Insights from History
Despite the popularity of yoga, the origins of many of its practices are hard to pin down. The best-known texts – from the early Upaniṣads to the Bhagavad Gītā and Yoga Sūtra – have little to say about physical methods. Other sources with more information on how they developed are harder to access.
Roots of Yoga, by the scholars James Mallinson and Mark Singleton, is a fascinating guide to less widely studied sources. Translating extracts from more than a hundred traditional texts, it covers 3,000 years of history. Studying these passages closely reveals how yoga has evolved into different traditions, while also retaining common threads.
Although the book is aimed at a general audience, its style and approach are academic. That can make it challenging to read by oneself, but ideal for group discussion. Working through it one chapter at a time, we reflect on its insights to see which dimensions of yogic tradition appeal to us most, while identifying themes to explore for ourselves.
The book has twelve chapters, beginning with an overview of yoga history. Each of these looks in detail at one subject. To keep the reading manageable, we focus in each module on a few key extracts, guided by questions providing some structure. Conversations are moderated lightly, leaving everyone free to contribute as they wish.