Althea's Reviews > Yoga Body: The Origins of Modern Posture Practice

Yoga Body by Mark Singleton
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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 transition of a practice from one culture to another in any context, but even more fascinating with a tradition I think of myself as a part of. Singleton's thesis is one of cross pollination. Existing yogic traditions in India, other (largely forgotten) gymnastic traditions from Europe, a local Indian wish for an authentically Indian system of gymnastics, a general distrust of wandering ascetic yogis, and a European and American fascination with the East all melded into this thing we call yoga today. But, because everyone seemed to agree that postural yoga was only legitimate if it was ancient, that entire fascinating process was then overlaid with origin stories that obscured that cross-pollination. It's a fascinating story. Though you can easily tell this was originally an academic paper (I think it's adapted from his thesis), it's surprisingly engaging to a lay reader like me.

I read the Amazon reviews for this before reading the book, and feel some need to respond. First, Singleton's thesis is often way oversimplified to portray him as claiming that all yoga is "fake" or that yoga is only modern. A closer read of his book makes this an obvious misrepresentation. Recent interviews with him concur. Second, he clearly doesn't hate yoga, and isn't looking to discredit it. Indeed, he appears to be a dedicated practitioner.

On the other hand, if you happen to be an ashtanga yogi really wedded to the idea that Jois found the only existing copy of an ancient sutra (later eaten by ants) which set out the ashtanga series exactly as it's practiced today, I can see why this book would be enormously disheartening.
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Reading Progress

Started Reading
February 1, 2014 – Finished Reading
March 23, 2014 – Shelved

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