2.6

How to Critically Analyze Yoga Articles (Part Three). ~ Bernie Clark

Picture: Robert Bejil Photography on Flickr

Problematic Premise

In Part One and Part Two, we learned that there are three basic kinds of fallacies that can occur in an argument:

  1.  Irrelevancy (non-sequitur) – this is a test for relevancy
  2. Hasty conclusion – this is a test for sufficiency
  3. Problematic Premise – this is a test for acceptability

We looked in detail at the logical fallacy of irrelevancy, where premises offered in support of a conclusion are not actually relevant to that conclusion, and the fallacy of insufficiency, where the premises are not sufficient to come to the stated conclusions. We looked as some examples from an article appearing in Elephant Journal on July 11, 2013, written by Michaelle Edwards entitled, “When Flexibility Becomes a Liability”.

A premise is problematic when it is not acceptable for a variety of reasons. Of the four premises offered in support of conclusions CA1 and CA2, only A3 has survived the earlier tests of relevancy and sufficiency unscathed.

Premises: A

  1. Being a woman means you have a higher chance of undergoing hip replacement
  2. Women have looser ligaments than men
  3. Excessive flexibility and weak stabilizing muscles lead to hip joint deterioration
  4. Lumbar and hip joints must have strong tight ligaments to allow proper function of the hip joints

Conclusions: A

  1. All women should consider practicing strengthening exercises to stabilize the hip
  2. All women should be cautious when doing “hip openers” in yoga classes
  3. Having more flexibility than you need compromises the longevity of your joints.

A4 could be acceptable if the conclusions are modified, but are these two premises acceptable? The premise A4 states that joints must have strong and tight ligaments in order to function properly. Is this true? Unfortunately, the author does not provide any evidence to back up this assertion, and most of her other assertions. Assertion is not evidence. An assertion may not need any evidence or proof if it is self-evident, but A4 is far from self-evident.

Are there any studies that show that only strong, tight ligaments allow proper movement of the hips?

It is easy to conceive that a joint that is not tightly wrapped by ligaments may have more range of motion and still be functioning properly. Many yoga students claim their hips are too tight and this is preventing them from having their natural range of motion there. A question of definition arises again: what does the author mean by “strong tight ligaments”? Strong relative to what? Normal? What is normal? The assertion that hip joints must have strong, tight ligaments is undefended, thus unacceptable. Proof is needed. Without this proof, the conclusions are not supported. Likewise for premise A3, the author has simply asserted this to be true and has not defended her assertion.

The author also uses jargon and terms that can be interpreted in many different ways, which makes it hard to evaluate the premise. Jargon can be described as any word or term that is not commonly understood or is used in an uncommon way. If a writer wants to invoke a term that is uncommon to the audience she is addressing, she is obligated to define it.

Otherwise the premise that relies upon the jargon will fail to support any conclusions, and the conclusion that uses jargon risks becoming meaningless. It can be acceptable to use jargon when the audience knows what the jargon means: if this article was intended for students who have studied with the writer, then there would be no need to explain the terms. However, the average reader of Elephant Journal would be unlikely to have taken classes with Michaelle Edwards, or read her book or viewed her DVD, so the onus is upon her to define her terms.

Examples in this article of jargon are numerous (and have been highlighted in red at the bottom of this page): “when you sit poorly in your chair …” what defines “poorly”?; “you are flattening your sacral platform …” (premise B3.) What is a sacral platform? Is it the sacrum? How can you “flatten” the sacrum? Is it the combination of the sacrum and its attached ligaments? Again, how can you flatten this area? Other terms used as jargon in the article include “the design of our spine,” “sacral angle,” “hip stabilization,” (premises D), “anatomical sense,” “stabilizing forces,” (conclusions H), “float”, “functional biomechanics,” (premises J), “breathing dynamics,” “natural alignment,” “externalizing forces,” “infrastructures,” (K) and many others.

Evidence

The author offers many premises that are simply assertions: for example—B1—”many people stretch their ligaments too much.” Where is the evidence for this? How frequent is it? How many are “many people.” To avoid the fallacy of problematic premise, evidence or support is required for an argument’s main premises. This is not required, as mentioned, for self-evident statements, such as premise F3—yoga did not prevent Lady Gaga’s hip injury.

Obviously!

Lady Gaga was injured, she did yoga, thus yoga did not prevent the injury. Nor is evidence required of every premise, as that can lead to a never-ending spiral of requiring proof for the proof. But premises that are fundamental to the overarching conclusion of an article do beg to be defended. Controversial premises also must be defended, or at least a defense, if not immediately offered, must be promised to be forth coming or available somewhere else. The use of footnoted sources or references should be provided in these cases. In Edwards’ article, there are no footnotes or external sources cited.

While problematic premise is the least important of these three main fallacies, it is the one that requires evidence. The burden of proof shows up when a premise is asserted, for assertion is not proof. In the field of science, there are four levels of proof or evidence used to ascertain the strength of a theory or statement. [3]

  1. Testimonial (anecdote)
  2. Argument (hypothesis)
  3. Correlation
  4. Experimentation

The weakest form of evidence is personal testimony. This anecdotal evidence arises when one persons says, “I did this and that happened.” We find this form of evidence used frequently in the advertising industry, where a celebrity claims to have had great success using a certain product. The problem is, this form of evidence does not present all the times other people did the same thing but did not achieve the same results.

If you accept anecdotal evidence, you could be convinced to believe almost anything! This does not mean that the anecdote is not true, but it means that it is a particularly weak form of evidence because it is almost impossible to evaluate across a broad base of experiences. One example could be, “A student of mine hurt her knee while doing Pigeon Pose, therefore no one should ever be allowed to do Pigeon Pose in a Yoga class.”

The conclusion is based upon an anecdote, and while that incident may be true, it ignores the fact that millions of other yoga students do Pigeon Pose and do not suffer any harm. In Edwards’ article, she uses the anecdote of Lady Gaga (premises F1, F2 and F3) to support the conclusion that poor yoga biomechanics contributes to joint destabilization. This is anecdotal evidence and is not compelling.

Picture: Arenamontanus on Flickr

Argumentation is the construction of a logical, reasoned hypothesis based upon known facts and observations. The conclusion usually follows an unspoken “ought” – given all these facts and what we do know, this “ought” to be so. Arguments or hypothesis can be very valuable for directing further enquiry into a research topic, but are not proof in and of themselves.

Instead, they can be useful to direct tests and experiments that will prove the assertion. For example, one might assert as Edwards does, (E1) “Years of tugging on ligaments can weaken the forces in the body that hold you together.” There is no proof offered here, but if this is true then we can imagine setting up a series of studies to test whether this is true.

[Unfortunately, most of the evidence surrounding the various claims of yoga efficacy or dangers is either anecdotal or argumentative. There are precious few higher-level proofs of yoga’s benefits available, but thankfully, that is changing as more scientific studies of yoga are conducted.]

The two final forms of evidence are correlation and experiment. Correlations are better evidence for an assertion than anecdotes or arguments, but they are not the ultimate proof.[4] A correlation implies some sort of connection between two events, but correlation is not causation. The connection may be coincidental or meaningless, or it may in fact be quite meaningful.

Sometimes two things are correlated due to a third causal factor. For example, suppose a study showed that people who take frequent short breaks from work died younger than people who took no breaks. You might believe that taking breaks causes early death. However, when you discover that the reason people took these breaks was to smoke cigarettes, you realize that is not the taking of breaks at work that causes death. Correlations can be useful, but they must be treated carefully.

In Edwards’ article, she begins by correlating the rate of hip replacements with women doing yoga, however, she offers no proof that these two events are causally connected. How many of the 400,000 people whom had hips replaced were women who frequently did yoga? How many women did not have to undergo hip replacement because they did yoga? No evidence is offered.

The most powerful form of evidence is through experiments and studies, but here too there are levels of quality. The gold standard in medicine for experimental evidence is the double-blind, controlled test. It is beyond the scope of this article to go into this test, but it is only form of evidence that is considered “proof” in the world of medical science. Nowhere in the Edwards’ article is this highest level of evidence offered. No studies are referenced. Her premises are mostly assertions, some self-evident, and others anecdotal.

Credibility

It is possible for a premise to be acceptable if the author who is asserting it has a high degree of credibility. There is a scale that can be used to evaluate the credibility of an argument, an article or the writer of the article: it is called the Credibility Index. A picture of this is shown below. [5]

At the top of this index, there are the crème de la crème of the science world, the top scientific organizations. This would include the national academies of science such as the British Royal Society, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. They are given the top credibility index of 6. These are the most trustworthy scientific bodies in the world.

In the world of science there is a process called “peer review” which requires studies to be reviewed by people who are knowledgeable in the field of study and who did not participate in the particular study. If they accept the study as meeting the standards of the field, then they bless the study for publication. (Often the study is sent back for correction and after a few iterations, it passes muster and is published.)

The highest credibility is given to studies published in the top scientific journals, such as Science or Nature, because these journals apply the highest degree of review to the studies. Lesser, but still good journals, would be next in credibility ranking. Below the realm of published studies, we have credibility assigned based on the level of expertise of the individuals. Scientist talking in their own field of study would be given a credibility index (CI) of 3. Professionals talking outside their main field of study would not be as knowledgeable as one inside that field and would have a CI of 2. Below that, we have informed individuals who have taken it upon themselves to become educated about a certain topic. They have a CI of 1. Anyone who has a vested interest, or has no obvious understanding of a topic is given no credibility.

So, what is Michaelle Edwards’ CI? According to her own website, she has been doing yoga since 1972, hurt herself severely while in a yoga pose, educated herself in anatomy, runs a yoga school, has written a book and DVD on yoga alignment, and is a licensed massage therapist. While she has not stated she has any professional degrees, she appears to be more than just an informed individual. This could earn her a CI of 2 for the field of anatomy.

However, she has committed some factual errors that a person credible in the fields of anatomy would not make. For example: (premise L1) “breathing deeply engages your psoas, which connects your diaphragm to the lumbar spine to the femur”; and (premise L4) “the psoas is the only muscle group that is attached to the discs of the spine”. The psoas does not originate on the diaphragm, nor does it “connect” to the diaphragm,[6] and the diaphragm is a muscle that also attaches to the vertebral discs of the spine.[7] These premises are clearly factual errors, and problematic. They detract from the writer’s personal credibility. Also, the article was not peer reviewed so the article itself has no greater credibility than what the author brings to the table.[8]

Given that, in the field of anatomy and related biomechanics, Michaelle Edwards might be assigned, at best, a CI of 2, does this mean that some of her premises can stand alone without requiring further evidence? Yes, in some cases. Without elaboration, we can say that from her own experience and credibility the following premises do not require further evidence: B1, C1, C2, E2, F4, G3, G4, I1, L3, L5, L6, N1. The rest of the premises, however, are anecdotal or need defending (save those that are obviously self-evident.)

Bringing it all together:

We now have all the tools we need to analyze any article about yoga critically and dispassionately. We have already looked at Edwards’ first few premises and conclusions. Again, at the bottom of this article is a complete breakdown of all her premises and conclusions and we will leave it as a homework assignment for the interested yogi to go through and determine whether each conclusion is supported by the premises, and if not, determine which fallacies the premises have succumbed to. Let us move to her final conclusions and their premises.

Overarching Premise: N

  1. Yoga practitioners will often suffer from injuries.
  2. Spinal ligaments are getting stretched beyond their anatomical function (jargon) when we do poses that take our spine into the C shape.
  3. The C shape of our spine is the bane of aging.
  4. The human body is made of curves and spirals.

Overarching Conclusions: N

  1. When posture is naturally aligned (jargon) the human body stays flexible.
  2. Intense stretches to relieve tension of the parts (jargon) are not needed.
  3. What has the most value is to remember our innate postural patterns (jargon) and preserve the natural integrity (jargon) of our spine and joints.

The first thing to note is the fact that the overarching conclusion Edwards reaches is not the one cited at the beginning of our article. There we stated that many people felt the conclusion of her article was that people are stretching too much and hurting themselves, even to the point of requiring hip replacements, all due to forward folding in yoga classes.

While this conclusion could be assumed, it is not in fact stated in her article. In this case, many readers critiquing Edwards’ article for this conclusion have set up a straw man and are attacking that. A straw man is a substitute conclusion masquerading as the real one, and it is often much easier to attack the straw man, defeat it, all the while appearing to be attacking the writer’s original conclusions. Let’s stick to what she actually offers.

We now know that premises need to be checked for relevancy, sufficiency and acceptability if they are to support the conclusions. Acceptability also may depend upon the evidence offered for the premise. Does premise N1 meet these criteria? On the surface N1 seems to be self-evident, but it does imply all yoga practitioners will frequently suffer from injuries (assuming we are talking about injuries caused by their yoga practice). Such a claim requires evidence, none is offered, so this is a problematic premise. Premise N2 also is an assertion. We have been given no proof that spinal ligaments are getting stretched beyond their anatomical function, and we have no idea what anatomical function even means (again this is jargon). N3 refers to the C-shape of our spine, but there is no evidence offered that this is the bane of aging (a term which also borders on being jargon).

Finally, N4 is self-evident and is the only premise here that is not problematic, but is it sufficient or relevant to the conclusions? If we look first at the conclusions offered, we find that it does not matter whether any of the premises are problematic or not, because they are not sufficient to establish the conclusions.

Conclusion N1 says that when the body is naturally aligned the body stays flexible. Beyond not defining what naturally aligned means, to support this conclusion would require much more than is offered in the premises. A marine corp sergeant standing at attention would be naturally aligned, but to stay like that for 24 hours a day would not lead to flexibility, but rather rigidity. Indeed, not only are none of the premises offered sufficient to establish this conclusion, they are also not relevant to the conclusion. It does not matter if yogis get injured or not from their practice, this has no bearing on whether natural alignment maintains flexibility. Neither does it matter if the spine is C-shaped, spinal ligaments are stretched or that the body is made up of curves and spirals.

These premises do not need to be evaluated for sufficiency or acceptability because they are not relevant to conclusion N1. With the same analysis, we can see that these premises also are not relevant to conclusions N2 and N3.

This does not bode well for the article’s overarching conclusions, but there may be some support for these conclusions buried within the earlier premises of the article. If, so, then the writer has left it to the reader to dig out those applicable premises and bring them to bear on her final conclusions. This is not a task that should be left to the reader: the writer should summarize her main premises or main sub-conclusions along with her main conclusions at the end of the article.

I will leave it to the reader to go through the full body of the article, looking at each premise, and decide whether the conclusions reached are supportable. Remember, the premises should first be checked for relevancy (that saves a lot of work: if the premises are not relevant, then there is no need to evaluate them further.) If they are relevant, are they sufficient to arrive at the conclusion, or is further information required? Finally, if the premise is relevant and sufficient, is it acceptable? Does the evidence provided, if any, make the premise acceptable? Is the source of the evidence credible?

Study by crdotx on Flickr

You now have the tools to evaluate any article pertaining to yoga (or any other field of enquiry) to see if the conclusions offered are clear, logical and supported. Please remember, the writer you are evaluating is coming from a positive intention: focus on the arguments and not the person. If you keep these tools in mind as you read articles, you will find yourself more and more able to separate the real from the unreal, and move from the darkness into the light of clarity.

Michaelle Edwards’ Argument by Premises and Conclusions

Premises: A

  1. Being a woman means you have a higher chance of undergoing hip replacement.
  2. Women have looser ligaments than men.
  3. Excessive flexibility and weak stabilizing muscles lead to hip joint deterioration.
  4. Lumbar and hip joints must have strong tight ligaments to allow proper function of the hip joints.

Conclusions: A

  1. All women should consider practicing strengthening exercises to stabilize the hip.
  2. All women should be cautious when doing “hip openers” in yoga classes.
  3. Having more flexibility than you need compromises the longevity of your joints.

Premises: B

  1. Many people stretch their ligaments too much.
  2. These people are unaware that it can take years for damage in their joints to show up.
  3. When you sit poorly in a chair, you are flattening your sacral platform (jargon) and over stretching the ligaments that attach your sacrum to the pelvis and femur.
  4. We you do a 5 minute child’s pose, you are flattening your sacral platform and over stretching the ligaments that attach your sacrum to the pelvis and femur.
  5. Long ligaments can destabilize the dynamics of our pelvis to spine and pelvis to leg attachments.

Conclusions: B

  1. Longer is not better for your ligaments.
  2. Long ligaments will lead to SI (sacral/hip) joint or groin pain.

Premises: C

  1. Many people who do yoga and stretching exercises have chronic SI joint pain.
  2. These people keep bending forward (in an attempt) to stop the pain.
  3. Forward bending poses (cause) a shortening of the front (of the body) and excessive strain and over stretching of the back extensors.
  4. Most of us are pulled forwards and are shortened from excessive time spend in chairs.

Conclusions: C

  1. Our back body is strained and over-stretched.
  2. Our back body needs to be tightened and strengthened, not stretched.

Premises: D

  1. Leaning over, reversing the natural lumbar curve in a quest to touch your toes does not honor the integrity of the design (jargon) of our spine.
  2. Folding forward puts a lot of torque on the sacral angle. (jargon)
  3. Folding forward undermines the curving forces (jargon) in the spine and hip joint needed for shock absorption (jargon) and hip stabilization. (jargon)

Conclusions: D

  1. Without the lumbar curve, you end up with a flat looking posterior or butt.
  2. Without the lumbar curve, you end up with ofttimes chronic low back, knee and neck pain.
  3. Your spine does not need to be stretched.
  4. Our longitudinal spinal ligaments get over-stretched when we slouch or do yoga or fitness positions that engage the forces of spinal flexion over extension and stabilization.

Premises: E

  1. Years of tugging on ligaments can weaken the forces in the body that hold you together.
  2. As ligaments become lax, this can lead to serious postural issues, such as forward head carriage, chronic hip, back and knee pain, slowed digestion and elimination, and even a weakened immune system.

Conclusions E

  1. If you have tenderness when you walk, sharp pain when doing revolved triangle or deep warrior this is the beginning of hip destabilization and will require hip replacement.

Premises: F 

  1. Lady Gaga cancelled a tour due to hip pain that required surgery.
  2. Lady Gaga does Bikram’s yoga.
  3. Yoga did not prevent her injury.
  4. Many other famous yogis have had hips replaced.

Conclusions: F 

  1. (Poor) yoga pose biomechanics contributed to these joint destabilizations.
  2. We are not learning from these experiences.

Premises: G

  1. Toddlers bend their knees and hips, engage butt muscles and curve their spines when they fold forward.
  2. When we keep knees straight in yoga, instead flexing the spine to fold forward, we are overriding our natural design forces. (jargon)
  3. Walking without bending knees is uncomfortable.
  4. If you could never bend your knees, life would suck.

Conclusions: G

  1. Keeping knees straight all the time does not contribute to the longevity of your joints.

Premises: H

  1. When you fold over and slowly straighten your legs, you will feel it in your sacral/hip joint.

Conclusion: H

  1. It does not make anatomical sense (jargon) to stretch out the ligament stabilizing forces (jargon) in your spine and hips.

Premise I

  1. It is not too late to strengthen your hips and butt muscles.

Conclusion I

  1. So working any yoga pose with strength and motion, instead of relaxing into a static pose, will benefit your hip/femur joint

Premises J

  1. Strengthening your postural muscles using deep breathing while in a natural spine position can activate dormant extension and expansion forces.
  2. This will allow your bones to float. (jargon)
  3. Keeping your knees bent while bending over enlists your gluteus or butt muscles which assists in stabilizing the pelvis.
  4. This contributes to functional biomechanics (jargon) and strong stabilization forces. (jargon)

Conclusions J

  1. Once your body works in a healthy, connected fashion, your ligaments can regain their natural length. (jargon)
  2. This will protect your hip joint and sciatic nerve from wear and tear.

Premises K

  1.  The key to healthy alignment is accommodating your breathing process. (jargon)
  2. Breathing dynamics (jargon) provide the best tool for checking (to see) if a pose contributes towards natural alignment. (jargon)

Conclusion K

  1. If you cannot take a deep breath in a pose, then the pose is activating externalizing forces (jargon) in your body that overrides the body’s natural and essential core movements and infrastructures. (jargon)

Premises: L

  1. Breathing deeply engages your psoas, which connects your diaphragm to the lumbar spine to the femur.
  2. Sitting in chairs shortens the psoas.
  3. Doing forward bends with straight knees shortens the psoas.
  4. The psoas is the only muscle group that is attached to the discs of the spine.
  5. In many people the inner groin is short.
  6. In many people the psoas is short and tight.
  7. A shortened psoas can affect the balance of the hip joint.

Conclusions: L

  1. Sitting in chairs can lead to bulging or herniated discs.
  2. Forward bends with knees straight can lead to bulging or herniated discs.
  3. Sitting in chairs and bending forward with knees bent can possibly lead to compression in the hip socket and deterioration of the joint.

Premises: M

  1. A pose called the core connector (jargon) activates the psoas/diaphragm connection quickly

Conclusion: M

  1. The pose called core connector (jargon) restores equilibrium (jargon) in the psoas
  2. Balancing the actions of the psoas can stop chronic back pain, stabilize the spine and create a fluid balance (jargon) of the whole body

Overarching Premise: N

  1. Yoga practitioners will often suffer from injuries
  2. Spinal ligaments are getting stretched beyond their anatomical function (jargon) when we do poses that take our spine into the C shape.
  3. The C shape of our spine is the bane of aging
  4. The human body is made of curves and spirals

Overarching Conclusions: N

  1. When posture is naturally aligned (jargon) the human body stays flexible.
  2. Intense stretches to relieve tension of the parts are not needed.
  3. What has the most value is to remember our innate postural patterns (jargon) and preserve the natural integrity (jargon) of our spine and joints

Footnotes:

3: These levels were developed by Dr. Roy Walford and are described in his book 120 Year Diet, pages 22 – 25.

4: For a more in-depth view of correlation in medical science, visit the website Science Based Medicine.

5: See the book What’s the Worst Than Can Happen by Greg Craven, chapter four.

6: Netter’s Atlas of Human Anatomy states (Plate 478), “[the] Origin of the psoas major muscle [is] from vertebral bodies, transverse processes and intervertebral discs (T12 – L4) and origin of psoas minor muscle [is] from vertebral bodies (T12, L1).” Gray’s Anatomy 39th Edition (page 1082) in describing the diaphragm states, “The medial arcuate ligament is a tendinous arch in the fascia that covers the upper part of the psoas major.” Cover is not “connected”. As shown in Netter’s book (plate 189), the psoas passes through the diaphragm, but is not connected to it.

7: Ibid.

8: There is a dearth of peer-review experts available in the yoga community, which means all yoga articles and books suffer this low credibility ranking. We can only hope that one day some organization, perhaps the International Association of Yoga Therapists, will pick up the gauntlet and create a peer-reviewed magazine that will ensure greater credibility and quality of information for the yoga community.

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Editor: Bryonie Wise

 

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GoGreen Aug 19, 2014 11:36pm

Great article.

eric mathias Nov 26, 2013 12:20pm

Thank you so much for writing in this way, Bernie. You article arrived at just the right time. I will take some time in our bi-weekly teacher meetings to go through your full article. I believe that reasoning and argumentation should be required units at teacher trainings.

Deep bows,

-eric

gdr23 Nov 25, 2013 7:27am

Whoa Bernie! Love your teaching and writing! Thanks!

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Bernie Clark

Bernie Clark is an author, yoga teacher, creator of the website www.YinYoga.com and author of The Complete Guide to Yin Yoga. He has been teaching yoga and meditation since 1998 and has a degree in Science from the University of Waterloo. Combining his intense interest in yoga with a scientific approach to investigating the nature of things, his ongoing studies have taken him deeply inside mythology, comparative religions, psychology and physiology. All of these avenues of exploration have clarified his understanding of the ancient Eastern practices of yoga and meditation.

Bernie’s teaching, workshops and books have helped many students broaden their understanding of health, life and the practice of yoga. His latest book, Your Body, Your Yoga goes beyond any other “anatomy for yoga” book, which focus on the muscles while ignoring the fascia, bones, the nervous system and human variations. It is “Required reading!” according to Drs Timothy McCall, Loren Fishman, Gil Hedley, Stu McGill, Robert Schleip and many others