Yoga Journal and the Origins of Postural Practice
A recent issue of the Yoga Journal contains excerpts from a forthcoming book (Myths of the Asanas) which claims that behind every asana “… and its corresponding movements is an ancient story about a god, sage, or sacred animal, much like Aesop’s fables or European folktales.” I’ll be interested to see how the authors explains the many asanas that emerged from the Mysore tradition of Krishnamacharya. Specifically the asanas that were derived from the popular physical exercise classes at the time.
Worried that the Yoga Journal may have ignored two books (see Related posts below) that provide the best historical analysis of the origins of popular asanas, I was relieved to find at least a few archive articles that mention them:
- New Light on Yoga: An article based largely on Norman Sjoman’s research.
- Review of Yoga Body: A rather brief but very positive review of Mark Singleton’s book.
- Shine on Me: An article on sun salutations which contains the following quote
“Certainly, modern asana practice—and Surya Namaskar, after it was grafted on to it—is an innovation that has no precedent in the ancient Indian tradition, but it was rarely formulated as ‘mere gymnastics,'” says Mark Singleton, author of Yoga Body: The Origins of Modern Posture Practice. “More often, it was conceived within a religious [Hindu] framework, and was seen as a spiritual expression as well as a physical one. But in modern India, for many people, it made complete sense for physical training to be conceived as a form of spiritual practice, with no contradiction implied.”
- Krishnamacharya’s Legacy: Mentions Sjoman’s book, but devotes more space to Patthabi Jois’ lost texts theory! Nevertheless, it’s a very moving account of the life of Krishnamacharya and his relationship with his son T.K.V. Desikachar.
Jois has often said that the concept of vinyasa came from an ancient text called the Yoga Kuruntha. Unfortunately, the text has disappeared; no one now living has seen it. So many stories exist of its discovery and content—I’ve heard at least five conflicting accounts—that some question its authenticity. When I asked Jois if he’d ever read the text, he answered, “No, only Krishnamacharya.” Jois then downplayed the importance of this scripture, indicating several other texts that also shaped the yoga he learned from Krishnamacharya, including the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, the Yoga Sutra, and the Bhagavad Gita.
Given that the Yoga Journal just devoted four pages to the Myth of Asanas, they should run a similar article on the work of Mark Singleton. Singleton’s carefully researched findings don’t discredit popular asanas, rather his research confirms that postural practice is alive and constantly changing. Krishnamacharya’s legacy is that of innovation, synthesis, and continuous adaptation to the needs of his students.
- Recommended Reading: The Origins of Modern Posture Practice (my review of Mark Singleton’s landmark book)
- The Yoga Tradition of the Mysore Palace (my review of N.E. Sjoman’s book)