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Yoga Body: The Origins of Modern Posture Practice

3.90  ·  Rating details ·  479 ratings  ·  68 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 Singl
Paperback, 262 pages
Published February 1st 2010 by Oxford University Press, USA (first published 2010)
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May 13, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: yoga
"Yoga Body: The Origins of Modern Posture Practice"

I had to add the subtitle, b/c for some reason goodreads didn't. And it's really pretty important, imo. Because this is NOT just another yoga history book that focuses on the Yoga Sutras and the Bhagavad Gita and blahdeblah. This is an incredibly documented history of *modern* yoga practice - the practice you get at Yoga Tree or Yoga Mayu or wherever the heck you practice in whatever city you live. Whatever the lineage you practice! Ashtanga, Vi
Sep 01, 2011 rated it liked it
This book is ok. It has lots of great info but there are some problems. Singleton tries to cram so much research and history into 200 pages that it comes off like a whirlwind tour through a bunch of stuff that most people will not be even slightly familiar with. The book might have done well to be like 500 pages. On the other hand, Singleton's writing veers from captivating and insightful to reminding me of my college research papers, i.e. here's my thesis, here's my evidence, here are my refere ...more
Frank Jude
May 15, 2012 rated it really liked it
Already two years old, though I was aware of the general gist of this amazingly well-researched book, I only just got to read it and have learned so much more about the specifics of the history of asana and how it's come to be practiced as it is in the contemporary 'yoga world.' As Gary Krafstow writes: " work offers a much needed historical perspective that will help correct much of the mythology and group-think that is emerging in the modern asana based 'yoga world.'"

Sadly, I've still not seen
Jul 02, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: health, read-in-2013
Yoga Body is a mixed bag. It is a scholarly book that dives deep into the physical culture of India in the late 19th and early 20th century. It is such a scholarly book in fact, that I can't tell you how many times I fell asleep reading it. I am deeply interested in Singleton's chosen topic, but the writing is so dry that I ended up being slightly bored, and mostly disappointed. Which isn't to say that I disagree with his conclusion, just that it could have been presented in a much more appealin ...more
Nov 05, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2010, sacred-dance
This book was utterly fascinating!! I would only recommend it to serious yoga practitioners because it is very scholarly, complete with a sixteen page bibliography. Please read it with an open mind, as it will definitely shatter your preconceived notions of yoga.
Aug 04, 2011 rated it really liked it
I was extremely excited about this book at first. And it did deliver much of what I wanted from it: a clear-eyed history of yoga focusing on the 20th century. Among the fascinating findings: yoga has <> been part of physical athletic body culture in America (alligned with the 'strenuous life' of Teddy Roosevelt, the muscle-building crazes of the early 20th century, etc). In addition, yoga was popularized in India in the 20th century as a way to find strength and beauty against their British colo ...more
Bernie Gourley
Dec 03, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: yoga
I was excited to stumble across this book because it proposed fresh insights into the history and development of posture-centric yoga. Singleton’s premise is that yoga as it’s practiced in studios around the world today (i.e. practices focused heavily on asana, or postures) has almost nothing to do with historic yogic traditions and is to a large extent European (or Western) fitness practices fed back to the world with a patina of Indian-ness instilled by a few Indian fitness teachers (e.g. T. K ...more
Carol Horton
May 30, 2010 rated it it was amazing
A path-breaking work on the history of modern yoga. Nothing else comes close to providing us with such a detailed examination of the formative roots of what is widely considered to be "yoga" today (i.e., asana practice). While written for an academic audience and perhaps a bit of a stretch for the general reader, anyone who is serious about understanding the development of modern yoga should definitely take the time to grapple with this important book.
Sep 24, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Just read the first couple of chapters. Fascinating study of the rise of the physical side of Yoga (asanas) in what he calls "transnational anglophone yoga". Basically he is saying that in the oldest forms of Yoga, the postures were not that important - the emphasis was on meditation. The current state of Yoga (which is often just a form of gymnsatics) came about (he says) due to the interaction between Yoga and Western physical culture.
Oct 21, 2020 rated it really liked it
Good overview of the history of modern yoga, as we practice it today. I recommend it if you want to know more about the history of yoga and how it is tied to many different historical contexts and texts.

It can be dry at times, so if that isn’t your thing, the Yoga Alliance has some interesting videos on the topic that go over the same material.

Additionally, there really needs to be more of an examination of yoga acknowledging the intersections of British history and and the western worlds capit
Oct 26, 2010 marked it as to-read
slight diversion from normal reading habits, but: stumbled upon this author's article in yoga journal. it seemed like it should be a cover story--but the article is strangely buried within. dunno why exactly but thought its argument should get some passing around... i found the piece oddly shocking... yoga scholar singleton argues that the current popular asana practice of western yoga is not the centuries-old tradition it advertises itself to be but an odd and relatively new conflation of, amon ...more
Oct 06, 2010 rated it it was ok
This book was a little too academic for my level of interest in the topic. The premise was intriguing - that modern yoga ("asana" posture practice) owes its roots as much to western physical culture as it does to any ancient eastern practice. I think I would have been more interested in reading the Malcolm Gladwell version of the material.
Nov 17, 2010 rated it really liked it
Awesome. Uses plenty if pictures and solid research to dismantle some of the doctrine we've been fed about yoga and it's origins, effectively blowing a hole in some of the West's tendencies toward orientalism and appropriation. If you're just flipping through this, the chapter on Mysore (chapter 9) is a hilarious standalone that explains a lot of what yoga is today and why.
Aug 02, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: yoga
I was so looking forward to reading this book - until I started and find it is set in a sans serif typeface! Virtually unreadable. Oxford University Press should know better - I'm horrified to see this book looking like it's the first publication of a back room publisher.
Sep 07, 2010 is currently reading it
Just awesome - takes all the fake preachiness out of the history and evolution of asana and looks at the historical reality of the practice. It's not what you think!
Kumari de Silva
Aug 18, 2017 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: yoga geeks/teachers
Recommended to Kumari by: David Williams
This book was recommended to me by David Williams, who wrote a blurb for the frontispiece of the book. Perhaps I came to it with too high expectations. As David describes he was unable to put it down. . .I found the onset more interesting than the middle. At some point the story of pop yoga has so many branches it sort of gets bogged down. I don't think it's entirely the author's fault. It's hard to write a book both broad enough for a neophyte yoga practitioner to read and find interesting as w ...more
Dec 30, 2017 rated it it was ok
Shelves: minna
Goodness big I mean huge words which I have no idea what they mean, seriously who has time to look up every fourth word and then look it up again a paragraph later because you have forgotten what it means.
To be quite honest I am so confused. I don’t even know what ‘hatha’ or ‘asana’ means and despite this guy banging on and on that hatha is bad (or isn’t??) I just don’t get it. It Really isn’t clear most of the time what point is trying to be made. I thought he was saying there was never a big
Amanda Comi
Jul 18, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Doing YTT and I was wondering how we got from Patanjali to “photos of half dressed women doing handstands under waterfalls” (which I love you if that’s your thing, go get those beach yoga IG photos) This book absolutely answers questions about how yoga was “marketed” as it started to spread within and beyond India - which improves my understanding of modern transnational yoga in present day suburban America.

The writing is academic but not particularly dry or deep. This thesis could easily have
David Campbell
May 31, 2019 rated it really liked it
University of London’s School of African Studies senior researcher Dr. Mark Singleton’s 2010 scholarly analysis of the origins of modern yoga as currently received and practiced in Western society. Yoga as the modern Anglo-American perceives it (i.e. “transnational posture yoga”) enters the Western mind via yogi street contortionist in 19th century British Colonial India, whose connection to 1st century AD Vedic postures was distant at best. As India exerted is political/cultural independence in ...more
Becca Daniels
Apr 15, 2020 rated it liked it
Before reading this I did have this conception of yoga as an activity for people who have attained this kind of perfect image of health—union between the body/mind/soul. I had always experienced yoga as a way to regain awareness of my body when I was too in my head, so it was interesting to read about how the West appropriated yoga in more sinister forms,, to gain some kind of higher level of being that was linked to a nationalist/eugenics oriented state of mind. It was also interesting to read ...more
Nov 06, 2019 rated it it was ok
Mixed feelings. The first half seems poorly fleshed out and barely coherent. I was bored to death, spending weeks procrastinating finishing this book. The second half was enjoyable for the specific details on all the physical culture and harmonial gymnastics and general woo going on at the turn of the century, as well as all the details about Krishnamacharya, Jois, and the whole Mysore crew. That said, the author's theses from those facts were, in my opinion, small-minded. There was a tone of bi ...more
Mar 19, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Although it is an academic book and it is hard for a casual reader to get through, in my opinion it is written much more smoothly and fluidly than most academic works. It is well cited, the author includes caveats when he is making conjectures, and the effort that has gone into researching this book is very impressive. Anyone interested in understanding the origin of modern postural yoga should read this book, as too many individuals mindlessly repeat the claim that yoga (in its current form) is ...more
Jan 19, 2018 rated it liked it
Excellent review of Yoga from early British Colonial influence in India, all the way to Krichnamacharya. I learned a lot, and in some ways the discourse of Yoga as a floating is signifier, is similar to the floating signifier of the body in this society anyways. No moralistic judgments by the author, just good grounded discourse readings.

Worth reading if you're interested in the history of Yoga, and the different schools.
Duncan Reed
May 29, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: spirituality, 2019
Mark Singleton examines just how old and authentic is 'yoga' as we practice it today in the West? A very interesting examinations of the truth behind the deceptions practiced by many famous yoga gurus. Singleton is currently working on the Hatha Yoga Project, and I look forward to reading what him and the team discover through analysis of the historical artefacts.
Sep 07, 2020 rated it really liked it
Finally I finished to read this book xD
Last chapter was the most interesting. So I will rate one star higher than I would have done before.
It was curious to read how the physical part of yoga originated.
The reading was a bit slow for me at the beginning, too many parenthesis here and there, that distracted me 😅 but overall, specially the last chapter, is an interesting book
Jan 04, 2018 rated it liked it
It was ok! I think there was excess detail, and I would've liked more of an analysis. I definitely learned quite a bit, and solidified what I thought I knew, but this author listed so many dozens of names, that it's not useful at some point.
Oct 04, 2018 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
2.5 stars

Filled with fascinating details, this treatise is also a repository for a lot of opinion and conjecture. Another pass through with a strong, organized editor would have served the author (and reader) well.
Mar 01, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This is groundbreaking. Should be read with Elizabeth De Michelis' A history of Modern Yoga.
It does leave out the influence of Freemasonry on Yoga which is important. But this Book will blow your mind.
Renee Prymus
Jun 06, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: yoga
A landmark work in the scholarship of modern yoga. Very academic. Singleton traces how asana (postures) became emphasized in yoga's history. Singleton emphasizes how Modern Postural Yoga both grew out of and diverges from traditional yoga, and yet is still a significant practice in its own right.
Feb 28, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: top-to-read
A technical but illuminating read.
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