Woo Woo and Yoga

Yoga Woo“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. Yoga Woo“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.”





What is Good News?

News AnchorI have stopped watching most local newscasts. I used to look forward to 4 o’clock. Time to transition between working at my computer, often alone all day, and tuning into the world. A former journalist and lover of all news, local, national and international, I like to know what’s happening. And why and the ramifications, if possible.

For years, I’ve been defending “the media,” when I hear people saying it’s worthless, gone to hell in a Gucci tote. I still think there are excellent newspapers and programs and that they play a vital part in our democracy. But, mostly, the networks and local stations have sold out.

Yellow journalism has become orange and flame red journalism. Sensationalism always been there, of course, like a bonfire luring us to listen to the scariest stories, but now it rages into wildfires out of control.

Within half an hour, laid-back, utopian San Diego transforms into a dystopian version, Mad Max meets Wild West. Even surfers and lifeguards stir up fearful waters, sharks, riptides.

School administrators are siphoning off funds. Teachers are dating students. Students are harassing one another and covering walls in graffiti. Malls are invading formerly protected land. Roads are disintegrating. (The affable mayor leads inspection groups around neighborhoods assuring everyone potholes are in the budget.) A mentally ill man is setting sleeping homeless on fire and also whacking them with a hammer. Distraught, formerly known as nice, neighbors barricade themselves and start shooting. The Bad Grandpa Bandit hits another bank. Another pot dispensary gets busted.

Traffic accidents zoomed in on by helicopter, the worse, the more air time. A semi dangling off a freeway overpass or a sad soul who has plummeted off the overpass means several helicopter segments.

House fires, brush fires, wild fires. Just waiting for the wind to pick up! It’s going to be the worst fire season yet! No wait, El Nino is going to bring the wettest winter yet. (It didn’t.)

The local newscast devotes about five minutes to “good news.” Wiping tears, the anchors introduce the teacher, volunteer, hero, even dog or cat adopted, of the month. There is goodness in this burning, flooding, shoot ’em up city gone bad.

Another reason I don’t enjoy local news anymore, another style over substance sellout, is because of the way women anchors are forced to dress. Men deliver the news in professional jackets and ties. Women in tight, sleeveless, low-cut dresses, more appropriate for a cocktail party. It’s good to see more women in the profession, but sad that they are still used like Barbie dolls to improve ratings. With the weather women, it’s even worse. They wave their well-toned arms over colorful charts, but tottering in their high heels, bulging in their sausage dresses, they might as well be draped across the hood of a car at a car show.

So now I wait until 5 o’clock. That’s when the local PBS station offers a quieter version of the day’s news. Some of it may be bad, but it is not delivered, shouted, with the Voice of Doom. There are no car crashes. If there are scandals, the people involved are interviewed with no rush to judgment. If the city council is wrestling with a decision, again there are interviews, including experts and everyday citizens, and the issue is analyzed from several points of view. A special arts reporter features a new play or art exhibit. An education reporter introduces an innovative school or program. A science and technology reporter keeps us up-to-date on San Diego’s thriving hi-tech and bio-tech industries. A bilingual reporter brings us news that affects our city from across the Mexican border 20 miles south.

This 5 o’clock broadcast used to be even better. The anchors took more time to interview guests in the studio. Sometimes two experts with opposing opinions argued. It was always interesting. To me, anyway, perhaps not to enough other viewers. Because a few months ago, they dropped that format and speeded up everything. It’s still a lot saner and substantive than mainstream media news. The men and women anchors and reporters range in age from young to older and the women dress attractively but professionally.

EXCEPT the weather woman. For some reason, even though the local PBS station never included a weather report before, they had to bring in a shrill, wind-up doll to forecast the worst. Streets are flooding! Sharks are circling! Heat wave sizzling our brains and canyons. Plague of locusts arriving any minute.