Asana: Sacred or Secular Practise?

Lately I’ve been doing a lot of soul searching about yoga. Not because of the recent hullabaloo over the sexual peccadilloes of a certain yoga mogul or the continuing controversy over whether yoga will main us (as put forth by media coverage of William Broad’s book The Science of Yoga). No, my crisis of faith has to do with a real falsehood being perpetuated in the yoga world, one that truly calls its integrity into question.

You see, while I was once fond of pronouncing to new students that yoga is NOT gymnastics, but an ancient practice uniting mind, body and spirit, I can do so no longer. I’ve discovered that the alphabet of postures I’ve spent years learning -and so diligently teaching – have almost nothing to do with any yogic tradition.

According to Mark Singleton’s book Yoga Body: The Origins of Postural Practise the lexicon of asanas I hold as sacrosanct have a decidedly more secular origin – gymnastics routines of the early 20th century!Singleton not only flayed my sacred cow, he left me in need of a new opening gambit. And he left me questioning – why despite the mounds of historical evidence to the contrary, do we (the yoga community) persist in teaching postural practise as part of a venerable and ancient tradition?

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