Yoga Body: The Origins of Modern Posture Practice

Front Cover
Oxford University Press, Feb 10, 2010 - Religion - 272 pages
2 Reviews
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.

What people are saying - Write a review

LibraryThing Review

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

User Review - Flag as inappropriate

This is an academic piece of work, While the larger thesis is correct, that modern posture Yoga mostly practised in the west is far removed from classical Yoga, this is already well known in the yoga world. To make his thesis more interesting Singleton goes further but in doing so makes a number of claims that are inaccurate. Contrary to Singleton's claims, there are a number of documents and reports demonstrating that Asana's were a central place in classical Yoga and a Yogi's practice dating back at least to the 13th century. It is rather the sequencing and flow of Asana that has been systematised in modern times (largely by Krishnamacharya in the 1900s) . Evidence suggests that Yoga Asana (as one of the Patanjali's eight limbs of Yoga) has developed organically over the last 5,000 years from the original seated postures described by Patanjali, rather than Singleton's thesis that Asana's are largely inspired by European and American bodybuilding gymnastics. Singleton goes to far in this central claim and by doing so attempts to take a great Indian practice and artform away from its true source of origin.
This short 'Response' by Dr James Mallinson highlights some of Singleton's mistakes.


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

Other editions - View all

Common terms and phrases

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.

Bibliographic information