INTRODUCTION

“Any assertion that transnational postural yoga is of a piece with . . . Indian yogic tradition is . . . highly questionable.”

-Mark Singleton (2010, 27)

Many yoga teachers have started to question what is taught in yoga, what is of value, what is questionable and what is frankly, dangerous, or at best ill-informed. Perhaps for the first time The New Yoga takes a hard look at those concerns, recounts current yoga’s strange and unlikely origins and then suggests how asana (poses) can become safer, more inclusive and evidence-based.

Many have been led to believe the poses that dominate the physical practice of today came from the misty origins of yoga over several millennia. The New Yoga points instead to an American physical culturist and a Danish gymnast (among others) as more influential to today’s yoga, than cavedwelling Tibetan mystics and Hindu seers of old.

But reluctant to throw out the baby with the bathwater, The New Yoga, seeks to maintain the amazing gifts and insights that come from Mysore, Pune and other Indian centres of yoga inspiration, albeit mostly created in the early 20th century.

Drawing on the wisdom of modern yoga historians, functional scientists, biomechanists, yogi anatomists and the author’s own experience, The New Yoga plays down the obsession with flexibility. Instead of the Cirque du Soleil image of yoga portrayed on Instagram, The New Yoga emphasizes strength, endurance, mindfulness, breath, posture and other gifts that yoga offers but are rarely the focus of current teaching.

The New Yoga recounts the myths and tales frequently fabricated to give authority to the guru’s own words. It shows the yoga we practice today was a transnational blend of gymnastics, body culture and performance with a tiny dash of ancient yogic spice.

It is a mixed blessing that there is no regulating authority governing the diverse world of yoga, as with massage and physical therapy. Yoga has always been free from the shackles of spiritual or secular authorities. But without official oversight, superficially trained teachers often teach the yoga of today in neighborhood studios. Some unquestioningly repeat the words handed down from generation to generation of well-meaning but sometimes poorly informed predecessors.

This book is not one of primary scholarship, but a serious attempt to bring an overview to the history of modern yoga and point us towards a more effective and safer future. Hopefully, this book will inspire yoga teachers to continually learn, question and grow; and for the discriminating students, they will choose yoga studios and teachers more wisely.

2 comments

  1. I am interested in teaching this yoga. I am a Christian and have been told how bad this is because of the spiritual realm. I was heavily into Buddhism at one point and practiced yoga then. Quit because my church said it was evil. I started doing stretching in my living room and realized many things I was doing was simply stretching not ” yoga”. I really started to question and examine both the church’s perception on this matter and the history of yoga. I feel closer to God, and stretching releases endorphins. So, how can this possibly be bad? If we never question what we’ve been taught we just take it as truth. Maybe Indian culture is who first started it with poses and assumed the endorphins were spirituality. They maybe the creators of the excercise but lacking new knowledge that’s arising.

    1. Thank you for you thoughtful and somewhat worried comment and question. I would love to discuss this with you at some point but it would be better in person when times allow for a face to face meeting. I have spent a lifetime considering the kinds of questions you raise and have a lot to say about it. For now, I would just say there is no contradiction between yoga and Christianity. Yoga makes no claims to be a religion or operate in contradiction to religion. One of my main teachers was Father Joe Pereira, a RC priest who studied for 40 years with my main teacher, the world famous BKS Iyengar. Pereira, teaches yoga and uses it to treat addictions with the blessing of the bishop of Mumbai.

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