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Yoga Body: The Origins of Modern Posture Practice

3.85  ·  Rating details ·  425 ratings  ·  59 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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3.85  · 
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 ·  425 ratings  ·  59 reviews

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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
Mar 23, 2014 rated it really liked it
I had a religion professor in college who was an expert in Chinese Buddhism. She talked a lot about the ways Buddhism changed when it moved from India to China. The male Avalokiteshvara became the female Quan Yin as part of that transition. She also told us that many early sutras were authored in China by Chinese authors, then back-translated to create a Sanskrit "original" to give the sutra legitimacy.

I thought of this process time after time reading Yoga Body. It's fascinating to see the tran
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
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.
Jul 02, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: read-in-2013, health
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
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 Britis ...more
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.
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.
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
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
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
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: 2019, spirituality
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.
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.
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.
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.
Jun 27, 2019 rated it it was ok
If you're writting a book about history and you don't have any stories at all, then you've missed the chance to bring the topic to life. I'd like someone else to take a stab at this information and present it in a more digestible format.
Jun 30, 2019 added it
Just because it’s scientific, doesn’t mean it has to be boring. I’m sorry to say I could not even make it through the introduction.
Feb 28, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: top-to-read
A technical but illuminating read.
Stephanie Spence
Jan 22, 2018 rated it it was amazing
A must read. As a yoga teacher I'm often amazed in the US how little of the history of yoga is shared in classes. I encourage every student to find and study all aspects of yoga on their own. I added this book to my suggested reading list.
Jul 17, 2013 rated it really liked it
I did enjoy this book though I feel like it took almost two years to read. It is so overstuffed with facts that the historical narrative gets bogged down and lost. I do appreciate the meticulous research done by the author. I was interested in everything the author had to say. One suggestion would be to have written the narrative backwards. It would have allowed the author to paint the big picture of where yoga is now and then layer the details in topically instead of chronologically. That may h ...more
This book explores the history that produced the posture-based, physical-fitness-oriented, physical-image driven yoga prevalent today. In it, Singleton takes us on a guided tour of the social, political, class, and religious forces and events that have given rise to current "anglophone" yoga practice.

He makes a compelling case that the yoga most of us know today, far from being a rediscovered 5000-year-old practice (as many in e.g. the Ashtanga Yoga or Iyengar Yoga businesses might have us belie
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