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Yoga Body: The Origins of Modern Posture Practice

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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.

272 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 2010

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Mark Singleton

13 books12 followers

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 84 reviews
Profile Image for Sam.
15 reviews
September 20, 2011
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 references, here's my summary. And since there is so much to get through, his points end up being only barely made, before he's off on some other subject. Only in a few places does he really spend enough time with something, notably at the beginning and the end. A great overview of a seminal period of yoga history, but it could have been more polished and expanded and juiced up with some more personality, humor, wit, confidence, sass, anything. Also there are a lot of typos lol.
Profile Image for Frank Jude.
Author 3 books39 followers
May 15, 2012
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 this information getting through to most practitioners OR teachers, AND, what's more, even those who are familiar with this book often don't understand it's deeper significance. And of course, there are the 'true believing' deniers, who simply cannot abide with the fact that their precious practice isn't truly rooted in antiquity!

So, if you are a teacher of yoga, it's my opinion that you must read this book. And if you are a practitioner, I think it would be best for your practice to read this book.
Profile Image for Geoff.
59 reviews7 followers
July 29, 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 appealing way.

Starting with the introduction, the reader is inundated by a flood of names and dates that continues on, all the way through to the end of the book. This would not be so bad if the author had included at least one timeline, or a genealogy in the book. Sadly, neither is included as there is not a single graphic, diagram or map relating people to places and/or times to be found. As they say, a picture is worth a thousand words, and I feel that the addition of just a single timeline could have enhanced this book immensely.

However, speaking of pictures, some of the photos that are included, are real gems. I considered the photos to be the real highlight of the book. Just when you are getting tired of Singleton's prose, along will come an early 20th century, or late 19th century photo of someone performing an asana that will be immediately recognizable by anyone who has taken a yoga class in the last thirty years. Consider these photos your rewards for being able to get through that much of the book.

Ultimately, I feel that most readers would find what they are looking for from the book if they just skipped all of the beginning chapters and went straight to the final chapter of the book, chapter nine. In the final chapter, readers will likely be familiar with the names of the people and be more comfortable in reading just the authors conclusion. You can also get a lot more from just reading the reviews on the back cover than from some of the chapters on the inside. If you are still looking for more after reading the back cover, and the final chapter, perhaps try reading the book's chapters in reverse order.
Profile Image for Erica.
Author 4 books52 followers
September 1, 2011
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 colonizers. Yoga was about nationalism! This was a real revelation, one which actually makes yoga all the more fascinating to me.

I have two critiques of the book: there was very little about the spiritual elements of yoga in the 20th century. I wanted to know the roots of these as well, and the author was very, very focused only on physical yoga--asana. Second, I'm a professional historian, and this was hard slogging for me at points because of the dry and complex writing. The cover of the book sells it as a mass-market yoga book, but don't be fooled--it's real history. I love real history, but this could have been made more palatable before the press.
Profile Image for Bernie Gourley.
Author 1 book80 followers
July 25, 2015
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. Krishnamacharya and students.) This is a bold and stunning hypothesis. The problem is that Singleton leaves plenty of room to doubt his thesis. I’m not saying that I’m certain Singleton is wrong, but after reading the book I’m no more inclined to believe his hypothesis than when I first read the book blurb.

The book consists of nine chapters:
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
5.) Modern Indian Physical Culture: Degeneracy and Experimentation
6.) Yoga as Physical Culture I: Strength and Vigor
7.) Yoga as Physical Culture II: Harmonial Gymnastics and Esoteric Dance
8.) The Medium and the Message: Visual Reproduction and the Asana Revival
9.) T. Krishnamacharya and the Mysore Asana Revival

One can see the flow of the book in this chapter listing. It begins by describing the ancient yogic traditions (e.g. Jnana yoga, Bhakti yoga, and Karma yoga.) Singleton then goes on to put immense weight on very few voices that were speaking globally about yoga in the late 19th century—largely European but notably including Swami Vivekananda. (This, by the way, is where I noticed the most glaring weaknesses of the book. There seems to be an assumption that what the most vocal people were saying during this time was the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.) One will note that the late 19th century is an arbitrary point to make the critical juncture for a study of yoga—this era’s sole importance seems to be in that that’s when Europeans started entering the scene (and documenting it in English and Western languages to a large extent.) I understand that there may have been a dearth of information previously; however, I’m also skeptical of equating the sum of truth with the sum of what is documented.

The book then shifts into the early 20th century when Singleton proposes the proto-postural yoga is beginning to coalesce with both Western and indigenous Indian influences. Singleton writes extensively about this period, and presents what he believes is the path by which postural practice evolved over a short time into modern yoga as we know it. The book ends in the mid-20th century with an extensive discussion of T. Krishnamacharya and his pack of brilliant students (i.e. B.K.S. Iyengar, Pattabhi Jois, T.V.K. Desikachar, and Indira Devi) who are responsible for a lot of how yoga is practiced today (for virtually all of modern yoga by Singleton’s reckoning.)

It should be noted that this book is put out by an academic press, Oxford University Press, and there’s all the front and post matter that one would expect of a scholarly press publication. This includes an introduction, notes, and a bibliography.

So, you might be wondering how I could have so much doubt about the veracity of the book’s central claim—a book written by a Cambridge educated scholar and published by Oxford University Press. It’s, after all, chocked full of facts that are designed to bolster Singleton’s argument. I’m certainly not suggesting that Singleton lied or presented false facts (however, I have--and will further--argue that he frames facts throughout the book to diminish those statements and facts that run counter to his argument while wholeheartedly accepting statements that validate his argument—even when the people whose statements he leaves unchallenged would seem to have their own agendas. I don’t know, perhaps T. Krishnamacharya was—as Singleton intimates though never explicitly accuses—lying when he claimed to have received his sequence and approach from a scripture he was taught by a Himalayan master. However, interestingly, he would be lying to minimize his role in the development of yoga rather than to increase his fame. This stands in contrast with the European authors who Singleton readily accepts who were seeking to build their bona fides as experts in the esoteric systems of India and the Himalaya, who arguably had a lot to gain from being seen as having a full understanding of these systems.)

The best way to understand the root of my skepticism is to tell a make-believe story. Imagine a race of aliens came down to Earth. For whatever reason, they want to understand (presumably among many other things) the Roman Catholic Church. One astute alien scholar notes that, after having reviewed not only the entire Bible but a vast canon of theologian discourse, there is scant mention of sitting or kneeling. However, when cameras came around, there came to be clear evidence of pews and kneelers in the church. The aliens conclude that Catholics had always stood during worship, but with the advent of the camera they began to sit and kneel. The aliens, having big and bulbous butts, conclude that the Catholics have become concerned that their own big, bulbous butts will be captured for posterity (pun intended) by the cameras and have, thus, opted to adopt postures that would more adequately provide cover. In the present day, sitting and kneeling are the bulk of what Catholics do with their bodies when [overtly] practicing their religion, and so it must be those postures--rather than abstract notions like achieving “grace” are now the most critical part of the practice. (Besides, the earliest photos of kneelers came from Protestant churches, so perhaps Anglicans taught Catholics how to kneel.)

If you haven’t figured it out, in my little scenario, the late 19th century Europeans who were writing the English language tracts that formed the heart of Singleton’s research material are the aliens with big, bulbous butts. I would propose that the Europeans aren’t viewing yoga completely objectively but through the lens of their own experience and desires. Furthermore, they are also only giving weight to what they see and hear (which may or may not be a full picture.) I would further argue that just like Catholics don’t devote much text to discussing sitting and kneeling in the documents of the Vatican library doesn’t mean there isn’t a long history of those practices. Postural practice is:

a.) not the critical end result that everyone is concerned with even if it takes up the bulk of one’s time in [overt] practice. It’s certainly true that there are a vast number of yoga practitioners whose only interest is in the fitness aspect of the practice. However, there are also many who spend most of their yoga reading time learning from Vedas and reading yogic philosophy even though the bulk of their practice time is asana.
b.) extremely difficult to convey via text but readily conveyed through demonstration and hands-on teaching. If you were a Catholic and wanted to teach someone kneeling, would you write them a three paragraph text description of the process, or would you just demonstrate how to kneel and correct any glaring (albeit unlikely) deficiencies in form.

At no point does Singleton get into the postural details of individual asana. He mentions another scholar that supposedly has done some of that work, but Singleton feels it’s not critical. However, it’s very hard to prove what he’s trying to prove without getting into that level of detail. Yes, there will be similarities between various systems of stretching because of the nature of the body. For example, European stretching systems had a forward bend that looks reminiscent of paschimottanasana (the body folds that way and stretching the hamstrings is one of the most important functions in any stretching regimen), and it shouldn’t be surprising or revealing if the first photograph of this posture was in a European gym (the fact that Scandinavians had cameras before Himalayan yogis isn’t a sound basis to conclude that Himalayan yogi’s learned to bend forward from Scandinavians.) A there are a lot of postures that two systems might reasonably independently discover, but one also can’t rule out that the Indian yogi taught the Europeans and not the other way around. (I know it’s hard to comprehend in the era of FaceBook, but failure to be documented does not equal failure to be true. The farther one goes into the past, the less of what happened is going to be documented, and some cultures are going to be more likely to document events than others. e.g. Would our aliens be right or wrong if they concluded that 85% of humans are females between the age of 12 and 24 years old because 85% of the selfies posted on the internet are among that group. )

Singleton’s book does have some graphics. They didn’t always help his case, however. I was struck by how few of the fine details of the European postures correspond to practice as we know them, while some of the very old paintings look almost exactly like present day asana. (If one accepts that the fact that they didn’t have the greatest grasp of capturing perspective back then isn’t indicative of how flat the postures and people were back then.) I’ll readily admit that I wouldn’t definitively count Singleton wrong on my subjective observation of the pictures, but it does leave me with a lot of room for doubt.

I suppose the next question is why I didn’t completely pan the book. Three stars isn’t a tragic rating. I thought the book contained a lot of good information and food for thought (even if it fell far short of proving its central hypothesis.) I particularly enjoyed the chapter on T. Krishnamacharya and his now-famous student body. I’ll also say that part of why I came away from the book with such a muddled perception of this history is that Singleton doesn’t hide facts that are damning to his case, but rather presents them and then tries to marginalize them. A prime example would be the Hatha Yoga Pridipika (HYP), a 15th century text that mentions a number of the asana considered classic yoga postures today (some of which form the core of a Hata practice)—though admittedly HYP emphasizes the importance of only four seated postures.

I can’t say that Singleton didn’t help give me pause to wonder about the truth of the received understanding of yoga’s evolution. I’ve practiced yoga in places as varied as India, the U.S., Thailand, and Hungary, and I found it shocking how similar the practice is around the world. This bodes well for the argument that yoga as it’s practiced today has coalesced recently. By way of contrast, there are many myths about how one martial art is the ancestor of another but the two systems often look nothing alike. (e.g. I’ve studied Kalaripayattu, which many believe was the ancestor art taken to China by Bodhidharma through Southeast Asia, but which today looks nothing like Kung fu or Muay Thai. Furthermore, Kung fu styles usually look quite unlike the Korean and Japanese martial arts that they are said to have inspired.) If the latter among these martial arts did come from the earlier, they evolved apart quickly. While the evolution into different martial art forms is quite possible, it raises the question of why yoga should be so similar internationally. A skilled yoga teacher would likely give a given student the same alignment adjustments for, say, Warrior I, regardless of whether the teacher was in Prague, Manila, Tokyo, or San Diego.

I can’t say that I’d endorse Singleton’s argument. It would take much more precise information for me to buy it (and it’s likely that said detailed historical information doesn’t exist.) However, if you’re interested in the history of yoga, you might want to check out this book. Your conclusions may differ from mine, but even if they don’t I suspect you’ll learn a thing or two of interest. Yoga Body was reasonably priced as a Kindle book when I bought it.
Profile Image for Antiloquax.
70 reviews2 followers
October 24, 2011
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.
Profile Image for Amber.
55 reviews8 followers
December 4, 2010
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.
Profile Image for Carol Horton.
Author 7 books14 followers
February 11, 2013
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.
Profile Image for Eugene.
Author 16 books239 followers
Want to read
October 26, 2010
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, among other things, scandanavian health exercises and martial arts prescribed by colonial india's fight for independence.

from the publisher's website: "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."


relatedly this two part interview with singleton speaks about various losses of translation -- losses both of the scriptural kind (sutras) and in terms of physical "posture practice." here's part two of that interview (which deals with the 'origins of modern posture practice,' the subtitle of YOGA BODY): http://themagazineofyoga.com/blog/201...

Profile Image for Ekmef.
556 reviews
February 6, 2021
This is a great book that underscores the importance of being aware of the origins of our beliefs and practices. It is cool to discover where the 'find what feels good' ideology comes from (not from the East!).
However, it's very academic (it implies you are aware of important developments in the field of religious studies research) and I'm kind of missing the 'discussion and implications' section. This reads like an unfinished PhD thesis.
Profile Image for Laura.
29 reviews1 follower
September 7, 2020
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
Profile Image for Erin.
152 reviews
October 26, 2020
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 capitalization (ie making money) from the practices known as modern yoga (which is different than something that people who knew yoga before its reformation to modern postural practice about 100 yrs ago). This book goes over some of that because there are MANY different historical contexts that make up our modern practice.
Profile Image for Vidar Alne.
20 reviews
September 27, 2020
Som tittelen sier forsøker denne boka å finne opphavet til dagens positurpraksis i yoga. De fleste av oss er nok av den oppfatningen at den yogaen det undervises i på diverse helsestudioer over det ganske land, kan spore sitt opphav tilbake til India. Det er ikke en urimelig antakelse. Navnet yoga kommer tross alt fra sanskrit (yoga betyr anspennelse/forbindelse) og de mest kjente yogalærerne og systemene er indiske.

Men det går ikke en direkte linje fra moderne treningsyoga tilbake til tradisjonell indisk (hatha)yoga. Ifølge Singleton finnes det ikke kilder som tilsier at asana (positur) var en viktig del av tradisjonell yoga-praksis – det eneste unntaket er forskjellige former for sittende meditasjonsposisjoner.

Positurpraksisen som dominerer i dagens treningsyoga har ingen parallell i førmoderne tid, men oppstod da nyreligiøse former for fysisk kultur (med opphav i Europa) påvirket og ble fortolket av nasjonalistiske hinduer.
Den moderne yogaen er altså hovedsakelig en videreutvikling av gymnastikksystem, sport og kroppsbygning som ble utviklet sent på 1800-tallet og tidlig på 1900-tallet.

Yoga Body er ikke en lettlest bok, men er til gjengjeld grundig og metodisk. Boka er delt inn i ni kapitler. I det første kapittelet gir Singleton en oversikt over yoga i indisk tradisjon.

I det andre kapittelet ser Singleton nærmere på hvordan utøverne av hatha-yoga ble vurdert av andre indere og europeere. Disse utøverne ble kalt yogin. Utenforstående indere og europeere assosierte dem ofte med svart magi, pervers seksualitet og urenhet.
For 1800-tallets indiske reformatorer og filosofer ble det på den ene siden viktig å assosiere yoga med moderne vitenskap, og samtidig distansere yoga fra praksiser innen hatha-yoga.

Kapittel tre tar for seg fremstillingen av yogin i populærkulturen. I dette kapittelet hører vi blant annet om Bava Lachman Das. I 1897 demonstrerte han 48 positurer for et engelsk publikum i London – kanskje den første fotograferte yogin-demonstrasjon i Europa.

I kapittel fire flyttes fokus over til andre typer kroppsøvingssystemer som var på moten på slutten av 1800-tallet. Europas mest innflytelsesrike kroppsøvingssystemet ble utviklet i Sverige av Pehr Henrik Ling (1776-1839). Ling hadde et terapeutisk mål med systemet sitt. Gjennom bevegelse ønsket han å overvinne sykdom. For å drive med Ling-gymnastikk trengte man ikke apparater av noe slag – noe som bidro til å systemets suksess. Den britiske hær og marine begynte å benytte seg av Ling-gymnastikk. Ling-gymnastikk ble blant annet tatt i bruk i opplæringen av soldater i India. I India så mange likhetstrekk mellom asaner og Ling-gymnastikk. Forfatteren S. Muzumdar forklarte likheten med at yoga hadde spredt seg fra India og til Vesten: «Swedish exercises are not original, but derive from ancient therapeutic techniques of Indian Yoga».

Kapittel fem fokuserer på moderne indisk fysisk kultur. Den britiske kolonimakten fremstilte gjerne den indiske mann som feminin og underlegen versus den maskuline britiske mann.
Dette narrativet ble utfordret av en rekke indere. I enkelte miljø ble yoga-praksis brukt som alibi for å drive med militærtrening. Slik ble også forst��elsen av hva yoga var endret. Kraftkarer som K. Ramamurthy, som holdt styrkedemonstrasjoner i Europa og India, hevdet at det indiske systemet for å kroppskultur var det overlegent beste. Han hevdet at disipliner som vektløfting, hockey, cricket, tennis, billiard og boksing alle hadde sitt opphav i India. Ramamurthys (og andre) innsats var med på å endre oppfatningen av fysisk aktivitet hos eliten. Tradisjonelt sett hadde nemlig fysisk trening blitt regnet for å være en aktivitet for udannede mennesker.

I kapittel seks viser Singleton hvordan gymnastikk og fysisk kultur ble etablert som en del av hatha yoga på 1920-tallet. Han trekker blant annet frem kroppsbyggeren K.V. Iyer fra Bangalore. Iyer koblet bevisst kroppsbygging og yoga sammen. Hans mål var å frembringe den ideelt utviklede mann. En symmetrisk og sterk man som takket være hatha-yoga også hadde immunitet mot sykdommer.
Som flere andre indiske kroppsbyggere var Iyer opptatt av eugenikk – en viktig motiverende faktor for å drive med fysisk fostring var å styrke det indiske folk.

Kapittel sju er et av et de mest fascinerende i boka. I dette kapittelet tar Singleton for seg en treningsform han kaller harmonisk gymnastikk. Denne treningsformen stammer fra sent på 1800-tallet. Den franske læreren i skuespill og synging, Francois Delsarte (1811-71), utviklet en teori for hvordan estetiske prinsipper kunne anvendes i dramalæring. Hans øvelser og regler for å koordinere stemme og pust med fysiske gester, ble populære langt utover teaterfolkenes rekker. Den fremste eksponenten for Delsartisme i USA var Genevieve Stebbins (1857-1915). I hennes bok fra 1892, Dynamic Breathing and Harmonic Gymnastics: A Complete System of Psychical, Aesthetic and Physical Culture, presenterer hun et treningssystem bestående av avslapningsøvelser, positurer, pusteøvelser og «exercises for freedom of joints and spine». Gymnastikkøvelsene er i stor grad hentet fra Lings system, dvs. utfall og vektdistribusjonsøvelser, men en betydelig del består også av strekkeøvelser med fokus på å puste dypt.
Singletons poeng er at Stebbins’ (og andre kvinners) system, som baserte seg på bruk av pust og utstrekning, bante vei for dagens oppfatning av yoga som et strekke- og avslapningssystem.

Åndelighet spilte også en rolle innen harmonisk gymnastikk. Genevieve Stebbins assosierte f.eks. sitt eget system med oldtidens rytmisk gymnastikk som hun mente hadde blitt utført ved templer og helligdommer hvor magnetisk kraft, personlig ynde og intellektuell storhet ble dyrket.
På slutten av kapittelet fremhever Singleton to forskjellige kroppstradisjoner, som har utgjort grunnlaget for dagens positur-yoga: en muskuløs, nasjonalistisk og krigersk tradisjon eksemplifisert av kroppsbyggere som Iyer og en harmonisk «strekk-og-pust-dyp-tradisjon» eksemplifisert av Stebbins.
"My intention in this chapter has been to demonstrate that there were firmly established exercise traditions in the West that included forms and modes of practice virtually indistinguishable from certain variants of «hatha yoga» now popularly taught in America and Europe. As a result, the sheer number of positions and movements that could be thenceforth classified as asana swelled considerably and continues to do so. For example, both Bühnemann (2007a) and Sjoman (1996) point out the absence of standing postures in premodern asana descriptions. The overlap of standing asanas and modern gymnastics is extensive enough to suggest that virtually all of them are late additions to the yoga canon through postural yoga’s dialogical relationship with modern physical culture."

Kapittel 8 er viet til teknologi. Uten tilgang på billige trykkerier og fotoapparater, er vanskelig å forestille seg at positur-yoga hadde fått den spredningen den fikk. I motsetning til «tekst-yoga» var positur-yoga helt avhengig av en visuell presentasjon.
Det fantes riktignok illustrerte manuskripter av hatha-yoga-manualer. Singleton trekker frem en utgave av Joga Pradīpikāfra 1830 (84 asanaer er illustrert i verket)– mest sannsynlig laget i Punjab. Dette manuskriptet er dog unikt og skiller seg fra de naturalistiske avbildningene av asanaer i moderne bøker. På de todimensjonale illustrasjonene i 1830-manuskriptet fremheves hatha-yogisk fysiologi (nadi, chakra og granthi er tegnet på bildene). I senere yoga-manualer er dette forsvunnet. Isteden er det den anatomisk korrekte kroppen som avbildes. Den glinsende og trente yoga-modellen i disse bøkene forkynner «åndelige muligheter» til sin leser. Yoga er ikke lengre en skjult praksis for en liten gruppe privilegerte elite, men tidstypisk moderne og demokratisk.

Det avsluttende og lengste kapittelet har tittelen "T. Krishnamacharya and the Mysore Asana Revival". Tirumalai Krishnamacharya (1888-1989) blir ofte kalt den moderne yogaens far. I 1933 åpnet han et treningsstudio (yogasala) i palasset i Mysore. I tilknytning til palasset ble det undervist i gymnastikk, militær drill og vestlig sport for vaktmannskapet. Krishnamacharya var lærer for elevene ved den lokale skolen. I følge palassarkivet ble hans timer regnet som fysisk fostring og i skolerapportene plassert sammen med ikke-yogatrening. I rapporten for skoleåret 1934-35 står det f.eks. «thirty-two boys attended the Yogasana Classes and a large number of boys attended the Suryanamaskar Classes»

Singleton gjør et poeng ut av suryanamaskar (solhilsen) ikke blir regnet som en del yoga-praksis. Alt tyder på at Krishnamacharya integrerte solhilsen i sin yoga-praksis i løpet av denne tiden. Noen meter unna hans yogasala, ble det nemlig undervist i kroppsbygning og solhilsen var en av kroppsbygningsøvelsene.

Singleton hevder at systemet Krishnamacharya skapte var en syntese av flere forskjellige treningssystem som ikke hadde tilknytning til datidens yoga-praksis.
Ashtanga-yoga er i dag en av verdens mest populære yoga-systemer. I følge systemets offisielle historie skal Krishnamacharya ha lært systemet av en himalayisk guru basert på en 5000 år gammel tekst kalt Yoga Kurunta. Dessverre skal denne teksten ha blitt spist opp av maur og det ble ikke tatt kopier av den. Det gjør det vanskelig å bekrefte sannhetsgestalten i Krishnamacharyas påstand. Men Singleton synes det er besynderlig at ingen av Krishnamacharyas studenter transkriberte teksten og at Krishnamacharya selv ikke nevner den i sine bøker fra 30- og 40-tallet.

At Krishnamacharya eksperimenterte og fant opp nye yoga-stillinger bekreftes av hans tidligere elever. En av dem, T. R. S. Sharma, sier. «He would make up variations of the postures when he saw that some of his students could do them easily»
Krishnamacharya systematiserte etter hvert sitt system, men på 30-tallet ser det ut til å være innovasjon og eksperimentering som gjaldt.

Maharajaen av Mysore ønsket å fremme yoga som et innfødt treningssystem. En måte å popularisere yoga på var gjennom demonstrasjoner. Singleton mener at de sømløst «flytende» sekvensene vi ser i dagen ashtanga-yoga i stor grad kan spores tilbake til demonstrasjoner holdt ved hoffet. Formålet med disse opptredenene var å lokke folk tilbake til yoga.
Maharajaen sendte Krishnamacharya og hans elever på turné i det sørlige India på det som – rett ut – ble kalt propagandaarbeid. Beskrivelsen av øvelsene som ble demonstrert er påfallende lik dagens ashtanga-system. Singleton anser det som mulig at ashtanga-sekvensen opprinnelig ble laget som en øvelse for opptredener:

“The need for a coordinated, high-speed showcase might also explain why, in Jois’s system (en av Krishnamacharyas elever), postures are usually held only for five (but up to a maximum of eight) audible «ujjayi» breaths: this would not only allow the models to perfectly synchronize their entry and exit from a pose but would also provide enough time for Krishnamacharya to explain the significance of a posture without taxing the attention of the audience. Significantly, Krishnamacharya’s Yoga Makaranda of 1935 advocates long timings for most poses, generally from three to fifteen minutes, suggesting that the relatively rapid-fire asana sequences inherited and developed by Pattabhi jois represent a very particularized and specific approach within the broader scheme of Krishnamacharya’s teaching, even at this time»

Flere av de som studerte under Krishnamacharyas på 30-tallet forteller at det åndelige og filosofiske aspektet av yoga knapt dukket opp i undervisningen. For å forstå opphavet til Krishnamacharyas system trekker Singleton inn konteksten han opererte i. På begynnelsen av 1900-tallet anbefalte Utdanningsdepartementet i Mysore at skolebarn burde få opplæring i gymnastikk, indisk eller utenlandsk. Maharajaen hadde selv fått opplæring i gymnastikk som barn. Treningsshallen Krishnamacharya ble satt til å undervise i, skal ha hatt turnapparater og tauer hengende ned fra taket. Det er blitt spekulert i om Krishnamacharya kan ha hentet inspirasjon fra gymnastikkbøker han fant i hallen da han utformet sitt eget system.
Singleton mener at hans system kan anses for å være «a synthetic revival of indigenous exercise (comprising yogasana alongside other types) within the context of Westernized curricular physical education in late colonial India».

Yoga ble fremhevet som et alternativ til europeiske treningssystemer, men det betød ikke at inderne forkastet alt som kom fra utlandet. På 1920-tallet ble et system kalt primitive gymnastik – utviklet av dansken Niels Bukh – populært i den britiske hæren og i India. Singleton mener det er et påfallende sammenfall mellom Bukhs system og systemet Krishnamacharya underviste i. I 1925 kom Bukhs Primary Gymnastics ut på engelsk. Boka tilbyr et kurs med fokus på strekke- og styrkeøvelser. Som i ashtanga er øvelsene delt i seks serier. Øvelsene er aerobiske og skal utføres i et høyt tempo, slik at det utvikles varme i kroppen. Alle bevegelsene akkompagneres av dyp pusting – igjen som i ashtanga. Minst 28 av øvelsene i Bukhs bok er slående like eller identiske med yogaøvelsene i ashtanga-systemet utviklet av Krishnamacharyas elev. Måten Bukh kobler sammen de forskjellige stillingene i sitt system minner også om hopp-overgangene i ashtanga. Som ashtanga ble telling brukt for å markere overgangen fra en positur til en annen i Bukhs system. Singletons poeng er ikke å si at Krishnamacharya lånte direkte fra Bukh, men å vise hvor tidstypisk Krishnamacharyas system var.

Å pårope seg eldre autoritet og underdrive egen innovasjon slik Krishnamacharya gjorde, var nokså standard innen sanskrit-tradisjon i følge Singleton:

“The attribution of all his learning to the grace of his guru and to the mysteriously vanished Yoga Kurunta can be understood as a Standard convention in in a living (Sanskritic) tradition where conservation and innovation are tandem imperatives”

Man kan først forstå moderne positur-yoga ved å studere den fysiske treningskulturen som oppstod på slutten av 1800-tallet og begynnelsen av 1900-tallet. Det er nettopp det Singleton har gjort. Og han gjort det på en overbevisende måte med beroligende fokus på kildene og den historiske konteksten. Boka er en formidabel prestasjon som gir leseren ny innsikt og kunnskap om emnet. Med et slikt sluttresultat etter endt lesning, kan man tilgi Singleton hans tunge og vanskelig språk.
Profile Image for Erin.
16 reviews
February 13, 2021
Not what I was expecting but very good. The key phrase is a “history of MODERN yoga”. Also, it is a very academic book that assumes you have prior knowledge of many of the gurus and lineages of yoga. I myself am a yoga instructor and I found myself constantly looking up several of the people mentioned in this book. So if you are looking for a history of the origins of yoga or to learn about Pantanjali’s sutras, this is probably not the book for you.
However, I did find the information in it very good and interesting. I think in the yogic world today there is (or can be) a lot of shaming around cultural appropriation and a lot of people claiming to practice what is “true yoga” while decrying all other forms of yoga as false. What the author shows us here is that yoga, from its beginning has always been a mixture of both ancient traditions and the innovations of the practitioner. Therefore yoga has often taken on the characteristics of the time and place it is being practiced in, in every age. What we consider yoga today is actually an amalgamation of many different cultures and traditions, and there is no one “true yoga”.
While I imagine that there will some who don’t like hearing this, for me as a teacher, it takes a lot of the pressure off.

I gave this book a 4 star rating because the information was excellent, but it is at times, a slog to get through. I definitely recommend it for other yoga teachers.
Profile Image for Mitchan.
518 reviews
December 30, 2017
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 emphasis on postures in original yoga whereas now that is all modern yoga seems to be about. The postural aspect was seen as contortionism and not for physical benefit? However all he seems to go on about is the the postural element and how prevelant it was.

Now I enjoyed the short section there was about side show yogis but what I have gleaned thus far is
Yogis were military doing their thing back in the day in India then they got pushed out and they went a bit guerilla and to make money had to start performaning postures to beg for money. Then all yogis became associated with fakirs who were dirty and doing tricks for money.

Getting completely lots in some parts we have now reached how postural yoga became fashionable again due to gymnastic influence and the beginnings of fitness culture.

So in short I am still not entirely sure what the point of this books is...
4 reviews
October 11, 2010
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.
Profile Image for Morgan.
186 reviews14 followers
November 26, 2010
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.
Profile Image for Colleen.
218 reviews6 followers
February 21, 2018
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.
Profile Image for Amy.
13 reviews
September 7, 2010
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!
Profile Image for Helgi Hrafn Gudmundsson.
2 reviews32 followers
August 29, 2016
Jóga er ein vinsælasta gerð líkamsræktar í nútímanum. Milljónir manna um allan heim stunda óteljandi líkamsstellingar sem hressa og liðka bæði líkama og sál. En fyrirbærið jóga – eins og vestrænt fólk þekkir það – á sér furðulega sögu sem er mun nær okkur í tíma en við áttum okkur á. Og mun vestrænni.

Í upphafi tuttugustu aldar varð vinsæl hugmyndin um að hið nýja og þróaða iðnríki hefði skaðleg áhrif á manninn. Risastórar verksmiðjur spúðu eitri í dimmum og menguðum borgum. Mannskepnan væri í hættu og þyrfti að taka sig á. Heilsuræktarfrömuðir á Vesturlöndum hvöttu því fólk til að horfa til glæstrar fortíðar mannsins í heiminum áður en iðnbylting hófst. Talið var að menn til forna hefðu verið miklu þrekmeiri og sterkari – og af þeim sökum göfugri. Kraftakarlar á borð við Eugen Sandow, sem hnykluðu vöðvana og líktu eftir grískum guðum, urðu heimsfrægir. Fyrir röð sögulegra tilviljana varð jóga gífurlega smitað af þessum vestrænu heilsuræktaræfingum í kraumandi suðupotti breskra og indverskra áhrifa í sjálfstæðisbaráttu Indlands.

Þrekdjarfir fornmenn
Á Íslandi blandaðist trúin um líkamlega hnignun nútímamannsins saman við fortíðarþrá þjóðernishyggjunnar í sjálfstæðisbaráttunni. „Þegar vér lítum yfir aldursár hinnar íslenzku þjóðar, þá birtir oss þeim mun meir fyrir sjónum sem lengra dregur aptur í tímann. Lengst í fjarska, á bak við sortann, lýsir fornöldin sem leiptur um nátt. Þar hittum vér fyrir þrekdjarfa kynslóð, er lifir dáðrökku lífi.“ Þessi orð skrifaði dr. Björn Bjarnason frá Viðfirði sem samdi bókina Íþróttir fornmanna á Norðurlöndum árið 1908. Í henni útskýrði hann hvernig menn á víkingaöld hefðu lifað miklu glæsilegri tíma vegna líkamsræktar sem þeir stunduðu daginn út og inn.

Það segir sína sögu að Björn þýddi bókina Mín aðferð eftir J.P. Müller, undirstöðurit hinna frægu Müllersæfinga. Í formála hennar sagði „Yfirburðir þessarar aðferðar yfir aðra heimafimleiki eru aðallega í því fólgnir, að hún snýr einkar heilsusamlegan samþætting úr öllu þrennu: fimleikum, loftbaði og vatnsbaði, er við allra hæfi með litlum afbrigðum og þó öðrum aðferðum ódýrari, umsvifaminni og auðlærðari.“ Víða um heim urðu til samtök Müllerista sem stunduðu líkamsrækt úti í guðsgrænni náttúrunni. Frægastur þeirra hér á landi var líklega Þórbergur Þórðarson.

Hnyklaði nakinn vöðvana
Annar heimsþekktur heilsuræktarfrömuður í byrjun tuttugustu aldar var prússneski kraftakarlinn Eugen Sandow. Hann hóf ferilinn sem lyftingamaður í sirkussýningum en varð heimsfrægur á ferðalögum sínum um heiminn, sérstaklega í Bretlandi. Sandow er talinn faðir vaxtarræktar en hugtakið „bodybuilding“, kom fyrst fram í bók eftir hann árið 1904. Hann sýndi stæltan líkama sinn með lítið annað en fíkjublað til að skýla sér til að líkja eftir styttum frá fornöld. Þegar hann var 10 ára gutti fór hann með pabba sínum til Rómaborgar þar sem þeir virtu fyrir sér grískar og rómverskar styttur af fögrum líkömum. „Hvers vegna eru menn ekki svona glæsilegir lengur, pabbi?“ Pabbinn svaraði um hæl að í gamla daga hefði nútímaþjóðfélagið ekki enn eyðilagt hina mikilvægu reglu um að hinir sterkustu kæmust af.

Líkamsrækt gegn úrkynjun
Líkamsræktarstraumarnir sem streymdu um Vesturlönd á þessum tíma tengdust hugmyndum um mannkynsbótastefnu (eugenics) og félagslegan darwinisma. Mannkyninu bar að leyfa hinum sterku að brjótast til áhrifa, en berjast gegn hverskyns úrkynjun og „kynspillingu“. Manninum væri þannig unnt að flýta fyrir darwinískri þróun og stýra náttúruvali. Með þessum leiðum yrði allt mannkyn um síðir hreint og sterkt. Þessar kenningar urðu síðar ein af undirstöðum og réttlætingum fyrir kynþáttahyggju nasista sem endaði með skelfingu.

Fortíðarþrá Breta
Víkjum aftur sögunni til kraftakarlsins Sandows. Boðskapur hans hitti beint í mark hjá Bretum. Breska heimsveldinu hnignaði smám saman í byrjun tuttugustu aldar og margir yfirstéttarmenn fóru að þjást af söknuði eftir hinum „einfaldari heimi“ fortíðarinnar, heilbrigðri sveitamenningu þar sem mannkynið ætti raunverulega heima. Þessar pælingar voru til þessar gerðar að réttlæta „nauðsynlega“ yfirburðastöðu hins ættgóða hvíta manns yfir heimsbyggðinni. Sandow varð andlit alþjóðlegrar hreyfingar sem kennd var við líkamlega menningu (Physical Culture). Valdamiklir Bretar boðuðu þessa heilsubyltingu því þeir trúðu einlæglega að hún gæti bjargað breska heimsveldinu og íbúum þess frá þeirri hræðilegu líkamlegu grotnun sem hin flókna heimsmynd nýs borgarsamfélags í heiminum olli.

Indverjar vildu verða sterkir
Bókin Yoga Body, eftir breska fræðimanninn og jógakennararann Mark Singleton, segir söguna af því hvernig hugmyndir Sandows og félaga urðu á furðulegan hátt, í árekstrum ýmissa afla, upphaf jóga eins og við þekkjum það í dag. Sandow ferðaðist um hnöttinn og kynnti æfingar sínar og skipulagði keppnina „The Empire and Muscle Competition“. Gríðarlegur mannfjöldi mætti til að berja hann augum þegar hann kom til Indlands árið 1905. Þá geisuðu mikil átök á Indlandi. Bresku nýlenduherrarnir urðu sífellt óvinsælli. Boðskapur Sandows fékk hinsvegar óvænt mikinn hljómgrunn á meðal Indverja og fór nú að blandast á einkennilegan hátt við indverska þjóðernisstefnu.

Jóga samsuða Müllers og þjóðernisástar
Í lok þriðja áratugarins kom fram á sjónarsviðið heilsuræktarfrömuðurinn K.V. Iyer. Hann var nokkurs konar indversk útgáfa af Sandow. Vöðvar hans og líkamleg fullkomnun efldu indversku þjóðarsálina gegn ofríki Breta, sem höfðu ávallt litið niður á líkamlegt atgervi Indverja, töldu þá veikbyggða og spillta. En þar sem þessi nýja heilsuræktarbylgja var í raun smituð frá Bretum sjálfum datt Iyer það snjallræði í hug að sjóða hana við aldagamla indverska siði til að málflutningur hans passaði betur við sjálfstæðisbaráttuna. Til urðu ný samtök, „Yogic Physical Culture“. Í bók Singletons er farið í saumana á því hvernig jóga varð til úr þessari samsuðu vestrænna heilsuræktaraðferða – til dæmis vaxtarræktar Sandows og ýmsum aðferðum á borð við Müllersæfingarnar – við þjóðernishyggju í nútímaríki Indlands.

Fornt jóga frábrugðið
Jóga hafði auðvitað verið til um aldir á Indlandi og hafði, til dæmis, hlotið töluverða frægð á meðal menntamanna í Evrópu um aldamótin 1900. En eins og lesa má í hinni skemmtilegu bók Singletons var hið hefðbundna forna jóga af allt öðrum toga en sú gerð jóga sem frægust er í dag í heiminum. Hið hefðbundna byggðist á sitjandi stöðum þar sem íhugun var lykilatriðið. Hið sögulega jóga var ekki þessi líkamlega íþrótt líkamsræktarstöðvarinnar sem við þekkjum svo vel í dag.

Maurar átu forna bók
Samverkamaður Iyer, jógakennarinn Tirumalai Krishnamacharya, kom fram með forna trúarlega speki sem í ljós hefur komið að var því miður uppspuni frá rótum. Tilgangurinn var að gefa þessari nýju blöndu jóga og heilsuræktar indverskan og dulspekilegan blæ. Krishnamacharya, sem síðar varð einn frægasti jógakennari sögunnar, sagði að jóga væri 5000 ára gömul hefð. Það hefði hann lært með því að lesa hina eldfornu bók Yoga Korunta, sem skrifuð var á sanskrít. Hann sagðist hafa fundið bókina djúpt grafna í þjóðskjalasafni Indlands og þýtt hana yfir í munnlega útgáfu sem hann breiddi nú út á meðal fylgjenda sinna. Þegar reynt var að hafa upp á þessari gömlu bók sagði Krishnamacharya að maurar hefðu því miður étið hana upp til agna. Bók Singletons sýnir fram að speki Krishnamacharya var líklega ekkert annað en uppspuni og í raun hafi það jóga, sem hann boðaði, verið í anda vestrænnar heilsuræktar og átt lítið með hina fornu hefð að gera.

Jóga fór í marga hringi
Ef marka má niðurstöður Singleton má ef til vill segja að nútímajóga sé á einkennilegan hátt sameiginlegt afkvæmi vestrænnar „Müllermenningar“ og indverskrar hefðar. Á tuttugustu öld sameinuðu menn eins og K.V. Iyer og Tirumalai Krishnamacharya hið forna jóga við ýmsar leikfimiæfingar sem þeir höfðu lært í gegnum breska valdhafa. Þegar á leið tuttugustu öldina, sérstaklega upp úr 1970 þegar jóga breiddist út um allan heim og varð að tískufyrirbrigði var það selt vestrænni menningu sem dularfull og dulspekileg asísk iðja.

Íslendingar „dauðans aumingjar“
Þórbergur Þórðarson var landskunnur fyrir að stunda Müllersæfingar á adamsklæðunum einum. Færri vita ef til að hann iðkaði jóga. Í greininni „Ljós frá Austri“, sem birtist í Eimreiðinni árið 1919, sagði hann frá þeirri ástríðu sinni. Í ljósi þess sem komið hefur fram hér að ofan er ef til vill gaman að rifja upp nokkur orð sem hann skrifaði þar. Þó ber að geta þess að jógaiðkun hans bar til áður en hin mikla samsuða vestrænnar líkamsræktar og jóga varð að hina vinsæla alþjóðafyrirbæri sem það er í dag.

„Yoga er reist á alt annari grundvallarskoðun á manneðlinu og umheiminum heldur en vestræn íþróttakerfi. Þeim er yfirleitt hreykt upp á þeirri flasfengnu staðhæfingu, að maðurinn sé líkami, samstarf skynrænna krafta. Yoga segir aftur á móti: maðurinn er „andi“, sem býr í og stjórnar skynrænum líkama. Á þessari staðhæfingu eða öllu fremur þekkingu er alt Yoga-kerfið reist. Yoga leggur með öðrum orðum megináherzluna á þroskun andans sem stjórnanda efnisins. Af þessum gagnólíka skilningi leiðir hinn mikla mun vestrænna líkamsæfinga og Yoga. Vestrænar líkamsæfingar eru fólgnar í vissum vöðvabreyfingum, ati, sem oft er frábærlega barbariskt og smekklaust, eins og t.d. grísk-rómverska glíman og fótboltinn, sem er orðinn landlæg plága hér í kveldroðarykinu á Melunum og sýnir, hverjir dauðans aumingjar vér erum enn í þekkingu og æðri og fínni menningu. Jafnæsandi óhemjuskapur heimskar ekki að eins og útslítur kröftum þeirra, sem halda honum uppi, heldur tryllir hann jafnvel fjölda fólks, sem lítið má missa, frá rósemd og skynsamlegu viti. Í margar þessar ánalegu hreyfingar fer óguðlega mikil orka forgörðum. Þær eru blátt áfram óhagrænar, miðað við nýtni náttúrunnar og nirfilsskap þjóðarinnar í garð þessara fáu vesalinga, sem hafa lagt sig niður við að hugsa. Menn láta eins og óðir, ef þeir vita af rennandi fossmigu einhvers staðar uppi á öræfum, hafa ekki flóafrið fyr en þeir hafa umturnað henni í mykju og hlutabréf. En mannlegur máttur er látinn fara út um hvippinn og hvappinn í allskonar fettur og brettur, pat og stapp, sem ekkert vit er í.“

-birtist í Fréttatímanum 19. maí 2016.
Profile Image for Kumari de Silva.
361 reviews22 followers
August 18, 2017
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 well as a hard core yoga geek.

As for the other reviewers who promised I would be "surprised." Unfortunately I wasn't. I hate to do spoilers - so I'll say this instead: if you are over the age of 55, i.e. old enough to remember events described in the 1970s, you won't be surprised. If you've been practicing yoga since the mid 60s or 70s you won't be surprised. If you visited India in the 60s or 70s you won't be surprised. I suppose if none of these descriptions refers to you, you might be surprised. Good for you if you are surprised. Knowledge is the antidote to ignorance!

As other reviewers have noted, this is not a how to book. It's a pop culture history book. I recommend this to all yoga teachers, most especially the ones who aren't sure if they want to go full spiritual in their teaching. Also to curious practitioners who want to know "what IS yoga?" Read and find out. Yoga is a yoga does.
April 11, 2022
Really disappointed. The writer has a theory and the book is all about his attempt to convince the audience ( and possibly himself) that the theory is correct. I was hoping that this would be an unbiased travel log of the transition of asanas from vedic texts to the modern day yoga studios. Instead it's a systematic biased interpretation of facts as well as a very intentionally naive view of history. One simple example lays bare the endemic bias of the writer - he describes the asanas practiced by the yogic schools of early 1900s as primarily influenced by India's exposure to modernity. I.e. the white European culture is inherently modern compared to the Indian culture. His view is that the asanas were developed by looking at journals describing exercise routines of women gymnasts. All he has to do is to look at the 84 postures in hath yoga. I am sure he did, but it obviously doesn't sit well with the narrative he so keen to impress on his readers.

The yoga asanas are a gift to humanity. They have proven lineage to the ancient texts (the vyaasa bhashya of 5century itself refers to 12 of these asanas by name and suggests there are more). Let's not pollute this with the perverse theory that India copied them from the modern western practices of the gymnasts and then marketed them back as authentic Indian practice motivated by indian nationalism aspirations. This is laughable and at the same time deeply disturbing.
Profile Image for Amanda Comi.
31 reviews
July 18, 2020
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 been twice as long and impenetrable. Some background knowledge is necessary, probably reading Hatha Yoga Pradipika would be useful.

Readers who are dismissive of the thesis of the book should ask themselves what value they gain from yoga having a legacy. Particularly ask if this is a manifestation of abhinivesah - the fear of death klesha- which they are trying to alleviate by imaging a significant connection to a timeless tradition.
Profile Image for David Campbell.
221 reviews1 follower
May 31, 2019
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 the 20th century, the once reviled yogi (and his art) became symbols of national identity and fused with the existing German-British-American physical culture pathways of Pilates, Berk, and Schwarzenegger. The result was a modern fitness system embodying revolution, re-centering, and restoration.
24 reviews
August 6, 2021
Espere este libro con muchas expectativas y las cumplió completamente. Es estudio acabado, donde se nota el gran trabajo de campo y revisión bibliográfica del autor. Otorga una serie de datos históricos sobre el Yoga y sus múltiples influencias, tanto dentro como fuera del ámbito de la tradición. Sus reflexiones sobre la influencia de los estilos de gimnasia europea en el yoga moderno son útiles para entender la relevancia que se le ha dado al Asana en occidente. Realmente, me permite tener una mirada amplia del proceso histórico y socio-cultural tras el desarrollo del Yoga-. Tradición y modernidad confluyen en esta libro. Su estilo de escritura es ameno y didáctico, sin pretender establecer verdades absolutas ni levantar polémicas innecesarias, el libro plantea numerosas preguntas, invitándonos a seguir investigando sobre el tema. Excelente!
Profile Image for Bec Daniels.
84 reviews
April 16, 2020
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 about how gender plays a role in yoga forms, the development of masculinized forms of yoga from muscular/martial contexts and the gentler spiritual variants resulting from women that practiced harmonial gymnastics. Men truly be having toxic masculinity out here
Profile Image for Julia Kulgavchuk.
45 reviews21 followers
November 14, 2022
It is a great research. It did not match my expectations though. I expected more of a popular non-fiction book, and not a thorough academic research. I definitely appreciate that this research was made. I don't think I'll finish it though simply because of the format.

I bought it as an audiobook and this type of content, with tons names and quotes and references to other academic works, is difficult for me to process as an audiobook. There are parts of it that sound more like a popular non-fiction book, with more of storytelling, and they are great, but then it changes to the academic style again with tons of names and references which are difficult to follow.
Profile Image for Becky.
252 reviews5 followers
November 6, 2019
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 bitterness and judgment throughout. Overall, just bad vibes.
Profile Image for Joseph.
71 reviews5 followers
March 20, 2020
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 thousands of years old.
Profile Image for Pascal.
283 reviews2 followers
March 28, 2018
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.
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