Re: Recovering from New Age Mumbo Jumbo
Posted by: Hope ()
Date: January 14, 2012 03:35AM

My former yoga instructor didn't start preaching and holding Sunday kirtans while she was renting space in a church to hold classes. When she opened her own studio, everything went to hell in a handbasket. I dropped out, tired of her preaching and pseudopsychoanalysis. The dangerous thing she did, IMO, was suggest that fear of doing certain poses or not wanting to "go past your edge" was a metaphor for what was going on one's life in general. Do this in a beautifully lit, scented studio, with soothing, exotic-sounding music, with a lots of attention being paid and how many students are going to resist?

Contrast that with the instructor I found much later, who looks and sounds like Barry White, in a no-frills room in the library. No pressure, no preaching, just breathing and movement. The class, unfortunately, didn't attract enough people and was cancelled.

Re: Recovering from New Age Mumbo Jumbo
Posted by: shamela ()
Date: January 15, 2012 11:38PM

Certain yoga postures can be quite harmful, espcially ones that stress the lower back. That's why I stopped yoga many years ago. The postures were not developed with modern kinesthetic awareness.

Re: Recovering from New Age Mumbo Jumbo
Posted by: good enough ()
Date: January 16, 2012 01:58AM

I just came across this and thought I'd share because self-help/new age gurus love to use quotations from famous people. Goes to show you really can't believe everything you read, even when it's attributed to a famous dead person, which is rather convenient if you think about it (quoting dead people that is) because they can't come back and say they've been misquoted.

Op-Ed Contributor
Falser Words Were Never Spoken
Published: August 29, 2011
Bronxville, N.Y.

Open, N.Y.
IN a coffee shop not long ago, I saw a mug with an inscription from Henry David Thoreau: “Go confidently in the direction of your dreams! Live the life you’ve imagined.”

At least it said the words were Thoreau’s. But the attribution seemed a bit suspect. Thoreau, after all, was not known for his liberal use of exclamation points. When I got home, I looked up the passage (it’s from “Walden”): “I learned this, at least, by my experiment: that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.”

Now Thoreau isn’t quite saying that each of us can actually live the life we’ve imagined. He’s saying that if we try, we’ll come closer to it than we might ordinarily think possible. I suppose that the people responsible for the coffee mug would say that they’d merely tweaked the wording of the original a little. But in the tweaking, not only was the syntax lost, but the subtlety as well.

Gandhi’s words have been tweaked a little too in recent years. Perhaps you’ve noticed a bumper sticker that purports to quote him: “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” When you first come across it, this does sound like something Gandhi would have said. But when you think about it a little, it starts to sound more like ... a bumper sticker. Displayed brightly on the back of a Prius, it suggests that your responsibilities begin and end with your own behavior. It’s apolitical, and a little smug.

Sure enough, it turns out there is no reliable documentary evidence for the quotation. The closest verifiable remark we have from Gandhi is this: “If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. ... We need not wait to see what others do.”

Here, Gandhi is telling us that personal and social transformation go hand in hand, but there is no suggestion in his words that personal transformation is enough. In fact, for Gandhi, the struggle to bring about a better world involved not only stringent self-denial and rigorous adherence to the philosophy of nonviolence; it also involved a steady awareness that one person, alone, can’t change anything, an awareness that unjust authority can be overturned only by great numbers of people working together with discipline and persistence.

When you start to become aware of these bogus quotations, you can’t stop finding them. Henry James, George Eliot, Picasso — all of them are being kept alive in popular culture through pithy, cheery sayings they never actually said.

My favorite example of the fanciful quotation is a passage that’s been floating around the Internet for years. It’s frequently attributed to Nelson Mandela, the former South African president, and said to be an excerpt from his 1994 inaugural address.

“Our deepest fear,” the passage goes, “is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. ... As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

Picture it: Mr. Mandela, newly free after 27 years in prison, using his inaugural platform to inform us that we all have the right to be gorgeous, talented and fabulous, and that thinking so will liberate others. It’s hard to imagine it without laughing. Of course, it turns out it’s not actually an excerpt from this or any other known address of Mr. Mandela’s. In fact, the words aren’t even his; they belong to a self-help guru, Marianne Williamson.

Thoreau, Gandhi, Mandela — it’s easy to see why their words and ideas have been massaged into gauzy slogans. They were inspirational figures, dreamers of beautiful dreams. But what goes missing in the slogans is that they were also sober, steely men. Each of them knew that thoroughgoing change, whether personal or social, involves humility and sacrifice, and that the effort to change oneself or the world always exacts a price.

But ours is an era in which it’s believed that we can reinvent ourselves whenever we choose. So we recast the wisdom of the great thinkers in the shape of our illusions. Shorn of their complexities, their politics, their grasp of the sheer arduousness of change, they stand before us now. They are shiny from their makeovers, they are fabulous and gorgeous, and they want us to know that we can have it all.

Brian Morton, the director of the graduate program in fiction at Sarah Lawrence College, is the author of the novels “Starting Out in the Evening” and “Breakable You.”

Re: Recovering from New Age Mumbo Jumbo
Posted by: good enough ()
Date: January 16, 2012 02:11AM

Here's a piece on placebos, another big player in the self-help/new age world.


Why Placebos Work Wonders
From Weight Loss To Fertility, New Legitimacy For 'Fake' Treatments


Say "placebo effect" and most people think of the boost they may get from a sugar pill simply because they believe it will work. But more and more research suggests there is more than a fleeting boost to be gained from placebos.

A particular mind-set or belief about one's body or health may lead to improvements in disease symptoms as well as changes in appetite, brain chemicals and even vision, several recent studies have found, highlighting how fundamentally the mind and body are connected.

Is the placebo effect just the boost you may get from a sugar pill simply because you believe it will work? New research suggests there is more than just that to be gained from placebos. Emily Nelson reports. (Photo: Getty Images)

It doesn't seem to matter whether people know they are getting a placebo and not a "real" treatment. One study demonstrated a strong placebo effect in subjects who were told they were getting a sugar pill with no active ingredient.

View Interactive
Douglas B. Jones

Placebo treatments are sometimes used in some clinical practices. In a 2008 survey of nearly 700 internists and rheumatologists published in the British Medical Journal, about half said they prescribe placebos on a regular basis. The most popular were over-the-counter painkillers and vitamins. Very few physicians said they relied on sugar pills or saline injections. The American Medical Association says a placebo can't be given simply to soothe a difficult patient, and it can be used only if the patient is informed of and agrees to its use.

Researchers want to know more about how the placebo effect works, and how to increase and decrease it. A more powerful, longer-lasting placebo effect might be helpful in treating health conditions related to weight and metabolism.

Hotel-room attendants who were told they were getting a good workout at their jobs showed a significant decrease in weight, blood pressure and body fat after four weeks, in a study published in Psychological Science in 2007 and conducted by Alia Crum, a Yale graduate student, and Ellen Langer, a professor in the psychology department at Harvard. Employees who did the same work but weren't told about exercise showed no change in weight. Neither group reported changes in physical activity or diet.
[LAB-JUMP] Douglas B. Jones

Patients in a recent study were treated with placebos for an induced asthma attack. They reported feeling just as good as when they received an active treatment with albuterol.

Another study, published last year in the journal Health Psychology, shows how mind-set can affect an individual's appetite and production of a gut peptide called ghrelin (GREL-in), which is involved in the feeling of satisfaction after eating. Ghrelin levels are supposed to rise when the body needs food and fall proportionally as calories are consumed, telling the brain the body is no longer hungry and doesn't need to search out more food.

Yet the data show ghrelin levels depended on how many calories participants were told they were consuming, not how many they actually consumed. When told a milkshake they were about to drink had 620 calories and was "indulgent," the participants' ghrelin levels fell more—the brain perceived it was satisfied more quickly—than when they were told the shake had 120 calories and was "sensible."

The results may offer a physiological explanation of why eating diet foods can feel so unsatisfying, says Ms. Crum, first author on the study. "That mind-set of dieting is telling the body you're not getting enough."

Studies across medical conditions including depression, migraines and Parkinson's disease have found that supposedly inert treatments, like sugar pills, sham surgery and sham acupuncture, can yield striking effects. A 2001 study published in Science found that placebo was effective at improving Parkinson's disease symptoms at a magnitude similar to real medication. The placebo actually induced the brain to produce greater amounts of dopamine, the neurotransmitter known to be useful in treating the disease.

At times, a weaker placebo effect might be desired. In trials of experimental drug treatments for dementia, depression and other cognitive or psychiatric conditions, where one patient group takes medication and the other takes a sugar pill, it can be difficult to demonstrate that the medicine works because the placebo effect is so strong.

With depression, an estimated 30% to 45% of patients—or even more, in some studies—will respond to a placebo, according to a review published in December in Clinical Therapeutics. An additional 5% of patients were helped by an antidepressant in cases of mild depression, and an additional 16% in cases of severe depression. (The clinically meaningful cutoff for additional benefit was 11%.)

Fertility rates have been found to improve in women getting a placebo, perhaps because they experience a decrease in stress. A recent randomized trial of women with polycystic ovarian syndrome found that 15%, or 5 of 33, got pregnant while taking placebo over a six-month period, compared with 22%, or 7 of 32, who got the drug—a statistically insignificant difference. Other studies have demonstrated pregnancy rates as high as 40% in placebo groups.

Ted Kaptchuk, director of Harvard's Program in Placebo Studies and the Therapeutic Encounter, and colleagues demonstrated that deception isn't necessary for the placebo effect to work. Eighty patients with irritable bowel syndrome, a chronic gastrointestinal disorder, were assigned either a placebo or no treatment. Patients in the placebo group got pills described to them as being made with an inert substance and showing in studies to improve symptoms via "mind-body self-healing processes." Participants were told they didn't have to believe in the placebo effect but should take the pills anyway, Dr. Kaptchuk says. After three weeks, placebo-group patients reported feelings of relief, significant reduction in some symptoms and some improvement in quality of life.

Why did the placebo work—even after patients were told they weren't getting real medicine? Expectations play a role, Dr. Kaptchuk says. Even more likely is that patients were conditioned to a positive environment, and the innovative approach and daily ritual of taking the pill created an openness to change, he says.

Do placebos work on the actual condition, or on patients' perception of their symptoms? In a study published last year in the New England Journal of Medicine, Dr. Kaptchuk's team rotated 46 asthma patients through each of four types of treatment: no treatment at all, an albuterol inhaler, a placebo inhaler and sham acupuncture. As each participant got each treatment, researchers induced an asthma attack and measured the participant's lung function and perception of symptoms. The albuterol improved measured lung function compared with placebo. But the patients reported feeling just as good whether getting placebo or the active treatment.

"Right now, I think evidence is that placebo changes not the underlying biology of an illness, but the way a person experiences or reacts to an illness," Dr. Kaptchuk says.

Placebo can be more effective than the intended treatment. In a trial published in the journal Menopause in 2007, 103 women who had menopausal hot flashes got either five weeks of real acupuncture, or five weeks of sham acupuncture, where needles weren't placed in accepted therapeutic positions. A week after treatments ended, only some 60% of participants in both groups reported hot flashes—a robust immediate placebo effect. Seven weeks post-treatment, though, 55% of patients in the sham acupuncture group reported hot flashes, compared with 73% in the real acupuncture group.

Corrections & Amplifications
An earlier version of this article said that a study in the journal Health Psychology about appetite and the gut peptide ghrelin was published earlier this year.

Write to Shirley S. Wang at

Re: Recovering from New Age Mumbo Jumbo
Posted by: good enough ()
Date: January 16, 2012 02:25AM

Certain yoga postures can be quite harmful, espcially ones that stress the lower back. That's why I stopped yoga many years ago. The postures were not developed with modern kinesthetic awareness.

Not just the lower back, but also the neck and knees. Some of the moves look ridiculously unnatural when you take into account how our bodies work. I never understood why anyone would want to do a headstand and put that much weight on the neck.

Re: Recovering from New Age Mumbo Jumbo
Posted by: Hope ()
Date: January 17, 2012 11:51AM

Good Enough,

Great stuff. I've been reading about placebo effect on The National Committee on Complementary and Alternative Medicine is spinning the poor outcomes of their tax-payer funded research as "The Power of Placebo" and people are falling for it.

Health and lifestyle coaches, naturopaths, armchair nutritionists on health forums have thinly veiled message: If you get sick, it's your fault. You are responsible. This is the same message LGATs spout. Last week I stumbled upon an article by a Dr. Michael Fitzpatrick, Myths of Immunity ( []) and I began to really understand, a lot, of what is going on not just in alternative medicine where you might expect snake oil, but in medical schools (quackademics as they call it on and all over the internet.

Here is an excerpt:

The term 'immune system' is scarcely 30 years old

For Moulin [Anne Marie Moulin, a historian of immunology ]the immune system 'was a kind of metaphor', one that 'solved the need of communication not only between cells, but between the professionals of immunity'. If, as Moulin notes, 'in the 1970s, the immune system provided a trendy title for numerous lectures, articles, books, reviews', in the 1990s, the term moved beyond the world of science and entered a new phase of popularity in the public realm.

The 'linguistic versatility' of the term immune system was also the key to its crossover into vernacular notions of science. But the content of the concept also changed in the course of this transition. Though the term was borrowed from the science of immunology, its new meaning was filled out with ideas derived from influential contemporary trends, notably environmentalism, alternative health and New Age mysticism. At a time when these social movements expressed a profound pessimism about the prospects for the planet and a misanthropic outlook on humanity, the concept of an enfeebled immune system reflected the widespread sense of fragile individuality.
In a survey of popular accounts of threats to the immune system, from food additives and pesticides to electromagnetic fields and atmospheric pollution, psychiatrist Simon Wessely notes the centrality of the notion of a threatened immune system. 'The phrase "overload" is frequently used, to portray the idea of the body, or more particularly its immune system, collapsing under the strain of these environmental insults, and hence paving the way for illness.' (3)

Wessely comment s on the important role of this concept of the immune system in popular understandings of a wave of 'unexplained somatic syndromes' - chronic fatigue syndrome (also known as myalgic encephalomyelitis, or ME), food allergies, multiple chemical sensitivity, irritable bowel syndrome, fibromyalgia. He emphasises 'how scientific concepts, in this setting the role of the immune system, become parodied in the popular literature, which reflects an overriding sense of disquiet about the state of our environment'. (He notes the irony that such beliefs have become so influential at a time when environmental threats to health in Western society have dramatically receded.)

Yet these parodies of the scientific concept of immunity, once the preserve of a bohemian fringe, have won widespread popularity. They are articulated and promoted by practitioners of diverse schools of alternative health, by promoters of austere lifestyles and esoteric diets, and by purveyors of vitamins, anti-oxidants, trace minerals, herbs and homeopathic remedies. They are no longer confined to specialist magazines, but now permeate the mainstream media. They are also increasingly expressed in scientific, or at least pseudo-scientific, jargon, giving anti-scientific prejudices the aura of scientific legitimacy: this is junk science.

Re: Recovering from New Age Mumbo Jumbo
Posted by: corboy ()
Date: January 18, 2012 12:42AM

The closest verifiable remark we have from Gandhi is this: “If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. ... We need not wait to see what others do.”

What is readily forgotten by the Feel Gooders is that Gandhi's followers often put their lives at risk.

They were trained not to fight back when clubbed into bloody pulps.

And am going to say, with some sadness, that even during his time, not all agreed with Gandhi.

Gandhi's name has become famous and sentimentalized in the West.

How often do you see Apple Computer adverts or coffee mugs with a picture of
Ambedkar or some quotes from him?

Here are a few:

A great man is different from an eminent one in that he is ready to be the servant of the society.

I like the religion that teaches liberty, equality and fraternity.

I measure the progress of a community by the degree of progress which women have achieved.

History shows that where ethics and economics come in conflict, victory is always with economics. Vested interests have never been known to have willingly divested themselves unless there was sufficient force to compel them.


B. R. Ambedkar

Ambedkar was the one who proposed that since the Hindu social context gave no
human option to those considered outcastes, the thing to do was convert to a movement that had orginated in India and that denied any validity or value to caste or ritual and stated that virtuous behavior, dependent origination and the four foundations of mindfulness were what made humanity free--Buddhadharma.

Opt out of Hinduism and its caste system and expensive rituals and return to Buddhism.

put the value on virtuous behavior and

Re: Recovering from New Age Mumbo Jumbo
Posted by: corboy ()
Date: January 18, 2012 12:52AM

A tiny bit more about Ambedkar. He helped to draft the Indian constitutution.

He failed to get support for the Hindu Code Bill which would have given Hindu women equality under the law.

The Indian Constitution, on which Ambedkar worked, is a product of Engaged Buddhism.

Perhaps its best that BKA's thoughts are not easily fit upon the confines of blurb or coffee mug. He would be broken hearted if a jot or tittle of his uttrances were to be used to justify self satisfaction.

Very little satisfied him and that is why he left his corner of India a much finer place--and expected others to keep on after he left.

'Hope' its damn interesting that the no frills yoga class failed to work out. It may be that what people want is a mood and a 'scene', even if what they say they want is yoga.


Ambedkar: The architect of the Indian constitution
Despite his increasing unpopularity, controversial views, and intense criticism of Gandhi and the Congress, Ambedkar was by reputation an exemplary jurist and scholar. Upon India's independence on August 15, 1947, the new Congress-led government invited Ambedkar to serve as the nation's first law minister, which he accepted.

Dr.Ambedkar being administeared the Oath by the first President of Indian Republic Dr.Rajendra Prasad. Jawahar Lal Nehru the then Prime Minister of India, looking on. (1947 ).

Members of First Central Cabinet of Indian Republic Pandit Nehru, Prime Minister and Dr.Rajendra Prasad, President of India are sitting in the center. Dr.Ambedkar is sitting at the extreme of the first row. (Jan.1950).

On August 29, Ambedkar was appointed chairman of the Constitution Drafting Committee, charged by the Assembly to write free India's new Constitution. Ambedkar won great praise from his colleagues and contemporary observers for his drafting work. In this task Ambedkar's study of sangha practice among early Buddhists and his extensive reading in Buddhist scriptures was to come to his aid. Sangha practice incorporated voting by ballot, rules of debate and precedence and the use of agendas, committees and proposals to conduct business.

Sangha practice itself was modelled on the oligarchic system of governance followed by tribal republics of ancient India such as the Shakyas and the Lichchavis. Thus, although Ambedkar used Western models to give his Constitution shape, its spirit was Indian and, indeed, tribal.

The text prepared by Ambedkar provided constitutional guarantees and protections for a wide range of civil liberties for individual citizens, including freedom of religion, the abolition of untouchability and the outlawing of all forms of discrimination.

Ambedkar argued for extensive economic and social rights for women, and also won the Assembly's support for introducing a system of reservations of jobs in the civil services, schools and colleges for members of scheduled castes and scheduled tribes, a system akin to affirmative action.

India's lawmakers hoped to eradicate the socio-economic inequalities and lack of opportunities for India's depressed classes through this measure, which had been originally envisioned as temporary on a need basis.

The Constitution was adopted on November 26, 1949 by the Constituent Assembly.

Speaking after the completion of his work, Ambedkar said:I feel that the Constitution is workable; it is flexible and it is strong enough to hold the country together both in peace time and in war time. Indeed, if I may say so, if things go wrong under the new Constitution the reason will not be that we had a bad Constitution. What we will have to say is that Man was vile.

Ambedkar resigned from the cabinet in 1951 following the stalling in parliament of his draft of the Hindu Code Bill, which sought to expound gender equality in the laws of inheritance, marriage and the economy.

Although supported by Prime Minister Nehru, the cabinet and many other Congress leaders, it received criticism from a large number of members of parliament. Ambedkar independently contested an election in 1952 to the lower house of parliament, the Lok Sabha but was defeated. He was appointed to the upper house of parliament, the Rajya Sabha in March 1952 and would remain a member until his death.


But this doesnt seem to be the 'India' that most yoga people are interested in.

Re: Recovering from New Age Mumbo Jumbo
Posted by: corboy ()
Date: January 22, 2012 11:20PM

The Science of Yoga by William Broad appears to be available.


(Budget note: If you think you want to read it, go to your public library NOW and apply for a hold on the book so you can have a chance to read it. Be prepared to wait--there may be people ahead of you.

Two, if you wait a few months, go to and and you may well be able to find copies used. Some people may hate the book because it doesnt conform to their cherished beliefs and will ditch it. By waiting, you can get a copy second hand and save some money.

And one comment here.


Re: Recovering from New Age Mumbo Jumbo
Posted by: corboy ()
Date: January 22, 2012 11:57PM

Its often claimed that the yoga poses used in classes today are 'ancient'.

Yes, the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, a text, are centuries old.

But there are some intriguing suggestions that yoga poses may be of more modern origin--such as a Danish method called 'Primative Gymnastics'


Keep in mind that this item was published in Yoga Journal which is full of adverts for Indian food, accoutraments, etc

A full on Google search gives this

Here is the text of the Yoga Journal article.

As you read this, recall that in an earlier post on this thread, Hope told us how a yoga class taught with no frills, no chanting, no references to ancient wisdom, no emphasis on ancient or exotic sources---gained few students and had to end because too few showed interest. Exoticism sells.

What if its from Denmark?

Quote[] Greater Truth
A scholar embarks on a quest to trace the roots of his yoga practice back to their source. What he finds confounds and unsettles him, and, ultimately, provides him with a glimpse of yoga's greater truth.

By Mark Singleton Yoga Journal November 2010

The pale winter sunlight shone from the high windows of the Cambridge University library onto a dark leather book cover. In the hall full of silent scholars, I opened it and leafed through picture after picture of men and women in familiar postures. Here was Warrior Pose; there was Downward Dog. On this page the standing balance Utthita Padangusthasana; on the next pages Headstand, Handstand, Supta Virasana, and more—everything you might expect to find in a manual of yoga asana.

But this was no yoga book. It was a text describing an early 20th-century Danish system of dynamic exercise called Primitive Gymnastics. Standing in front of my yoga students that evening, I reflected on my discovery.

What did it mean that many of the poses I was teaching were identical to those developed by a Scandinavian gymnastics teacher less than a century ago? This gymnast had not been to India and had never received any teaching in asana. And yet his system, with its five-count format, its abdominal "locks," and its dynamic jumps in and out of those oh-so-familiar postures, looked uncannily like the vinyasa yoga system I knew so well.

Time passed, and my curiosity nagged at me, leading me to do further research. I learned that the Danish system was an offshoot of a 19th-century Scandinavian gymnastics tradition that had revolutionized the way Europeans exercised. Systems based on the Scandinavian model sprang up throughout Europe and became the basis for physical training in armies, navies, and many schools. These systems also found their way to India. In the 1920s, according to a survey taken by the Indian YMCA, Primitive Gymnastics was one of the most popular forms of exercise in the whole subcontinent, second only to the original Swedish gymnastics developed by P.H. Ling. That's when I became seriously confused.

Ancient or Modern?
This was not what my yoga teachers had taught me. On the contrary, yoga asana is commonly presented as a practice handed down for thousands of years, originating from the Vedas, the oldest religious texts of the Hindus, and not as some hybrid of Indian tradition and European gymnastics. Clearly there was more to the story than I had been told. My foundation was shaken, to say the least. If I was not participating in an ancient, venerable tradition, what exactly was I doing? Was I heir to an authentic yoga practice, or the unwitting perpetrator of a global fraud?

I spent the next four years researching feverishly in libraries in England, the United States, and India, searching for clues about how the yoga we practice today came into being. I looked through hundreds of manuals of modern yoga, and thousands of pages of magazines. I studied the "classical" traditions of yoga, particularly hatha yoga, from which my practice was said to derive. I read a swath of commentaries on Patanjali's Yoga Sutra; the Upanishads and the later "Yoga Upanishads"; medieval hatha yoga texts like the Goraksasataka, Hatha Yoga Pradipika, and others; and texts from the Tantric traditions, from which the less complex, and less exclusive, hatha yoga practices had arisen.

Scouring these primary texts, it was obvious to me that asana was rarely, if ever, the primary feature of the significant yoga traditions in India. Postures such as those we know today often figured among the auxiliary practices of yoga systems (particularly in hatha yoga), but they were not the dominant component. They were subordinate to other practices like pranayama (expansion of the vital energy by means of breath), dharana (focus, or placement of the mental faculty), and nada (sound), and did not have health and fitness as their chief aim. Not, that is, until the sudden explosion of interest in postural yoga in the 1920s and 1930s, first in India and later in the West.

When Asana Went West

Yoga began to gain popularity in the West at the end of the 19th century. But it was a yoga deeply influenced by Western spiritual and religious ideas, representing in many respects a radical break from the grass-roots yoga lineages of India. The first wave of "export yogis," headed by Swami Vivekananda, largely ignored asana and tended to focus instead on pranayama, meditation, and positive thinking. The English-educated Vivekananda arrived on American shores in 1893 and was an instant success with the high society of the East Coast. While he may have taught some postures, Vivekananda publicly rejected hatha yoga in general and asana in particular.

Those who came from India to the United States in his wake were inclined to echo Vivekananda's judgments on asana. This was due partly to long-standing prejudices held by high-caste Indians like Vivekananda against yogins, "fakirs," and low-caste mendicants who performed severe and rigorous postures for money, and partly to the centuries of hostility and ridicule directed toward these groups by Western colonialists, journalists, and scholars. It was not until the 1920s that a cleaned up version of asana began to gain prominence as a key feature of the modern English language-based yogas emerging from India.

This cleared up some long-standing questions of mine. In the mid-1990s, armed with a copy of B.K.S. Iyengar's Light on Yoga, I had spent three years in India for yoga asana instruction and was struck by how hard it was to find. I took classes and workshops all over India from well-known and lesser-known teachers, but these catered mostly to Western yoga pilgrims. Wasn't India the home of yoga? Why weren't more Indians doing asana? And why, no matter how hard I looked, couldn't I find a yoga mat?

As I continued to delve into yoga's recent past, pieces of the puzzle slowly came together, revealing an ever-larger portion of the whole picture. In the early decades of the 20th century, India—like much of the rest of the world—was gripped by an unprecedented fervor for physical culture, which was closely linked to the struggle for national independence. Building better bodies, people reasoned, would make for a better nation and improve the chances of success in the event of a violent struggle against the colonizers. A wide variety of exercise systems arose that melded Western techniques with traditional Indian practices from disciplines like wrestling. Oftentimes, the name given to these strength-building regimes was "yoga."

*(CorboySimilar to systems such as Brazilian capoeira, which is a system of martial arts created by the downtrodden who fooled their masters into thinking they were dancing. Okinawan stick fighting was created by farmers who were forbidden to carry weapons but needed some way to defend themselves and devised an effective method of defence using their walking sticks or farm tools.)

Some teachers, such as Tiruka (a.k.a. K. Raghavendra Rao), traveled the country disguised as yoga gurus, teaching strengthening and combat techniques to potential revolutionaries. Tiruka's aim was to prepare the people for an uprising against the British, and, by disguising himself as a religious ascetic, he avoided the watchful eye of the authorities.

Other teachers, like the nationalist physical culture reformist Manick Rao, blended European gymnastics and weight-resistance exercises with revived Indian techniques for combat and strength. Rao's most famous student was Swami Kuvalayananda (1883-1966), the most influential yoga teacher of his day. During the 1920s, Kuvalayananda, along with his rival and gurubhai ("guru brother") Sri Yogendra (1897-1989), blended asanas and indigenous Indian physical culture systems with the latest European techniques of gymnastics and naturopathy
With the help of the Indian government, their teachings spread far and wide, and asanas—reformulated as physical culture and therapy—quickly gained a legitimacy they had not previously enjoyed in the post-Vivekanandan yoga revival. Although Kuvalayananda and Yogendra are largely unknown in the West, their work is a large part of the reason we practice yoga the way we do today.

Innovative AsanaThe other highly influential figure in the development of modern asana practice in 20th-century India was, of course, T. Krishnamacharya (1888-1989), who studied at Kuvalayananda's institute in the early 1930s and went on to teach some of the most influential global yoga teachers of the 20th century, like B.K.S. Iyengar, K. Pattabhi Jois, Indra Devi, and T.K.V. Desikachar. Krishnamacharya was steeped in the traditional teachings of Hinduism, holding degrees in all six darshanas (the philosophical systems of orthodox Hinduism) and Ayurveda. But he was also receptive to the needs of his day, and he was not afraid to innovate, as evidenced by the new forms of asana practice he developed during the 1930s. During his tenure as a yoga teacher under the great modernizer and physical culture enthusiast Krishnarajendra Wodeyar, the maharajah of Mysore, Krishnamacharya formulated a dynamic asana practice, intended mainly for India's youth, that was very much in line with the physical culture zeitgeist.

It was, like Kuvalayananda's system, a marriage of hatha yoga, wrestling exercises, and modern Western gymnastic movement, and unlike anything seen before in the yoga tradition.

These experiments eventually grew into several contemporary styles of asana practice, most notably what is known today as Ashtanga vinyasa yoga. Although this style of practice represents only a short period of Krishnamacharya's extensive teaching career (and doesn't do justice to his enormous contribution to yoga therapy), it has been highly influential in the creation of American vinyasa, flow, and Power Yoga-based systems.

So where did this leave me? It seemed clear that the styles I practiced were a relatively modern tradition, with goals, methods, and motives different from those traditionally ascribed to asanas. One only has to peruse translations of texts like the Hatha Tattva Kaumudi, the Gheranda Samhita, or the Hatha Ratnavali, to see that much of the yoga that dominates America and Europe today has changed almost beyond recognition from the medieval practices. The philosophical and esoteric frameworks of premodern hatha yoga, and the status of asanas as "seats" for meditation and pranayama, have been sidelined in favor of systems that foreground gymnastic movement, health and fitness, and the spiritual concerns of the modern West.

Did this make the yoga I was practicing inauthentic?

This was not a casual question for me. My daily routine during those years was to get up before dawn, practice yoga for two and a half hours, and then sit down for a full day researching yoga history and philosophy. At the end of the day, I would teach a yoga class or attend one as a student. My whole life revolved around yoga.

I went back to the library. I discovered that the West had been developing its own tradition of gymnastic posture practice long before the arrival of Indian asana pioneers like B.K.S. Iyengar.

And these were spiritual traditions, often developed by and for women, which used posture, breath, and relaxation to access heightened states of awareness. Americans like Cajzoran Ali and Genevieve Stebbins, and Europeans like Dublin-born Mollie Bagot Stack, were the early 20th-century heirs to these traditions of "harmonial movement." Newly arrived asana-based yoga systems were, naturally, often interpreted through the lens of these preexisting Western gymnastic traditions.

*(Corboy note: The first to begin franchising yoga and yoga studios as a business was Pierre Bernard who operated during the late 1890s into the 1930s. Bernard is a subject a biography by Robert Love 'The Great Oom")

There was little doubt in my mind that many yoga practitioners today are the inheritors of the spiritual gymnastics traditions of their great-grandparents far more than they are of medieval hatha yoga from India. And those two contexts were very, very different. It isn't that the postures of modern yoga derive from Western gymnastics (although this can sometimes be the case). Rather, as syncretic yoga practices were developing in the modern period, they were interpreted through the lens of, say, the American harmonial movement, Danish gymnastics, or physical culture more generally. And this profoundly changed the very meaning of the movements themselves, creating a new tradition of understanding and practice.

This is the tradition that many of us have inherited.

Although I never broke off my daily asana practice during this time, I was understandably experiencing something like a crisis of faith.

The ground on which my practice had seemed to stand—Patanjali, the Upanishads, the Vedas—was crumbling as I discovered that the real history of the "yoga tradition" was quite different from what I had been taught. If the claims that many modern yoga schools were making about the ancient roots of their practices were not strictly true, were they then fundamentally inauthentic?

Over time, however, it occurred to me that asking whether modern asana traditions were authentic was probably the wrong question. It would be easy to reject contemporary postural practice as illegitimate, on the grounds that it is unfaithful to ancient yoga traditions. But this would not be giving sufficient weight to the variety of yoga's practical adaptations over the millennia, and to modern yoga's place in relation to that immense history. As a category for thinking about yoga, "authenticity" falls short and says far more about our 21st-century insecurities than it does about the practice of yoga.

One way out of this false debate, I reasoned, was to consider certain modern practices as simply the latest grafts onto the tree of yoga. Our yogas obviously have roots in Indian tradition, but this is far from the whole story. Thinking about yoga this way, as a vast and ancient tree with many roots and branches, is not a betrayal of authentic "tradition," nor does it encourage an uncritical acceptance of everything that calls itself "yoga," no matter how absurd. On the contrary, this kind of thinking can encourage us to examine our own practices and beliefs more closely, to see them in relation to our own past as well as to our ancient heritage. It can also give us some clarity as we navigate the sometimes-bewildering contemporary marketplace of yoga.
Learning about our practice's Western cultural and spiritual heritage shows us how we bring our own understandings and misunderstandings, hopes and concerns to our interpretation of tradition, and how myriad influences come together to create something new. It also changes our perspective on our own practice, inviting us to really consider what we're doing when we practice yoga, what its meaning is for us. Like the practice itself, this knowledge can reveal to us both our conditioning and our true identity.

Beyond mere history for history's sake, learning about yoga's recent past gives us a necessary and powerful lens for seeing our relationship with tradition, ancient and modern. At its best, modern yoga scholarship is an expression of today's most urgently needed yogic virtue, viveka ("discernment" or "right judgment"). Understanding yoga's history and tangled, ancient roots brings us that much closer to true, clear seeing. It may also help to move us to a more mature phase of yoga practice for the 21st century.

Corboy note: A person can be said to be learned, but cannot be said to be a scholar if he or she uses the term 'mere history'.

The wider implications are that so very many people seem attracted to yoga because of the air of exoticism and the claims that the postures and routines are ancient, same was what was done by characters in the Ramayana, Mahabharata.

If the Sanskrit texts do not support this, and if the texts on Danish 'Primitive Gymnastics turn out to be a source of the poses and class methods--that is something that has to be faced in ones head and ones guts.

One way out is to consider this a matter of aesthetic. But to face that while the texts are Indian, the source of the postures as practiced and taught today in yoga studios are Danish Modern.

You can love a particular aesthetic or art movement and at the same time know its full history.

Joe Szimharts article on spirituality as aesthetics may be helpful.


Here is Bharati’s description of a scholastic equivalent of ‘Advaita Shuffle’, one that has been used and abused to trick people into feeling ashamed of their valid questions—and misgivings.

‘I learned the stereotypical method of rebuttal common to all* traditions of religious doctrine in India: The moment discursive thought (that is, thought that is based on reaching a conclusion through use of reason and verifiable/falsifiable evidence) would jeopardize the axiomatic perfection of the text, the critic is given a simple line:

‘Your argument may be intellectually valid but what of it? Only those who have seen the light can see the consistency of the text. Only those who have experienced the truth from within can see that intellectual argument is of no avail in the end.’

Bharati commented, ‘this would hardly be objectionable were the atmosphere among Indian scholastics purely non-discursive (that is if they were in a state of enlightenment 100% of the time and used intuitive, non-rational methods of thought 100% of the time). But this is not true: the theologians avail themselves of refined scholastic argument all the time, *but they jettison all of it the moment their axioms are impugned.’* (Bharati, The Ochre Robe pp. 132-133)

If one learns the Danish modern origins of yoga postures, a fundamental axiom on which yoga has been advertised and taught is impugned.

If one can face that the modern yoga industry is marking something that is a bricolage of some ancient texts (Patanaji, Rig Vedas and others) while incorporating modern advertising and marketing technique, and Danish modern gymnastic exercises, with a swirl of Indian brocades, sandalwood and chant---what you have is an aesthetic community, a sort of artists colony that claims a spiritual benefit.

But to serve spiritual purposes, you have to honor history and not dismiss history as 'mere'.

If it stirs up your painful emotions--thats a platform for deep practice.

And one of the hardest things a human person can do.

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