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The Science of Yoga: The Risks and the Rewards

3.74  ·  Rating details ·  3,182 ratings  ·  487 reviews
A lead science writer for The New York Times—and lifelong yoga practitioner—examines centuries of history and research to scrutinize the claims made about yoga for health, fitness, emotional wellbeing, sex, weight loss, healing, and creativity. He reveals what is real and what is illusory, in the process exposing moves that can harm or even kill. Five years in the making, ...more
Hardcover, 298 pages
Published February 7th 2012 by Simon & Schuster (first published January 1st 2012)
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Andrew Gray
Mar 18, 2012 rated it really liked it
As a yoga teacher, I have been surrounded by negative energy from the yoga world about Mr. Broad. His articles in the NY Times have garnered lots of attention and have royally pissed people off. The book itself, though, is generally positive about yoga. The only thing it really states definitively is that yoga doesn't qualify as cardiovascular exercise. A friend said, "Well, this guy hasn't done 108 sun salutations in a row then -- I promise that is cardiovascular exercise!" If doing 108 sun sal ...more
Tim Gunderson
Feb 18, 2013 rated it it was amazing
The perfect antidote to yoga rage,

I would call myself a rational, realistic person who is skeptical of wide eyed, exaggerated flavour of the month fitness and nutrition health claims. I've also been practicing yoga for over 13 years now. Therefore, it has frequently been a challenge for me to reconcile the inherently flaky, faux spirituality present in any urban yoga studio with the quite obvious reality that there are clear physical and mental benefits to practicing yoga.

This book lays out the
Nov 15, 2016 rated it it was amazing
This is a good introduction book to the science of yoga-related activities. I recommend yoga enthusiasts to read it. This book is not perfect, maybe far from it, but it gives you precautions about yoga activities. Yes, there are discussions about benefits of yoga, but I believe if you have heard the benefits from many other sources.

In my opinion, the heart of this book is on "risk" parts as we can read on Fit Perfection, Risk of Injury, and Healing chapters. Those chapters have a lot of researc
Sian Lile-Pastore
Apr 21, 2017 rated it did not like it
This book is dreadful. Mainly it's just badly written - like a super long magazine article. There are many things I hated about this book, so much that I can't be bothered to go into all of them....
But here are some things that particularly annoyed me:

Injuries - there's a lot about how dangerous yoga is but in the afterward he admits that more people get injured playing golf or weightlifting. He also talks about how you can get a stroke from tipping your neck back really far in cobra (or getting
Mar 10, 2012 rated it liked it
So, here's the book that has caused all the controversy. Oooooo. Ready? Okay, Broad is not a great writer. He's biased; and gives lots of his own opinions in a "scientific" review of evidence. So that didn't impress me. However, a lot of what he has to say is very good. Yoga CAN be dangerous. That's why students need to vet their teachers, their studios and the flavor of yoga that they choose to practice. Yoga is NOT going to burn tons of calories. You want cardio, do cardio. Yoga's contribution ...more
Jul 03, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: how-to-books
Yoga books are mostly two categories: colorful instruction manuals, or text based on ancient or modern philosophy. Personal anecdotal narratives abound, but what about something to analyze the objective experiences? Naturally, yoga is not about objective experiences, it is largely a personal experience outside of pure fitness realm. Yet given how yoga is being marketed, would it be worthwhile to quantify the things that we can objectively measure such as various health acclaims measurable throug ...more
Feb 11, 2012 rated it liked it
Dana Carvey has a bit in a recent stand-up routine about how after a certain age (an earlier age than you expected), you can seriously injure yourself just reaching for the TV remote. "The Science of Yoga" presents the usually unmentioned risks to yoga.

Not a really controversial thesis here. As with any other exercise, you can hurt yourself. As with any other exercise, you can improve some aspects of your health.

Certain yoga poses might cause neck strain--check, not new information. Those same
Feb 29, 2012 rated it it was ok
2.5 stars. This book started out very strong and then took a long, graceful, smoking, flaming nosedive. Broad started off very skeptical, digging into the science and laying out for me exactly what was true and what was not with regard to Yoga's most famous claims—the abilities to stop the heart and to increase oxygen intake, primarily. He even explained the different scientific journals and schools that did studies on Yoga, their types, their sources of funding, and what that meant for the cred ...more
Nov 28, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
This is another book that I read several years ago, so I don't recall everything, not that I would anyway. I thought of it when a friend told me that she knows someone that said that America's teaching of yoga postures is watered down. Well, who knows what this person meant by that, But the author said that yoga was created to give you stamina during sex, that is, tantric sex. Many gurus, including lamas, secretly teach tantric sex and deny it.

. Forget yoga. Forget gurus too.
Aug 05, 2012 rated it liked it

A surprising number of studies have documented benefits of yoga in reducing depression, fixing muscle and back problems, and possibly improving sex. In this well-documented book, science journalist William Broad discusses these benefits, as well as a number of mistaken beliefs about the benefits of yoga, possible sources of injury, and some history of the discipline. The kind of yoga Broad is referring to is basically postural yoga; the word yoga can have broader and more spiritual implications

Feb 09, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites, nonfiction
The health benefits of yoga has been praised over the years, but it bothered me that there was a lack of hard science behind a lot of the claims. This is not a salacious debunking of yoga's health benefits, but a very even-handed, well-researched examination of the history of yoga, and an even deeper look into specific studies and tests that have been done to understand the benefits of yoga.

There was a big hoopla on the NYT in January 2012 on how this book warns of the dark dangers of yoga. Bro
Liz Dean
Jan 26, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
Basic findings from scientific research presented in this book:
1- Yoga does not improve cardivascular fitness.
2- Yoga is likely to cause you to gain weight, rather than lose it, because it decreases your metabolism.
3- Yoga significantly improves symptoms of anxiety and depression, across the board.
4- Yoga measurably, vastly improves your libido and sexual function.
5- Your brain on yoga, as measured by MRIs, is like your brain on spiritual inspiration and orgasm.

So don't do yoga to get in shape,
Mar 28, 2012 rated it really liked it
It was rage that caused me to purchase this book. Well played, New York Times.

After such riling and aggrevating headlines such as "How Yoga Can Wreck Your Body" and "Yoga and Sex Scandals: No Surprise Here," I needed to get to the bottom of what this man William Broad was talking about in his Science of Yoga.

Broad states that "a synomym for science is organized skepticism". And so with a fire in my belly, I opened his book.

Although I found his tone to be somewhat sanctimonious and sexist, like a
Apr 26, 2012 rated it it was amazing
William Broad has done an excellent job with gathering the scientific reports and synthesizing an intelligent review of modern yoga. The 'scientific' platform turns out to be a `must have' prop for improving our understanding and practice of yoga.

The book situates modern yoga, the physical and scientific endeavor, as a development to promote Indian nationalism in the mid-nineteenth century. In an early and startling scientific disappointment - even with the recent tinkering of adding Sun Salutat
Oct 17, 2014 rated it it was ok
This book wasn't what I expected. I was expecting something easily digested, with short sections and a lot of section headings, or something. This book has a six-and-a-half page cast of characters in the front of the book, so you don't get the names confused.

What I wanted, I guess, was a collection of nuggets of information that were going to help me (I've been practicing yoga, on and off, but medium-seriously at times, for ten years) understand better just what yoga is, how it helps me, and how
Stewart Home
Dec 28, 2017 rated it it was ok
Broad appears to have reviewed a wide range of scientific literature on the subject of yoga but most of the studies appear too small to draw any real conclusions from. Broad sometimes points this out and sometimes doesn't. His history of yoga is what you'd expect from a science journalist, unsatisfactory. The best chapter is the one of Risk of Injury, which is the section of the book that upset the new age true believers in yoga. That chapter seems realistic, elsewhere Broad is way too upbeat ab ...more
Jenny Miller
Mar 19, 2012 rated it did not like it
Here's my review of The Science of Yoga: The Risks and Rewards. Seriously, the guy is not a genius. It's not very well-researched or written. It's nowhere near the standard for investigation or lively-writing we'd enjoy with Michael Pollan, Mark Kurlanksy, or Bill Bryson, for example. He's really excited about sex! And he loves finding anecdotes that support his thesis. Including his own injury, which was caused by running, and which he exacerbated while not paying attention to what he was doing ...more
Jan 17, 2016 rated it really liked it
As the subtitle states, Broad discussed both risks AND rewards of yoga. I enjoyed learning about the history and physiology of postures and breathing. In continuing my own practice I'm also aware and careful especially with regards to my neck. Must read for a broad overview of the recent state of research and potential future of yoga. ...more
Dec 16, 2020 rated it it was ok
Shelves: memorable
I learnt a few things from that book, but I am still unsure what's the link between science and Yoga.

I think it was very pretentious to call the book the Science of Yoga, but yet, I felt that the book was trying to justify that Yoga was science. I would have rather called it the "Science behind Yoga", and unfold the book differently.

Basically, I did not like it, so I didn't finish it.
Jan 14, 2020 rated it really liked it
Really interesting and informative. Rigorous and feels quite impartial, even if the author is himself a yoga practitioner. So much information that I did not know! Very much recommend it if you fall in love with yoga and want to know more!
Aug 06, 2020 rated it liked it
This book started promising with some history of yoga (styles), a chronology of research on yoga. His exposé on health science on yoga is convincing well written and debunking a lot of the marketing messages found around the world on yoga even 14 years after this book made its debut. However his writings on psychological effects became of lesser quality and then turning towards the end of the book with a lot of quibble on the sex effects of yoga where he forgets to stay focused on the scientific ...more
Feb 05, 2022 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
It took me ages to finish this (even if I do read non fiction piecewise while reading other things) and frankly if I knew, I would not have bothered past the first couple chapters (or maybe just first chapter). It gets crazier and crazier and more pompous and rambling the further in you get.

I liked the perspective on the history of yoga (but maybe there is a better one over there, this was just the first I read) and the chapter on injuries was interesting. But as it goes along and into benefits,
Feb 08, 2022 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: health
A balanced view.
Jul 26, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: yoga
This book was seriously up and down in quality, with some stellar sections, some terrible, and most mediocre. Surprisingly, I felt the yoga & injuries chapter was the best written of the book, relying on a mix of science and teacher's interviews. It also related directly to the practice, whereas I felt many of the later chapters were quite the stretch. They either had little scientific research, or did not seem at all connected to the practice that I know (and I do not "only" practice asana / fo ...more
Chelsey Thompson
May 01, 2012 rated it liked it
Overall, this book presented some great research regarding the risks of certain poses, erroneous claims made by yogis, and the potential benefits yoga provides. I enjoyed understanding the science behind how slowing down and speeding up your breath affects the carbon dioxide in your blood and therefore the oxygen to the brain. I also found the reasoning behind the benefits of inversions to be interesting.

However, I think the author was a little too insistent that yoga did not provide a cardiova
Emily Shearer
Jun 05, 2017 rated it really liked it
SO much great information. More in-depth history of yoga and its real origins and developments than any other source - and that includes every book on the required reading list of a 200 hour Yoga Teacher Training. I am a Registered Yoga Teacher, and I believe this book should be included in every training's syllabus. The risks it highlights are not scare tactics, rather information anyone should have access to to be an informed participant in any practice or activity. ...more
Kenya Wright
Sep 20, 2017 rated it did not like it
Shelves: yoga, my-hippy-shit
Yeah. Not a fan. For me, it was a pretty negative view at times on a positive way of life. Not to say it was all garbage. Just that I found the author searching for a way to call bullshit on the practice of yoga.
Anna Marie
Mar 01, 2020 rated it it was amazing
An absolute must read for all serious yoga practitioners and teachers, old and new. Well researched, accessibly written and full of thought provoking content leaving you wanting to read more. Thank you Broad for your balanced accounts of the practice I love so much!
Murf Reeves
I found the Science of Yoga to be very informative as a historical reference to the development of yoga and all its practices as well as connecting with my own journey with different aspects if the book resonating in my current practice and leading me to my next step.
Sep 06, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: yoga
Thoroughly researched and reasonably well-written. Broad summarizes the science around yoga capably in the vein of Mary Roach. He approaches a subject which interests him and in which he is personally invested with objectivity and appropriate distance. He travels to locations of interest and interviews professionals in the field without giving the impression that the book was written as an excuse for a pilgrimage or to meet gurus (as with the documentary Enlighten Up). Broad's interpretations of ...more
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Yoga Folks: Science of Yoga chapters 6 to end and whole book 8 40 Jan 05, 2013 11:34AM  
Yoga Folks: "Science of Yoga" chapters 1-2 18 58 Jan 05, 2013 11:34AM  
Yoga Folks: Science of Yoga chapters 3-4 7 23 Jan 05, 2013 11:25AM  
Yoga Folks: March read is The Science of Yoga 11 39 Apr 02, 2012 06:43AM  

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William J. Broad is a best-selling author and a senior writer at The New York Times. In more than thirty years as a science journalist, he has written hundreds of front-page articles and won every major journalistic award in print and film. His reporting shows unusual depth and breadth—everything from exploding stars and the secret life of marine mammals to the spread of nuclear arms and why the T ...more

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