Structural Integration - Deep Tissue Bodywork, Posture and Movement Education

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Ida Rolf, Ph.D.

Yoga Body: The Origins of Modern Posture Practice

March 27, 2012 : Blog, News

By: Mark Singleton

Reviewed by: Archie Underwood

This book delves into the origins of what we now call Yoga in the west. Yoga was once a spiritual practice that the practitioner gave their life to and it has since been marginalized by some into a series of stretches, known as asanas. These asanas played a very minimal role in what was once the spiritual practice of Yoga. Singleton approaches this topic as a researcher and has many pages of footnotes to back up his claims. The beginning of the book was a little dry but very interesting, cataloging Yoga in it’s pre-20th century origins. The information is dense and intriguing to anyone familiar with the historical origins of Yoga.

After the first hundred pages the story lifts off, delving into the meat of the matter. Specifically what Yoga became from the years spanning 1900-1930. This was a great time of transition for the practice of Yoga that mirrored a time when the culture of India was being infused with western ideas. Some of these ideas were related to physical culture and European gymnastics, which were infused with spiritual underpinnings.

In India bodybuilding was becoming popular as well, some of these bodybuilders started to incorporate Yoga and European gymnastics into their physical practice. Over time some of these techniques melded into a unified style of movement and the line between ancient tradition and modern technique started to blur. In some cases the first time documentation of an asana that looked surprisingly like previously documented European contortionist positions was called a “classical” Yogic asana.

Singleton’s purpose with this book isn’t to undermine Yoga in it’s current iteration, he is a long time practicing Yogi. Rather he seeks to find a deeper understanding of contemporary Yogic practice and expand our view of Yoga’s true origins. This new depth to Yoga has opened my eyes to exciting and new (to me)  styles of posture practice that I was before unaware of. It also has crystallized the transition that Yoga made from a primarily spiritual practice to one focused on developing the body as a spiritual pursuit. This bridge was not always clear to me, being that ancient Yogic practice is designed to transcend the physical form but modern practice seems to have the aim of developing awareness and deepening understanding of the body.

I would recommend this book for anyone with a keen interest in Yogic history or physical culture in general. It really appealed to me as a bodyworker and someone who specializes in posture and movement therapy. Singleton is a good writer who connects facts in a way that is engaging and interesting.

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