Yoga Body: The Origins of Modern Posture Practice

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Overview

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.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Singleton's radical, meticulously documented, sensitive analysis makes perfectly clear that what has come to be regarded as a veritable icon of Indic Civilization — postural yoga — is, in fact, unambiguously the hybrid product of colonial and post-colonial globalization." —Prof. Joseph S. Alter, University of Pittsburgh. Author of Yoga in Modern India: The Body Between Science and Philosophy

"Mark Singleton's Yoga Body: The Origins of Modern Posture Practice is an outstanding scholarly work which brings so much insight and clarity to the historic and cultural background of modern hatha yoga. I highly recommend this book, especially for all sincere students of yoga." —John Friend, Founder of Anusara Yoga

"I have been reading yoga texts and practicing yoga for 40 years, and I have taught a university-level academic course on yoga for the last 15 years, so it takes quite a good deal to teach me things about yoga I did not already know. This book has done so. It has been extremely informative and is rich with historical details. The quantity of field research is quite extraordinary, the prose articulate, the diction intelligent, and the narrative sound. It is a must-read among yoga teachers and serious students, and has the potential to transform much of the yoga world. This book will echo loudly through the global yoga community." —Prof. Kenneth Liberman, University of Oregon. Author of Dialectical Practice in Tibetan Philosophical Culture

"From the moment I started reading Mark Singleton's Yoga Body I couldn't put it down. It is beautifully written, extensively researched, and full of fascinating information. It stands alone in its depth of insight into a subject which has intrigued me for forty years." —David Williams, Maui, Hawaii. The first non-Indian to learn the complete Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga syllabus.

"Mark Singleton has written a sweeping and nuanced account of the origins and development of modern postural yoga in early twentieth-century India and the West, arguing convincingly that yoga as we know it today does not flow directly from the Yoga Sutras or India's medieval haha yoga traditions, but rather emerged out of a confluence of practices, movements and ideologies, ranging from contortionist acts in carnival sideshows, British Army calisthenics and women's stretching exercises to social Darwinism, eugenics, and the Indian nationalist movement. The richly illustrated story he tells is an especially welcome contribution to the history of yoga, demonstrating the ways in which an ancient tradition was reinvented against the backdrop of India's colonial experience." —Prof. David Gordon White, University of California, Santa Barbara. Author of The Alchemical Body, Siddha Traditions in Medieval India

"Mark Singleton gives us here a groundbreaking, pioneering work. By carefully tracing the key 'missing links' in the development of contemporary notions of hatha yoga, he presents a far richer and nuanced picture than previously known. Quite simply, this is a book that cannot be ignored, destined to be reckoned with in any further study of the topic. Thoroughly researched, extraordinarily well informed, and lucidly argued, I recommended it very highly to all serious practitioners and students of modern yoga who want a deeper understanding of its evolution." —Carlos Pomeda, founder of Yoga Wisdom for Modern Life.

"Mark Singleton's book Yoga Body traces the evolution of the ever expanding practice of asana world-wide. His 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'. Any serious asana practitioner who wishes to understand the place of asana in the greater tradition of yoga will do well to read it carefully." —Gary Krafstow, the founder of the American Viniyoga Institute, author of Yoga for Wellness and Yoga for Transformation

"Yoga Body by Mark Singleton is a scholarly exploration of how modern yoga, as currently practiced in countless studios, gyms, and schools across the country, evolved [...] In essence, this very popular form of yoga was greatly influenced by modern physical practices, not just traditional spiritual or mystical ones. Singleton makes a cogent argument backed up by references from many studies and sources [...] a work of merit that sheds a great deal of light on the development of modern yoga [...] an important contribution to our understanding of yoga." —San Francisco Book Review

"Mark Singleton [...] asks a big question: Where did modern yoga come from? His reply will no doubt disturb a lot of folks [...] as Singleton clearly and convincingly demonstrates, the physical practice of today is less than 100 years old, and it has very little to do with either Patanjali's or Krishna's teaching. Instead, it's the product of such disparate elements as British colonialist policies in India, 19th century physical health movements in Europe and India, the invention of the camera, and the reformist programs of Indian yoga teachers like Shri Yogendra and T. Krishnamacharya. This book, an invaluable source on modern yoga, should be on the reading list of every serious student and teacher training program." —Richard Rosen in Yoga Journal."

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780195395358
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
  • Publication date: 2/10/2010
  • Pages: 272
  • Sales rank: 1,132,097
  • Product dimensions: 6.40 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Mark Singleton teaches at St. John's College, Santa Fe, New Mexico. He is the editor, with Jean Byrne, of Yoga in the Modern World: Contemporary Perspectives. He lives in Santa Fe.

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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments vii

Introduction 3

1 A Brief Overview of Yoga in the Indian Tradition 25

2 Fakirs, Yogins, Europeans 35

3 Popular Portrayals of the Yogin 55

4 India and the International Physical Culture Movement 81

5 Modern Indian Physical Culture: Degeneracy and Experimentation 95

6 Yoga as Physical Culture I: Strength and Vigor 113

7 Yoga as Physical Culture II: Harmonial Gymnastics and Esoteric Dance 143

8 The Medium and the Message: Visual Reproduction and the Āsana Revival 163

9 T. Krishnamacharya and the Mysore Āsana Revival 175

Notes 211

Bibliography 225

Index 257

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