[BOOK REVIEW] Yoga kills! No, it cures! Kills! Cures! (Can we take a hiatus from reading popular yoga books? Please?)

I was sent a review copy of Yoga Cures, Tara Stiles’ new book ($17.99 softcover; currently No. 3 in Amazon.com’s yoga category). Yes, that Tara Stiles — the former model and “yoga rebel” (as anointed by The New York Times) who counts Deepak Chopra among her students, and the “new face of fitness” (as anointed by Jane Fonda) who has so elevated the yoga discussion with Slim Calm Sexy Yoga. If you missed the release of Slim Calm Sexy Yoga, you can make up for lost time by reading YogaDork’s predictably snarky take on it.

Stiles is hardly the first yogi to go after some of the weight-loss industry market share. To pick one random example, remember Bryan Kest’s Power Yoga for Weight Loss VHS? (I’m not going to lie — I owned one, maybe even two, Bryan Kest videos back in the day.)

But I digress. In yoga, we have poses and counter-poses that balance them out. In that same vein, Yoga Cures reads like the counter-pose to William J. Broad’s The Science of Yoga: The Risks and the Rewards (currently No. 8 in Amazon.com’s yoga category). I read the much-discussed excerpt of his book in the New York Times Magazine but have not yet read the book. That said, I also watched this lengthy interview with Slate. Shoulderstand? Plow? Stay away! “It can send you to the emergency room, or it can send you to the morgue,” Broad tells the interviewer (start around 2:30).

Yoga Cures is all lollipops, cupcakes and balloons by comparison:

Yoga can cure your body, settle your mind, and skyrocket your energy back to kindergarten levels! And if you’re lifting an eyebrow and asking ‘Really?’ just keep reading. How about being a ridiculously happy person with a super-healthy body and calm, focused mind? Yoga can cure everything from depression to anxiety; from old sports injuries and back pain to allergies, PMS, and even hangovers. I can’t think of any reason why someone shouldn’t at least try it, considering all of the incredible and practice benefits that come along with its regular practice. And that’s what this book means to encompass: easy, fun cures using yoga in a fresh way to help alleviate or cure common complaints.

Here is what Stiles says in an interview on Blistree:

Helping people heal themselves through yoga shouldn’t be controversial. Critics of mine want yoga to be exclusive, tightly knit, and for a special club reserved for a select few. Of course they feel threatened because I am simply pointing out that the emperor has no clothes. Yoga is inside everyone, attainable by everyone, without a guru.

Of course, yoga should be accessible — to everyone. Really, everyone. David Swenson has stories about watching Pattabhi Jois help paralyzed students practice yoga. But Stiles would no doubt peg me as a purist, elitist yogi because I think Yoga Cures is a breezy book with photos of an attractive woman taking interesting shapes — nothing too complicated, though! It’s all about being easy! She’s unbearably hip in giving you the low-down on “The Chill the *&@# Out Yoga Cure” and “The Saggy Booty Yoga Cure.” In addition to a saggy booty, the book covers ADD/ADHD, broken heart and even diabetes — more than 50 ailments total.

Elsewhere in the book, Stiles talks about the bigger picture — the eight limbs of yoga, for instance. That’s great. And if she wants to put out a book trying to help people temporarily relieve symptoms, go for it. But to promise cures with just a few simple poses crosses the line, in my mind — and by doing so, puts this book in the same category as late-night infomercials that tease the desperate (hey, I’ve been there) with “cures” in the form of juices and pills.

Quick-fixes of every sort are ubiquitous in our society (5-hour energy shots, anyone?), and this book adds to the cacophony of generic inspiration mixed in with over-the-top promises and a “what have you got to lose” attitude.

Yoga doesn’t have to be complicated — it shouldn’t be out of reach. But it does take effort. Doing three poses (specifically, “standing arm reach,” “tree pose,” and “warrior 3”) won’t magically cure someone with clinical depression, as the book would like you to believe. Feeling down one afternoon? Absolutely, do some yoga and you’ll probably be set. But depression? On the topic of “The Depression Yoga Cure,” Stiles writes:

The yoga cure for depression is simply to practice regularly, even when you don’t feel like it. A little bit of yoga is a better than nothing. The more you practice, the better you’ll feel.

Curing depression is just so simple! Get up! Keep a regular practice! Voila! It’s too bad no one else has ever thought to put together these three poses to cure it.

(I’m thumbing through this book again, desperate now for a cure for reading-induced nausea.)

For a more helpful look at how yoga can help alleviate depression and anxiety — and a glimpse into what a long journey it is — see “Yoga for depression and anxiety.”)

Stiles will call me even more of an elitist now, but here’s the yoga book whose publication I am looking forward to:

While there are countless yoga books out there, 21st Century Yoga: Culture, Politics, and Practice is the first to critically examine yoga as it actually exists in North America today. Written by experienced practitioners who are also teachers, therapists, activists, scholars, studio owners, and/or interfaith ministers, this unique set of essays provides a fresh take on the promise and pitfalls of contemporary yoga, exploring its relevance for issues including feminism, body image, psychology, activism, ethics, and spirituality.

This book is being self-published, and there are still a few days left to donate, if you happen to be so inclined. So put down your copy of The Science of Yoga or Yoga Cures and go here to support the project.

21st Century Yoga won’t help the average Joe shed pounds through yoga, but I’m pretty sure Yoga Cures won’t either — so your saggy booty is yours to keep, even if you return the book!

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to YogaRose.net with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

If you only read one response to the New York Times’ ‘How Yoga Can Wreck Your Body’ piece…

…may I suggest that it be the one posted today by Eddie Stern?

Before we get to that, however, here’s a quick boilerplate for the roughly nine yoga practitioners out there who haven’t seen “How Yoga Can Wreck Your Body,” the New York Times Magazine piece by William J. Broad — published today in the hard copy edition, and Jan. 5 online. (By the time the magazine hit newsstands and porches today, this story was already old news in the yoga blogging world, because reactions have been fired off steadily since the online posting of the article. So steadily, in fact, that if you do a Google search for “How Yoga Can Wreck Your Body,” you get about 31,000 hits. If you narrow that field down by adding “Ashtanga,” you still get about 1,600 hits. And none of this takes into account all the comment threads ricocheting around Facebook over the past few days.)

Here’s a snippet of the original article, which is an excerpt from Broad’s soon-to-be-released book:

Not just students but celebrated teachers too, [profiled yoga teacher Glenn] Black said, injure themselves in droves because most have underlying physical weaknesses or problems that make serious injury all but inevitable. Instead of doing yoga, ‘they need to be doing a specific range of motions for articulation, for organ condition,’ he said, to strengthen weak parts of the body. ‘Yoga is for people in good physical condition. Or it can be used therapeutically. It’s controversial to say, but it really shouldn’t be used for a general class.’

Interesting responses include:

One response that seems to have particularly struck a chord with a range of ashtangis came from The Reluctant Ashtangi’s “Reading blogs can wreck your body.” The piece, which is well worth a read, says this in part:

Other things that Wreck Your Body:

– Hard Partying Wrecks Your Body (wassup, Charlie Sheen?!)

Food Wrecks Your Body

Tofu Wrecks Your Body (actually, this one just wrecks your brain, but what good is a body without a brain?)

Forward Head Posture Wrecks Your Body (with a nod oto the Alexander Method)

Alcohol Wrecks Your Body Or, as so eloquently expressed by The Smiths, “…past the pub that wrecks your body.” I’ll leave you on that glorious note. And, um, don’t dance or anything. That might wreck your body too.

 

The piece cooly ends with a YouTube clip of “The Queen is Dead.”

And then comes “How the NYT Can Wreck Yoga,” a post with the kind of clarity and flare that can only come from Eddie Stern, director of Ashtanga Yoga New York. Here’s a taste:

When there is a great potential for making money, quality is usually the first thing to be sacrificed. Fast food, anyone? It is unfortunate that this is exactly what we are facing now – yoga has been McDona-fied. It has been reduced from a practice that traditionally demanded dedication, discipline, sacrifice, humility, surrender, suffering, love, devotion, and rigorous self-investigation, to something that you can now learn to teach in a weekend. Or, more popularly, in a mere 200 hours you can become a bonafide, registered yoga instructor. 200 hours is spit. It is a joke. And it is a joke that is leading an entire tradition – that granted even in India was subject to ridicule – to an even greater harm. This is because we have an opportunity, in the West, to be leaders in the rising field of yoga, by bringing these transformative teachings to places where they will result in great good. Though it is true that this is already happening – in schools, prisons, hospitals, with veterans, and with everyday people who walk into a class off of the street – it is also true that a rotten apple can spoil the barrel, and this is what I fear is happening. And, it is a mighty big apple.

I miss the early days when I was first doing yoga in NYC, in the mid- to late 1980′s. The feeling of freshness, of being clean and free, of feeling that a whole, new world was opening in me. There were no products for sale, no fifty types of yoga mats, just a towel and some cut-off sweatpants to practice in, or a pair of white, cotton ‘yoga’ pants that I could buy on Bleecker St. for $5. I still feel that freshness when I practice, and I love that – but when I look around at what is happening with yoga in America, I can’t help but feel sad.

When I saw the title of Broad’s article, the first thing that came to mind was Ice Cube’s old hip-hop song ‘Check Yo’ Self’ (‘You better check yo’self before you wreck yo’self’) – pretty good advice for the over-enthusiastic in yoga or any physical endeavor. I was going to post it, but it is so inappropriate, and the issue of injuries is too serious an issue; I will not make light of anyone’s pain. But, searching out Ice Cube did lead me down the dark path of youtube, where two hours later, I found myself still trolling through videos that fill me with a happy nostalgia for the rawness of youth – of early punk rock, and the passion and energy that was being expressed through so many amazing songs.

Sanskrit means refined, and many of the yogis of India were extremely elegant, in a simplicity-filled way. The rishis, who became the world’s first yogis, purposely left society to meditate in the forests, turning their backs on the mundanity and suffering of the world. They discovered something that ultimately can be of great benefit to us all, if we use it wisely.  This is quite the opposite of the rawness of music that I grew up with, like the Clash or Sex Pistols – but, still, listening to White Man (in Hammersmith Palais) still fills me with the same feeling of freedom I felt when I first heard it when I was probably about 14.  And who can argue with this lyric: “The new groups/ are not concerned/ with what there is to be learned/ they put on suits/ they think it’s funny/ turning rebellion into money”. I always loved that line, and now it just makes me think of Lululemon.

I’d write more, but my throat is on fire (rough return from my travels abroad), and I need to try to go back to bed. Just as well — you’re better off anyway leaving this blog and heading over to read the rest of what Eddie Stern has to say and see which YouTube video he ended his post with.

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to YogaRose.net with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.