And, over time and without needles, yoga does the same thing. And not just yoga. Gymnastics, acrobatics, acro-yoga, Pilates, martial arts, tai chi, chi gong, and several types of dance place the body in unusual postures or movements that increase flexibility, build strength and endurance, and require focused awareness. They train the bodymind to be healthier, to function better. Of course that affects sexuality. Health and sexuality are intimate partners.

This has been known for a long time.

Broad totally did not mention that one of the yamas (ethical guidelines) in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali is brahmacharya, or nonexcess.

In the commentaries on the sutras, brahmacharya is applied specifically to sexual behavior and refers to chastity or even celibacy among advanced spiritual aspirants. Brahmacharya means refraining from sex except in committed relationships, and in that context, engaging in sex in moderation to develop a true spiritual partnership.

The yamas are required reading and discussion in yoga teacher training. And to put that in context, we live in America, which is a hypersexual culture. The porn industry is huge, and sex sells.

I imagine that the majority of people with a serious yoga practice do not misbehave sexually. Those who do, well, it’s more about power or addiction or lack of healthy role models than it is about the yoga.

Broad does share information about science’s interest in yoga and sex. I am not surprised by any of it. He’s fixated on yoga and sex; I’d like to see similar studies on martial arts and sex, and on yoga and the bonding hormone oxytocin.

And by the way, meditation (aka doing nothing) can promote sexual arousal. So can simply relaxing.

In Russia and India, scientists have measured sharp rises in testosterone — a main hormone of sexual arousal in both men and women. Czech scientists working with electroencephalographs have shown how poses can result in bursts of brainwaves indistinguishable from those of lovers. More recently, scientists at the University of British Columbia have documented how fast breathing — done in many yoga classes — can increase blood flow through the genitals. The effect was found to be strong enough to promote sexual arousal not only in healthy individuals but among those with diminished libidos.

In India, recent clinical studies have shown that men and women who take up yoga report wide improvements in their sex lives, including enhanced feelings of pleasure and satisfaction as well as emotional closeness with partners.

So yoga enhances sex. No surprise there, and what’s wrong with that, as long as people are conscious about behaving responsibly with it? Yoga also enhances health, fitness, longevity, equanimity, awareness, and compassion. No data, just my experience.

See Yoga and Sex Scandals: No Surprise Here to read the full article.

Leslie Kaminoff responds elegantly to yoga scandal

Here’s an elegant response from yoga teacher/anatomist Leslie Kaminoff, whom I studied with in January, to the recent yoga scandal involving John Friend and Anusara Yoga.

I’ve watched the headlines about the exodus of senior teachers and the revelations about Friend’s flaws with a measure of detachment. The headlines say enough — no details are needed.

This is an old story that often happens when power goes to a leader’s head, who is usually male. It’s the story of the flawed guru, the untrustworthy leader, the downfall of the powerful. It’s an archetypal story about human nature and usually involves sex and/or money, and sometimes substance abuse, and always, trust, betrayal, and loss of reputation.

It doesn’t have to happen. People are people. Attraction happens…and it takes self-aware teachers who are mindful of others and themselves and have enough personal resources to draw on to keep the trust given them, to notice when it/they may be slipping, to maintain the integrity of their teaching program.

It is part of the challenge of taking that path. The teacher is also the teaching.

If you want to catch up on what happened, check out WellandGood‘s coverage.

Disclosure: I take an Anusara class each week, and I love it and my Anusara-inspired teacher who has worked so hard for years to understand and teach yoga well and keep us safe and growing.

In my opinion, the quality of the yoga being taught includes the integrity of the teacher as well as the skill and knowledge. JF, as the founder of Anusara Yoga, did not have had much influence on me except in the body of work he created, and my teacher, who took classes from him and other Anusara teachers.

Anusara is good yoga, and I hope Anusara will still stand as an offering in the yoga world.

I’ve been lucky to have had some skilled, righteous yoga teachers whom I have trusted.

My respect for Leslie Kaminoff only increases. He talks about the suffering that occurs when a group gathers around a teacher whose human frailties prevent him from living up to the task he has been trusted with. (Yes, it’s usually men, but men hold more positions of power than women. And…the women involved made choices too.)

He relates how his teacher, Desikachar, who created Viniyoga, then decided to dissolve it because he was uncomfortable with the idea of branding. He found certification (which includes some standardization) to be antithetical to the traditional teacher/student relationship found in Indian yoga.

Desikachar resisted every opportunity to become a guru. He based his interactions with his students on his faith that the students could come up with the answers for themselves. He allowed them to struggle instead of giving them easy answers.

Leslie Kaminoff reviews “The Science of Yoga: The Risks and the Rewards”

This book, The Science of Yoga, written by a New York Times science writer, was at the heart of the recent controversy about yoga injuring people as posited in a New York Times article.

Leslie Kaminoff has posted two video responses to the article. (See my previous post to view them.)

This third video is his response to the book, which he recommends that all yogis read — and then gives a mixed review.

Correlation is not causation, as Kaminoff says. If you cite how many people are injured doing yoga, but fail to compare it to injuries from any other physical activity, there’s no perspective — and that’s a journalistic failure. Broad apparently does not come across as a credible science writer because of this in Kaminoff’s eyes, which is disillusioning considering the NY Times’ “gray lady” status among newspapers, but putting forth questionable data supports his agenda — and sells books.

Of course, journalism has been in the fire for years. Maybe Fox News is the equivalent of Bikram.

Watch the video to find out what Broad’s agenda is. You might be surprised that he picks on individuals (especially one whose Ph.D. came from an institution that ironically Broad finds not credible, and a small organization, the International Association of Yoga Therapists).

Yoga helps by magnitudes more people than it injures. Just make sure you get a good teacher who knows anatomy, and keep in mind that it’s your responsibility to be aware of your body and to set your limits to protect yourself.

How yoga changes the brain’s stress response

Ha ha! Psychology Today includes a column called PreFrontal Nudity: The Brain Exposed. Love it!

This column, Yoga: Changing the Brain’s Stressful Habits, by Alex Korb, Ph.D. in neuroscience, is about the stress of yoga.

Yoga is controlled stress, as Leslie Kaminoff says.

Yes, that’s right. Yoga is stressful. If you don’t believe me, then get down on all fours with your hands shoulder width apart and your feet hip width apart. Push your hands and toes into the floor and lift your butt high. Stick your sacrum up as high as it will go.

Let your head drop.

Oh, and be sure your fingers are spread as wide as they can spread, middle fingers pointing forward, and without moving your hands, rotate your arms so your inner elbows are pointing more forward than toward each other.

Straighten your back. Don’t let it collapse! Let your shoulder blades flatten into your back but keep your kidney area full. Imagine you’re making one long line from wrist to tailbone.

Pedal your feet up and down if you need to, but really, try to get your heels to the floor with your legs straight. Feel that hamstring stretch! Feel those calf muscles and Achilles tendons!

Now push your hands and feet into your mat and away from each other!

Are you feeling relaxed yet?

So don’t forget to breathe. Keep your breathing calm and steady. Breathe through your nose while constricting the back of your throat to make a sound like the ocean.

Now how are you doing? Congrats on your downward facing dog, by the way.

Korb accompanied his dad to a yoga class and learned first-hand how yoga retrains the brain. He thought it was going to be all pretzel twists and enlightenment, until his dad explained ujjayi breathing to him.

This next statement may sound to you either profound or extremely obvious, but it comes down to this: the things you do and the thoughts you have change the firing patterns and chemical composition of your brain. Even actions as simple as changing your posture, relaxing the muscles on your face, or slowing your breathing rate, can affect the activity in your brain…. These changes are often transient, but can be long-lasting, particularly if they entail changing a habit.

As a neuroscientist, despite my initial incredulity, I came to realize that yoga works not because the poses are relaxing, but because they are stressful. It is your attempts to remain calm during this stress that create yoga’s greatest neurobiological benefit.

 The fascinating thing about the mind-body interaction is that it works both ways. For example, if you’re stressed, your muscles will tense (preparing to run away from a lion), and this will lead to more negative thinking. Relaxing those muscles, particularly the facial muscles, will push the brain in the other direction, away from stress, and toward more relaxed thoughts. Similarly, under stress, your breathing rate increases. Slowing down your breathing pushes the brain away from the stress response, and again toward more relaxed thinking.

It [the physiological stress response] is, in fact, just a habit of the brain. One of the main purposes of yoga is to retrain this habit so that your brain stops automatically invoking the stress response.

Here’s the real kicker in my opinion, where a Ph.D. western scientist new to yoga really gets what it’s all about:

The good news is that you don’t actually have to go to a class to practice yoga. The poses most people associate with yoga are just a particular way of practicing yoga called the asana practice (“asana” translates to “pose”). The asana practice challenges you in a specific way, but life itself offers plenty of challenges on its own. Under any stressful circumstance you can attempt the same calming techniques: breathing deeply and slowly, relaxing your facial muscles, clearing your head of anxious thoughts, focusing on the present. In fact, applying these techniques to real life is what yoga is all about. Yoga is simply the process of paying attention to the present moment and calming the mind.

Yogis, does that not warm your hearts?

Nonyogis, does this not inspire you to practice yoga?

Couldn’t we all use a little more attention in the present moment and a calmer mind?

Yogadork’s guide to yoga community response to NY Times article

From the great Yogadork, here’s the complete and exhaustive guide to the yoga community’s response to the New York Times article about how yoga can wreck your body.

Thanks, Yogadork, for compiling this and for promising to add more as new responses surface.

I’m glad the conversation is happening. The original article seemed to deliberately fan some flames in order to promote a book by New York Times science reporter William J. Broad. A lot of egos are on the line — yoga in America has become an industry, a far cry from one of six schools of Indian philosophy.

The guide includes Part 2 of Leslie Kaminoff’s response to the controversy. He said in his workshop that he was about halfway through reading The Science of Yoga: The Risks and the Rewards (available for preorder, publication date is Feb. 7) and thinks it’s worth the read (even if possibly not entirely fair or accurate, still, good enough).

And with that, I’m bowing out of continuing to post about this controversy. After I read the book (and it’s not at the top of my reading list — gotta study for the massage licensing exam first), I’ll post a review.

Yoga (asana) has been part of my life since 1982. I feel fortunate to have discovered and made this practice part of my life. It’s transformed my being in all its koshas, brought me good health and spiritual gifts, and there’s still learning to be done. It’s blessed me.

My advice for preventing injuries is to work with good teachers who understand anatomy far beyond what’s required to become an RYT-200, teachers who teach small enough classes that they can really keep an eye on each student and keep them out of trouble.

Also, pay a lot of attention to what you’re doing. Use and cultivate your awareness.

Now that’s yoga.

Sadie Nardini Responds to “How Yoga Can Wreck Your Body”

Sadie Nardini Responds to “How Yoga Can Wreck Your Body”. | elephant journal.

Here’s yet another response from a well-known yoga teacher to the controversial recent New York Times article. Sadie Nardini recommends that students concerned about the possibility of injuries choose instructors based on how much anatomy training they’ve had. Very little is required for the RYT-200 credential. I think it’s about 20 hours.

She mentions Leslie Kaminoff as being an expert on anatomy. I took a workshop with him today. Nearly half the class of 70 were yoga teachers. He showed us some of the Anatomy Trains cadaver video and a couple of Gil Hedley’s cadaver videos (I posted his video on “fuzz” previously).

Leslie and Amy Matthews have updated their book, Yoga Anatomy, which Sadie recommends.

She makes some good points, especially noting the contradictions in what Glenn Black said to the New York Times and what he said to the Huffington Post about his own yoga injuries and whether yogis should do headstand.

It’s your body–don’t trust it to just anyone. Ask any prospective yoga teacher what, if any yoga injuries they’ve had, and if, for example, they’re about to go into spinal surgery from years of severely over-expressing themselves in yoga posture, then move on.

In addition, each student has a responsibility to check themselves before they wreck themselves in class. You might not know everything about yoga poses or anatomy, but you do know the feeling when you’re pushing too hard.  So when the urge to go all agro on a pose arises, whether it’s to strain toward strength or flexibility, it’s ultimately up to you to resist the ego’s siren song–something that leads even more experienced yogis to push their limits, then act mystified at the fact that this supposedly ‘healing’ practice hurt them instead.

Leslie Kaminoff responds to NYTimes article about yoga wrecking your body

My 2 Cents about “How Yoga Can Wreck Your Body” | Leslie Kaminoff’s Yoga Anatomy.

Leslie Kaminoff, author of Yoga Anatomy, responds to the recent New York Times article via video.

To equate yoga with asana practice, is a very deep and false connection.

There’s a lot more. The video is 10 minutes and the best response I’ve seen so far. I’m happy to say I will be doing a workshop with him next month.