Yoga Body, a book by Mark Singleton---Add "dharma"
saf at SAFARMER.COM
Thu Mar 10 06:06:03 UTC 2011
A quick correction of two critical missing words in a key paragraph in
my last post, which I add now in parentheses and all caps.
> Singleton presents hundreds of pages of evidence, including data
> drawn from exclusive interviews with dozens of Indian principals
> critical to that development (including K. Pattabhi Jois and many
> others in the close-knit circles of Jois and Iyengar and
> Krishnamacharya before them) that confirm a thesis that evolved out
> of a long series of studies stretching from the mid 1990s to the
> present -- that the relationship between modern [AND PREMODERN]
> asanas, as practiced today in India no less than in the West, is
> tenuous at best.
On Mar 9, 2011, at 9:21 PM, Steve Farmer wrote:
George Thompson writes:
> Dear Shyam Ranganathan,
> Thank you for attempting to rescue us from this Humpty Dumpty
> conundrum that
> Singleton has created!
This is supposed to be a research list, which I take it means that
strings of polemical statements of this sort, if permitted at all on
the list, are at a minimum supposed to be backed by evidence.
Mr. Thompson has shown by many odd comments over the last few days --
starting with his (I should think quite embarrassing to a linguist)
objection to the correct use by Mark Singleton and Wendy Doniger of
the word 'homonym' -- that he has neither read nor understood
Singleton's newest book, outside perhaps of a few isolated snippets in
its opening sections,
Singleton's study is not a general history of yoga (no matter how
construed, premodern or modern), as Thompson apparently assumes, but
is rather the most detailed study ever undertaken of the development
of modern (meaning late 19th to 20th century) asana practice.
Singleton presents hundreds of pages of evidence, including data drawn
from exclusive interviews with dozens of Indian principals critical to
that development (including K. Pattabhi Jois and many others in the
close-knit circles of Jois and Iyengar and Krishnamacharya before
them) that confirm a thesis that evolved out of a long series of
studies stretching from the mid 1990s to the present -- that the
relationship between modern [AND PREMODERN] asanas, as practiced today
in India no less than in the West, is tenuous at best.
What Krishnamacharya and Jois and Iyengar and their students
represented to themselves and their followers -- both Indian and
Western -- as "traditional" asana practice can be shown from evidence
coming from many directions to have been a syncretic fusion of a wide
assortment of diverse Indian and Western cultural elements that only
emerged during the late colonial era.
Part of the roots of that thesis lay in the publication of Norman
Sjoman's studies of key Sanskrit texts that emerged from his two
decades of research in Mysore, summarized in his now classic _The Yoga
Traditions of Mysore Palace_, which appeared in 1996. Other studies
generalizing on and expanding that thesis soon followed, undertaken by
a long list of researchers including Joseph Alter (University of
Pittsburgh), Elizabeth De Michelis (Cambridge University), David
Gordon White (University of California at Santa Barbara), Gudrun
Bühnemann (University of Wisconsin), and -- more recently -- many of
That thesis today can hardly be viewed as controversial -- unless it
offends one's indigenous or political-religious sensibilities (as is
true in respect to Hindu nationalists, who are violently attacking the
thesis all over the Web) -- or undercuts spurious claims of antiquity
made for legitimizing purposes by specific yoga lineages, *including*
those identified with Krishnamacharya (who wasn't above manufacturing
pseudo-ancient Sanskrit texts to legitimize his yoga innovations) or
Jois or iyengar.
But these exceptions aside, the thesis is hardly a contentious one
among academic yoga historians, who for that reason have quite
uniformly praised Singleton's work. Even the _Yoga Journal_ types have
now begun to accept the thesis -- ironically the same people who so
violently attacked Norman Sjoman's work when it first came out -- as
well as mainstream figures in the yoga world, who to their credit have
been forced by Mark's work to begin to reevaluate the roots of their
Nor will the thesis remain contentious for long for anyone else who
takes the time to read Singleton's book and compare what he or she
finds there with the decidedly *un-modern* types of asana practice
discussed in the increasingly abundant medieval tantric and hatha
texts now being made available in high-quality modern editions and
translations by other yoga specialists (including some of whom quietly
subscribe to this List).
Singleton's new book is already becoming a classic, and rightly, since
(building on the early works previously cited) it has already
triggered a revolution in yoga studies scarcely a year following its
One of the ironies in the violent discussions about the book now all
over the Web -- Thompson's polemics, which seem oddly personal in
nature (although he doesn't know Mark) -- are quite similar to those
of Hindutva writers now being aimed at summaries of the ongoing
revolution in yoga written by Meera Nanda and Wendy Doniger -- is that
Singleton himself has done everything in his power to show that his
writings have absolutely no polemical intent. Half the introductory
materials in his book in fact is aimed at trying to make that clear.
Part of the reason for this is because Mark himself is deeply
connected to the yoga world -- he is both a world-class yoga
practitioner and teacher himself, who was doing yoga long before he
got his doctorate at Cambridge -- and part is that his only motivation
in doing historical research, as is true of many on this list,
revolves around his love of research. I don't know of a less polemical
But as many on this List recognize from experience, questioning even
the most obvious of historical fantasies in Indian history can get you
in hot water whether you like it or not, simply because so much of
contemporary Indian ideologies depend on fantastic views of the past.
"Mit der Dummheit kämpfen Götter selbst vergebens."
I have no idea what it means to claim that we need "rescue" from "this
Humpty Dumpty condundrum that Singleton has created!"
Could I politely ask Mr. Thompson, since seriousissues are involved
here, as witnessed by the now global discussion (most recently
witnessed by Doniger's review) of _Yoga Body: The Origins of Modern
Posture Practice_, to
1. Quote a single passage covering a central topic -- only one is
requested -- which Thompson finds factually incorrect in the book or
interpretatively misguided; and
2. Add some meaningful criticism to it that demonstrates why we are
led into a "Humpty Dumpty conundrum" by the work?
These one-liners attacking major scholars while citing spurious
evidence (or in this case no evidence at all) are daily fare on Hindu
nationalist Lists. They don't belong in serious research forums.
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