“The saddest aspect of life right now is that science gathers knowledge faster than society gathers wisdom.” – Isaac Asimov (1920-1992)
I’ve been practicing yoga for 17 years and love it. I hope I can continue for the rest of my life.
The only thing I don’t like is the woo-woo fog that follows some teachers around and settles into the spider web corners of the room along with the Hindu god statues.
By woo woo, I don’t mean the spiritual practice from which yoga originates. This is by definition not of the body, ephemeral, left for each of us to interpret and practice. I am not religious myself, or spiritual, but I respect everyone’s right to believe what they want, as long as they are not forcing it on anyone or hurting anyone.
As a writer and always-trying-to-be-kind human being, I deeply appreciate the yoga saying, “Namaste – the light in me acknowledges the light in you.” And if practicing yoga can help me see beyond the limitations of my own ego into a bigger picture, I’m glad to learn. Just try not to go on about it too long.
What I mean by woo woo is the flat-out unscientific statements teachers make about the body and how it works. For example, that we have chi, or energy running through our body and little wheels of energy, or chakras, each a different color and representing a different part of our being. Oh, and we have meridians connecting various parts too. Acupuncturists stick needles into these. “energy healers” use their hands to hover over us and direct good and bad chi traffic. Certain poses, usually hip openers, can release emotions that have collected. And don’t get me started on reflexology, little body maps on the feet, rubbing the big toe helps clear the mind, relax the neck, blah, blah. Any teacher who believes that should go to medical school for 20 years and have her big toe (head) examined.
Many of these beliefs, ironically called ancient wisdom, are actually based on ancient ignorance. Ignorance of how the body works, before we had the ability to prevent infections and disease, before we understood that there was more to us than the Four Humors Hippocrates described around 400 BC.
To my knowledge, someone with a stomach pain wouldn’t go to a doctor who specializes in yellow chakra disease. Well they might (foolishly) visit a naturopath, but if the pain didn’t go away, they’d hightail it to the nearest MRI machine. Same with a brain tumor, or serious mental illness. The purple chakra hocus pocus won’t help as much as a brain surgeon or psychiatrist. Nor do doctors turn to chi banks when their patients run low.
Another example of the pseudoscience some yoga teachers promote is how breathing and doing certain poses will get rid of toxins. Toxins, toxins, everywhere! Twist away and squeeze them out. This idea that we are full of toxins is completely bogus. I swear it is the modern-day equivalent of Original Sin. Unless we drink a full bottle of Drano, our body does a fine job of cleaning itself. With these real body parts called the liver and the kidneys.
Recently I was browsing the website of a new local yoga studio. Selling lava stone necklaces to soak up essential oils and “enhance our vibrations.” And wooden combs “that balance the electromagnetic field of our aura and create a steady, neutral headspace.” (But we must comb our hair backward for it to work.) And a new class with a series of poses, breathing and meditation “to reset our glandular system.”
Asimov was right. Our gathering of wisdom is far behind our gathering of scientific knowledge. And he wrote that more than 25 years ago!
I understand why people want to cling to belief systems that don’t really make sense. We have excellent doctors and treatments, but a healthcare delivery system that is broken, impersonal and expensive. Feeling ill is frightening and so it’s easy to turn to some practice that seems more personal, hopeful. These alternative treatments are not inexpensive, however. Nor are they safe, especially if they delay more effective treatment.
Being a yogi, I tune out much of the blather. But I wish that those who are helping us with our bodies, and even our spirits, had a better understanding of how they work.
As Dr. Steven Novella, an American clinical neurologist and Yale professor, writes about yoga woo on the website, Science-Based Medicine:
“… all of the mystical and pseudoscientific woo that often accompanies yoga is counterproductive. It may be useful for marketing to the gullible, but it taints the entire practice with pseudoscience. I would also find it difficult to trust in the competence of an instructor who thinks a yoga pose will squeeze toxins out of my liver.
It would be nice, but perhaps too much to hope for, to have a science-based yoga movement – yoga-based exercises minus the woo, and evidence-based to maximize safety and effectiveness.”