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January 24, 2012

The Science of Yoga: from Ritual Sex to Yogic Hypersexuality.

A Book Review.

The Science of Yoga: The Risks and Rewards is a fascinating chronology containing data from scientific inquiry, and further postulations of author, William J. Broad, senior science writer for The New York Times and yoga practitioner since 1970.

On yoga in centuries past:

Yogis were often vagabonds who engaged in ritual sex or showmen who contorted their bodies to win alms—even while dedicating their lives to high spirituality.

On Hatha Yoga Pradipika:

The holy book of the fifteenth century represents the discipline’s earliest extant text.

The book lavished attention on body parts that have nothing in common with the modern focus, including the penis, vagina, scrotum and anus. Over and over, it recommended sitting postures meant to exert pressure on the perineum—the area between the anus and genitals that is sensitive to erotic stimulation. “Press the perineum with the heel of the foot,” the text advised. “It opens the doors of liberation.”

One of the many sweet illustrations in the book by Bobby Clennell.

On Gheranda Samhita:

A holy book that scholars date to the transition between the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Parts of Geheranda Samhita, no less than Hatha Yoga Pradipika, read like a sex manual, full of references to the perineum, scrotum, penis, and so forth, as well as acclaim for the goal of stoking “the bodily fire.” Bhujangasana is praised as an igniter. As the yogi performs it, the book says, “the physical fire increases steadily.” The book describes the concluding step of the yogic journey as “pleasures, enjoyments, and ultimate bliss.”

And as it turns out teams of scientists in both India and Russia have tested what happens to bodies that practice Cobra pose.

In their report, published in 2004, the Russians first told of changes they observed in levels of cortisol—a hormone that, as part of the bodies reaction to stress and sympathetic stimulation, raises the blood sugar and blood pressure in preparation for an individual to flee or fight. On average, cortisol fell 11 percent.

As for testosterone, the team reported an average rise of 16 percent.

This must be why I’m so happy in Cobra in the picture below:

I imagine that my stress hormones are disappearing, and testosterone is increasing…

Importantly, testosterone was shown to bolster attention, memory, and the ability to visualize spatial tasks and relationships. It sharpened the mind.

Surprisingly, testosterone also turned out to play an important role in female arousal. While adult males tend to produce ten times more testosterone than females, scientists found that women are quite sensitive to low concentrations of the hormone.

Cobra pose is also shown in this Yoga Journal, February 2012.

From the article in Yoga Journal:

Cobra will invigorate you energetically as well. It stretches the intercostal muscles (the ones between the ribs), which allows your rib cage to expand and thus can increase your breathing capacity. It’s also thought to gently squeeze the adrenal glands, giving you a feeling of alertness and vigor.

…sounds like the last sentence about adrenal glands, alertness and vigor is about testosterone, ladies and gentleman! The female body also makes testosterone in the ovaries! And it’s not just for men, or just for sex, either!

I enjoy information like this because it represents a departure from men versus women narratives. We all participate in the mysteries of testosterone! It’s goes way beyond the old testosterone for men and estrogen for women feud.

Yoga Journal is referenced several times in The Science of Yoga, and received criticism for a 2002 article reporting:

that it had carefully surveyed the world of science and discovered solid evidence that “optimal fitness” requires no running or swimming to strengthen the heart and no weight lifting to build the muscles.

“Yoga is all you need,” it declared, “for a fit mind and body.”

They are not alone in making this sort of declaration. The chapter called “Fit Perfection” offers evidence that suggests otherwise. And it seems that Yoga Journal has changed their view of yoga and fitness to include other workouts besides yoga. The picture below is from the February 2012 issue (this same issue also includes a review of this book: The Science of Yoga, too).

And there is a whole chapter in The Science of Yoga devoted to Divine Sex. The subject is peppered through other parts of the book, too. An important topic, it seems. One can find it embedded in to oldest yoga texts as well as the most recent marketing, as seen in this toesox ad from the February 2012 issue of Yoga Journal.

“Sex sells,” everybody says. And lately I am wondering “why” in a new way that is opening my mind differently. Pleasure and bodies are essential to our lives. And The Science of Yoga and the old teachings of yoga seem to agree that there is something important here.

A quote from the epilogue:

One of my hopes from this book is that it will prompt the scientific community to study this and other aspects of yogic hypersexuality.

I recommend that you read the book to find out more.

And I’m sorry if I’ve left you with the feeling that the book is just about sex, because it’s not. There is also mindblowing information about a widespread misunderstanding about the breath in yoga that is written in books and common knowledge that is simply not true about the way oxygen in the body relates to an increased rate of breathing. And there is great information about the antidepressant effect of yoga. And more.

And yeah, there is the chapter about injuries that the New York Times posted a version of that could have been called “Yoga Might “Eff” You Up!” that caused a massive ripple of mostly angry and corrective commentary across the web.

The book is written with a bravado that provokes in places, to be sure, but I don’t get the sense that William Broad is trying to lay down the law of yoga. I think he is writing to get our attention, and it works.

The Science of Yoga: The Risks and the Rewards, by William J. Broad, bestselling author and senior science writer for The New York Times, will be released on February 7, 2012. I recommend it highly!

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Most of today's yoga "mullahs" would rather just bash Broad for fear that he might interrupt the Great and Glorious Flow of their latest Infomercial extolling Yoga as a modern cure-all.

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Brooks Hall

Brooks Hall is a Yogic Muse from Chicago, Illinois. In this capacity she teaches Yoga, writes about Yoga, and generally enjoys it. You can find her at: brookshall.blogspot.com.