Yoga Body: The Origins of Modern Posture Practice

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Oxford University Press, Feb 10, 2010 - Religion - 272 pages
Yoga is so prevalent in the modern world--practiced by pop stars, taught in schools, and offered in yoga centers, health clubs, and even shopping malls--that we take its presence, and its meaning, for granted. But how did the current yoga boom happen? And is it really rooted in ancient Indian practices, as many of its adherents claim? In this groundbreaking book, Mark Singleton calls into question many commonly held beliefs about the nature and origins of postural yoga (asana) and suggests a radically new way of understanding the meaning of yoga as it is practiced by millions of people across the world today. Singleton shows that, contrary to popular belief, there is no evidence in the Indian tradition for the kind of health and fitness-oriented asana practice that dominates the global yoga scene of the twenty-first century. Singleton's surprising--and surely controversial--thesis is that yoga as it is popularly practiced today owes a greater debt to modern Indian nationalism and, even more surprisingly, to the spiritual aspirations of European bodybuilding and early 20th-century women's gymnastic movements of Europe and America, than it does to any ancient Indian yoga tradition. This discovery enables Singleton to explain, as no one has done before, how the most prevalent forms of postural yoga, like Ashtanga, Bikram and "Hatha" yoga, came to be the hugely popular phenomena they are today. Drawing on a wealth of rare documents from archives in India, the UK and the USA, as well as interviews with the few remaining, now very elderly figures in the 1930s Mysore asana revival, Yoga Body turns the conventional wisdom about yoga on its head.

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User Review  - gratefulyoga - LibraryThing

A book full of remarkable revelations about the history of modern yoga. It makes it clear that much of what we consider "ancient tradition" (with regards to the postures, at least) was actually ... Read full review

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The author based his argument majorly on the fact that Sw Vivekananda has not mentioned much about asanas in his lectures and he claims about “Sw. Vivekananda’s asana-free manifestos of yoga” and, wrote a book on it debating the Indian origins.
In The Complete Works (Part 1, Chapter 2), Swami Vivekananda while discussing Raja Yoga states: “The next step is Asana, posture. A series of exercises, physical and mental, is to be gone through every day, until certain higher states are reached. Therefore it is quite necessary that we should find a posture in which we can remain long. That posture which is the easiest for one should be the one chosen”. However he cautions that one should not merely focus on strengthening physical health.
The above quote clearly shows that Sw Vivekananda recommended asanas which has ‘to be gone through every day’ till one can remain in a posture comfortably for long hours so that higher states can be reached. A practitioner will know, for one to remain without moving and comfortably with spine erect even for 15 minutes how many hours of asana practice is needed.
Another important fact that was overlooked is that, all the lectures and writings of Sw Vivekananda were addressed to the public, either Western or Indian. The detailed descriptions of asanas will not become the subject matter in them since his focus was on practical Vedanta and not on practical Yoga. Details about asanas and how they have to be practiced will be shared in personal instructions to his disciples as my own Guru Yogacharya Raparthi Rama Rao (1921-2014) did. In none of his public lectures were details of asanas mentioned but he used to focus on Vedanta and just like Swamiji, he used to caution several times that asanas and pranayama have to be done for the purpose for which they are meant and one should not overemphasize on them. He made us all practice asanas along with other limbs of yoga and used to discuss the details in his personal instructions or group classes.
The book by itself is written in an academic scholarly manner which is a good read.
Fellow Indians! Arise, Awake and Stop not till we interpret our culture and traditions in their true light!
-- Suneetha Kandi


1 A Brief Overview of Yoga in the Indian Tradition
2 Fakirs Yogins Europeans
3 Popular Portrayals of the Yogin
4 India and the International Physical Culture Movement
Degeneracy and Experimentation
Strength and Vigor
Harmonial Gymnastics and Esoteric Dance
Visual Reproduction and the 256sana Revival
9 T Krishnamacharya and the Mysore 256sana Revival

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About the author (2010)

Mark Singleton is a Senior Research Fellow in the Department of the Languages and Cultures of South Asia, SOAS, University of London. He is the editor, with Jean Byrne, of Yoga in the Modern World: Contemporary Perspectives. He lives in London.

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