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William J. Broad responds to the John Friend sex scandal: An interview


Lady and the Lamppost
"The sexual aspects of yoga are understood on one level, but it’s a hush-hush level....One journalist talks about how yoga made him horny....He wanted to make love to a street lamp." —William Broad

On Friday, we spoke with William J. Broad, the New York Times science writer and author of The Science of Yoga: The Risks and the Rewards about the controversy surrounding his story on yoga injuries (“How Yoga Can Wreck Your Body”).

But that was just the tip of the iceberg.

Not long after the story appeared, Broad chimed in with another on the John Friend scandal, creating a timeline of sexual violations conducted by yoga gurus, with his article “Yoga and Sex Scandals: No Surprise Here.” It set off another wave of anger and disbelief in the yoga world.

We continue our conversation with Broad about the John Friend story, his choices to cover the scandal in the way he did, and how the controversy will affect yoga’s future. —Lisa Elaine Held

Most of the anger over your John Friend story seemed to stem from the fact that people felt you “blamed yoga” for Friend’s fall, when, in fact, men, in positions of power, in all worlds—politics, religion, etc.—are often embroiled in similar scandals. Why didn’t you include that aspect?
A lot of it was just space—it’s something that everybody knows already and we have limited word counts. In the best of all worlds, there would have been a fat graf that mentioned these issues. Also, it appeared in the Science Times section, so it was not looking at a cultural view, it was looking at the science.

And I would argue that yoga is actually different. Scientifically, yogis have these practices that it turns out can be extremely sexually arousing. It adds a new element to what is a really common issue.

Gurus are put on a high pedestal and people are often in denial about them. These guys who have taken advantage of their power—I’ve talked to some of the victims and it isn’t pretty. These people have done a lot of damage, and my hope is that by turning light on these issues, it will help the victims, and it will make yoga better.

William Broad
William J. Broad: "Did keeping the abuse scandal hidden in the Catholic Church make the church stronger? I don’t think so."

Here’s a question: Did keeping the abuse scandal hidden in the Catholic Church make the church stronger? I don’t think so. Only the light of accountability can help produce reform that can make the Catholic Church better, and it’s the same with yoga.

Your book has a lot of information on yoga’s sexual roots and the science of how it improves sex drive. But that doesn’t seem to get a lot of attention in the yoga world.
The sexual aspects of yoga are understood on one level, but it’s a hush-hush level. Some yogis know about it, but many don’t, and it can take people by surprise.

Take a look, for example, at the story “Does This Pose Make You Randy?” written by a journalist for Red Eye Chicago. He talks about how he picked up yoga and, excuse my language, started getting really horny. He talks about wanting to make love to a street lamp, and the first thing that started to help him understand what was going on was that Maureen Dowd’s column pointed him to my book.

He’s part of my target audience—a lot of people have those feelings and don’t understand them. Also, the millions of men who are popping little blue [Viagra] pills and could be taking 5-10 minutes to stretch in the morning, which would raise their testosterone levels. It’s a totally natural way to develop libido and help them with their sex lives.

In your book, you sketch two scenarios in terms of the future of yoga. Which one will win out?
My crystal ball is as hazy as yours. I was sketching out what seemed to me were the two extremes. Extremes are not in the real world—the reality will probably be somewhere in the middle.

I do think yoga doctors will appear in the next decade, that there will be people who are trained and who are held to the same standards that MDs are held to. Look at Dr. Fishman, in my book. He’s healing rotator cuff injuries right and left—I think he’s had 1,000 patients by now—by having people do modified headstands.

Here’s another one—old age. What does it mean to become old? You get stiff, and you lose your balance and your mental sharpness. Yoga works to counter act all of that stuff! In decades ahead, I can see there being yoga as a regular part of every senior center, nursing home, and assisted living center.