In a world obsessed with body image with many willing to do anything to lose weight, publications with a large reach need to be careful about the tips they provide. Unfortunately, a recent issue ofYoga Magazine decided to push the boundaries of that notion, drawing the ire of yoga teachers and many other experts on the sensitive topic of eating disorders.
In Yoga Magazine, a reader wrote in to ask about an ancient technique called the “Tiger”, which involves inducing vomiting by tickling the back of the throat with your fingers. The aim of the practice, which was described in a step-by-step fashion by the magazine, is to remove any excess food that has been eaten in order to produce a flatter stomach. Those who perform the technique are then advised to consume one pound of rice and a glass of milk immediately afterwards and avoid a big meal for another three hours.
According to the article, if you practice this technique once a week, you will notice a difference in the shape of your abdomen and hips; your sexual organs and back will feel stronger; and posture and stamina will also improve.
The only warning issued with this technique is that it should not be performed by children or pregnant women.
Critics are saying this is irresponsible advice that advocates eating disorders such as bulimia. A spokesperson for Beat, an eating disorder charity, stated, “It is of course extremely concerning that a leading publication would publish information that nowadays is akin to encouraging an eating disorder. Yoga is a wonderful exercise for healthy bodies and minds and to include it with behaviors used in the most prevalent eating disorders seems irresponsible and dangerous.”
Yoga Magazine insists it was not promoting bulimia; they say they were simply answering a reader’s question regarding this practice. Unfortunately, in its attempt to explain the finer points of this centuries-old yoga purification technique, they failed to provide any historical context and very little caution.
Originally a technique used in Middle Ages India to purify the body for spiritual enlightenment, throwing up food in the West in the 21st Century has no spiritual significance whatsoever. “It seems irresponsible,” said Graham Burns, a yoga teacher and Ph.D. student in Indian philosophy at SOAS at the University of London, a center specializing in African and Asian studies. “These techniques, if they are appropriate at all, should be learned from a teacher, not a magazine.”
“The way the practice is framed [in Yoga Magazine] makes it seem as if it would be good for everyone – whereas in a traditional situation a guru would instruct just one student at a time and advocate practices suitable for each individual,” said Dr. Jim Mallinson, a lecturer of Classical Indian Studies at SOAS.
It might be easy to dismiss the significance of this because bulimics already know the ins and outs of vomiting up their food, but doing so misses the point entirely. The cause for concern is that they can now rationalize their self-harming, thinking that yoga is a safe place that not only practices it, but also promotes it. Yoga already seems to attract eating disordered individuals as contemporary yoga has lost some of its spiritual dimension and has become more focused on external appearance.
Yoga Magazine has not done the yoga industry any favors by highlighting this ancient technique in a time where it is likely to be used in an unhealthy manner rather than for spiritual enlightenment. Yoga, when practiced correctly with emphasis on the breath and inner discovery, is a tool for recovery and self-acceptance and should be used as such.Perhaps Yoga Magazine should stick with ancient principles that don’t exacerbate twisted modern ideals.