Some considerations on the origins of āsana

The historic origin of postural practice ( āsana) is currently a widely debated topic amongst yoga enthusiasts, be it practitioners or scholars. Pilates yoga workout 30 minutes Opinions are varied and contradictory: some people (in decreasing numbers) lean towards ancient origins that go back to the Vedic era or the following centuries, often attributing the origins to Patañjali himself.

In growing numbers, others have started to debate this narrative, often supported by masters or teachers that refer to some form of ‘authority’, be it a guru or a traditional text. Postures de yoga et bienfaits Thanks to academic research, the question is now being discussed from a strictly historical perspective:

Some pioneering studies have investigated the relationship between traditional Indian elements and Western aspects in the development of what is called ‘modern yoga’.

Mark Singleton (2010), in his essay ” Yoga Body, The Origins of Modern Posture Practice”, has investigated the relationship between the physical yoga practices in colonial India and the forms of calisthenics and physical culture which were fashionable in Europe and in America during the XIX and the XX century.


Printable beginner yoga poses chart The picture that emerges puts the spotlight on one emblematic figure of modern yoga: Tirumalai Krishnamacharya (1888-1989).

Born in a Brahmanic family of Śrīvaiṣṇava tradition, he followed a vast curriculum of studies in his youth, culminating in several years of apprenticeship with a mysterious Himalayan yogin. Yoga journal conference estes park After these years, he returned to a householder life and to the teaching of yoga, having as disciples people like BKS Iyengar, Pattabhi Jois and TKV Desikachar. Yoga retreats india 2014 His style of Hathayoga practice gave large emphasis to āsana and forms the basis of almost all types of the postural yoga which is currently practiced.

The controversial thesis of Singleton’s study is, that many of the postures Krishnamacharya proposed were the product of the encounter and fusion with other traditions of physical culture (particularly Northern European gymnastics).

A fundamental role in this encounter would be played by Krishnamacharya’s desire to create an exquisitely Indian form of physical culture, that is to say a form of ‘traditional’ gymnastics to be set against other Western-imported forms of sport and physical culture. Anchorage yoga schedule According to his study, many forms of the physical yoga so widespread today in the West would therefore be a modern development of more traditional forms of yoga. Yogamatters They not could set claims to the antiquity that many enthusiasts attribute to them.

There have been strong reactions to this theory; for many modern yoga schools, claiming authority of a teacher and adherence to a lineage, keeping a strong bond with tradition is of fundamental importance; paternity of texts and practices are often attributed to the authority of a mythical founder or to a master of the past. Mysore mandala yogashala Figures like Patañjali, Nāthamuni, Yājñavalkya, Matsyendra (and today even Krishnamacharya himself) are seen by many modern traditions as the ‘founding fathers’ of yoga, whose teachings would have arrived pure and incontaminated to us. Wild lotus yoga The antiquity of certain practices is therefore taken for granted, lest loss of legitimacy of the entire system.

One must therefore not be surprised by certain drifts found in today’s globalised yoga; think, for example, of a world-famous teacher like Bikram Choudury who maintains (against all objective evidence) that his own practice system of practice goes back to Patañjali himself. Yoga poses for weight loss for beginners The claim to ‘traditional’ yoga in today’s Western society allows one to sell a product which is considered to be ‘genuine’; it matters little that it is really so, as what counts is what the public at large believe it is.

A thesis opposing Singleton’s one is brought forward (with many dubious points) by Christopher Tompkins ( http://www.sutrajournal.com/christopher-tompkins-on-the-origins-of-vinyasa ), who purports to have found proof of the remote origins of vinyāsa practice in various Tantric texts. Power living yoga manly Unfortunately Tompkins, as far as I know, has not published any scientific papers on the topic, but offers to explain his discoveries through (paid) online courses.

His thesis has been embraced, perhaps not surprisingly, by one true valkyrie of the yoga business like Shiva Rea ( http://samudraglobalyoga.com/history-of-yoga.html). Yoga in pregnancy time in hindi The association between the two is emblematic of the research for legitimation of many contemporary yogin; being able to claim a remote ‘tantric’ origin of the modern forms of Vinyasa Flow sells, while imparting a stamp of legitimacy and antiquity to one’s own product.

New perspectives have recently emerged in the academic world, challenging a modern origin of postural yoga practice. Y2 yoga cafe Although there seems to be no doubt that āsana practice, as we know it today is the result of a deep transformational process of traditional forms, historic data begin to emergence showing a more complex genesis, than what Singleton initially proposed.

Groups of scholars (for example the Hathayoga project: http://hyp.soas.ac.uk/) are starting to study and publish new material on this topic, which will certainly change our perspective. Golden bridge yoga soho Areas for investigation are plentiful and require expansion of research outside the strictly Indian field; the ancient forms of physical Tibetan yoga (known as yantra yoga o ‘phrul ‘khor); Persian Sufi practices; Indian alchemy; Chinese gymnastics and martial arts (some of which claim Indian origin); reveal complex and often remote relationships with Indian yoga tradition.

Today’s yoga, which often implies execution of postures, is the result of a historical evolutionary process; stemming from the encounter (and clash) between two millennial cultures, Indian and Western, a practice was born, which from being elitist has become a mass phenomenon and as such subjected to market and communication laws.

The process of transferring yoga from India to the West is therefore a process of translation, and postural practice is emblematic. Top yoga blogs Translation cannot, and maybe should not, be literal. Mandala yoga studio Yoga has always had great adaptability (favoured by the semantic amplitude of the term ‘yoga’ itself) and thanks to this, it could successfully cross the centuries; in other words, the yoga arrived to the West had to change form and adapt in order to gain roots.

It is an altogether natural and legitimate process, as long as we renounce the idea of a yoga which is ‘eternal’, ‘immutable’, ‘primordial’, ‘pure’ and completely ‘traditional’, a yoga that never existed, if not in the narratives of many gurus and their Western disciples.

Change does not necessarily mean betrayal of the past: today we still use techniques which origins undoubtedly date to centuries or millennia ago. Lululemon see through yoga pants pictures The illusion of practicing in the same way as a Kashmir yogin of thousand years ago, or a Nāth of the XVI century is clearly unsustainable. Yoga hosers review But referring the authority of traditions with centuries-old lineages is not a mistake or an illusion and may constitute an important element of the practice for many practitioners. Baptiste yoga brookline schedule Contact with history and tradition can contribute to give a meaning to what one does, it can give access to a symbolic imaginary from which to draw suggestions and inspiration.

I will never stress enough how yoga is practice but also study, how study is a fundamental element in a teacher’s job, as it is him (or her) who translates and spreads yoga in today’s world: striving to know the history of what one teaches, to understand the cultural context and the literature, it is not simple intellectual curiosity, but is one of the fundamental requirements for a teacher.

Being a yoga teacher today does not mean pretending to be Indian, even as certain awkward naivety would sometimes suggest the opposite; it means to mediate between two cultures and trying to create and share a meaningful perspective.

banner