Modern yoga is synonymous with postures. Not all of these are ancient. Some are recent inventions. Just how radically have practices changed? What made yoga more physical in the early 20th century? Did teachers borrow techniques from different disciplines?
Mark Singleton’s book Yoga Body explores these questions. Although it grew out of a PhD, it became a bestseller. When it was published in 2010, some of its subtleties were lost on practitioners, who often dismissed it – without having read it – as claiming that yoga was a mix of gymnastics and military training drills.
Others quibbled with its focus on Ashtanga, whose claims to be old were undermined. There were also objections to the publisher's choice of subtitle – The Origins of Modern Posture Practice. Yet as Singleton later clarified: "the book does not really deal with the origins of yoga, in the sense of ultimate beginnings, but with certain of its contexts."
Despite what some critics assume, it was never his aim to "debunk" modern practice. Nor was it to argue that traditions were bogus. Singleton says many practitioners either want to "return to the ancient and authentic source" that they think has been lost, or to assert a right "to innovate in whatever way we see fit." Could both views be mistaken?
Reading Yoga Body together, we’ll reflect on the book and how people received it. We’ll also look at new research on the history of postures, and ask whether it matters where practices come from, or how old they are. Each module covers two chapters, providing supplementary details and recorded conversations that add further context.