Recently, I have been reading many books about yoga, exercise and spirituality. The following book by Mark Singleton has influenced my understanding of the evolution of the practice of hatha yoga since 1880:
Yoga Body: The Origins of Modern Posture Practice
By Mark Singleton. New York, Oxford University Press, 2012. Index,
bibliography, notes, 262 pages. ISBN: 9780195395341. VSCL.
Mr. Singleton's well argued and carefully documented thesis is that
transnational yoga as we know it today, asana practices, emerged from
physical culture practices from Europe, Indian nationalism, gymnastics,
bodybuilding, medicine, health regimens, New Thought, a Hindu studies
revival, fitness and gym business promoters, and the development and
expansion of visual media. This process began in the 1880's and
continues to this day.
"Consider the term Yoga as it refers to modern postural practice as a homonyn,
and not a synonym, of the "yoga" associated with the philosophical
system of Pantanjali, or the "yoga" that forms and integral component of
the Saiva Tantras, or the "yoga" of the Bhagavad Gita, and so
on. In other words, although the word "yoga" as it is used popularly
today is identical in spelling and pronunciation in each of these
instances, it has quite different meanings and origins." p.15
"As Joseph Alter has recently argued, a key methodological issue is
therefore "how to exercise ethnographic relativism, historical
perspectivity and intellectual skepticism all at the same time." This
means critically examining modern yoga's truth claims while seeking to
understand under what circumstances and to what ends such claims are
The esoteric, magical, religious, New Age, imaginary and spiritual
dimensions of "yoga" are definitely part of the currents of contemporary
yoga practice and trends in non-church spirituality since the 1880's;
but, the bigger picture of its popularity is due to our enthusiasm for
fitness, bodybuilding, stress reduction, sexuality, improved health,
relaxation, and the "good life."
Another book that points us in the right direction regarding contemporary yoga practices is:
The Science of Yoga: The Risks and the Rewards
By William J. Broad. New York, Simon and Schuster, 2012.
Index, bibliography, notes, 298 pages. ISBN; 9781451641424.
This book is a must read for those who question the often outlandish
claims for the benefits of yoga, are concerned about risky yoga
postures, and favor a more scientific approach to yoga practice.
Finally, I enjoyed reading:
Original Yoga: Rediscovering Traditional Practices of Hatha Yoga
By Richard Rosen. Illustrations by Evan Yee. Boston, Shambhala,
2012. Index, bibliography, glossary, appendices, 286 pages. ISBN:
"The changes the traditional practice went through over the centuries
might be considered organic, common to any living organism’s natural
evolution. What happened to Hatha Yoga in the early years of the
twentieth century, by contrast, happened virtually overnight and was
totally "person-made," or artificial. The full story is too long to
tell here and has already been masterfully recounted from slightly
different perspectives by British researchers Elizabeth de Michelis in A History of Modern Yoga (Continuum, 2004) and Mark Singleton in Yoga Body (Oxford University Press, 2010.
Suffice it to say that by the end of the nineteenth century in India,
Hatha had fallen on hard times and was on its last trembling leg.
Several Indian teachers set out to save Hatha from oblivion; among them
was Tirumular Krishnamacharya, whose work provided the impetus for
three of our most popular and influential modern teachers: T. K. V.
Desikachar (whose teaching was once known as Viniyoga, a term that has
since been abandoned); the late K. Pattabhi Jois (who taught
Ashtanga-Vinyasa Yoga); and B. K. S. Iyengar, who (though he often
adamantly insists there’s no such thing) created Iyengar Yoga. And save
Hatha the teachers did. You may have heard or read somewhere that yoga
is five thousand years old, a number that’s continually cited by people
who should know better, since there’s not a shred of concrete evidence
to back it up. What we do know for certain is that the yoga we
practice in the West is no more than one hundred years old. Our Indian
teachers took what was once the province of a relatively small,
loose-knit, mostly male ascetic community that was resolutely living on
the fringes of respectable Indian society and transformed it into a
worldwide mass movement open to anyone of any age, gender, or physical
condition. This is the second meaning of original yoga, the yoga that’s "original" to the twentieth century, or what we call modern Hatha Yoga." Original Yoga by Richard Rosen
This book includes instructions on some practices for "energizing"
aspects of the esoteric body that are typical in Qigong and Yoga. Those
interested in organic energy, Prana, Chi, and nadis/meridians will find