A brief modern yoga studies reading list

I’ve been having a wonderful time chatting with groups of yogis about all things yoga history and philosophy related over the past few months during the first round of Exploring Yoga sessions. We’ve had such interesting discussions and I’m beginning to understand that there are a lot of you out there who want to know more! Luckily, we have so many amazing resources out there in the world of yoga scholarship to turn to. Of course the academic realm can be a little intimidating, and difficult to access at times, so to get you started I’ve put a short list of recommended resources together.

I’ve selected these book based on their quality, readability, and also importantly, relative affordability. There are also a couple of web resources at the end that often feature thoughtful and progressive perspectives on yoga. I’m always excited to discover new resources, so if you have some great stuff to share, comment away!


A history of modern yoga: Patañjali and western esotericism by Elizabeth De Michelis

A History of Modern Yoga traces the development of modern yoga as a transnational phenomenon.  The book describes a key aspect of modern yoga’s development, the interaction between Indian religion and what she refers to as western metaphysical ideas.  As part of this larger theme, Elizabeth De Michelis explores the work of Vivekananda and his fusion of Neo-Vedanta and American metaphysical concepts and language, culminating in his text Rāja Yoga. She follows this with a close reading of two texts by influential modern yoga figure BKS Iyengar. Finally, she shows how a typical Modern Postural Yoga session may be interpreted to reveal the forms and contents of a healing ritual of secular religion.

Yoga body: The origins of modern posture practice by Mark Singleton

In this ground-breaking book, Mark Singleton calls into question many commonly held beliefs about the nature and origins of postural yoga. Singleton shows that, contrary to the popular understanding, there is no evidence in the Indian tradition for the kind of health and fitness-oriented postural practice that has become the popular modern form. Singleton suggests that modern yoga has been deeply influenced by ideas found in modern Indian nationalism, the spiritual aspirations of European bodybuilding, and the early 20th-century women’s gymnastics movements of Europe and America.

Roots of Yoga by James Mallinson and Mark Singleton

For the first time, James Mallinson and Mark Singleton, have collected, translated, and edited, core teachings of yoga in their original form. They include a wide range of texts from different schools of yoga, languages and eras: including key passages from the early Upanisads and the Mahabharata, and from the Tantric, Buddhist and Jaina traditions, with many pieces in scholarly translation for the first time. This book will answer many of your questions about the forms and notions about yoga that existed prior to the modern period.

The Yoga Sutra of Patanjali a Biography by David Gordon White

David Gordon White gives an informative and entertaining account of the Yoga Sutra’s early popular life, subsequent fall into obscurity, and its modern re-emergence to become known as the pre-eminent yoga source book. Along the way, White convincingly demonstrates why the yoga of India’s past bears little resemblance to the yoga practiced today.

Selling Yoga from Counterculture to Pop Culture by Andrea R Jain

In this book, Andrea Jain demonstrates how modern yoga aims at the enhancement of the mind-body complex according to contemporary dominant metaphysical, health, and fitness paradigms. Jain explores the popularisation of yoga in the context of late-twentieth-century consumer culture. She discusses a variety of modern yoga types, and argues that modern yoga has a variety of religious meanings and functions within the context of consumer culture.

The tantric body: The secret tradition of hindu religion by Gavin D Flood

An in depth consideration of the tantric subtle body within the Indian medieval context. Gavin Flood seeks to understand the tantric conception of the body and how the tantric body has been used to attain power and liberation. He examines both techniques of experience and representations of the body within Sanskrit tantric texts. His main arguments are that the tantric body becomes inscribed by the text, and that the tradition itself should be understood in terms of the body.

Religion and the subtle body in asia and the west: Between mind and body by Geoffrey Samuel and Jay Johnston

This book traces ‘subtle physiology’ ideas through a number of traditions, including Indian tantric and Vedantic doctrines. Johnston and Samuel begin by exploring the history of the term ‘subtle body’ and explore the types of ideas that might now be associated with this term. They go on to trace the origins of these ideas throughout Indian and Chinese history.

Modern Yoga Research http://www.modernyogaresearch.org/

An incredible resource that will introduce you to the leading international scholars working in the field of modern yoga studies (and pre-modern yoga). There are links to academic work, events, and courses. A wealth of information, free and at your fingertips!

Yoga and Body Image Coalition http://ybicoalition.com/ 

A fabulous resource that deals with yoga and body image, body politics, inclusivity, yoga and activism and much more. Recommended reading for those with an interest in an approach to yoga that is truly engaged with the wider communities.

Matthew Remski https://www.facebook.com/matthew.remski?fref=nf

Matthew Remski writes extremely insightful pieces, often from a cultural studies perspective, on yoga, pain, healing, inclusivity, guru traditions and cults, Ayurveda, and many other contemporary yoga issues. This is critical thinking about yoga at its edgiest!

Happy reading!!

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