As it seems, New York Times science writer, author and generally amiable guy William J. Broad is out to raise a ruckus, and consequently sell books. And to think, all he needed to say was yoga will wreck your body and that it’s all based on a Tantra sex cult, and poof! Ruckus raised. His PR and marketing team must be getting paid overtime.
WJB’s take on the recent yoga controversy – proposing that we shant be suprised by sex scandals in the yoga world since yoga is founded in sex cultery – seems to have fueled further controversy. (He’s so damn good at it!) And a parade of reactions (more or less, rebuttals) to his latest NYT article have arisen from the yoga community (including ours) as well as mainstream media.
Here’s why this is interesting: Yoga seems to have become a popular punching bag lately, what with the series of dramatics featured in mainstream media over the past couple of months. (lulu shake up, NYT wreckage, Anusaragate). Amidst the scuffling, what has become increasingly important to note and a fairly obvious point is that Yoga, as we know it today, and however each of us identify with it today, can not be clumped into one category of ‘dangerous to your health’ or a practice priming us for ‘sex cults and scandals’ or a ‘competition destined for the Olympics.’
Defining all of yoga is like defining ice cream as sweet and delicious and if you like one flavor you should like them all. This is why, in our opinion, the response to articles painting yoga as one thing, or not getting facts straight, has been causing such an uproar.
Also, did we forget yoga is a multi-million dollar business with multi-millions practicing it? Yoga’s a big deal. And when something approaches critical mass, you can bet there will be even stronger criticism, which we find could be a bad and good thing. And we end up prasarita padottanasana-ing the ups and the downs, to find ourselves back where we belong, centered.
Anyway, here are a few interesting responses to the last shit-stirring from William J. Broad’s approach to sex, yoga and Anusaragate that may further soothe or distress you:
Maia Szalavitz at TIME Magazine appreciates his efforts, but counters his argument:
Broad goes on to cite research that supports the idea that yoga can improve sex life. But this is where the argument falters. The quality of the data is questionable: the studies he references are either old, uncontrolled or published in obscure journals. Two studies examine the effects of fast breathing, rather than yoga itself, finding that this does enhance genital arousal in women. Broad also claims that yoga can increase a woman’s ability to “think off” — or experience orgasm without any physical stimulation.
However, while it’s possible that there’s something about yoga that is inherently sexy — perhaps it’s the scantily clad people exercising in close quarters? — Broad neglects to explore a critical issue. It’s not only powerful figures in yoga who have a tendency to stray.
From John Kennedy and Newt Gingrich to Jimmy Swaggart and Warren Jeffs, top dogs — none of them yoga gurus — have long been known to take advantage of their position. It doesn’t take a yoga pose to arouse sexual appetites. Indeed, evolutionary psychologists would argue that men seek status and leadership itself primarily because it gives them access to more women. As that noted sexpot Henry Kissinger once said: “Power is the ultimate aphrodisiac.”
Consequently, the fact that yoga gurus from Woodstock’s Swami Satchidananda onward are frequently caught with their pants down probably says less about the practice than it does about men, women and power. While yoga might improve your libido, fortunately it’s not likely to make you uncontrollably driven to cheat. And when considering connections between behaviors like sexual impropriety and yoga — or associations between drugs and certain side effects or other reported outcomes — it’s important to remember that correlation isn’t necessarily cause.
Yoga Journal picks up the story and offers responses from Gary Kraftsow and Sally Kempton on the Times article’s “misinformation”:
Kraftsow says that ritualized sexual practices in the ancient yogic tradition came out of a small sect of high initiates in an esoteric branch of what’s known as left-hand tantra. “But to say it was the main thrust of tantra, that’s a total misrepresentation of it.”
“Traditional tantric circles of India were not ‘sex cults’ (though, of course, there have always been fun-seekers and power-mongers who used the technology, then as now.) They were ritual circles that aimed at channeling shakti for self-realization. The tantric roots of hatha yoga are based on the core understanding that all energy can be traced back to its roots in spirit, and its correlary: that we can heal the mind through postures of the body, and heal the body through breath, sound, and ritual.” [Sally Kempton]
(it’s been noted that YJ had invited William J. Broad as part of a panel discussion for the NY conference with Ana Forrest, Gary Kraftsow and David Swenson called ‘Yoga Shouldn’t Hurt’)
Yoga Anatomy author and teacher Leslie Kaminoff responds: “Every time this man opens his mouth…”
LK cites and responds to Broad’s appearance on ‘The Colbert Report’:
Perhaps the most entertaining response comes from San Francisco Gate: Please join my Tantric yoga sex cult by Mark Morford SF Gate columnist:
Would you be interested to learn that real Tantric philosophy, by the way, has almost nothing to do with sex as lustful orgasmic goal? That those cheesy Kama Sutra books and related “Tantric sex” workshops are mostly a distortion, a myth, a bastardized ad campaign designed to sell you what amounts to overpriced massage oil and some softcore porn? Sorry, Marin County, it’s true.
Know this all ye who dare to care: Tantra is not a sex practice, and never really was (though there are a handful of Tantric schools that employ some sex ritual, it is far from the dominant theme). Want to knows what Tantra really is? Here’s a link. And another. And another. And a great book. (Full disclosure: I’ve been studying Shaiva Tantra myself for a couple years now, most recently with one of the finest scholars in the business, and we have yet to have a single wild orgy or virgin sacrifice. I know! Total rip-off).
Honestly, I do not know why the New York Times dislikes yoga so much. I do not know why they run such cockeyed, poorly researched pieces about it by a very nice, honest writer who appears completely reasonable on one hand, but who also appears to have no deeper mystical understanding of his own.
Have more to add? Let us know.
- William J Broad on John Friend Scandal: Yoga is a Sex Cult and We’re All Ignorant Minions
- Resigned Anusara Teachers Create Independent Yoga Coalition, Free from Anusara, Inc., John Friend
- Douglas Brooks: Anusara Inc. Must Cease to Exist to Avoid Further ‘Irreparable Harm’
- Running Timeline of Anusara Controversy, Updates and Teacher Resignations
- Complete and Exhaustive Guide: Yoga Community Responds to NYT ‘How Yoga Can Wreck Your Body’