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Iyengar and the Invention of Yoga

August 27, 2014

The New Yorker/ By Michelle Goldberg

In contemporary yoga classes, teachers often speak of Patanjali’s "Yoga Sutras,” a philosophical text compiled around two thousand years ago, as the wellspring of the practice. This requires an imaginative leap, because the yoga sutras say next to nothing about physical poses; their overriding concern is the workings of the mind. Yoga, the sutras say, "is the restriction of the fluctuations of consciousness.” The total of their guidance about posture is that it should be "steady and comfortable.”

Instructions for postures, or asanas, appeared much later, in medieval tantra-inflected texts, such as the "Hatha Yoga Pradipika.” Even in those works, however, you won’t find many of the positionstaught today as yoga. Fifteen poses appear in the "Hatha Yoga Pradipika,” most of them seated or supine. There are no sun salutations, no downward-facing dogs or warriors. There are instructions for drawing discharged semen back into the penis, so as to overcome death, and for severing the tendon connecting the tongue to the bottom of the mouth, and lengthening it so that it can touch the forehead.....[Read more]

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