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Yoga Magazine Slammed For Encouraging Eating Disorders In How-To Article

in YD News

yoga-magazine-may2015A major yoga magazine is being heavily criticized for providing what appears to be “a manual for bulimia nervosa.” Ever heard of “The Tiger”? Apparently it’s an ancient practice involving self-induced vomiting as a means of self-purification and flattening your stomach. UK-based Yoga Magazine is under serious fire after publishing an informational how-to as if it’s a health routine as everyday as juicing or going for a jog.

“You will need cold water and a bucket.”

Appearing in the May 2015 issue, the article was in response to a reader’s inquiry about the ancient exercise after encountering it in an old yoga book from 1959. The article, which is not available online, describes Vyaghrasana or “The Tiger” and its purported benefits:

Performing it makes the digestive system stronger and tones the muscles of the abdomen, which in turn burns off excess fat and trims the waist.

Performing the Tiger exercise gives the body a helping hand to remove any foods and liquids it does not require. If you practice the Tiger at least once a week, you will notice a difference in the shape of your abdomen and hips; your sexual organs and back will feel stronger and your posture and stamina will improve.

Following the description, we’re provided a step-by-step guide.

Bend your head over the bucket (or sink) and using the index finger and middle finger, tickle the inside of your throat, push the fingers down into the epiglottis and you should vomit…

What? Is this actually text reprinted from 1959? On one hand, they were just answering a question someone had. On the other hand, the way it’s written is completely bananas. Maybe they could have written it more responsibly, or maybe not at all? Yoga today has enough of a stigma around it regarding the stereotypical skinny image that many have been fighting to shake. Now, it’s being intertwined with encouraging bulimia?

Let’s be honest, many of us don’t need a guide on how to make ourselves vomit, whether we’re suffering from an eating disorder or not, so as outrageous as it is, it’s not news. But drawing the connection to yoga, and suggesting this method is a positive way to make yourself healthy and/or lose weight? This is where the huge problem lies.

Two of the UK’s Leading eating disorder organizations agree and have slammed the piece for its tone-deaf and irresponsible nature. “It is of course extremely concerning that a leading publication would publish information that nowadays is akin to encouraging an eating disorder,” a spokesperson for Beat, an eating disorder charity, told The Daily Mail.

They continue: “Yoga is a wonderful exercise for healthy bodies and minds and to include it with the behaviours used in the most prevalent eating disorders seems irresponsible and dangerous.”

Sam Thomas, founder and director of the charity Men Get Eating Disorders Too said, “It’s reckless of a magazine that advocates health and wellbeing to be so ill-judged. No “ancient tradition” can justify why this type of yoga and the dangers outweigh any health benefits that are so wrongly claimed. People of all ages and genders have died from bulimia – as well as anorexia – and it has the highest mortality rate of all mental illnesses.”

Here’s the full article from the print issue, thanks to the unlikely help of Cosmopolitan who took the snapshot.

yoga-magazine-tiger

Yoga Magazine has responded to the outcry, posting a provocatively titled “Does Yoga Encourage Eating Disorders?” response. They insist that their Dr. Malik was simply “answering a genuine reader question” and that, as with every exercise and technique mentioned in the magazine, “it is up to each individual whether they perform or not.” Heads up, Yoga Magazine, it’s not that you answered the question, it’s that you gave every one of your readers permission, validation and encouragement to develop or continue with an eating disorder.

It’s true, there are certainly some kooky old rituals and practices out there (you need only pick up literally any ancient yoga text) and we’d say it’s OK to answer the curious, but it’s the context in which it’s presented, and in this case, the way it’s so casually and irresponsibly written as a step-by-step guide, that makes the difference when we’re talking about these subjects in modern day.

UK blogger Genny Wilkinson-Priest who writes the blog Healthista, posted an article calling out the problems with a popular yoga magazine publishing an article tying throwing up to a flatter stomach and a healthier life, in case you didn’t already think of a few yourself.

She writes:

Yoga Magazine was attempting to explain the finer points of a centuries old yoga purification technique – the Tiger exercise – but failed to provide any historical context, or caution (except to pregnant women and children.) 

Originally a technique used in Middle Ages India to purify the body as a means of preparing it for a state of Samadhi (enlightenment), vomiting up excess food in the West in the 21st Century has no spiritual connotations whatsoever.

Has Yoga Magazine, in one fell swoop, validated bulimia, enabling sufferers of the eating disorder to rationalize their self-harming in vaguely yogic terms? 

When really, Vyaghra kriyā, as the 15th Century technique is known in Sanskrit, has absolutely no relevance in contemporary Western yoga practice.

Whether it’s part of modern yoga practice or not, it’s seriously irresponsible for a yoga company priding themselves on being a “chic, contemporary publication specializing in yoga, wellbeing and natural living,” to print this kind of article in a publication with thousands of subscribers, especially since yoga has become such a powerful healing tool for many people battling eating disorders as well as body image issues. For shame.

For information about a great organization helping people with eating disorders heal through yoga check out Eat Breathe Thrive.

image via Yoga Magazine facebook page

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18 comments… add one
  • Big Om Daddy

    The article and others like this should be slammed not for promoting eating disorders but promoting dogma and ignorance. It is the same type of dogma that some yoga teachers say in class such as holding a shoulder stand “slows down the aging process” I don’t care if Patanjali said it himself. It is still dogma with ZERO scientific evidence.

    • VQ2

      And all those “cleanses” and detoxes are not other kinds of yogi-behavior dogma .. ?
      If I had a dollar for every time I attended a yoga studio potluck … and my dishes were rejected … because the “guru” told them not to break their “cleanse”

      Do the size acceptance yoga classes promote cleanses? Do they? Do they?!?

  • Tyler

    The practice is not an asana but a kriya and is called “Vyaghra Kriya” (tiger practice). It’s done by ingesting 6 glasses of salt water to induce vomiting, and it’s used only when necessary to relieve the intestines of excessive amounts of food or rotten food.

    Source: Asana Pranayama Mudra Bandha from Yoga Publications Trust

    • marisa

      But when you vomit, the food is expelled from your stomach, not your intestines.

      • Dwayne

        I suspect (not having seen the article in question) that the magazine did consult “Asana Pranayama Mudra Bandha” by the Bihar School of Yoga, but got some things mixed up.
        In “APMB”: 1) the “cleansing of the entire digestive tract” is called Shankhaprakshalana or Varisara Dhauti, involves forced defecation rather than vomiting, is to be performed no more than twice a year, and many precautions are given.
        There are two abbreviated versions, to be performed as often as once a week if necessary.
        2) Vomiting practices are called Vaman Dhauti, which has three versions: two (Kunjal Kriya and Gaja Karma Kriya) involve vomiting up water on an empty stomach and can be performed once a week; the tiger practice or Vhyagra Kriya should be performed “only when necessary”, and involves vomiting up contents of a full (or partially full) stomach.

        I attended a few classes taught by a famous yogi (Richard Freeman), who mentioned that he had done a vomiting practice (he didn’t mention which one or how often), so such things apparently are not *that far* outside the mainstream. (Disclosure: I personally have no interest in these practices.) Regrettably, the magazine seems to have introduced some distortions.

    • Elizabeth

      The problem is that with modern science, we now understand that vomiting does not remove anything from the intestines. All it can do is empty the stomach. If you ate rotten food, your body will likely reject it anyway. Unless you have a specific disease, food does not spend enough time in your body to start rotting (and since much rotting is oxidation, and food inside your intestines is not exposed to oxygenated air, I suspect it couldn’t rot even if it just sate there).

  • A

    As a recovering bullimic, I can attest that purging does not give you a flatter stomache. Just bad teeth.
    Remember that asanas were meditation postures and stretches designed to help out people who got constipated from spending all day meditating. It’s possible that this is a very context specific piece of advice for yogis with digestion problems. In which case it is a misguided attempt at healing one’s self. We know today, of course, that throwing up can do dome serious damage.
    Also, remember that some spiritual practices do not truly honour the body- Saint Catherine describes purifying techniques that were basically bullimia and even today there are sects of hinduism that encourage starvation.

    But to do this is not yoga; it is not transubstantiation buy harming the body, a part of creation and our vessel for active service.

    • VQ2

      Fat is a feminist issue. I can pretty much track-back that longer and more involved cleanses attracted more women than men in some yogic schools. The cleanse would serve as self-mortification in a patronizing and paternalistic yogic world-view. The bulimic and bulimarexic behaviors obviously help, through its women, the yogic school to succeed in the results-oriented marketplace.

  • paul

    “zero scientific evidence” here means whites haven’t approved it. the magazine article should have at least come with a “consult your guru before taking on any practices” but we are supposed to be are own guru these days, so what to do! the haṭha yoga pradīpikā is not for magazines- but still people will complain that “real yoga” is not present in them. djinn altis says that it isn’t attachment that leads to the dark side but obsession, a good observation i think, and there is something to be said for self-honesty as well, both for which svādhyāya is good help. if you are in search of a flat tummy, genny wilkinson-priest has her own 5 minute sequence for even the busiest schedule (a sign of anorexia according to her article) http://www.healthista.com/yoga-for-a-flat-tummy/ .. also it’s vyāghra not vyaghra.

    • Hi Paul – Thanks for pointing out what seems, at first blush, contradictory. But did you watch the video? If so, you’ll notice I say in the introduction: “I’ve sucked you in with that headline. The truth is yoga postures are not going to give you a six pack … what they will do is ignite inside you a sense of wellbeing.” I retrospect I should have changed the headline for perhaps I walked too closely the line that I believe Yoga Magazine not only crossed but fairly leapt over. Regards, Genny Wilkinson-Priest

      • paul

        i had only watched the beginning of the video, but now i’ve watched the whole and think it will be good for me so i’m going to practice the routine for some while; thanks! the web page says, “..a six minute yoga sequence that will strengthen your core and make it easier to get a flat tummy.” and the video says, “…yoga postures alone is not going to help you get that six-pack, but what it will do–and this sequence in particular–is strengthen your core, and it’s going to ignite inside you a sense of well-being.” so the sense of well-being is a bonus, not the intent, and there is no addressing the necessity of a flat tummy. the context of the video is a site with dozens of articles on how to get a flat tummy, including a 30 day program for this. i don’t see anything “wrong” here, or encouraging dysmorphia, nor do i in yoga magazine, only that they failed to contextualize the practice; those disposed to these disorders are going to see what they will like in these, but i don’t see them encouraging this sorrow. i am glad though that there is awareness about these body issues in the modern yoga world, and that they are being talked about, but too often there is missing the forest for the trees, where an article trying to address something gets all the attention, while the structures supporting and enabling whatever the issue is is ignored (like an article about body-positivity on a site with a “bikini body” challenge, or teachers promoting inclusivity in yoga but whose teaching is almost exclusively postures, that is, they aren’t teaching yoga).

  • MLM

    I used to subscribe back in the 80’s and early 90’s, but the magazine just became crap after a while. Back in the day the articles were inventive, fresh, inspiring, and educational. Now, it might as well be called Trophy Wife Monthly. It seems more for the self absorbed rather than the absorbed self.

    About once a year I grab a cup of joe and sit down with magazine to read the ads, then put it back on the shelf.

  • Way to drop the ball Yoga Magazine. You could have turned this question into a beautiful article about the dangers of eating disorders and how not all “ancient” practices are safe to practice. You could have provided a simple explanation of the practice like Tyler did here , quoting from the Asana Pranayama Mudra Bandha from Yoga Publications Trust.

    Then go into how this practice is actual dangerously similar to bulimia nervosa. Bring up how just because its an old method; It doesn’t make it right today. Come now. In early 1900’s heroin was actual marketed as a cough syrup for children! (source http://www.oddee.com/item_96498.aspx) clearly that was wrong.

    Nope you go a step further and actually recommend doing this practice “at least once a week, to see the benefits.”

    Eating disorders are the dirty little secretes in the celebrate yoga circuit. No wonder Yoga Magazine promoted it. They wanted to make themselves feel better about torturing their bodies.

  • Linda Wozny

    If people like you did not write such stupid articles like this one, my daughter would still be alive! Shame on you! RIP Emma Colette Wozny 1993-2013.

  • How terrible. It makes me sad to see something like that in a yoga magazine. Yoga is what pulled me out of an eating disorder and treating my body badly. Yoga is what made me appreciate my body for what it is and the wonder of all it can do. Some “centuries old yoga” should be left in that century.

  • Fiona

    It is frightening and frustrating that this has been allowed to be printed ANYwhere. It is life-threatening information. Self-induced vomiting can do much more than just ‘get rid’ of unwanted food and fluid and it certainly has no benefits. If we were meant to vomit, our bodies would do it naturally all the time rather than when we are SICK. People who induce vomiting can DIE – every time you vomit, you also lose electrolytes – substances like potassium that work to keep your heart beating. Low potassium is a major reason for hospitalisation and death in people who induce vomiting.
    There is a reason that practices from long ago are not practices of today – because they were not safe, effective or have been superseded by more effective practices. Just because something was an ‘ancient’ practice does not make it worth returning to. We have evolved far beyond most of those things, in these days of far better scientific knowledge and understanding of our own bodies.
    Lastly I wish you would NOT re-publish the details in your own post. It is enough to say that someone published the details of how to vomit – it is not necessary to reproduce a blow-by-blow account of how to go about it – by doing so, you, too, are putting readers at risk. Please consider editing this article to take the information out or taking the article down.
    Thank you.

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  • K

    1. Eating disorders are bad – as someone who grew up obese, lost 50 pounds as a pre-teen then struggled with food and eating issues for years, I feel like I am in a good place to say this.

    2. It is ridiculous that people cannot accept that yes, even yoga – a system with a LONG history – includes things which today we think are wrong. There’s this idea that since we like postures and a few practices from this tradition, that the tradition must mesh with US and our new agey ideas about what is right and wrong …. (I don’t think the idea that eating disorders are bad is new agey, but I think the issue is broader than just this one topic)…. the same way people will look at other cultures, or the mainstream culture where we live and say “how that culture treats women / animals / children is just wrong ” … yoga , something WE like , has aspects like that too. It doesn’t have to discredit the whole system but people do need to be mindful that “100% yoga” may not actually be “all good” and in line with what we believe is right and healthy now.

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