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Year : 2013  |  Volume : 6  |  Issue : 1  |  Page : 82-83
The science of Yoga: The risks and the rewards

Division of Yoga and Life Sciences, Swami Vivekananda Yoga Anusandhana Samsthana, Bengaluru, India

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Date of Web Publication12-Jan-2013

How to cite this article:
Raghavendra B R. The science of Yoga: The risks and the rewards. Int J Yoga 2013;6:82-3

How to cite this URL:
Raghavendra B R. The science of Yoga: The risks and the rewards. Int J Yoga [serial online] 2013 [cited 2023 Mar 21];6:82-3. Available from:

Author: William J. Broad
Year: 2012
Publisher: Simon & Schuster, New York, USA

The practice of yoga has become very popular all over the world in the last few decades. Yoga is an ancient Indian science and a way of life. Today it is practiced as a fitness regime and as a therapy. The benefits of practicing yoga have been substantiated by thousands of research studies. Yoga therapy has become an adjunct to modern medicine. However, if it is practiced wrongly, it will have adverse effects on the body. Although the purpose of yoga is the same - either as a therapy or for maintaining health - there are several yoga styles representing different yoga schools. At this juncture, understanding yoga in the light of science would help in identifying the right method of practicing yoga and also evaluating the risks and benefits involved.

William Broad, a lifelong yoga practitioner has come up with another remarkable book "The Science of Yoga: The Risks and the Rewards." The book contains seven chapters and an epilogue. "The Science of Yoga" takes us on a fascinating voyage of unknown yoga that goes from old archives in Calcutta to the world capitals of medical research, from storied ashrams to spotless laboratories, from sweaty yoga studios with master teachers to the cozy offices of yoga healers. The prologue mentions that "this book cuts through the confusion that surrounds modern yoga and describes what science tells us" (p. 5). The book is very useful for yoga researchers, yoga teachers, yoga practitioners, and yoga enthusiasts.

Chapter I starts with a narration of an interesting incident of live burial demonstration by a yogi from Punjab in the year 1837 in front of the king's palace. A wealth of information on the history of yoga research is available in the book. The incredible work of Dr. N C Paul (A Treatise on the Yoga Philosophy, 1851) and Jagannath G Gune (Swami Kuvalayananda), Kavalyadhama, has been discussed in great depth. Broad does a great job of documenting the evidence of health benefits of yoga. In the second chapter, he takes us on a tour from hot yoga studio at USA to Gune's ashram at Pune, India. Further in the chapter, he says, "yoga's social rise in the 1970 s and 1980 led scientists to start assessing how it measure up against aerobic sports" (p. 55). He summarizes the number of research studies in yoga showing improvement in physical fitness and health.

The third chapter examines how yoga can lift mood and refresh the human spirit. It starts with the earliest research and ends with the most recent. This summarizes earliest research by Jacobson on deep relaxation and mental activity, observations of Behanan on pranayama, and mental stability and recent break-through research by Chris Streeter on effect of practicing yoga postures and increase in GABA level in the brain, and effect of yoga on sleep and performance anxiety in musicians by Satbir Khalsa. The risk of injury while practicing yoga has been discussed in chapter IV. A number of early findings centered on nerve damage. The headstand is called as "the king of all the asanas." However, if it is practiced wrongly, it can lead to the complications like thoracic outlet syndrome, quadriplegia, etc. (p. 131 - 133). Similarly, he explains the risk involved in Bhujangasana, Urdhva Dhanurasana, Halasana, and Paschimottanasana. However, most of these are based on case studies and surveys.

The fifth chapter presents yoga for healing. It consists of interviews with pioneers in the field. The healing ability of yoga practice has been systematically observed and documented. The author mentions the efforts of International Association of Yoga Therapists in promoting yoga for healing. Mr. Broad emphasizes on medicalization, accreditation, or licensing of yoga.

The sixth chapter deals with the yoga and intimacy. The author is forthright in discussing the controversies and scandals related to yoga legends. He removes the myths and presents the proven benefits of yoga in sexual health. Research studies have shown yoga could prompt a revitalization of endocrine glands (p. 168). Further in the chapter, the author mentions about tantra and kundalini.

The last chapter mentions about experiences of kundalini awakening. The author narrates succinctly the personal experiences of many people who encountered with kundalini arousal. Further, he mentions the dangers involved in the practice of kundalini yoga.

However, kundalini yoga need not be dangerous; the work of David Shannahoff-Khalsa amply demonstrates this. Further, David's work in depression and related disorders is of great importance to psychiatric rehabilitation of patients. [1] Given the fact psycho-active drugs are most prescribed worldwide and the seminal work of David in this field, this oversight is indeed a major drawback of the book. Another important point to be noted is that much of Indian research in Yoga is not covered adequately in the book.

Asanas are defined by Sage Patanjali as conferring 'sthira' and 'sukha', namely stability and comfort. If asanas are carried out with this basic principle in mind, one could avoid most of the problems related in the book. Perhaps the over-enthusiasm of the teachers and the taught (especially, in a commercial environment) might have resulted in injuries and discomforts. The first idea of practicing yoga is to get acquainted with one's own body; if this is achieved, there could be no injuries to report!

In conclusion, this is an outstanding book by William Broad which stands unique in yoga literature because of its scientific temper. The author should be congratulated for his remarkable work in compiling enormous information on the history of yoga research, collecting yoga's benefits for health, creativity, and mental balance and presenting risks and rewards of yoga in a systematic manner in the light of modern science. All yoga lovers are recommended to read this book.

   References Top

1.Shannahoff-Khalsa DS. Kundalini yoga meditation for complex psychiatric disorders. New York, USA: Norton Professional Book, 2010.  Back to cited text no. 1

Correspondence Address:
B R Raghavendra
Division of Yoga and Life Sciences, Swami Vivekananda Yoga Anusandhana Samsthana, Bengaluru
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

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