Paging Dr. Ayurveda: Debunking Yoga Quackery. ~ Molly McCollum

Via elephant journal
on Oct 11, 2012
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It’s that time of year again, elephants.

The “doctors” and “clinicians” and “healers” of the Ayurvedic mumbo-jumbo world once again crawl out of their nests to offer us bogus, unscientific, untested and non-FDA-approved cures for our sniffles and post-summer depression.

Ah, yoga.

For those of you who are blissfully ignorant to this particular branch of quackery, here it is in a nutshell: it is the reason Deepak Chopra is a millionaire. It is also an ancient Indian healing system theorizing that your body’s functions are regulated by doshas, or physiological principles named vata, pitta and kapha.

These doshas work much in the same way astrological signs do, in that there are personality types associated with them as well as body types. They are analogous to the four “humors” of ancient Greece and Rome: yellow bile, black bile, phlegm and blood. Just like the humors, if any of your doshas are “unbalanced,” you will contract disease or diarrhea or lose your mindfulness.

Or something.

If it’s true then, that your entire body’s well-being and therefore your life depends on the balance or imbalance of three ambiguous “principles,” you’d better gosh-darn know what your doshas look like, am I right? Right!

After filling out a very scientific Cosmo-style quiz on Chopra’s website, in which I was asked such relevant questions as “Do you have a penetrating gaze?” “Are you lively and enthusiastic by nature?” and “Is your hair thick and abundant?”, (in case you’re wondering, my gaze is penetrating and yes, I do have a thick and abundant mane), I was presented with my dosha profile:

“You exhibit nearly equal characteristics of pitta and vata, making you bi-doshic.”

Bi-doshic! Don’t tell my mom.

We then move on to the second part of the quiz. “Have your bowels been loose?” “Have spicy foods been agreeing with you?” and “Have you been holding on to extra pounds?”

This part, of course, functions to convince the worried test-taker that his or her unique individual physical needs are being considered, and whatever happens when he or she hits “submit” will doubtless be scientific and accurate and founded in medicine.

My results told me that I need to drink more tea, paint my walls earth tones and, of course, consult an Ayurvedic physician, (that’s “physician”) for more healing.

Perhaps you’re not feeling quite so confident in Ayurvedic medicine now.

Or perhaps you’re simply casting a blind eye to the fact that it is essentially another form of the discredited Greek and Roman nonsense that informed medieval medicine, (that’s “medicine”). Before you hand over your paycheck to Dr. Ayurveda, know these facts first:

1. In 2003, a survey of Ayurvedic herbal products sold in Boston-area stores found that a whopping 20 percent contained concentrations of lead, mercury and/or arsenic. Thirty-five to forty percent of medicines in the Ayurvedic formulary contain at least one metal, and the amounts of these metals are not regulated by any governing body. The authors of this survey explicitly noted that users of Ayurvedic medicines may be at risk for heavy metal toxicity.

2. In order to call oneself an “Ayurvedic practitioner,” one must enroll in a two-year program, many of these offered at ashrams. To call oneself an “Ayurvedic doctor”—and thus be referred to as Dr. Smith, Dr. Jones, etc.—one must enroll in a four-year program, for which the only entry qualifications are college-level biology and anatomy. The book list for these programs contains titles such as Loving-Kindness: The Revolutionary Art of Happiness, The Rainbow Bridge, Botany in a Day and The Ayurvedic Cookbook. Nothing remotely related to organic chemistry, physics, genetics, neuroscience or any other discipline so critical to responsible medicine.

I get it.

Your yoga teachers preach Ayurveda at you all day long, and taking some concoction with the word “grass” or “root” in it sure does sound safer than the pills Pfizer puts out. It may be that whatever Dr. Ayurveda prescribed, or recommended is actually working and you feel much better, but we’ll leave placebos for another day.


Molly is a medical researcher, enormous science geek, and habitual know-it-all residing and teaching yoga in Brooklyn, New York. Information about her “yoga for atheists” classes can be found at here.




Editor: Thaddeus Haas

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62 Responses to “Paging Dr. Ayurveda: Debunking Yoga Quackery. ~ Molly McCollum”

  1. greateacher says:

    exhale, breathe, inhale, exhale… one bitter, sardonic article does not carry the entire truth nor represent all of anything.
    Readers, use your judgment and common sense regarding health, who to believe and how you choose to care for yourself. Your common sense will guide you to research any health practice or practitioner, as well as sarcastic debunking we read here.

  2. Molly says:

    Yes! Please use your common sense! That is exactly what I was trying to say here. Thank you for reiterating my point, greateacher.

    -Bitter and Sardonic in Brooklyn

  3. Thaddeus1 says:

    I tend to appreciate my "debunking" with more of an actual argument rather than just a simplistic, uninformed opinion, but hey, to each her own. I am glad to see though that our science and medical education system is not skimping on their critical thought component.

  4. Molly says:

    Ah yes, the ol' "Science is just your opinion!"

    Now there is an actual argument!

    -Simplistic and Uninformed

  5. Pankaj Seth says:

    Some interesting links… (Central Council for Research in Ayurvedic Sciences, India)

    Ayurvedic source texts: (one of the original places of Vedic learning, to which persons from all over the world came to study, including studying Ayurveda)

    BTW, it is not necessary for medicines to be of Indian origin for them to be used in the Ayurvedic clinical context.

    Next, the doshas are not 'things', but part of a language structure which frames the human condition with high regard for individuality.

  6. Molly says:

    Indulge me! I would love to read a methodologically sound, peer-reviewed study proving the effectiveness of TCM. Thank you in advance.

  7. greateacher says:

    Molly, you are way too stuck on your own self and opinions. I am appalled at you rlack of professionalism by your mocking signature to my iniital comment. You may be sardonic, sarcastic, ill-informed and egotistical.. elephant journal let you print this. PLEASE stop telling off every reader for their comments, opinions and information. it is nOT you, right, against the entire world of us, wrong.

  8. greateacher says:

    You wrote and submitted a sarcastic article. You made the choice of subject and tone. My first comment sums it all up- use common sense and good judgment. I do not think you do regarding style, tone or continued sarcasm.

  9. GREAT ! You convey the impression as if you have an implausible knowledge on it and its your gratefulness for giving out and imparting your knowledge and blog with others.

    Ayurvedic Treatments

  10. __MikeG__ says:

    You posted this on the wrong forum. I truly wish there were more articles like this on EJ.

    You call for peer reviewed research and the only links the ayurveda apologists can provide are for wikipedia and biased studies by persons who make their money from ayureveda.

    BTW, persons who complain about the “tone” of the article do so because they cannot provide any idependent proof that ayurveda has any efficacy.

    I applaud you for making this stand, especially on this forum and dealing with these ridiculous comments. The responses to this article are one of the many reasons why I very seldom visit EJ anymore. It always amazes me that so many intelligent people refuse to think critically.

    Credulity is belief in slight evidence, with no evidence, or against evidence.


  11. greateacher says:

    I am complaining about the tone of the article and the authors rude comments. My words have nothing to d owiht the topic. I find Ayurvedic work interesting and useful, as much as medical work.. boht hold potential but both may not have all the answers.

  12. Steve Clark says:

    Does the allopathic approach really make good sense to you, Molly? Treating symptoms instead of looking for the root problem makes sense? Because there are supposed studies and peer reviews makes the whole approach sensical? Are the websites run and fronted by western doctors all of great repute? Of course not. There are lots of Ayurvedic quacks just as there are lots of western doctor quacks.
    If you really want to learn something, read Robert Svaboda's books. 30 years ago Dr. Svaboda learned Hindi and went to India to become an M.D. there. His erudition will blow your mind. His medical intelligence will impress you. But he also connected with a Aghori master in India. Reading the words of a true medical genius that confounds everything you've written here will be an interesting experience for you I'm sure.

  13. Steve Clark says:

    One more point:
    Singling out Deepak as a reputable Ayurvedic practitioner is like singling out Dr. Phil as a reputable psychological practitioner.

  14. Mariucc says:

    Limited point of view. If what you learned about Ayurvedic medicine is from a couple of internet articles, more information is needed. Experience what these practitioners do firsthand and get back to us.

  15. Mariucc says:

    And Since you're a yoga teacher, you may be interested in this article, unless you believe the yoga YOU teach has nothing to do with the Vedas…,-Anci

  16. mariavlong says:

    Okay, it looks like you have a workout studio where you use asana/poses for exercise. Maybe you are borrowing the term yoga for marketing?

  17. Bryan says:

    Yes I agree there are many quacks in the Ayurveda yoga world that has come of age in North America. However there are some wonderful and bonafide practitioners as well. Judging the doshas based on some ridiculous little self test is not a very scientific approach to this subject either. Did you know that your own lauded western medico system born out of the Hippocratic tradition is very much like Ayurveda? It used diet, lifestyle, etc.. inmuch the same fashion and only fell out of vogue in the modern era when greed , money, and our embellished egos started to consume us all? That might be too much real reading for you I suppose. Yoga for atheists? Come on lady. Just call yourself a workout instructor and move on.

  18. Renata says:

    Too arrogant to pass the message… It doesn't help those who believe ayurveda to question it.

  19. T.M. says:

    Medical doctors spend how much time on nutrition?? A day perhaps? They no shit all about anything to do with the human body and it's assimilation of food and the effects of it on the human body. Many many drugs have killed thousands upon thousands of people and created a population that is hooked on them only to create more disease in other parts of the body. I'd hook up with a native shamen or aruyvedic doctor or heck even TCM before I'd let the medical know it all's tear me apart. Don't talk about metals in the herbs when drugs are filled with garbage and can cause side effects like suicide. Again investigation as to where you purchase would be in order. Yes there are some questionable people all around not only in this discipline but the medical community as well. Doctors killed my mother with prescriptions and almost killed my mother in law. Had a "ganglia" (stage 4 cancer) on her forearm the size of a golf ball. I mentioned Essiac which she took and is still taking (herbs boiled down). Did not tell the doctor and is still alive 3 years post op. She went to see another doctor since the first misdiagnosed which isn't uncommon and they took it out. I believe she is here today with the help of native herbs. As far as yoga is concerned. Healed my scoliosis so there done, done and done!!

  20. KHope says:

    I'm sorry, Yoga Journal usually publishes some great articles, but this just reeks of ignorance. The author claims to be a medical researcher, but there appears to be very little actual research done here. If you are quoting Deepok Chopra as the source, then not enough research has been done. A quick self-test is simply not enough enough to garner whether or not Ayurvedic practices hold merit. How about actually trying out Ayurveda – seeing an Ayurvedic practitioner for a good six months, and then report how you feel after that? An Ayurvedic practitioner usually participates in a 600 hour – 800 hour program and studies for several years, but I'm sure you managed to learn all about Ayurvedic practices after skimming the internet.

    I expected something far better from Elephant Journal as opposed to poorly researched (and, frankly, poorly written) "journalism".

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