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Yoga Body: The Origins of Modern Posture Practice
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 (?sana) 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 ?sana 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 ?sana revival, Yoga Body turns the conventional wisdom about yoga on its head.
"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 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 ha?ha 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
"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."