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

Via elephant journal
on Oct 11, 2012
get elephant's newsletter

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

Like elephant health & wellness on Facebook



About elephant journal

elephant journal is dedicated to "bringing together those working (and playing) to create enlightened society." We're about anything that helps us to live a good life that's also good for others, and our planet. >>> Founded as a print magazine in 2002, we went national in 2005 and then (because mainstream magazine distribution is wildly inefficient from an eco-responsible point of view) transitioned online in 2009. >>> elephant's been named to 30 top new media lists, and was voted #1 in the US on twitter's Shorty Awards for #green content...two years running. >>> Get involved: > Subscribe to our free Best of the Week e-newsletter. > Follow us on Twitter. Fan us on Facebook. > Write: send article or query. > Advertise. > Pay for what you read, help indie journalism survive and thrive—and get your name/business/fave non-profit on every page of Questions? Send to [email protected]


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

  1. 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.

  2. Timmy_Robins says:

    The scientific method is about observation , measurement and experiment, I dont think moral or religious issues can be explored using the scientific method. From this point of view I think it is accurate to say that science is materialistic and (in total disagreement with Sam Harris) that it cant answer questions of morality or meaning.

    There are all kinds off ethical implications about how science is applied of course.

    Using the following definition of science it could be said that the kind of science behind Indian traditions might be (maybe) of the second kind meaning it cant make predictions and that it doesnt have applications.

    "Science (from Latin scientia, meaning "knowledge") is a systematic enterprise that builds and organizes knowledge in the form of testable explanations and predictions about the universe.[1] In an older and closely related meaning (found, for example, in Aristotle), "science" refers to the body of reliable knowledge itself, of the type that can be logically and rationally explained"

  3. Bryan says:

    First off I don't know your background in studying Indian sciences, however from your comments it seems lacking. First off it must be said that often times ( though not always-as they were great mathematicians) Indian sciences have used a qualitative versus a quantitative approach which is a matter of debate as to validity ( however if you prefer to look at life in terms of quantity and not quality I must say your quality of life is likely sorely lacking). However, they have used all of the methods of scientific inquiry you have brought up – of this there is no question. Take the yogis for example, they have harnessed the power of the human mind body complex over the ages and have based their systems on experience, observation, application, refinement, and systematization. Furthermore they're practices that are terribly practical to common people.
    The one point of divergence is your claim that science cannot be lead to anything past the material. This stance is just your belief, as if you take to a serious study of these subjects yourself ( which is the only way to understand them properly as they are practical) you might start to appreciate that there is something beyond your physical body. Now you couldn't understand quantum theory or any other physical science without rigorous study, so unless you have gone through such a course of study with a competent teacher you really have no place to speak from in regards to any of these subjects. Take a look at this article (… ) in which Swami Rama submitted himself to scientific testing of yogic abilities at the hands of western science. IT's verifiable, but yogis generally shun away from demonstrating their powers for a host of reasons which I won't get into here.
    As far as bringing Aristotle into the picture, Aristotle actually did a great amount of work on medical theory which just so happens to very closely resemble the works of Ayurveda which pre-dated it and which he most likely was influenced by. So if your bringing his arguments on science into the picture, then I don't know what your trying to argue here as you would have to see Ayurveda's claims as equally valid. In fact there is a long line of proven facts that the ancient Indians had access to knowledge that our western models of science are based on LONG before the west claimed to have invented them. For example they invented our current numerical system, they were aware of the laws of gravity, earth revolving around the sun and numerous other astronomical data 3,000 BC+, and they invented surgery via Sushrut. While these are facts that the western models would rather not proliferate due to their general views of ancient Indians as a primitive culture, lets just take a note from Albert Einstien who said "We owe a lot to the Indians, who taught us how to count, without which no worthwhile scientific discovery could have been made". That's all I have to say. Go do your homework son.

  4. Timmy_Robins says:

    I am very sure that what you are saying is true the question is what are these sciences contributing to the world today? What can these sciences tell us about biology or the universe today?

    How come India is one of the poorest countries in the world today? How come all this knowledge hasnt been used to benefit their own people?

    I am not arguing anything , I just think western science is like..uhm..the king in the castle right now after all no other science has been able to put a space station in, well, space.
    I dont doubt Indian science was huge back then but this is not 2500bc anymore , things change , knowledge evolves.

    Of course this is just my opinion .

  5. Bryan says:

    Yes a lot of western science is a materialist science and its energies have gone in that direction and we live in an increasingly material world so yes you think it is the best. However the scientific method can be used and applied to a wide range of things, not just the material universe. What about social science? Psychology etc? These are all sciences and your view is completely narrow minded in what you confine as a science.
    Eastern practices have gone the opposite way and have evolved a science of man that seeks inward. This is perhaps a reason why it is so poor today, though this question is a long one and a separate topic entirely. As a far as what they have discovered, I mean you have no idea how nuanced the definitions and states of mind the yogis have categorized. Even someone as brilliant as Carl Jung admitted that western psychology has only scraped the surface of what they discovered. Practices such as pranayama are IMMENSELY useful in helping a host of psychical diseases for example. I have met people who have been cured of cancer by pujas. Now if you question the importance of this then there is little left to say to you as you are more bigoted than any fundamentalist christian.

  6. Timmy_Robins says:

    Look , like I told Thaddeus above, science is like a club , anyone can join the club but there are rules . Anyone who wants to be recognized inside this realm must play by the rules. So, if Reiki healers or ayurvedists want to be recognized by science they have to play by the rules. They dont need to do this but then they cant call themselves science in the strict sense of the word(as in western science). Really simple . They can still exist , NO PROBLEM,no biggie, just not inside the realm of western science.

    It doesnt matter if it is biology or psychology as long as it is based on evidence and can be reproduced by others. Evidence simply means something that is used to demonstrate the truth of an assertion. Assertions made without evidence can be dismissed without evidence.

    Science is a collective and systematic attempt to accurately describe material reality.
    According to modern science the mind is a product of the brain therefore it can also be studied by science. No problem there.

    If what you say about pujas is true then it can be studied and replicated. Cancer is uncontrolled growth of cells , cells are material , you are making assertions about the material world here so if pujas really cure cancer then those on your side of the court should be able to prove it easily.

    Are you not being eastern- centric yourself here?

  7. Bryan says:

    The debate has come full circle, which is what happens when you talk to people who believe that Jesus is the only son of God and the only way to salvation is through him. I know, I've tried.
    No I'm not being eastern centric, merely trying to defend these ancient systems. I recognize the usefulness of the western system, though it has certain drawbacks as well. There is good and bad in everything including the eastern systems.
    Regarding reproducing effects, I have given you a case study where effects were reproduced by a yogi. The brain is not what produces mind (it is only a phsyical instrument) and scientists do not understand it in the least sir, as that article demonstrably process and which I doubt you read. I study with a teacher who can induce people into deep states of mediation at will. She can change peoples breathing patterns (which is strongly connected with the mind) without even touching them. I have seen it happen to a complete groups of people and reproduced many times. Material science doesn't want to accept this nor can they touch it because they're little gadgets aren't that subtle. That is all and that is fine and that is you and humanities loss that you have no clue how deep human existence is and can be. If you stop at the brain you will go no further than it, hence your circular arguments and reasoning.
    Nonetheless, any of these things have a lot of individual components to them, and effects DO vary from individual to individual. Even western science cannot completely reproduce results in a case such as cancer sir. Ayurvedic cures are also highly dependent on patient compliance, which can be difficult and so too case studies, however there is definite logic and applicability in this system. I have seen people go off drugs by simple changes in diet recommended by practitioners, that western docs couldn't understand. Unfortunately there is little money to validate a science that doesn't make some large corporation money.
    Yet take a clue, even western medical hospitals are integrating yoga and other disciplines into their realms because they DO work and results CAN be reproduced. I am done responding to your comments as this is useless, you sound like some a retarded teenager with no capability of actual reasoning.

  8. Timmy_Robins says:

    But you are doing the same things you are acusing me of doing! Lol

    For a yogi you sure have no sense of humor man!

    There is a spanish saying…my spanish is terrible but ..let me remember ..ah yes:

    "El que se enoja pierde" , you can google it.

  9. Renata says:

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

  10. 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!!

  11. 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".

  12. elephantjournal says:

    Hi there,

    If there is something specific that you'd like to see updated in this article, can you please email [email protected]? We are happy to take a look but we need to know which point(s) are being refuted.

    Thanks! – Ed.