Larchmont resident William J. Broad, a senior science writer at the New York Times and two-time shared Pulitzer Prize winner, has been practicing yoga since the early 1970s. When he decided to write a book about the subject, which eventually turned into his latest volume, The Science of Yoga: The Risks and the Rewards, he figured it would take under a year. Now, five years later, the book has been released.
Though he traveled the world researching The Science of Yoga, Broad also relied on several local institutions to help shape the work. Staff members at the , he writes, are “icons of professional courtesy and restraint.” in Mamaroneck and in Larchmont provided “calm at the center of the storm.”
During an animated interview at his home, Broad cracked many jokes and covered several topics related to his life and work. On Valentine’s Day, he will appear on the Steven Colbert Show to “do yoga and get some yucks,” he said. “It will be some funny stuff from the Steve Colbert point of view. Pretzel fun, I call it.”
Broad will also be signing copies of his new book at on Saturday, Feb. 11 from 2-4 p.m.
Larchmont Patch: How do you find time to write articles for the Times and also write meticulously researched books?
William Broad: I go to bed early and get up early (around 4:00 a.m.). I write in the morning then go into work. I’m a morning person so it’s not that hard for me; a fresh pot of coffee helps. You have to do it day after day after day. Then it gets done. Time on the train—it’s writing time. My commuter friends have learned: “Don’t disturb Bill, he’s writing,” as I’m hunched over the computer. I also sacrifice weekends. To pull off two serious jobs like this requires some sacrifices, including family. I usually save a weekend day that is sacred, where I don’t work, but many a Saturday has gone to book writing.
Larchmont Patch: How did you get started with yoga?
Broad: In the early 1970s, my sister helped get me going. It was very influential and it felt good. I became a yoga addict. The days that I didn't do yoga, I felt withdrawal. If I didn't feel good on a particular day, I'd realize, "Oh no, I didn't yoga today, could that be it?" Self discovery seems to make me feel better, in my body and mind, so what’s not to like?
Larchmont Patch: What role does yoga play in your life?
Broad: I’ve learned over the years to use yoga and exercise for stress management. My beat is insane: it’s about death and destruction writ large, with everything from germ warfare to nuclear weapons in the hands of developing countries. It can lead to a lot of tension and apocalyptic heebie-jeebies. What’s the cure? How does one unwind, unplug and feel centered again? Well, yoga and the gym.
Larchmont Patch: You are involved with the local yoga scene, as mentioned in your Acknowledgments.
Broad: My experience in this community is that they do smart yoga. Many of them practice a style of yoga called Kripalu, which tends to be extremely user-sensitive and goes sequentially. It encourages people to pay attention, go at their own rate and listen to their body. Some styles are very competitive and pushy.
Larchmont Patch: Yoga is undergoing a vogue right now. Why is it so popular?
Broad: Because it works. We as a society and as a world are inundated by information and a lot of it is upsetting. The stress levels are going up. This ain’t the bucolic society of early America. The world is turning faster and people are feeling it more. Wild things are happening and there’s change everywhere. When people get very uncomfortable, things often snap. Marriages fall apart and kids go bonkers. People learned yoga works; it relaxes you. It’s an anti-civilization pill that works on so many levels. It’s surrounded by a wonderful mythology, history, spirituality and otherworldliness, but it also can—in a very hard-edged, specific physiological way—bring you back to the center and create its own cocoon of quietude and relaxation. It’s destined to keep growing because things aren’t going to settle down.
Larchmont Patch: You single out several local institutions, including the Larchmont Public Library.
Broad: I took out interlibrary loans through them up the kazoo and I can’t say enough good things about the people there and the Westchester system. It’s unbelievable for people like me. I’d request really obscure things, where there’s only one copy in Timbuktu, perhaps, and they’d go to work on it and presto change-o, there it would be. It’s a one stop shop. I’m not exaggerating, but they have tracked down hundreds of books for me over the years. They’re eager to help, friendly and we joke around and call each other names. “Oh no, here he comes,” they’d say.
Larchmont Patch: Yoga has many attributes, such as increased sexual fulfillment, as the book documents. But as your subtitle suggests, there are drawbacks.
Broad: It's a state of consciousness focused on your body. It helps activate the right brain, unleashing remarkable things, like calm, intuition and creativity. It's very meditative as you do it. Yoga has a true genius that goes back thousands of years. The West conquered outer space, but inner space voyagers have explored our bodies thoroughly for eons. Little blue pills? A little yoga here and there can perk things up. Literally. The Buddhists think the yogi Hindu branch of all this is insane and they're probably right, since there are philandering gurus, guys in their sixties, seventies and even eighties who are nailing anything that moves, though the Tibetan gurus have their own dirty laundry. But yoga can wreck your body if you're not careful. Many people are in denial to a large extent. Yoga has extremes, big time. It can be extremely good and extremely bad. This book I see as a first to help practitioners pick through and figure out how to tailor own routines and emphasize the good work but avoid the bad. You can die and permanently injure the brain. That surprised me.
Larchmont Patch: Even though you cover scientific inquiries into yoga that go back 150 years, many of the studies you refer to in the book are quite recent.
Broad: The number of people doing this ramped up in 2002. I first had the idea around 2005 and started doing research in 2007. By virtue of excellent luck, I came to the project at a time when the science started to cook. The $7 million dollars spent by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) is not a lot of money by federal standards, but the fact that they're doing so much tells you how far yoga has come and it's also quite exciting because if they've come this far with this little money, what would a little more do? You could go mainstream and yoga could be integrated more deeply in society and we could systematically remove the troubles and the downside. On balance, yoga is really great. It’s natural. The orgasm industry spends billions of dollars enhancing sexual pleasure. I'm all for sexual pleasure, but with yoga, you don't have to spend your last dime making it better. The cool thing is that some of the best science is happening right now. Yoga is a beautiful thing. It makes me feel better; it can act as an antidepressant. Big pharma is all about antidepressants. A million people a year commit suicide because they don't see the light of tomorrow. How great is it to have something that doesn't cost an arm and a leg to try lift people's mood and sense of hopeful optimism?
Broad will be signing copies of his book at on Saturday, Feb. 11 from 2-4 p.m. He will also be speaking at on Sunday, March 25 from 4-5:30 p.m.