On a few long train journeys recently I have had the opportunity to read Yoga Body by Mark Singleton which is based on his doctoral thesis. There have been two long book reviews of this in the membership magazine of the British Wheel of Yoga and a follow up response in a subsequent issue. The book has caused some controversy in the yoga world because the author argues that most of the asanas that we do in the West in yoga classes are not thousands of years old, but stem from a fusion of European gymnastics, physical body muscle culture phase of the 1920s/30s in India, body-building techniques, and a few other influences (this is a digested review!). He argues that much of what we do today therefore is only about 100 years old and that Krishnamacharya has had a huge influence in this new wave of yoga, partly because of his changing approaches over time and thus the approaches adopted by some of his pupils (e.g. BKS Iyengar, K Pattabhi Jois and TKV Desikachar). Physical yoga became disassociated from other yogic practices that had connotations of religious fanatics, hermits, wandering seers etc. It’s an interesting read.
Does it matter if aspects of what we practice as ‘yoga’ are only c.100 years old and are a fusion of different influences? If people leave the class feeling healthy, mended and happy, does it matter that most of the ‘asanas’ are not 2000 years old? Should we only be doing the asanas that are clearly listed in the older historical texts e.g. in the Hatha Yoga Pradipika? Big questions and I don’t have the answers.