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The subtitle of this book could easily have been "everything you thought you knew about yoga is wrong." Drawing from extensive research and interviews done by the author in preparation for writing his Ph.D. dissertation, Singleton's thesis is that the posture-based yoga as we know it today is a result of a dialog between quasi-religions and modern body culture techniques developed in the West. If one follows his argument, it's more than a dialog, the interaction being in the manner of a raucous cocktail party with lots of shoving and pushing and, yes, posturing.
Wading through the many references I found interesting at first but it eventually became tedious and repetitive and I longed for the scissors of a skilful editor. I'm surprised Oxford University Press allowed the multiple indicators of this text being a dissertation pass into print as is.
While the book presents yet more evidence of the thorough impact of British colonial ideals and prejudices upon countries and cultures invaded, including a fixation on the physical and muscular to the detriment of the spiritual and slimly lithe, ploughing one's way though a surging tide of Indian names eventually caused a glazing over of the eyes. It's a shame, as twists and turns in the history of this chatter between Europe and the U.S. on the one hand and India on the other would go a long way to flesh out the larger topics of capitalism, democracy and corporate imperialism on a global scale. Imperial and/or invading powers and peoples have a habit of characterizing the invaded as weak, puny, diseased, in need of the so-called civilizing influence of the invader, regardless of the true state of affairs.
An interesting question which I don't see answered in the text, probably as it would have been beyond the scope of the author's dissertation's focus, but which could have been included in a reworking for this publication is why, in spite of India outnumbering the British colonizers, did so many Indians allow the British to foist upon them the idea of the need to be "robust" in the manner of the racist ideal of Greek marble statutes, to the extent of completely changing an Indian cultural artifact? Was it because the bodily contortions were associated with the poor begging for money in the fetid cities in India, a population despised by wealthy Indians? An analysis of the philosophical and psychological causes and effects of the alliance of the British colonizers and the Indian upper classes which had as one result the mutation or blending of the old (whatever that may be) and the new, the "authentic" and the modern is what I still seek. The upshot is that one benefit of this text is that the reader now has yet more evidence of the fallacy of the notion of "pure" whether it's cultural, racial or what-have-you.
The next time you drop into a down-dog, you might want to consider how, by doing so, you might be perpetuating Germanic based eugenicist ideas of the need to muscle up for the betterment of the human race.
© 2011 Cecile Lawrence
Cecile Lawrence, NY
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