In the yoga world, we have a tendency to prefer and promote a preference for all things natural. Herbal remedies. Clean eating. ‘Natural’ deodorants and other beauty products. Shopping at the health food shop. Breathing to solve all your health problems. Just go to your nearest yoga studio that sells stuff and looks at what is for sale.
I say ‘we’ because I am no different. I switched to ‘natural deodorant’. I buy beauty products from the health food shop. I am a trained scientist who now works with pharmaceutical companies, yet when the doctor asked me if I wanted medication for my anxiety, I opted for herbal equivalent instead. ‘Natural is better’.
Appeal to nature fallacy
This is what is known as the ‘appeal to nature fallacy‘. Catch yourself thinking this next time you go to buy beauty products and gravitate to those that advertise themselves as 100% natural.
Natural is cue for safe. Unnatural is harmful. Or at least, it may be harmful. So I better stick to natural. That’s our thinking anyway, even though it’s blatantly not true.
- Natural is not always better. Sometimes both options are just as bad. One hilarious example from the article I cite below is this: people tend to think of ‘natural-branded’ cigarettes as better than regular ones. Clearly, cigarettes are cigarettes. They are all bad for you.
- Natural is not always safe. Mould is natural, but I don’t want to eat it and get sick. Cyanide is natural, but it can kill you.
- What does natural even mean anyway? The term has been exploited to death for marketing purposes, and in many instances the claims are questionable at best.
Another dark side
So there’s obviously the issue of being fooled and lied to by marketeers. But there is a very recent and raw example where this has impacted public health too.
I came across this article by Dan Ariely and colleagues – Dan Ariely is one of the most famous behavioural scientists in the world, and I would highly recommend his book and/or his TED talks.
Essentially, the article says that this preference for natural has been partly to blame for the low uptake of COVID-19 vaccination. At the risk of repeating the fallacy here, it goes something like this: Vaccines are unnatural. My immune system is natural and better at fighting this virus (and other viruses that came before it).
This thinking is very common in the yoga world. I tried to stay away from all the arguments on the Yoga Teachers Facebook group (mainly for my own sanity, selfish, I know), but the idea of natural immunity being stronger than the unnatural vaccine came up A LOT. And the people who believed it likely perpetuated their ideas to everyone else they interacted with, including their students.
So, are we to blame?
Undoubtedly, there are many factors that have contributed to our tendency to be drawn to ‘natural’, and culture/society is definitely going to be part of that. This is a really interesting article on the topic which argues that the appeal to nature fallacy is a modern affliction (and that, worryingly, natural has now come to include supernatural things too).
This made me wonder: if in the yoga world, there is the general tendency to advocate for ‘natural’, as an industry, are we partly to blame for perpetuating this myth?
If I write on this blog about the benefits of yoga and breathing for our health, am I to blame too? Am I part of the reason why some people choose pranayama over medication, or yoga for a strong immune system over vaccination?
I honestly hope not…
What do you think? What is the role of the yoga (and wellness) industry in perpetuating this myth?