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Reactions and Rebuttals to William J Broad’s ‘Yoga Sex Cult’ NYT Article, ‘Misinformation’

in YD News

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.

image via kulatemple.com

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 olduncontrolled 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 GatePlease 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.



22 comments… add one
  • you forgot about the huffington post http://www.huffingtonpost.com/philip-goldberg/john-friend-anusara-yoga_b_1314998.html

    Need not worry folks I’ll be back and sort things out

  • honomann

    WJB will publish anything now and between the time his book hits the shelf that will create an uproar to generate publicity. By the time it’s over he will have sold two books: one to his mother and one to his publisher.

  • other probs with this guy

    I actually bought the book because I wanted to see what it was all about and I applaud his attempt to bring scientific rigor to the study of yoga- I think it could benefit from that but I find him inconsistent and with an odd agenda to somehow sexualize yoga…why? because it sells books- yay!!!! My problem with this book is that it continually cites research to validate his claims but then lauds Amy Weintraub as an expert in “treating depression” with yoga when she has a masters in fine art not clinical psychology… last I heard it was illegal to practice therapy without a license… shhh don’t tell the licensing boards…

    • Stewart J. Lawrence

      The whole country is sexualizing Hatha yoga – and has been for years – not Broad. He erred in suggesting that it all began as a sex cult. However, that’s become red herring to dismiss the importance of his book. Yoga’s filled with know-nothings. Thanks, though, for reinforcing the need for a better more balanced article, one that certainly retains all of Broad’s important findings and insights.

    • honomann

      That is WJB’s whole schtick. He says what fits his agenda and cites it NYT style. When you scratch below the surface, you see that he has no idea of who is an “expert.” In the “Wreck” article, he cites a Iyengar teacher as pioneering the use of blankets in Salamba Sarvangasana (shoulderstand for you with a weekend certification) when Iyengar himself developed the use of this prop.

  • claire

    You forgot the most interesting rebuttal coming from someone who has been studying the original sanskrit writings on yoga for the past 3 years ( traveling around Indian and translating them)

    • Pure Heart

      It’s been 16years of Sanskrit study culminating in a DPhil from Oxford.

  • I’m still waiting for the books and NYT articles on the detriments of poor form and overdoing it in CrossFit and Bootcamp. I actually just wrote a 3-part series called, “On Yoga, Really” in response — and to educate the yamas, niyamas, meditation and pranayama…remarkably none of which have anything to do with sex or self-flagellation. http://charmedyogi.wordpress.com/

  • other probs with this guy

    SJL, if you will, WJB could have chosen to take a more fully informed approach to yoga but chose to craft a story which low and behold makes sex the central agenda… yes sex sells things and yoga like any other product is no different- however its sad that WJB chose to jump on the band wagon to make a few bucks and mine for a bit of personal fame…ahhhh what to do… just continue on folks with your yoga- nothing to see here… same old… Having read the book from front to back- I can say it would have been nice if he abandoned his “yoga is a sex cult” agenda and actually looked at the copious research rather than consulting so called WJB appointed “experts” and cherry-picking the obscure research necessary to support his shoddy assertions… On the other hand yes injury does happen- seek out teachers who give you options and take a safe non-acrobatic approach…

  • Kelsey
  • Let us remember divided we fall and all these stories are doing is dividing through misinformation, downright lies and total ignorance. In Yoga in life and in everything we do that might just make us the best we can possibly be.

    Forget the nonsense spoken or put out as expert, get hot and puffy NOT at some dork (no reference meant to this blogger!) who just spouts the party line – no get hot and puffy through a good series of asanas and then meditate on the joke life throws us to see if we get wound up about the petty and ignorant… ah! better already eh?

  • Penxv

    Pretending that yoga isn’t at least partially about sex doesn’t do anybody any good. It’s still a taboo subject because of men’s polygamous instincts and women’s hypergamous ones with one eye firmly planted on the next dick. That’s not to say its ok for guys to run around filling every willing hole just like it’s not ok for women to forsake their previous obligations because someone they perceive as better comes along… Just that motivations are different for the opposing sexes, and an honest conversation is in order. And the ability to deny your destructive impulses and act on your constructive ones is our divine instinct… At least that’s how I see it.

    Marijuana and psilocybin mushrooms are also taboo in regards to how they effect asana practice and, more importantly, meditation because if you want to make money teaching yoga, you can’t go around encouraging illegal behavior. Just like you can’t go around telling the whores that they’re whores when 90% of the money to be made teaching yoga comes from women that are positively (and sadly) desperate for new dick… Which all goes back to how capitalizing on a strong practice will also create a ceiling for it. Not that it’ll matter for long… The dollar is on the way out.

    • Paige

      Sex, drugs, economics, crass generalizations, and name-calling, all in one post. You must be exhausted.

  • Fred Jones

    “Would you be interested to learn that real Tantric philosophy, by the way, has almost nothing to do with sex as lustful orgasmic goal?”

    I’ve been enjoying watching the debate and argument over the sexual nature, or not, of Tantra. I find the above comment indicative of what most of the “real” tantrics are proclaiming. I remain amused.

    The goal of Tantra is to internally fuck yourself. Shiva and Shakti combined in a juicy, ecstatic mix. Whether you prefer to spend your time rubbing your parts against someone else’s parts, or not, the goal of all tantra is fundamentally sexual in nature. Bringing that sexual energy to God still requires the raising of the sexual energy.

    Yoga is a fine way to do that.

  • Fred you have given me a glimpse of enlightenment.

    Now whenever anyone says to me Go fuck yourself I shall understand I have crossed paths with a master showing me the true way to Divine at-one-ment!

    Semantics can be the Path! Thanks, mate

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