Spin the doll »« Remembering Lilian Baylis

What about yoga?

I don’t think I see much – if anything – about yoga among the targets of the skeptical patrol. But there’s a lot of bullshit in it isn’t there? Plus a lot of…what to call it…not full-on bullshit but a kind of hinting at more than is really there. Isn’t there?

I’m wondering because I was idly reading some bit of fluff in a neighborhood throwaway this afternoon and there was an “article” on the wonders of yoga written by someone who runs a yoga place (so what possible motivation could she have to pretend it’s more magical and health-giving than it really is?), which along with apparently reasonable claims about exercise was “it detoxes your organs.” I beg your pardon? No it doesn’t. “Detoxing your organs” isn’t a thing, and if you see a claim that treats it as a thing you know there’s bullshit going on.

Okay, Google is my friend, so here we go. 5 Yoga Poses for Detoxification.

Note from Joy: I am thrilled to share another post with you from my friend and amazing yoga instructor Michelle from sol glo. As you may have noticed, we launched our Spring 2013 online program: Eat Clean Body Lean: 21 Days to a Joyous New YouRegister Today!

These poses she has graciously put together for you will stimulate the passage of toxins! Of course the calming and centering aspect of yoga is essential for detoxification as well. Your body will not efficiently eliminate any toxins if you are in sympathetic nervous system mode, better known as “fight or flight”. Enjoy these poses from Michelle — she’s awesome!

That looks like a move from the reasonable to the not so much. Stress is bad for the body, so to the extent that yoga is good at relieving stress (which I think it is) it’s good for the body and makes it feel better. But is that “detox”?

“Happy New Year” often goes hand-in-hand with “Detox” for most people especially after indulging over the Holidays.

Yoga can help us release toxins that have been built up in the body and need help finding their way out, enhancing all of your efforts in your cleanse.  Through various twists, folds, inversions, and sweating, Yoga will clean out toxins, lower stress hormones, send more oxygen to our cells, and increase circulation to carry nutrients to the cells and toxins away to be eliminated.

“Yoga will clean out toxins”? That’s just gibberish, right? Decreasing stress will lower the production of adrenalin, as I understand it, but that doesn’t mean it “cleans it” out.

You know what else is a good anti-stress thing to do? Go to a big semi-wild park on the bluffs above Puget Sound with a bursting-with-energy dog on a cold cloudy damp day, and have fun. All those little chores you have to do become very manageable.

 

Comments

  1. jenBPhillips says

    This kind of BS is so hard to dodge, living out here in Western Wooville. I sometimes secretly do yoga in my house, for the strength and balance benefits, but I never tell anyone about it locally because I know they’ll invite me to their church favorite woo-filled yoga studio. I have several well-rehearsed polite demurrals at the ready for when the subject does come up.

  2. says

    Isn’t it though? The tiny “business district” of my neighborhood has an astonishing number of yoga places for a strip that’s all of six or seven blocks long. I think it might be as many as five.

  3. A. Noyd says

    The same people who would do yoga to send more oxygen to their cells probably chug “antioxidants” by the barrelful, too.

  4. Matt G says

    Some instructors are more into the woo than others. I just ignore it and hope it doesn’t take up too much time. I remember one pose that was “for the spleen”. Oy!

  5. Gordon Willis says

    Yogurt is good for you. Yogurt balances the gut and cleans out toxins. It’s amazing. Yogurt is purity and natural living and fights against the wrong sort of bacteria and horrid chemicals and evil additives and nasty artificial things. Yogurt solves all our problems. Just healthy living. What could be wrong? And standing on your head for three hours a day is just so natural, because it totally rebalances everything you ever thought you had. That must be good.

  6. Cathy Newman says

    Oh yeah, definitely lots of woo. I basically have to engage selective listening during class. Thankfully, I found a great teacher here who is very down to earth and doesn’t include much wooo in her teaching. She is much more focused on anatomy (it’s an alignment focused class) with the occasional mention of toxin release or whatever. Don’t get me started on chakras…

  7. Daniel Schealler says

    Yoga is one of those things where ancient woo took a blind shot in the dark and happened to hit the broad side of a barn by sheer chance.

    There’s some good things about yoga when viewed as a form of exercise in the sense of flexibility and resistance training.

    There’s also some good things about yoga when viewed as a meditative practice in the sense of relaxation and concentration training.

    But there’s a long history of mythology and woo surrounding and justifying the practice, which gives it a lot of overlap with a whole host of bad ideas. ‘Organ detoxification’ being just one of them.

  8. Ysanne says

    This is pretty benign stuff compared to what I hear through a “spiritual” yoga teacher acquaintance of mine. But it ties in nicely with one of my pet hates, the “clean eating” fad, which basically declares any food with more than 1 calorie per tonne as “toxic” and then works from there. So I’d put this into the “mixing the latest fad diet buzzwords into whatever you do” basket…
    It freaks me out more how yoga is a great choice for anyone looking for a clear path into full-on new age BS land, including cancer cure scams, anti-vax and conspiracy theories. Even the “more reasonable” among such people readily believe claims such as “by controlling which one of your nostrils you breathe in/out, you can oxygenate a side of your brain more than the other”.
    It’s a pity, seeing how the exercise and meditation bits of yoga can be really nice for strength and relaxation…

  9. says

    Ah yes. Yoga. Prana. Kundalini. Breathing exercises, talk about energy and chi and breath and, yes, from time to time, toxins. Also, some simple and effective exercises, excellent for building strength and flexibility. A concerted effort to identify the really useful parts of yoga would be a good idea. Probably someone is already working on it.

  10. sully says

    It seems to do people a lot of good, but that’s possibly because it’s a particularly accessible form of exercise. The studios certainly are popping up everywhere.

    Even the “more reasonable” among such people readily believe claims such as “by controlling which one of your nostrils you breathe in/out, you can oxygenate a side of your brain more than the other”.

    I wonder if that’s the power of good results. If one gets some tangible benefit from yoga, I suppose it’s easier to believe in more far fetched possibilities.

  11. ChasCPeterson says

    Your body will not efficiently eliminate any toxins if you are in sympathetic nervous system mode, better known as “fight or flight”

    Here’s the grain of truth hidden in the thicket of woo: sympathetic nervous system activity (which may include hormonal epinephrine=adrenalin but not necessarily) does decrease bloodflow to the liver and kidneys, the organs that do, in fact, detoxify and eliminate toxins. So yes, yoga-induced relaxation and stress reduction does indirectly promote detoxification.

    The same people who would do yoga to send more oxygen to their cells probably chug “antioxidants” by the barrelful, too.

    That’s not contradictory. Putting aside the question of whether cells need more oxygen than they’re already getting, the oxygen delivered is molecular O2 whereas antioxidants–no need for scare quotes; it’s a real thing–deal with harmful free radical forms of oxygen that can result from the intracellular metabolism of O2.

  12. Silentbob says

    Heh. I’m getting an “Is Your Body TOXIC! Take This Short Quiz and Find Out Now!” ad in the left column. :-)

  13. ekwhite says

    One thing to add to Chas’ post. I believe that certain yoga poses stimulate the lower GI tract, tending to make you more regular. But I agree that there can be a lot of woo involved in yoga. It is still a good form of exercise.

  14. A. Noyd says

    @ChasCPeterson (#13)
    First off, it’s not entirely contradictory, but only if you know a little something about biology.* But woo-lovers don’t even have a concept of homeostasis, much less an inkling of the bazillions of different pathways for cellular processes that involve redox or free radicals. What’s ironic is that at the simplistic level of understanding woo-lovers have, they should find it suspicious to be told it’s good to get more oxygen and antioxidants at the same time.

    Second, nowhere in the quotes does it say anything about molecular oxygen. That’s an assumption on your part. A far, far too generous one. Third, the scare quotes are there because while antioxidants are real, all the shit gets advertised as being full of antioxidants doesn’t tend to deliver them in any sort of biologically meaningful manner. Which, given the importance of homeostasis, probably isn’t a bad thing.

    ………..
    *Although, oxidizers and antioxidants do have opposite functions. Antioxidants don’t just neutralized free radicals, you know.

  15. Ysanne says

    But woo-lovers don’t even have a concept of homeostasis, much less an inkling of the bazillions of different pathways for cellular processes that involve redox or free radicals.

    Which is why they jump on every single health fad bandwagon they come across without even noticing how much they contradict common sense and/or each other.
    Drinking vinegar to counteract “too much acidity in the body” (not in the sense of too much stomach acid), oxygenated water to improve blood & brain oxygen levels(I don’t get it, haven’t these people heard about lungs and how they’re different organ from the GI tract?), eating the latest exotic berry/seed/whatever for some dubious benefit, detox in all its variants, using magic water filters supposed to remove “fluoride” and “chemicals” while making water “alkaline” and with “hexagonal water molecules”… The list is endless.

  16. Minow says

    What I am getting here seems to be that yoga claims about detoxification can actually be justified scientifically, but they are still nonsense because the kinds of people who do yoga and believe its claims about detoxifications are idiots (unlike us). Is that more or less right? It’s ‘woo’ if they believe it but not ‘woo’ if we do?

    Yoga mended my back, so I feel kindly towards it.

  17. Minow says

    “Heh. I’m getting an “Is Your Body TOXIC! Take This Short Quiz and Find Out Now!” ad in the left column.”

    Yes, I know it is a bit OT, but I am a surprised at the FTB advertising policies too. A little while ago there were ads for the Mormons on here. Right now I can see links to the usual online scams and ‘have you got cancer’ scaremongering of various kinds It seems strange to take money from the sort of hucksters that the bloggers on here generally claim to be opposed to.

  18. Ysanne says

    Minow,
    no, what you get there that this yoga teacher is throwing around words like “detoxification”, as if normal living led to an accumulation of dangerous toxins in the body that need to be flushed out by a special procedure. However, this isn’t how bodies work: Kidneys and the liver eliminate the by-products of our normal biochemical processes all the time (that’s why they exist…), so unless you have been poisoned, no additional “detox” is needed.
    The positive effect on “detoxification” that Chas is referring to is simply the act of treating your body reasonably well so as to avoid disrupting its normal functioning — e.g. a good night’s sleep.

  19. Daniel Schealler says

    @Minow

    One problem with claims of detoxification is that the term ‘toxin’ is ill-defined. It can mean anything to anybody. In the right dosage, water is a toxin. I’m not being facetious. Water intoxication is an actual thing.

    I’m happy to hear that regular low-intensity resistance therapy helped your body to mend your back.

    Our concern, primarily, is with abstention from illusion. Interestingly, non-illusion (Satya) is one of the ‘eight limbs’ of yoga.

  20. Guess Who? says

    I’ve been doing yoga for about 25 years; I started it in rehab after knee surgery ruined my gymnastics ability. I’ve practiced in a variety of places ranging from at-home with a videocassette (yes, I’m that old) and DVD, through gyms, local park & rec organization, gym, and yoga studio. I’ve seen an awful lot of teachers, and mostly they’ve been pretty woo-free. The studio a mile from my house offers an unlimited class pass by the month, so currently I’m dropping in to a weekend restorative class in addition to a more active vinyasa and a middle-of-the-road hatha class. I’ve tried Bikram at another place but didn’t care for the excessive heat.

    My experience has been the same as some have mentioned above; I’ve reaped the benefits of quiet, reflective breathing and movements that are less destructive to arthritic joints than aerobics. I’ve maintained flexibility. I find it mostly useful.

    Someone has done a book about yoga from an investigative angle: http://www.amazon.com/Science-Yoga-Risks-Rewards/dp/1451641435/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1384952813&sr=1-1&keywords=William+Broad. I read the book and found it to be pretty accurate. He goes into detail on the real physical benefits of yoga, and documents the woo aspects that can just be ignored.

    What I find funny is the hysterical “yoga is from the Debbil!!! Eleventy!!!111!!!” posturing from the bible-belt.

  21. Al Dente says

    When I broke my pelvis ever so many years ago the orthopedist recommended yoga to help get me back in shape. I’ve been doing yoga ever since and my flexibility is as good as when I was in my 20s. Fortunately the yoga instructor was not too wooish, especially after I explained I was only interested in yoga as a form of physical therapy to recover from a serious injury.

  22. rnilsson says

    You know what else is a good anti-stress thing to do? Go to a big semi-wild park on the bluffs above Puget Sound with a bursting-with-energy dog on a cold cloudy damp day, and have fun. All those little chores you have to do become very manageable.

    Ah, so you have invented Pug Doga, a new miracle method for crap disposal. *
    If you teach it, you can put Pug Doga Pedagogue on your card.
    That’s worth some money – think about it! (P. Simon)

    * But please bring some plastic bags.

  23. snoeman says

    My wife takes Yoga classes at a local studio that is part of a larger chain. From what she tells me, this particular chain is pretty much bullshit-free. About the only nod to the traditional woo-filled version is that the classes end with everyone saying “namaste”. She’s a long-time group exercise instructor, and as far as she can tell, the stretching and resistance training seems to work just fine without the woo. Funny, that.

  24. A. Noyd says

    Ysanne (#18)

    The list is endless.

    I particularly like how they demonize all sugar while trying anything and everything purported to increase their body’s “energy.”

  25. Jackie teh kitteh cuddler says

    I like Yoga as a work out. I like the relaxed atmosphere too. It’s when they start tacking on the Reiki or the other woo that it gets irritating.

  26. Jackie teh kitteh cuddler says

    A friend of mine says that anytime someone starts talking to him about “toxins”, he hears “demons”, because that’s what they may as well be babbling about. Which reminds me, has anyone else seen the “glutens” scene from This is the End. It was hilarious.

  27. sawells says

    It’s also worth noting that all the stuff about ancient wisdom and yoga traditions etc. may be utter rubbish: modern postural yoga seems to have been invented in the nineteenth century and includes elements of gymnastics training (e.g. http://yoga.about.com/od/beginningyoga/a/History-Of-Modern-Yoga-Asana.htm and refs there), and the supposedly ancient source texts don’t seem to actually, you know, exist.

    Can anyone recommend a place where Minow can get help with their terrible reading comprehension problems? It’s worrying me.

  28. says

    Minow – that’s a pretty uncharitable reading of what I said and of the responses. No, that’s not “more or less right.” It’s a rather chippy re-writing of what I said.

  29. rnilsson says

    Minow, if you actually stood on your head more (feet upon it) it might also improve your posturing. Just saying.

  30. Pierce R. Butler says

    The “Is Your Body TOXIC?” ad I see with this post seems rather predictable, as does the “Revolutionary Sound Technology Shocks Meditation Groups…” pitch.

    But surely only cosmic guidance can account for the “Gummi Bear Breast Implant Are Finally Here!” [sic] banner at the top of the page…

  31. sara says

    It would be really nice to have a website listing yoga studios and teachers that teach yoga as a series of stretching exercises with no religious/spiritual stuff. Anybody fancy starting that up? I would but my computer skills are nonexistent. We could call the website Secular Yoga.

  32. Foible says

    Romping with the dog is my preferred form of exercise and yoga is helping me do it. I was suffering injuries due to my lack of flexibility so I started doing yoga. Now I don’t have the foot and back problems that plagued me for the last decade.

    I would like to know where the science stops and the woo begins. Aligning chakras? Clearly woo. What about lowering blood pressure? How do I find out the truth?

    As for the poses being traditional, I have no illusions about most of them. “Any movement can be yoga as long as you are controlling your breathing!” is something my teacher is fond of saying. Some of the movements we do would be right at home in military basic training, except we do them nice and slow to savor the pain. (Ok, that’s not the real reason for slow movements, I just have to tell that to myself when my core muscles are aching so bad I think I’m going to wet myself)

  33. says

    Foible, quite, so would I (like to know where the science stops and the woo begins). As for lowering BP, I would think that’s not woo at all. BP is very responsive so I should think yoga is hella good for lowering it.

  34. latsot says

    You know what else is a good anti-stress thing to do? Go to a big semi-wild park on the bluffs above Puget Sound with a bursting-with-energy dog on a cold cloudy damp day, and have fun. All those little chores you have to do become very manageable.

    Or stroke a cat. Not my cat, obviously, she’ll strip the flesh from your bones in a heartbeat. But stroking cats in general will cause you to be less stressed. Unless my cat hears of it, of course.

    I’m starting to understand why I’m always so stressed.

  35. catbutler says

    You know what else is a good anti-stress thing to do? Go to a big semi-wild park on the bluffs above Puget Sound with a bursting-with-energy dog on a cold cloudy damp day, and have fun.

    Since This would require a 3,000 mile plane flight on my part and presumably a dog napping as well I suspect this might not work for me.
    Sounds pleasant though. I will stick to playing with the cats however. Cat yoga is transforming all on its own.

  36. AnotherAnonymouse says

    @sara; the problem with trying to compile a list of yoga teachers is that yoga teachers are a really nomadic lot. They’re here, they’re there, they come and they go.

  37. Omar Puhleez says

    Sally Strange @#11:

    “Ah yes. Yoga. Prana. Kundalini. Breathing exercises, talk about energy and chi and breath and, yes, from time to time, toxins. Also, some simple and effective exercises, excellent for building strength and flexibility. A concerted effort to identify the really useful parts of yoga would be a good idea. Probably someone is already working on it…

    As far as I am aware, celestial navigation (as distinct from GPS-based navigation) still uses as its basic working assumption the idea that the Sun and the stars revolve around the Earth. Without that assumption, its theory becomes so complicated as to render it unworkable.

    Chi (‘life energy’ or whatever you want to call it) I think operates in a similar manner. If the practitioner assumes its reality, then interesting practical consequences can follow. Moving can become more flowing, harmonious (with whatever) and powerful. The reason for this as far as I can see is simply because skeletal muscles work in pairs. They can only contract (to pull) and cannot expand (to push). In many movements they are uncoordinated and inclined to fight one another. The idea of chi allows contraction of one set (of say flexors) to be unopposed by contraction of its matching set (of say extensors). The ‘act’ of imagining or allowing ‘chi’ to flow like water to bring about movement in one’s body brings about a result that can then be explained by whatever construction.

    I neither think that ‘woo’ should be accepted uncritically or blithely dismissed; particularly if for no better reason that it does not coincide with some prevailing orthodoxy. Much of science began as ‘woo’ and can be seen in its modern form as refined ‘woo’. A high rate of turnover of theoretical models and constructs in yoga has similarities with certain stages in the history of say, chemistry; or of biology. Out of this flux, a lot of sense can eventually emerge.

    IMHO

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>