The Yoga Delusion

Written by October 31, 2011 3:18 pm 54 comments

Bihar School of Yoga situated at Monghyr ( now Munger ) in Bihar is a world class institution for training Hatayoga teachers & trainers. It so happens that Mysore is ranked at no.2 as a destination for all those foreigners who would like to learn something exotic and after going back to their respective countries, teach it to others for a fee. These people like to claim that they have learnt the science of Yoga straight from the horse’s mouth. At any point of time you will see 250 to 300 white-skinned people in Mysore who are here to learn the secrets of Hatayoga.

Yoga in my nuclear family

Prema, my wife, has been doing Pranayama for 15 years and she finds it useful in relaxing and overcoming anxiety. That’s ok by me. But when Prema said she would like to take up yoga asanas as a stand-alone exercise I became slightly panicky.

Prema (P) : There is a lady in the Women’s club who teaches Yoga to a lot of women. I would like to join that class.

Myself ( M) : Don’t do that for heaven’s sake. Walking is more useful than tying yourself up into knots like a pretzel and making constipated faces.

P : No, I will do Yogasans in the mornings and Walking in the evenings.

M : It invariably rains in the evening in Mysore and then you will say like all the people around here that you have done yoga, so it wouldn’t matter if you skip walking….. A lot of nervous energy is expended in doing those asanas. So you might not be left with any energy or motivation to do walking in the evenings.

 P : But I am told that it is a complete exercise and that it prevents all diseases including cancer !

M : Since it was invented 5000 years ago in India, most of the gullible Indians have a conviction that old is gold and their sheer patriotism and loyalty to their ancestors like Patanjali makes then feel that it is a panacea.  Arousing the Kundalini shakthi  and the various chakras are all Bullsh * t.  Moreover Yoga asanas done as a stand-alone exercise can be dangerous too.

P :  How is that ?

M :  When  we engage in any activity like lifting, pushing, punching, squeezing, dancing or moving like in walking or jogging, we contract our muscles. Say a muscle fibre is 5″ long ( It is much more long in the quadriceps, hamstrings or trapezius) . When we do exercise it contracts to, say 4.8″. When in the cooling down phase we do stretching, the muscle fibre comes back to 5″, the optimal size which keeps it healthy, elastic and live. So if we use Yoga for stretching just after aerobic walking or jogging or swimming or biking, it is ok. But remember that Yoga is not the only way to do this. There are Greek calisthenics, Tai chi chuan, and the stretching exercises taught by physiotherapists and sports medicine doctors, which is much more scientific than Yoga.

P : Why can’t Yoga be used as a stand-alone exercise ?

M : Let us again take the hypothetical example of the muscle fibre which is 5″ long. You have not done any aerobics. So it stays at 5”.  If now you engage in asanas, the fibre will elongate to 5.2″. Over a period of time, continued performance of stand-alone Yogasans will stretch the muscle fibre to  5.3″ or even 5.4″. There might be micro-tears in the fibre and the fibre loses its elasticity.  It is now unhealthy. It cannot perform tasks with the same efficiency, since the fibre cannot regain the healthy 5″ length. You will have less strength, less endurance though you will have the flexibility of an octopus.

Yoga delusion in action at Rishikesh. Source, wikimedia commons.

P : What about their claim that it can cure all diseases ?

M : Diseases can be prevented and even cured only through Cardio-vascular aerobic exercises like Jogging, Brisk Walking, swimming or biking and strength building exercises. This has been adequately proved in medical journals.

Benefits of Aerobic Exercises

It improves the cardiac function and our VO2 max lung capacity by decreasing LDL cholesterol and Increasing HDL cholesterol,  by increasing Insulin-sensitivity. Remember that Type 2 adult onset diabetes is caused by Insulin-resistance and not by Insulin-deficiency. It also decreases our Blood pressure and body fat. But most importantly, aerobic exercise builds collateral circulation in our coronary arteries. Even if your main arteries are blocked 40 to 50%, you can still survive because aerobic exercise builds natural bypass capillaries to nourish the heart muscle beyond the narrowed artery.

Benefits of Strengthening Exercises

When we improve the tone & strength of our upper body muscles, we automatically raise our BMR (Basal metabolic rate). This is because body fat in the sub-cutaneous adipose tissues or in the visceral region (Omentum fat) is a dead tissue whereas muscle is a live tissue with arteries, capillaries, veins in it and so even when you are idle you will be expending calories. So an increased BMR helps us to reduce our body fat even when we are sitting or sleeping.

When we exercise, the muscles contract, they pull the joints via the tendons. When the bones are under tensile stress like this, they react to that by creating more bone cells. This increases the BMD (bone mineral density) which strengthens the bones and prevents Osteoporosis and fractures on falling or injury.

In Yoga asanas, the cardio-vascular benefit is only about 10 % and strength building effect is only 10 % ( Unless you can do all those Herculean asanas which Baba Ramdev does on TV shows, in his camps, which only he can do, the megalomaniac exhibitionist that he is ! ) and the Stretching effect is 80%.  So while Yoga may benefit some sedentary people to some extent, since any activity is better than sleeping, it is hardly an ideal exercise and is dangerous as a stand-alone.

P : What about Pranayama ?

M : It is good in principle. It increases the VO2 max in our lungs, i.e., it maximises the oxygen uptake in our lungs. More of the haemoglobin molecules attached to our RBCs will be oxygenated. But the sad thing is, unless there is a rapid movement of the blood through our blood pipes, which are 1600 kms long ( arteries, arterioles, capillaries, veins & venules), this oxygenated blood cannot reach all the trillions of cells in our bodies. So pranayama by itself cannot give us a lot of benefit. Whereas if you do Jogging, brisk walking, swimming or biking you increase your blood pressure, heart rate and breathing rate and the oxygenated blood reaches most of the trillion cells in our body.

P :  When is Pranayama useful ?

M :  When you are anxious like when you are about to face an exam or interview or you are about to give a public lecture on a topic and you are not thoroughly prepared for clarifying the doubts of the audience, then perhaps a bit of Pranayama or doing other kinds of deep abdominal breathing might help to calm you down.

P : Are you saying that Yoga asanas & Pranayama are unscientific ?

M : Yes, unless you start at the age of 8-10 years. Then the muscles, tendons, ligaments and the spine become flexible and continued practice of Yoga thereafter can maintain this mobility of the joints and flexibility of the spine & muscles. But people take up Yoga at the age of 50 + when they suffer from Osteo-arthritis, Rheumatoid-arthritis, Lumbago, Bursitis or Spondylosis .

In such cases it may make people slightly more mobile after taking up Yoga than before, since any activity is better than no activity. But the Pranayama & Meditation aspects of Hata Yoga do give you stress relief and relaxes you. 

However for youngsters, some of the Hata-Yoga asanas are iatrogenic, causing problems more than building health. When you sit down on the floor with one leg folded, the other stretched forward with knee locked and you try to touch your toes, you sprain your soas muscles in your lower back. This is unscientific. The knee should never be locked. There are many such useless postures in Yoga.

P : Then how come Americans, English and the Europeans have taken up Yoga for physical fitness ? Are they all fools ?

M : Mostly because of Evangelical Yoga teachers, the thrill of learning something exotic, because it is the in-thing or fashionable thing to do and it is being recommended by people in limelight like Hollywood actors. And these Yoga teachers are smiling. Smiling all the way to their bank accounts.

Yog Asans encapsulated

Yog asans or other forms of stretching are comparatively useless as warm ups or stand-alones, but somewhat okay as cool downs. The rest is all hype.

This post was written by:

- who has written 6 posts on Nirmukta.

He is a Management Trainer & consultant. Has degrees in Engineering & Management. He is a Secular Humanist. Born 1938.

54 Comments

  • Is there any scientific basis for the statement?

    “There might be micro-tears in the fibre and the fibre loses its elasticity. It is now unhealthy. It cannot perform tasks with the same efficiency, since the fibre cannot regain the healthy 5″ length. You will have less strength, less endurance though you will have the flexibility of an octopus.”

    Applying the same logic, Mr. Ramdev now should be bedridden, because he would have destroyed all his muscles by now. How do you explain their strength which is clearly needed for certain asanas?

    BTW, any exercise can cause micro tears. It only strengthens the muscles, not destroying them. Ask any expert in this field.

    A balanced exercise regimen should include stretching, cardio & weight bearing exercise. What if Yoga offers part of this, as long as it is without mumbo-jumbo? I am not talking about the brand of yoga offered by people like Mr.Ramdev as cure for all problems.

    Flexibility of octopus? Those guys gain that flexibility after decades of practice. Most of the yoga practitioners train to gain some flexibility which they clearly lack and can lead to injuries. Such straw man arguments & hyperbole does not help.

    It is sad to see such statements based purely on anecdotal evidence and personal opinion masquerading as established scientific truth. I hope Nirmuktha does a better job reviewing articles from now on.

    • Prof. V.N.K.Kumar

      Thanks for the feedback. You appear to have a balanced approach to this subject and you see the pros & cons of each issue dispassionately. I have had my say in my article written in a lighter vein, but still I would like to add a few points.

      The Science of Kinesiology tells us that if a muscle is stretched continuously in one direction without being contracted, it is bound to have micro-tears and will lose its elasticity. Baba Ramdev does hundreds of Asans and has been doing them since his childhood. A muscle will be healthy in its optimal length if contracted & stretched alternately viz., if we do Bicep curls, the biceps will contract but when we do Triceps extension, the same biceps muscle will get elongated & stretched. So Baba Ramdev, by doing contra movements for all his muscles through the various asans (which not every novice can do),he is able to keep all his muscles healthy and strong.

      I am happy you say that “A balanced exercise programme should include Stretching, Cardio & Weight bearing exercises”. Only thing is ‘weight bearing’ should read as ‘Strength building’. Walking, Jogging or Running are weight bearing i.e., our thigh & leg bones bear the weight of our body and hence the bone cells multiply and these bones become stronger but swimming & biking are not weight bearing and cannot build our bones in our lower limbs. So some of the Cardio exercises are weight bearing & some like swimming are not.

      You rightly said, ” What if Yoga offers part of this ?” That’s what I also say my dear friend. As long as Yoga is not used as a “Stand-alone” exercise and it is used as a “Cool-down” exercise after aerobic walking or jogging (Cardio) I have nothing against it.

      But I say there are scientific alternatives to Yoga. Physiotherapists recommend guides like ” Stretch yourself for Health & Fitness” by Bob Anderson.

      • If an individual (ex. Baba Ramdev in this discussion) can do contra movements in Yoga and retain or better health and musculature, I feel it can be replicated to a wider audience by design. So doing “correct” Yoga can be definitely better than doing nothing.

        PS: I’m just drawing conclusion from the arguments discussed and I’m no expert in Yoga or physiotherapy.

        • Prof. V.N.K.Kumar

          You are perfectly logical when you say ” So doing correct yoga can be definitely better than doing nothing”. Certainly any activity is better than no activity. But then who is advising people to be inactive ?

          Up till 20 years or so, playing in school/college sports should suffice for physical growth. From 20 to 35 years, Jogging, swimming or biking along with gym work or push-ups & stomach crunches at home followed by a few yog-asans or appropriate stretching routines will be enough to maintain physical fitness. After 35 it is better to switch over to brisk walking, swimming or biking and avoid high impact exercises like running or Jogging, so as not to wear out our knee cartilage and ditto for the rest. After 60 it is better to stick to brisk walking and yog-asans as a cool down routine.

          I am sorry if I have given the impression that “Doing nothing” is a viable option.

  • Even after 5000 years of Yoga by multibillions of practitioners, not one person anywhere has awakened so called Kundalini. Why? Because it is just a MYTH. Only the heads of some religions 3000 years back realized it in mythology. Once obscure and a charming novelty, now with fancy Sanskrit names like Tantrik, Hatha and Rajyoga have gained prominence due to clever marketing and hype. A lot of Yogic people have died of all kinds of diseases including different kinds of cancer. In the meantime, Buddhists led by Dalai Lama have been pushing Meditation as new scientific miracle to which Westerners are flocking en masse with dubious results at best.

    • Prof. V.N.K.Kumar

      If we ask ourselves the question “Why this blind belief in the cult of Yoga ?” we might get a few answers.

      Abraham Maslow, a psychologist proposed a need hierarchy of Physiological needs, Security & safety needs, social needs, Ego needs and finally Self-actualizing needs. Once the Physiological needs (Roti, Kapada & Makan, Oxygen, water and sex) are fulfilled upto 50% or so, the next higher level need of safety gets actuated, and so on.

      People at the first level are too preoccupied with acquiring food, clothing and shelter and do not have the time or energy or analytical skills to question the social mores. Consider the people who are daily wage earners without any education. At the second level of security & safety, they are too insecure to have a scientific temper. In the third social need level, people do not have the freedom or courage to deviate from the beaten track. This is because of their inner compulsion to please the rest of humanity who believe in unscientific traditions. Since other’s approval is paramount for them they just join the bandwagon. At the Ego level of self esteem & other esteem, you can get other-esteem only if you belong to their club.

      That leaves only a very small percentage of the population who are at the self-actualizing level who have the courage to blaze a trail of their own and think in a non-conformist way and who have the gumption to question traditions.

      The majority of humans fall in the first four levels of the need-hierarchy who won’t rock the boat with dissension.

  • I am very happy that Nirmukha is providing a forum for
    discussion on Yoga. Yoga’s claims are exaggerated and I feel that a balanced approach is needed. The author has made a good assessment and we can use Yoga selectively and supplement with other methods of promoting health. I feel that by questioning the unsubstantiated claims of yoga the author has done a service to readers. However I feel that yoga practices have helped many persons and parts of yoga need to be promoted in our society. I feel that Yoga is not as bad as Vastu, astrology and Rekhi and Pyramid and oranic healing

    • Prof. V.N.K.Kumar

      Thanks for this feedback. When you say “Parts of Yoga needs to be promoted in our society” I assume you are referring to Hatayoga asans. Well, any activity is better than no activity and for those who cannot walk for health because of ankle pain, knee pain or hip pain, some yogasans might provide some exercise, though there are some pulley exercises supervised by physiotherapists for the upper body or swimming strokes in a swimming pool, which are better.

      For normally healthy people Yogasans provide the necessary stretch for the muscles & tendons after the contraction it undergoes during aerobic exercises, it develops the mobility of various joints and spinal flexibility.

      But my grouse is that most of the medical benefits claimed by Yoga teachers are not convincing enough. For example, they claim that Uttanasana tones the liver, spleen, kidneys and abdomen or Adhomukha svanasana calms the brain or Utthita Trikonasana relieves gastritis, indigestion and acidity or Dandasana relieves asthma or Janu sirsasana stabilizes blood pressure or Baddhakonasana prevents hernia, keeps ovaries healthy, corrects irregular menstruation and urinary tract disorders or Marichyasana stimulates the functioning of the liver, kidneys and pancreas or Halasana helps in the proper functioning of the thyroid and parathyroid glands….. ad nauseam, ad infinitum. I can only say that it requires a puerile leap of faith on our part to accept all these.

      But I say that we don’t have to throw the baby out with the bathwater. There are redeeming features in Yogasans but I will never prescribe them for myself or my family members, though I have myself attended intensive Yoga classes to know about all this.

  • I like the basic take away from this article viz. stretching without warm-up is injurious to health! I think this is a basic principle of physics and biology but often forgotten! Thank you for bringing this out so clearly and cleverly (using a conversational style which may or may not be factual!). To me, Yoga is unscientific ’cause the principles developed were much before modern science was developed. However, today’s science should validate these principles(and probably is being done, in some remote lab, most likely in the US of A). If done, then the principles of physics and biology that you have so nicely summarised, would indeed get violated! However, there would still be benefits if correctly followed. The second major take away for me is that we must question everything, even the sacred cows. Yoga has indeed become such an animal! We Indians accept without questioning. Some of the questioning may look like blasphemy. So be it. After all, new beginnings can happen only when the old gives way. If we had indeed internalised this process much before, we might well have converted the solid base created by Patanjali into a modern ‘holistic’ science where everything is supported by facts (and not some mumbo-jumbo such as kundalini etal)..

    • The first holy cow you must question is your erroneous belief that yoga is unscientific because it was developed before modern science was developed.

      Do not accept yoga or “modern science” without questioning. experience it.

      • “Experience it” is not always good advice. “See the scientific evidence” is. Experience will tell you that the supernatural is real. That superstitions have validity. Scientific evidence on the other hand is generated keeping in mind that human experience is very, very easy to fool. Questioning is good. But using the right tools to do so is the key.

        • Experience is just that – experience. What meaning you create out of that experience is another matter. A meaning not substantiated by the experience will result in superstition.

          I do not understand how you state that experience will tell you that superstitions have validity. Incorrect correlations or fears create superstitions not experience.

          If I experience peace and calmness why do i require scientific evidence for it?

          Right tools are the key – what tools are available to map consciousness or the subconscious? the consciousness area is a developing one and the scientific community does not have “tools” in this area. Hence, when I experience something that science has not researched, why should i negate my experience till science catches up?

          Cheers!

          • Mind you, this article is talking about hatha yoga and not the yoga with spiritual baggage. Also, your definition of experience seems to include scientific evidence. Otherwise I don’t see how you can identify superstition/supernatural for what they are.

            Even if we consider yoga-with-spiritual-baggage, science does provide us with tools contrary to what you believe.

          • Just wondering – what is the difference between hatha yoga and yoga with spiritual baggage?

            I could not discern what tools science provided in the article you referenced. (I confess I have no experience with LSD:)

          • Hatha yoga comprises of physical exercises. Yoga-with-spiritual-baggage promises you to take places, provide moksha, awaken your energy and other such fantastical stuff.

          • Dear Kultar,
            Your concept of “experience” is not only unscientific and illogical but also shows where the root cause of unscientific practices in India comes from.
            Let me give you an example to illustrate the fallacy of your arguments:
            Most serial killers experience pure bliss while killing others. So the concept of “experience” is purely subjective. Hence if one believes in superstition, one will experience it (your mind will assert that it is indeed seeing/feeling things). For example: the famous Hindu milk miracle (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hindu_milk_miracle), that I am sure a lot of people experienced. Talking about tools for mapping conscious and unconscious brain activity, your knowledge of this is primitive. Please see:
            http://www.nature.com/neuro/journal/v11/n5/full/nn.2112.html and later research in the field.
            Cheers

  • If you are a beginner in this exercise, enroll in a class guided by a professional first before trying to do it on your own. Anything done incorrectly may have a negative impact on your body.

  • I agree that Yoga should be practiced from a young age when the body is supple to get the maximum benefit.The problem is not with Yoga by itself but with the instructors who have no knowledge of anatomy or physiology.They work on the principle that pain disappears once that part of the body is exercised.In most cases it has an adverse affect.

    • Prof. V.N.K.Kumar

      Let us take one of the Alternative medicines, Homeopathy, which is popular in India and is of German origin. It talks of the Law of Similars, Law of Infinitesimals, Dilution beyond the Avagadro’s constant & water molecules having memory. This requires a Childlike gullibility to get convinced about. If the basic foundations of a therapeutic system is not scientific, there is no point in searching for a more effective practitioner. Among my relatives in Bangalore a debate is going on whether Dr. Mukesh Batra in Koramangala is better or Dr. B.D.Patel in Richmond Circle is better. I would say both of them are quacks.

      Similarly there is no point in selecting a good Yoga teacher when the foundations of Yoga itself is shaky and unscientific.

      • I think every system of medicine has its limitations.Most important is a Physian who can diagnose your problem correctly and prescribe the right medicine to which you don’t react adversly.There have been cases where treatment is worse than the disease.Pain relievers are not the solution if the doctor doesn’t go to the root cause of the problem nor antibiotics a cure.I know of a case where the patient had pain and burning sensation in the heel for which the doctor prescribed antibiotics–three per day for a fortnight at the end of which the problem still persisted.A PHYSIAN was consulted and he diagnosed it as a mosquito bite and prescribed Heperon and the problem disappeared for a few years. When it reccured a Homeopath was consulted and he cured it in no time.So it depends on the doctor and not the SYSTEM OF MEDICINE and we may agree to disagree on this issue.

  • If yoga is indeed the panacea that it is claimed to be, then we Indians would not have the numbers that we have in coronary diseases, diabetes, obesity related problems, etc.

    • Prof. V.N.K.Kumar

      When your diabetologist or cardiologist tells you to exercise and lose weight, you probably tend to focus on the fitness programmes that build strength, boost endurance and melt fat for a more slimming appearance. These fitness programmes probably incorporate weight lifting and aerobic activity to increase cardiovascular stamina and burn calories.

      There is another element that complements the higher impact weightlifting and aerobic activity. This added element focuses on relieving tension in the body, increasing flexibility and coordination.

      This added element can be either Yoga or Pilates. Both are great stress relievers and are low-impact. My preference is for Pilates.

      Yoga has 5000 year old roots and filled with New Age, Asian mystique while Pilates is a relatively new invention from the 1920’s by Joseph Pilates, a fitness trainer in USA. The problem in this 21st century is that some people cannot differentiate between the two fitness disciplines or they cannot decide between the two.

      Both yoga and Pilates are very similar in certain aspects. They both incorporate exercises which build flexibility. However, it is the mindset that is different. Yoga is obviously an Eastern fitness regime while Pilates is definitely Western.

      Yoga’s goal is maintaining a healthy body through special movements and stretching. Yoga also has a component of meditation. The overall goal of yoga is creating a sense of peace, composure and balance in life. Good for those who believe in it.

      Pilates however is grounded in the western world and focuses primarily on the physical condition of the body. Joseph Pilates founded this exercise movement as a way to provide physical rehabilitation for injured soldiers from the first world war. He created a variety of machines with bars, cables, trolleys and more that put the body in various unusual positions. The goal Pilates was shooting for and succeeded with was using the core muscles of the abdomen and back to strengthen the body as well as create better flexibility and coordination through controlled, low impact movement.

      Pilates created a workout regimen that was very effective; it became a staple in ballet and other genre dancers’ repertoire. They found the exercises in Pilates created more supple bodies that produced graceful, fluid movements.

      The bottom line is that while both yoga and Pilates produce similar physical results in regards to flexibility and coordination of movement, your decision will be based on whether you want to focus on the physical or spiritual. Pilates brings you totally in tune with yourself on a physical plane while yoga uses the physical to bring you to a higher emotional and spiritual plane.

      Being a secular humanist I prefer Pilates.

    • We Indians have the numbers in disease because we do not follow yogic life.

  • Sir, your definition of yoga is rather limited. Your article gives the impression that it’s just slow stretching. You mentioned Mysore’s popularity with foreign yogin and conveniently forgot to mention that most of them are Ashtangis.

    If you believe that yoga can’t be aerobic, take an Ashtanga class. Speaking of our better halfs: my girlfriend once did a 108 Surya Namaskar challenge. I agree that there’s a lot of nonsense about yoga. But saying that it isn’t good exercise isn’t one of them.

    • Prof. V.N.K.Kumar

      Thanks for your comments. Maybe Yoga has proved to be beneficial to many but I am skeptical about its efficacy. I am distantly related to K. Pattabhi Jois (Ashtanga Yoga) who learnt his art from T Krishnamacharya (Vinyasa Yoga). The latter style is almost like a dance resembling Tai chi chuan. I have sought the guidance of T.K.V. Desikachar, TK’s son in his residence on Chemier’s road, Chennai.

      Yoga teachers claim that through controlled breathing, prescribed postures and meditation, Hata yoga enhances the “Prana”(Life force) that resides in the body and achieves a state of balance and harmony between body and mind. This explanation makes me uncomfortable. Yoga has been shown to reduce stress and anxiety, but medical scientists still do not know exactly how it produces them. Some speculate that it promotes the release of endorphins (endogenous morphines), the brain’s natural painkillers.

      If you find it useful, please make use of it. It’s a free country. But it’s not for me and my family. To each of us, his own.

      • You say that yoga’s goal is “maintaining a healthy body through special movements and stretching.”….The overall goal of yoga is creating a sense of peace, composure and balance in life. Good for those who believe in it.”

        There are countless who have experienced this psycho-physiological process and are established in it. If you systematically follow the yogic process you will get the results – can anything be more scientific. Just because the medical community is way behind in its understanding does not mean that yoga requires a certificate from them to be scientific.

        Just wondering? how many years of experience do you have with yoga?

        Those who perform the asanas and pranayam (and mudras and bandhas) experience the “prana” (the scientific community can call it something else) as well as a heightened awareness. That medical science “still” does not know how it produces the reduction in stress and anxiety just means that it has some hard unbiased work to do.

        Just wondering, it may not be for you but why not for your family? Just hope you are not _imposing_ you beliefs on them.

        With love

        • Just because the medical community is way behind in its understanding does not mean that yoga requires a certificate from them to be scientific.

          Science is an open process and is quite accessible. Yoga is a huge business with a lot of money. Given that, it should be trivial for Yoga enthusiasts to fund scientific studies that show conclusively that there is nothing else in this world that reduces stress as well as Yoga does.

          That such studies have been conducted, that no evidence of efficacy of Yoga over other exercise regimens has been found, and that there are exercise regimens that deliver the results more efficiently than Yoga is what the article is saying and is the point that you have completely missed. The author has not said Yoga has no benefits.

          • Just wondering why you desire that yoga enthusiasts fund scientific studies to show that there is nothing else in this world that reduces stress as well as yoga does. Yoga does not make any claims that it is better than any other process. Yoga is an inclusive process and unlike competitive business process that try to establish firsts, best etc, yoga is open to those who are sincere in the “desire” for inner growth.

          • Since you say that yoga does not make any claims over other systems, I think you will agree that other systems too serve well in reducing stress. If not, then you have some standard in mind to which you are comparing and grading those systems to yoga. So which is it? If the former, then yoga is not necessary to reduce stress and attain peace. So by suggesting other alternatives, nobody is imposing their beliefs on anyone and there is no need for any disagreement. If the latter, then my point in my previous comment stands.

          • Prof. V.N.K.Kumar

            If you have invested a lot of your time and effort in mastering the intricacies of Yoga and you also appear to be completely convinced about the efficacy of it, please have the courage of your convictions and get on with your life. You cannot afford to wait for the whole world to ratify and endorse your firm beliefs before pursuing your goals.

        • Prof. V.N.K.Kumar

          Thanks for sharing your innermost convictions. Perhaps I merit your chastisement (How many years of experience do you have with Yoga?). When people like me try to go against the major trend of implicit faith in Holistic & spiritual Yoga, this can only be expected. Now that you have had your say and your catharsis, you must be relieved. That is the advantage of internet. You can say anything you like with impunity.

          You are completely sold on Yoga, unless you are deliberately playing the “Devil’s advocate”, whereas I am obviously not. If in my formative & impressionable years, I had met people like you, perhaps I would be singing your tune today. But as things happened I have been influenced by scientists like H. Narasimhaiah, Nuclear Physicist from MIT & Ex-Vice chancellor of Bangalore University. Hence my scientific temper. I cannot be held responsible for my antecedents, can I ?

          This is not a one-upmanship game trying to prove that one is right and the other is wrong. I have had my say and you have had your say. By now you might have realized that it is impossible to convince people of this website of the veracity of things which are not 100% scientific. So my friend, let’s agree to disagree.

          Peace.

  • Sandeep Dattaprasad

    Dear Prof.kumar, You are absolutely right, yoga does not benefit or improve one’s cardio. To share my experience: I recently discovered that I have couple of herniated discs due to lifting weights and practicing combat sports for a number of years. Thankfully, the condition is treatable through physiotherapy. The exercises that have helped me (through physiotherapy) are classified as isometric exercises which focuses on building endurance of core muscle groups which are normally not addressed with weight training or cardio. Isometric exercises are nothing different from yoga asanas. Rather than forceful concentric and eccentric movements it focuses on static positions to improve overall flexibility and core strength that relieve pressure on discs. Having tried many exercise routines first hand and experienced the pros and cons, I have discovered that doing isometric exercises or  “Yoga asanans” (a better marketing term) at least once a week along with other routines is extremely beneficial to over all fitness. All said and done, I do agree that just doing yoga in itself won’t help much. Thanks for an informative article.

    Regards,
    Sandeep.

    • Prof. V.N.K.Kumar

      Thanks for sharing your experience. I totally agree. But for those who are not Gym-literate, let me explain. Isometrics is a strength training method in which the joint angle and the length of the muscle remain the same during the contraction.

      What does this really mean?

      Well in short, there is no movement while you do the exercise but rather a static pose while contracting and strengthening the muscle. You will sometimes hear people call these “non-movers” when referring to these types of workouts.

      Remember back in gym class where you had to place your back against the wall and then bend your knees at a 90 degree angle? Then the trainer had you hold this move for what seemed an eternity. This would be considered an isometric exercise as you are holding the pose, or keeping your body static, while the muscles are contracting.

      One of the most common and widely used are abdominal isometric exercises. For instance, while doing a basic crunch, or a mover, you are contracting the abdominal muscle during the full movement. If you held this crunch at the top of the move for a count of 10 while the muscle is contracted, this becomes a “non-mover”.

      On the other hand you have the Biceps curl using dumbells which is called Isotonic exercise (Mover).

      Some of the most common workouts that use isometrics are Yoga, Pilates(Pi-lah-teez) and Kegel workouts. I used to use the Bullworker in my youth for Isometric exercises. Isometric exercises are not recommended for those with heart disease or high blood pressure. This is because these cause the highest rise in blood pressure.

  • I learnt Pranayama early on in the initial classes of art of living. My best memories of those classes were the peace imparted by the guru who through his experience had an uncanny ability to reach out and calm a disparate group. Though i continued practicing pranayama, the experience was never quite the same. Good gurus make a difference.

    Post that i also started running as it seemed more wholesome an exercise as the breathing aspect seemed to be naturally included. I do combine a bit of meditation at the end of this routine , this the only remnant of an earlier exhaustive pranayama routine.

  • Prof Kumar, thank you ever so much for this article. I used to practice yoga in my younger days due to parental pressure but was always suspicious of it because the claimed benefits did not sound convincing based on the postures I was made to indulge in. Also the physique of the yoga teachers and students did not generate much inspiration (unlike gym instructors!)! I gave it up when I was able to rebel against my parents. And ever since I have been searching for scientific information on yoga. This is the first place (I mean your article) I have accidentally discovered where I have got some information that I have been searching for so many years. Please can you cite some of the articles from peer reviewed medical journals that debunk the yoga myth and any other reputed articles on this ancient Indian hoax? Many thanks.

    • Satish Chandra

      This article may interest you.

    • Prof. V.N.K.Kumar

      In addition to the beautiful article by Dr. Srinivas Kakkilaya, you may like to read a recent book “The Science of Yoga” written by a long time Yoga practitioner William J. Broad (Simon & Schuster) Feb 2012, wherein he deals with the positives & negatives of Hata Yoga.

  • Well, I think this is a very one-sided argument and one which apparently which takes into account only biology of a person, although i don’t believe in the muscle flexing crap, i know that pranayama is very useful as a state changer( “State” as in mental state) considering the fact that ur mind and ur body are interconnected,,,use of pranayama is a stress buster and can be useful to reach altered states of conciousness,,now these are things which one knows by experience and not by use of your “neocortex”.

  • In my junior college yoga is a compulsory subject for first-year students; we even have a yoga textbook, though nobody uses it. Replacing physical education with yoga sucks. Too nationalistic… :/

    • Captain Mandrake

      And totally useless. Replace yoga with a run around the campus. You will feel much better.

      • There’s a yoga theory exam too. Even though the subject is not considered important by anyone in the college, I wonder why do students even need to ‘study’ yoga – types of yoga, its history, etc. – and write the theory exam… It’d have been different if the subject was Indian history, but it isn’t. Also, the teacher said something about yoga being about connecting atma with parmatma — which is spirituality, not science.
        I wonder why my college even has that subject. Maybe the education board made it compulsory.

        • Captain Mandrake

          Check out how to get it out of curriculum. All colleges and universities typically have means to drop courses (at least make it an elective) if there is not enough interest.

  • Captain Mandrake

    Here is a nice video of a lecture on stretching. It busts several myths about stretching.

    http://www.channels.com/episodes/show/7586505/Doug-Richards-Best-Lecturer-Finalist-on-Stretching-The-Truth

    • Thank you for the link on the Science of Stretching. It was indeed informative.

    • Great video – really informative. Raises questions that every yoga and fitness instructor should ask themselves when designing programmes.

  • I would not throw the baby out with the bath water. I conduct research in immunology and arthritis and here is my experience. The main positive of yoga is breathing and relaxation. Stress is a major killer in the modern world. While yoga is not essential as say food or water, it is not harmful as described here. Systematic slow practice from a young age as you point out is the way. (e.g. gymnasts start young). Some asanas are not recommended, but others are quite useful. I would not discard them just because they are old. On the contrary, they have stood the test of time. On the other hand some modern strength training like weight lifting has serious consequences as well. Everything has risks and benefits (and dosage) if you will. Jogging for example, is jarring on the knees and joints as you age. And excess aerobic workouts reach a limit as well. In fact, for obesity or Type 2 diabetes diet is more important. For people who cannot walk/jog (disease or injury) yoga provides an alternative form of exercise and strength training for the upper body. Post stroke rehabilitation is another area where simpler yoga exercises come into play.

    I have personally expunged the religious aspects and do think that the wilder claims (like say cancer cure/prevention) have to be dismissed for lack of evidence.

    S

    NY. USA

  • I’m a yoga teacher and fitness instructor working in Northern Ireland. I agree that some Western yoga teachers make pretentious, unscientific and sometimes dangerous claims. I also feel that cardio-vascular and resistance training are overlooked in some forms of yoga.
    Working in gyms however, I have noticed that many people exercise with weights and cardio without stretching sufficiently. A number of body builders, for example, have seriously restricted ranges of movement. I have been privileged to introduce some of these people to yoga – they have had observable improvements in flexibility, appearance, reduced injury and overall health.
    I was never good at sports as a schoolboy, being one of the boys left standing on the wall when football teams were picked. I wish I had been introduced to yoga at school.

    • Captain Mandrake

      *I was never good at sports as a schoolboy, being one of the boys left standing on the wall when football teams were picked. I wish I had been introduced to yoga at school.*

      You do not have to be good at sports like soccer to go for a run. I know several people who were never picked for soccer teams in school but as grown up adults run 20-30 miles a week.

      Wouldn’t that be better than yoga?

    • I agree. But there are other methods too like Pilates, Tai chi chuan and the stretching routines prescribed by Physiotherapists which stretch the contracted muscles and build the flexibility & mobility of the joints & spine. Without chakras & kundalini and the spititual aspects, yoga as a stretching routine is ok by me, not as a stand-alone but post-cardio/weights.

      • I find running rather stressful on the knee and hip joints. I prefer cycling and swimming, although I have helped a lot of runners to stretch.

        A lot of yoga teachers, myself included, do not incorporate any reference to chakras, kundalini etc into our classes. If students want, or enjoy, meditations on these topics, there are other teachers who will oblige.

        The psychological states of awareness, concentration, contentment etc that optimise athletic performance are sometimes, perhaps wrongly, described as ‘Spirituality': they do not require any belief in the supernatural.

        I agree that some kinds of yoga are best used as a post weights/cardio complement. The Iyengar system, using props and precise alignment is, in my view ideal for serious athletes and sportsmen/women looking to increase/maintain flexibility. The Ashtanga system (or the dynamic form of yoga commonly referred to as Ashtanga in the west) incorporates a lot of cardio-vascular and weight bearing exercise and as such may fulfil fitness needs without any need for other forms of exercise.

  • Is anyone aware of how Tennis represents a means for becoming enlightened, integrating the mind/body/spirit, for becoming holistically healthy… ?
    If not, how could you be aware of how Yoga provides these means?

  • Yoga is just exercise. It is no better or worse off than Walking or Cycling or running. The so called claims of curing diseases etc are simply baseless.

  • Pranayama and other techniques of controlling the breadth willfully are scientifically dangerous .

    The earlier ascetics used to do such meditation techniques like wilfully controlling the breath to reach a trance etc…all these are dangerous for the body and can cause cancer etc.

    Another fraud Sri Sri Ravishankar teaches Sudarshan Kriya where you manipulate breath to cure anxiety etc….while in reality it is stopping oxygen flow to the cells and releasing oxygen suddenly…clearly dangerous to the body.

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