An essay about the ascetic roots of yoga (see here for shorter version)

What is the purpose of asana?

By Daniel Simpson

"You may be doing meditation sitting in a corner and becoming empty within yourselves with that emptiness which also comes in sleep. I do not do that meditation. I meditate, not sitting in a corner, but in every movement of life, in every position I perform, in every asana."

B.K.S. Iyengar1

Iyengar meditation (via IYI, London)

Contemporary yoga seems synonymous with postures. On Instagram, 10 million pictures are hash-tagged "yoga".2 Stripping out adverts and dubious quotes, most show contortions of some kind. Hardly any of these are described in ancient texts. They get performed for a mix of contradictory reasons. These extend from working out, and showing off the results, to quests for internal transformation. The latter are more in keeping with tradition. Physical practice began with ascetics, who disciplined their bodies as part of renouncing worldly life. Their austerities had esoteric rationales, yielding spiritual powers and liberation from rebirth. By the 20th century, health and fitness were more prominent. New postural methods made yoga dynamic and less arcane, which helped it spread around the world. Disentangling who does what, let alone why they do it, became more complicated.

Defining asana

The Sanskrit translated as "posture" raises questions. According to the Monier-Williams dictionary, asana is "sitting".3 It is formed from as, which means "sit quietly" (as well as "be present", "make one's abode in" and "do anything without interruption"). Specifically, it is "the manner of sitting forming part of the eightfold observances of ascetics." This refers to a system laid out in Patanjali's Yogasutra,4 roughly 1,600 years ago. Little is said about posture in that text. It is one of yoga's constituent elements (the others being ethical principles, breath-control and an inward focus of the senses and the mind).5 But there is only one guideline in practical terms, sutra II.46: sthira-sukham asanam,6 most often rendered as: "posture should be steady and comfortable."7

This wording implies misconceptions. As Philipp Maas cautions, the oft-quoted sutra "does not contain a general characterisation of posture, nor does it prescribe any ideal form of posture".8 Instead, it describes what results from something else. The following sutra spells this out, listing "the stopping of effort and meditative absorption in infinity as the two alternative causes that establish a yogic posture," which is "comfort-producing".9 The posture itself need not be easy to maintain; it becomes that way with meditative skill. Maas therefore deduces that practice "aims at withdrawing the mind from the perception of the body in order to avoid uncomfortable sensations".10

However achieved, the net effect is sitting still. Although the Yogasutra lists no postures, its accompanying commentary names a dozen. Later sources describe them as seated, and for meditating.11 Earlier texts rarely use the word asana, except to mean where someone sits. For example, the Taittiriya Upanishad says: "greet any Brahmin who is superior to us by offering him a seat."12 A few centuries later, the Bhagavad Gita applied the same term to teaching yoga: a practitioner "sets up a firm seat" to look within, "holding in balance the head, neck and body".13 This is echoed in the Svetasvatara Upanishad: a sage "keeps his body straight, with the three sections erect, and draws the senses together with the mind into his heart".14

Since the aim is to focus attention on one point,15 Edwin Bryant concludes: "asana's relevance and function for the classical Yoga tradition are to train the body so that it does not disturb or distract the mind of the yogi in any way when sitting in meditation".16 But if postures are meditative seats, and "unwaveringly comfortable" only if one meditates effectively,17 are they really "preliminary," as Bryant argues?18 An ascetic could take up an asana (sitting position) on his asana (sanctified⁠ spot, or stretched-out tiger skin), without being in training. Even when texts teach complex postures centuries later, they still "require the yogi to gaze in meditation between his eyebrows or at the tip of his nose".19

Ascetic discipline

Meditation and breath-work aside, physical techniques are rarely mentioned in texts until the medieval era. But accounts of non-seated postures do exist. They begin with the Buddha's liaisons with ascetics, 2,500 years ago. Buddhist sources relate harsh austerities, among them "meditation without breath," a "[self-inflicted] torture" the Buddha endured, complete with "painful, sharp, severe sensations".20 The same agonised phrase is used of Jains,21 whose ultimate self-mortifying goal was to stand or sit until they starved.

This approach, dubbed "immobility asceticism" by Johannes Bronkhorst,22 was an answer to karma and reincarnation, the doctrines of actions and outcomes by which people suffer through endless lives. The origins of these theories are unclear, but they spawned groups of ascetics known collectively as sramanas. Inaction had an underlying logic: by not moving, one burned karma, and stopped producing it. Some sramanas used Jaina techniques without fasting to death, crouching in squats or refusing to sit. Others held limbs aloft for lengthy periods, or dangled from branches in the "bat penance".23

Greeks in Alexander the Great's invading army watched Indian sages in contortions. One is said to have "stood on one leg, with a piece of wood three cubits in length raised in both hands; when one leg was fatigued he changed the support to the other, and thus continued the whole day".24 The Bhagavad Gita denounces such "fierce, heated disciplines" as "demonic" and "thoughtlessly harming the multitude of elements in the body".25 However, like other ascetic ideas, they slowly filtered into scripture, as Brahmins co-opted rival points of view. By the time of the Puranas, eulogies to deities from the later first millennium, even kings are described as engaging in austerities.

The reasons for doing so are rarely explained. Like ascetic techniques, they were passed on orally, if at all. On the rare occasions we hear directly from practitioners, their motivations are commitment and devotion. To quote an 18th century Indian named Purn Puri,26 who held both arms above his head for decades:

"As to the fruits or consequences, God alone is thoroughly acquainted therewith; what can I, an ignorant mortal, know, so as to describe what benefits each penance has already produced, or what rewards will be obtained by those who may hereafter undertake them."27

Questioned by a Briton on his choice, Purn Puri outlined 18 traditional "kinds of devotional discipline".28 Instead of lifting his arms, he could have never sat down, or not stood up; stared at the sky, or at the earth; kept his hands on his chest, or stretched out straight; tied his feet to a tree and swung through flames; sat naked, encircled by fires; never spoken a word; stood on one foot, or on his head, or kept it buried underground; held his breath, except to eat; never touched food before seeing the sun; or held one of 84 difficult postures for hours on end: the original version of power yoga. His comments about his decision are matter-of-fact:

"It is necessary to be very abstemious when eating and sleeping for one year, and to keep the mind fixed, that is to be patient and resigned to the will of the Deity. For one year great pain is endured, but during the second less, and habit reconciles the party; the pain diminishes in the third year, after which no kind of uneasiness is felt."29

As if to confirm this, Purn Puri travelled widely, maintaining the posture as he went.30

Purn Puri, arms aloft

Inner fire

These days, renouncers in India raise one limb. A well-known example is Amar Bharti, who has been on TV around the world, from documentaries to An Idiot Abroad.31 His right arm has been up in the air since before I was born, more than 40 years ago. Gnarled and gaunt, it looks locked into place by a twisted shoulder, with corkscrewing nails sprouting out of its fist like blackened wood shavings. The first time I met him, in 2001, he was mobbed by crowds; a star among the ascetics of Juna Akhara, an encampment of yogis at the sprawling Kumbh Mela by the Ganges. Tens of millions of pilgrims meant a constant stream of visitors. Many fell at his feet and proffered cash, which his left hand stashed beneath a carpet. When asked why he did what he did, he offered variants on "because". Relentless consumption of cannabis may have helped. Twelve years later, I met him again, at his ritual fire in a temple outhouse. I saw no point in further questions. Amar Bharti raised his arm and that was that.

The technical term for austerities is tapasya.32 It derives from tap, which means both "make hot" and "give out heat". The "warmth" of tapas equates to sacrificial fire, which ascetics internalise. This conception dates back to the Vedas, the oldest surviving Indian texts. In Walter Kaelber's view, "one would be hard-pressed to find a more well-articulated rationale for asceticism or a more systematic and delineated program of ascetic behaviour than that of Vedic India," in which "heated effort" yields "liberating knowledge of ultimate reality".33 Dolf Hartsuiker stresses that "self-chastisement should not be seen as atonement or expiation of sin," as in Christianity, "but rather a pragmatic manipulation of matter to free the indwelling spirit".34

In the Ramayana,35 the sage Visvamitra reaches spiritual heights through intensive tapasya. The Yogasutra also emphasises tapas as the basis of practice (a self-disciplined zeal that accompanies study and surrender to divinity),36 and a way to get powers that come with liberating insight (as are mantras, good karma and drugs).37 As Patanjali says of austerities: "on account of the removal of impurities, the perfection of the senses and the body manifests".38

To Hariharananda Aranya, this vindicates willpower.39 "Enduring the extremes" of self-denial, he says, "is conducive to the practice of Yoga".40 Merely remaining celibate, for example, is inadequate. "Continence cannot be achieved unless the natural production of the body-seed is checked by abstaining from thoughts of objects of desire through a firm control over one's mind and controlled diet and sleep".41 This partly explains genital tapasya, in which ascetics show off restraint by doing penis tricks, such as rolling the shaft around a stick, or lifting rocks with slings of cloth. Such gruelling feats help make them impotent, paradoxically ending the need to withstand a sexual urge.

Less food and sleep helps redirect the "inner fire," Hartsuiker adds.42 Fasting "cleanses the body, sharpens the mind, and beyond a certain point induces 'weightlessness' and visions of the divine".43 Despite condemnations of austerities by teachers since the Buddha, they are still being practised, albeit "less frequently and less extremely than before".44

Broader audiences

It is barely 1,000 years since the first postural techniques from ascetic traditions were taught in texts. Around the 10th century, the Vimanarcanakalpa described the earliest non-seated posture called an asana: the peacock, or mayurasana.45 Another arm balance followed in the Vasisthasamhita: cock pose, or kukkutasana.46 Holding either for more than minutes would be challenging. Yet challenge epitomised physical forms of yoga. Known as hatha, meaning "obstinacy" or "force", they required dedication. As James Mallinson puts it,47 their methods "were difficult and forced their results."

Early practices sought to conserve the source of life, identified as bindu, meaning semen. This was thought to be stored in the head, from where it leaked until discharged. Most techniques tried to turn this around, either mechanically by inverting the body, as in viparitakarani, or by directing vital energy using breath, through a subtle physiology shared with other yogic arts.48 In the 13th century Dattatreyayogasastra, the first text to teach hatha yoga by that name, no distinction is made between physical and spiritual practice, unlike Vivekananda six centuries later, who talked up the latter and downplayed the former. But its message was just as inclusive as Vivekananda's: yoga is for everyone, regardless of creed.49

Practice is vital, the text explains.50 Dismissing mantras and other methods as "lowly",51 it outlines the eightfold yogic path, and teaches the lotus pose for sitting. Ten further practices are revealed, mostly mudras (seals) and bandhas (locks), held like postures. Comparing these hatha techniques to traditional eightfold yogic discipline, the text says: "the difference is a difference in practice, but the reward is one and the same".52 This is "equal to all religious merit",53 but few details are given except on side-effects.

Inversions remove grey hair and wrinkles,54 while seated breath-control purifies the nadis (subtle energetic channels) for "nimbleness, radiance, an increase in the digestive fire and leanness".55 In time, "the yogi looks like the god of love," and "women want to have sex with him," which could be "a great obstacle" were he not committed to "constant retention of semen" and the "fine odour" this cultivates.56 Among other "amazing powers" he develops are "the ability to travel long distances in an instant" and "turning iron and other metals into gold by smearing them with his faeces and urine".57

Lines from the Dattatreyayogasastra appear in the 15th century Hathapradipika, which was compiled from at least 20 sources.58 While the Dattatreyayogasastra says there are 8,400,000 postures, the Hathapradipika whittles them down to 84, and explains 15. More than half are seated. Most are described with therapeutic benefits. Mayurasana "overcomes defects" of the stomach;59 bhadrasana is "destroyer of all diseases".60 Generally, asanas "give steadiness, health, and lightness of the body",61 and "the best yogis" learn how to hold them "without fatigue" before breath-work and mudras, which cleanse nadis for "concentration on nada," internal sounds.62

The Hathapradipika combines these techniques with laya yoga, a Tantric approach to dissolving the mind. Its best-known means was to awaken kundalini, a coil of energy at the base of the spine, and raise it through six subtle cakras to fuse with consciousness. This would permeate the body with nectar (amrta) and was therefore at odds with keeping bindu in the head, but it became the new goal of hatha yoga.63 As ascetic techniques got repurposed, the meaning of hatha also changed. As opposed to denoting force, it was said (in the Yogabija, another Hathapradipika source) to be the union of solar (ha) and lunar (tha) forms of energy.64 Sun and moon are sometimes synonyms for nadis (the right and left energetic channels, pingala and ida), for masculine and feminine, and for upper and lower breaths (prana and apana), which hatha unites to stoke bodily fires.65

The ultimate aim is absorption in samadhi, also known as raja yoga.66 However, "Raja Yoga will not be complete without Hatha, nor Hatha without Raja".67 This objective beyond a distinction of matter and spirit recalls the Yogasutra, which states that once absorbed, "one is not is afflicted by the dualities of the opposites".68 To both Patanjali and Svatmarama, the Hathapradipika's author, asana is an aspect of the process. Yet preceding Tantric sources left it out. Most taught sixfold yoga, minus ethical precepts and with tarka (inquiry) replacing asana; it was assumed that practitioners sat for Tantric rituals.69

Subsequent texts give more priority to postures, teaching over 100 before British imperialists entered India. As Jason Birch notes: "there are very few seated, forward, backward, twisting and arm-balancing poses in modern yoga that have not been anticipated" by the 18th century.70 One manuscript, the Kapalakuruntakahathabhyasapaddhati, lists movements such as gajasana, a form of "downward dog," which it says to do "over and over again".71 Poses are even categorised by type: supine, prone, seated, standing, roped and miscellaneous. In this treatise, "firmness of the body becomes the sole purpose of asana," preparing it for cleansing satkarmas and pranayama breath-work.72

In Mallinson's assessment, "democratisation of yoga was responsible for the production of its texts," which were "written in simple Sanskrit and free from the abstruse metaphysics of the Yogasutra".73 Down the centuries, they integrate sources from Indian wrestling to the Upanishads, reflecting a widening base of interest in the practices.74

"Root Yoga" (via Tumblr)

Modern hybrids

Yoga in the 21st century is strikingly similar from San Francisco to Shanghai. Popular "flow" classes look like rhythmic calisthenics or, with less skilled practice, flailing mindlessly in space. Nonetheless, there are trappings of timelessness in Sanskrit names of poses, chants of Om (the universal vibration) and Namaste (a grammatically flawed collective greeting).75 As experienced by an Indian immigrant in Toronto, studio yoga "felt weird, like a curious mix of a high school gym class" and "inarticulate piety of some sort".76

This cross-cultural mash-up began in colonial-era India. It accounts for the appearance of sequenced asana, such as sun salutations, and wide-legged standing poses like triangle, both hitherto unknown but now globalised staples. Postural practice has never been so popular. Yet to Hindu elites in the 19th century, it seemed undignified and backward, unlike the rarefied spirituality of Vedanta, or Patanjali's aphorisms. By the early 20th century, this had changed. Pioneering gurus developed a "science" of teaching asana, honing physical health and nascent Indian national pride. They drew on a range of inspiration from abroad, from Scandinavian gymnastics and esoteric dance to army training drills and bodybuilding. Inventions were couched in classic yogic terms, as if the Vedas contained commandments on vinyasa.77

Not all of today's yoga is asana. Baba Ramdev, an Indian guru, teaches televised pranayama, plus some "easy yoga" warm-ups. This year, he aims to sell $320 million worth of products, "from soaps and mustard oil to cornflakes".78 Others blend charismatic teachings with devotion, in "somewhat unstable intellectual mixtures".79 But postural methods mostly share a common source: the innovations of T. Krishnamacharya and his pupils, especially B.K.S. Iyengar and K. Pattabhi Jois, whose alignment and sequencing influence teachers round the world (although all three have passed away).80

Hired by the Maharaja of Mysore in the 1930s, Krishnamacharya taught in his palace for two decades. His classes were a "melding of asana and exercise".81 Palace archives say his aim was "to promote the physical well-being of [royal] boys".82 Trained in traditional disciplines of philosophy, and by a guru who allegedly taught 3,000 postures, he attributed what he created to ancient texts, while using modern self-promotion.83 Before moving to the palace, he worked on a coffee plantation, and gave demonstrations on days off. His feats of bodily control included pausing his pulse, stopping cars with his hands and lifting objects with his teeth. As Fernando Pages Ruiz comments: "To teach people about yoga, Krishnamacharya felt, he first had to get their attention".84

Presentations of asana were effectively his business card, though he used the printed sort as well.85 He also had posters, claiming his "Yoga System" was "Handed Down to us by the Rishis" of Vedic lore, with "nothing to excel it in efficiency for building a sound body, a sound mind and a spiritual life".86 By making asana accessible, and desirable, Krishnamacharya continued democratising yoga. But its end remained devotion to divinity. Rather than impose his own faith, he urged students "to find in your own culture the name which you want to invoke in the depths of your heart".87

What he taught remained in flux throughout his life.88 One student recalls its essence as: "Teach what is appropriate for an individual".89 Each of his pupils shared a different form of yoga, from the vigour of Ashtanga Vinyasa as taught by Jois to Iyengar's penchant for holding a pose for half an hour or more.90

For Iyengar, postures are portals to infinity. "All the eight limbs of yoga have their place within the practice of asana," he writes,91 if done with "awareness from the self to the skin and from the skin to the self".92 This means "positioning the body as a whole with a physical, mental and spiritual attitude".93 The asana serves as a prop for concentration, until "the yogi becomes free of body consciousness".94 In Patanjali's terms, "anything of one's inclination" can be a springboard to samadhi.95 Edwin Bryant says Iyengar's insight is transformative. "People who might otherwise be disinterested in some of the other truth claims of Yoga are very attracted to asana," he notes.96 "If the mind is fully fixed and absorbed without distraction on the practice," then "an essential goal of yoga is nonetheless attained," and "the inclination to cultivate wisdom and enlightenment manifests automatically."97

Postural yoga sounds simple in theory. An Iyengar disciple sums it up as: "Pay attention".98 One has to focus on physical actions, not the contents of the mind, which gets more flighty thanks to "smartphones" and the Internet.99 Relief from depression, anxiety and stress are common reasons people start,100 along with injuries and the aches of desk-bound life. "Ashtanga is an embodied tradition," advertises a studio in Ann Arbor.101 "Please, simply offer us your presence if you'd like to draw upon its riches."

Ashtanga, which makes people sweat, is described in purifying terms.102 Invoking tapas, Jois says it starts as a physical discipline, sharpening the mind by cleansing energetic channels. Deep breaths and a focused gaze both help achieve this, as does counting movements "like a mantra".103 The athletic approach, and the "driven" personalities it attracts,104 can also raise the risk of injury. I have experienced this myself. Whatever I might like to think, I sometimes practise to bury emotions in sensation, or to get an endorphin hit or tighter-looking abs. Mostly, though, I do it for absorption.

Gregor Maehle, a reformed "Ashtanga zealot", thinks not practicing spiritually causes most injuries.105 People "are desperately trying to wring out of their body something that is not to be found in the body," he says,106 whereas meditation and breath-work provide "inner peace and self-acceptance." Iyengar's son Prashant says something similar. "Yoga is not a work-out," he tells students,107 "it's a work-in."

To his father, however: "Yoga is effort. Only practice is important. The rest of knowledge is only theory".108 Asceticism still defines yoga, just not as harshly as before. Although "the yogi conquers the body," Iyengar writes,109 he "never neglects or mortifies" it, since "the body is not an impediment to his spiritual liberation nor is it the cause of its fall, but is an instrument of attainment," revealing "heaven in himself".110

Hatha yoga is a gradual path of self-improvement. However, the freedom to which it aspires is instantaneous. Once experienced, there is "nothing to improve", as one of my teachers likes to say, before inviting us to sit through the night "for the delight of sitting".111

The significance of asana is less what we do than the way it is done.


N.B. - Sanskrit diacritics are omitted for ease of reading. A PDF with diacritical marks is uploaded here.

Further Reading

  1. B.K.S. Iyengar, The Tree of Yoga (Boston: Shambhala, 2002), p.70. ↩

  2. On 10 April 2015, #yoga returned 10,103,270 images. ↩

  3. Monier Williams Sanskrit-English Dictionary [Online], accessed 2 April 2015. ↩

  4. If, as some scholars suggest, the Yogasutra and its bhasya commentary were compiled at the same time, the text's full title should be the Patanjalayogasastra. See Philipp Maas, "A Concise Historiography of Classical Yoga Philosophy", in Historiography and Periodization of Indian Philosophy, ed. Eli Franco (Vienna: De Nobili Series, 37), pp.53-90. ↩

  5. Alexis Sanderson argues (in an unpublished article entitled "Yoga in Saivism: The Yoga Section of the Mrgendratantra," p.31) that "limb" is a mistranslation of anga in yoganga. If yoga is a goal, its parts are "auxiliaries" to reaching it. When yoga means practice, however, the parts are constituent elements. ↩

  6. Yogasutra (YS) II.46, in Edwin Bryant, The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali (New York: North Point Press, 2009), p.283. ↩

  7. Ibid. ↩

  8. Philipp Maas, "On Postures in the Patanjala Yogasastra", presented at the University of Vienna's Yoga in Transformation conference in 2013 (awaiting publication), p.6. ↩

  9. Ibid., pp.7-8. ↩

  10. Ibid. ↩

  11. James Mallinson and Mark Singleton, "Asana", Draft chapter from Roots of Yoga (London: Penguin, forthcoming), p.1. ↩

  12. Taittiriya Upanishad I.11.3, in Patrick Olivelle, Early Upanisads (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996), p.299. ↩

  13. Bhagavadgita (BhG) 6.11-13, in Laurie Patton, The Bhagavad Gita (London: Penguin Classics, 2008), pp.72-3. ↩

  14. Svetasvatara Upanishad II.8, in Olivelle, Early Upanisads, p.419. ↩

  15. YS III.12, in Bryant, Yoga Sutras, pp.319-20. ↩

  16. Bryant, Yoga Sutras, p.284. ↩

  17. Mallinson and Singleton, "Asana", p.9. ↩

  18. Bryant, Yoga Sutras, p.289. ↩

  19. Mallinson and Singleton, "Asana", p.6. ↩

  20. Johannes Bronkhorst, The Two Traditions of Meditation in Ancient India (Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1993), pp.3-8. ↩

  21. Ibid., p.10. ↩

  22. Johannes Bronkhorst, "Asceticism, Religion And Biological Evolution", Method & Theory in the Study of Religion, 13 (2001), pp.374-418. ↩

  23. Mallinson and Singleton, "Asana", p.2. ↩

  24. W. Falconer (trans.), The Geography of Strabo, Vol. III (London: Henry G. Bohn, 1857), pp.111-2. ↩

  25. BhG 17.5-6, in Patton, Bhagavad Gita, p.177. ↩

  26. Purn Puri's account appeared after his death in 1800. ↩

  27. Purn Puri, "Oriental Observations, No. X: The Travels of Pran-Puri, a Hindoo, who Travelled over India, Persia, and Part of Russia", European Magazine and London Review, Vol. 57, p.264. ↩

  28. Ibid. ↩

  29. Ibid. ↩

  30. Ibid., p.352. ↩

  31. "An Idiot Abroad", Sky One, 30 September 2010; clips on YouTube (with Amar Bharti between 4:29 - 5:49) accessed 2 April 2015. ↩

  32. Extreme examples are also known as kayaklesa ("bodily suffering" or "toil"). ↩

  33. Walter Kaelber, Tapta Marga: Asceticism and Initiation in Vedic India (Albany: State University of New York, 1989), pp.2-4. ↩

  34. Dolf Hartsuiker, Sadhus: Holy Men of India (London: Thames & Hudson, 2014), p.149. ↩

  35. Ramayana 1.51.14. ↩

  36. YS II.1, in Bryant, Yoga Sutras, pp.169-73. ↩

  37. YS IV.1, ibid., pp.406-7. ↩

  38. YS II.43, ibid., pp.272-3. ↩

  39. Swami Hariharananda Aranya, Yoga Philosophy of Patanjali with Bhasvati, Translated by P.N. Mukerji (Calcutta: Calcutta University Press, 2000), p.225. ↩

  40. Ibid., p.543. ↩

  41. Ibid., p.222. ↩

  42. Hartsuiker, Sadhus, p.153. ↩

  43. Ibid. ↩

  44. Ibid., p.158. ↩

  45. Mallinson and Singleton, "Asana", p.2. ↩

  46. Ibid. ↩

  47. James Mallinson, "Hatha Yoga", in Brill’s Encyclopedia of Hinduism, vol. 3, ed. Knut A. Jacobsen (Leiden: Brill, 2011), p.770. ↩

  48. Ibid. ↩

  49. Dattatreyayogasastra (DYS) 41, in James Mallinson, "Dattatreya's Discourse on Yoga", a translation based on the author's critical edition of the Dattatreyayogasastra (awaiting publication), p.3. ↩

  50. DYS 106-7, ibid., p.6. ↩

  51. DYS 13, ibid., p.1. ↩

  52. DYS 131, ibid., p.7. ↩

  53. DYS 28, ibid., p.2. ↩

  54. DYS 149, ibid., p.8. ↩

  55. DYS 67-9, ibid., p.4. ↩

  56. DYS 83-6, ibid., p.5. ↩

  57. DYS 98-9, ibid. ↩

  58. Mallinson, "Hatha Yoga", p.772. ↩

  59. Hathapradipika (HP) I.31, in Brian Dana Akers, The Hatha Yoga Pradipika: An English Translation (Woodstock:, 2002), p.14; also consulted in Swami Muktibodhananda, Hatha Yoga Pradipika (Munger: Yoga Publications Trust, 2012), pp.94-7. ↩

  60. HP I.54, in Akers, Hatha Yoga Pradipika, p.26. ↩

  61. HP I.18, ibid., p.8. ↩

  62. HP I.55-6, ibid., p.26. ↩

  63. James Mallinson, "Saktism and Hathayoga", revised draft of a paper presented at the Sakta Traditions conference in Oxford in 2011 (awaiting publication). ↩

  64. Mallinson, "Hatha Yoga", p.772. ↩

  65. HP III.65, in Akers, Hatha Yoga Pradipika, pp.67-8. ↩

  66. HP IV.4, ibid., p.85. ↩

  67. HP II.76, ibid., p.51. ↩

  68. YS II.48, in Bryant, Yoga Sutras, p.288-9. ↩

  69. Helene Brunner, "The Place of Yoga in the Saivagamas", in Pandit N.R. Bhatt Felicitation Volume, ed. P.S. Filliozat, S.P. Narang, C.P. Bhatta (Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1994), pp.439-40. ↩

  70. Jason Birch, "Unpublished Manuscript Evidence for the Practice of Numerous Asanas in the 17th-18th Centuries", presented at the University of Vienna's Yoga in Transformation conference, 2013 (awaiting publication), p.23. ↩

  71. Mallinson and Singleton, "Asana", p.35. ↩

  72. Ibid., p.7. ↩

  73. Mallinson, "Saktism and Haṭhayoga", p.19. ↩

  74. Birch, "Numerous Asanas", p.22. ↩

  75. Namaste is a one-to-one greeting ("I bow to you"). Formed from namah and te (a singular pronoun in the dative, which changes namah to namas), it should be namo vam for two people, and namo vah for three or more. In practice, however, these forms are rarely used. Many Indians prefer namaskar. ↩

  76. Pankaj Seth, comment on Facebook‪, 6 February 2015, at 21:07 GMT, accessed 6 February 2015. ↩

  77. Mark Singleton, Yoga Body: The Origins of Modern Posture Practice (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010). ↩

  78. Partha Sinha and Namrata Singh, "Ramdev expands empire beyond yoga to FMCG, business poised to touch Rs 2,000cr this fiscal", Times of India, 13 January 2015, accessed 8 April 2015. ↩

  79. Elizabeth De Michelis, "Modern Yoga: History and Forms", in Yoga in the Modern World: Contemporary Perspectives, ed. Mark Singleton, Jean Byrne (London: Routledge, 2008), p.23. ↩

  80. Mark Singleton and Tara Fraser, "T. Krishnamacharya, Father of Modern Yoga", in Gurus of Modern Yoga, ed. Mark Singleton, Ellen Goldberg (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014), pp.83-106. ↩

  81. Singleton, Yoga Body, p.181. ↩

  82. Ibid. ↩

  83. Fernando Ruiz, "Krishnamacharya's Legacy", Yoga Journal, May 2001, pp.96-101; 161-8, accessed 8 April 2015. ↩

  84. Ibid., p.100. ↩

  85. Daniel Dale, "Richard Schechner's Notebook 42", Namarupa, Issue 13, Vol 4-6 (2011), pp.26-49. ↩

  86. Eric Shaw, "Krishnamacharya's Business Card and the Place of Marketing in Yoga". Prasana Yoga [Online], 29 May 2014, accessed 9 April 2015. ↩

  87. Kausthub Desikachar, The Yoga of the Yogi (New York: North Point Press, 2011), p.199. ↩

  88. Singleton and Fraser, "Krishnamacharya". ↩

  89. A.G. Mohan, Krishnamacharya: His Life and Teachings (Boston: Shambhala, 2010), p.38. ↩

  90. "Manouso Manos (Iyengar Senior Teacher) in conversation with Rosa Santana‬", [2015] YouTube video clip, accessed 3 April 2015. ↩

  91. Iyengar, Tree of Yoga, p.50. ↩

  92. Ibid., p.47. ↩

  93. Ibid., p.54. ↩

  94. B.K.S. Iyengar, Light on Yoga (London: George Allen & Unwin, 1966), p.22. ↩

  95. YS I.39, in Bryant, Yoga Sutras, pp.139-141. ↩

  96. Bryant, Yoga Sutras, pp.140-141. ↩

  97. Ibid. ↩

  98. "Manouso Manos", accessed 3 April 2015. ↩

  99. Nicholas Carr, The Shallows: How the Internet is Changing the Way We Think, Read and Remember (London: Atlantic Books, 2010). ↩

  100. Harvard Health Publications, Yoga for anxiety and depression [Online], accessed 9 April 2015. ↩

  101. Ashtanga Ann Arbor [Online], accessed 9 April 2015. ↩

  102. K. Pattabhi Jois, Yoga Mala (New York: North Point Press, 2002), pp.14-5. ↩

  103. "John Scott - The Guruji Sutras", Lonely Guru Podcast 26 [Online], 1 September 2014, accessed 2 April 2015. ↩

  104. Benjamin Smith, "'With Heat Even Iron Will Bend': Discipline and Authority in Ashtanga Yoga", in Yoga in the Modern World: Contemporary Perspectives, ed. Mark Singleton, Jean Byrne (London: Routledge, 2008), p.142. ↩

  105. Gregor Maehle, "Reformation of an Ashtanga Zealot", Chintamani Yoga [Online], 13 December 2014, accessed 11 April 2015. ↩

  106. Ibid., paragraphs 37-44. ↩

  107. Class in Pune, October 2013. ↩

  108. B.K.S. Iyengar, Sparks of Divinity: The Teachings of B.K.S. Iyengar from 1959 to 1975, compiled by Noëlle Perez-Christiaens (Berkeley: Rodmell Press, 2012), p.57. ↩

  109. Iyengar, Light on Yoga, pp.41-2. ↩

  110. Ibid. ↩

  111. Retreat in Bondla, January 2014. ↩