Meditation Body, Yoga Spirit: Will we Have Both?

It is easy to see the reason John Friend extremely recommends the book Yoga Body: The Origins of Modern Posture Yoga “for all genuine students of yoga.” Because, Mark Singleton’s thesis is usually a well researched expose of how modern hatha yoga, or perhaps “posture practice,” as he words it, has altered within and after India was left by the practice.

But the book is mainly about the way in which yoga exercises turned in India itself within the last 150 years. Exactly how yoga’s main, modern proponents T. Krishnamacharya and the pupils of his, K. Patttabhi Jois and B. K. S. Iyengar-mixed their homegrown hatha yoga techniques with European gymnastics.

This was the number of Indian yogis coped with modernity: As opposed to remaining in the caves on the Himalayas, they transferred to the city and embraced the oncoming European cultural trends. They specifically embraced its more “esoteric types of gymnastics,” including the powerful Swedish techniques of Ling (1766 1839).

Singleton uses the term yoga as a homonym to explain the main goal of his thesis. That’s, he emphasizes that the term yoga has many meanings, based on who uses the expression.

This stress is in itself a worthwhile enterprise for pupils of everything yoga; to comprehend as well as recognize that the yoga of yours may not be exactly the same kind of yoga as the yoga of mine. Simply, that there will be numerous paths of yoga.

In that regard, John Friend is absolutely right: this’s by far probably the most comprehensive analysis of the lifestyle and history of the important yoga lineage which usually runs from T. Krishnamacharya’s humid and hot palace studio in Mysore to Bikram’s artificially heated studio in Hollywood.


Singleton’s study on “postural yoga” compensates the bulk of the publication. But additionally, he devotes some web pages to outline the historical past of “traditional” yoga, from Patanjali for the Shaiva Tantrics who, based on much prior yoga traditions, compiled the hatha yoga tradition in the middle ages and penned the popular yoga text guides the Hatha Yoga Pradipika and also the Geranda Samhita.

It is while doing these examinations which Singleton gets into clean water much hotter than a Bikram sweat. So I hesitate in offering Singleton a straight A for his otherwise fantastic dissertation.

Singleton claims his task is entirely the analysis of contemporary posture yoga. If he had stuck to that project alone, the book of his will have been excellent and received only accolades. But regrettably, he commits the same blunder so many contemporary hatha yogis do.

All yoga styles are great, these hatha yogis say. All homonyms are every bit as excellent and appropriate, they claim. Except that homonym, that the cultural relativist hatha yogis see as an arrogant model of yoga exercises. Why? Because the adherents of its, the traditionalists, state it’s a greater, more spiritual and classic from of yoga.

This form of ranking, thinks Singleton, is counterproductive and a misuse of time.

Georg Feuerstein disagrees. Undoubtedly the well-respected and prolific most yoga exercises scholar outside India nowadays, he’s among those traditionalists who holds yoga being an important practice a body, mind, spirit practice. So how does Feuerstein’s integral yoga homonym differ from the non-integral modern position yoga exercises homonym given to us by Singleton?

The bottom line is, Feuerstein’s remarkable writings on yoga have focused on the holistic practice of yoga. On the full shebang of techniques that traditional yoga created over the past 5000 plus years: asanas, pranayama () is exercised by breathing, chakra (subtle energy centers), kundalini (spiritual power), bandhas (advanced body locks), mantras, mudras (hand gestures), etc.

Thus, while posture yoga mainly focuses on the bodily body, on doing postures, integral yoga includes both the physical and the subtle body and involves an entire plethora of physical, spiritual and mental practices hardly ever practiced in any of today’s modern day yoga studios.

I wouldn’t have bothered to take everything up had it not been because of the point that Singleton mentioned Feuerstein in an important lighting in his book’s “Concluding Reflections.” In other words, it’s strategically important for Singleton to critique Feuerstein’s interpretation of yoga, a kind of yoga that happens to essentially coincide with my own.

Singleton writes: “For a number of, like best-selling yoga exercises scholar Georg Feuerstein, the contemporary fascination with postural yoga can just be a perversion of the authentic yoga exercises of tradition.” Then Singleton quotes Feuerstein, who can craft that when yoga climbed to Western shores it “was bit by bit stripped of its spiritual orientation and remodeled into physical fitness training.”

Singleton then correctly highlights that yoga had already begun this fitness change in India. He also correctly highlights that health and fitness yoga is not apposed to any “spiritual” enterprise of yoga. But that is not precisely Feuerstein’s point: he simply points out how the exercising part of modern yoga lacks a serious “spiritual orientation.” And that is an important difference.

Then Singleton exclaims that Feuerstein’s assertions misses the “deeply faith based orientation of certain contemporary bodybuilding & female’s health and fitness instruction inside the harmonial gymnastics tradition.”

While I guess I’m pretty clear about what Feuerstein means by “deeply spiritual,” I’m still unsure what Singleton means by it from merely reading Yoga Body. And that can make an intelligent comparison difficult. Hence why did Singleton bring this up in his concluding reasons in a book devoted to physical postures? Surely to create a point.

Since he did make the effort about it, I would love to respond.

According to Feuerstein, the goal of yoga is enlightenment (Samadhi), not physical fitness, not actually spiritual physical fitness. Not a much better, slimmer figure, but a better chance at spiritual liberation.

For him, yoga is primarily a spiritual exercise concerned with heavy postures, deep study and deep meditation. Even though postures are an essential component of traditional yoga, enlightenment is possible even without the process of posture yoga, indisputably confirmed by such sages as Ananda Mai Ma, Nisargadatta Maharaj, Ramana Maharishi, as well as others.

The broader question about the objective of yoga, from the point of view of regular yoga is this: is it easy to attain enlightenment via the process of exercise yoga alone? The answer: Not quite easy. Not even likely. Not even by practicing the sort of exercise yoga Singleton claims is “spiritual.”

Based on major yoga, the body is the first and outer layer of the brain. Enlightenment, however, happens in and beyond the fifth and innermost layer of the subtle body, or even kosa, not within the actual physical body. Thus, from this particular perspective of yoga, fitness yoga exercises has specific limits, just because it cannot alone deliver the desired results.

Similarily, Feuerstein and all us various other traditionalists (oh, all those darn labels!) are simply saying that if your target is enlightenment, then simply workout yoga probably won’t do the trick. Even thought you still won’t be enlightened, you can stand on the head of yours and do power yoga from dawn to midnight.

Hence, they developed resting yoga postures (padmasana, viirasana, siddhasana, etc) for as nice specific purposes. Certainly, they spent more time sitting still in deep breathing over moving about performing postures, as it was the sitting practices which induced the desired trance states of enlightenment, or even Samadhi.

Quite simply, you might be enlightened without ever practicing the diverse hatha postures, but you almost certainly won’t get enlightened simply by practicing these postures alone, no matter how “spiritual” those postures are.

These are the sorts of layered insights and perspectives I sorely missed while reading Yoga Body. Hence the criticism of his of Feuerstein seems kneejerk and shallow rather.

Singleton’s main focus on describing the bodily training and history of modern yoga is comprehensive, probably quite accurate, and fairly remarkable, but the insistence of his that you’ll notice “deeply spiritual” areas of modern gymnastics and posture yoga misses a major thing about yoga. Namely, that our bodies are just as spiritual as we’re, from that space in our hearts, deep within as well as beyond the body.

Yoga Body thus misses an important point a lot of us have the right to claim, and without needing to be criticized for being mean-minded or arrogant: that yoga is primarily a holistic practice, where the physical body is seen as the very first level of a number of ascending and all embracing layers of being-from body to care about to spirit. And that ultimately, even the body will be the dwelling place of Spirit. In amount, the body is the sacred temple of Spirit.

And where does this yoga exercises perspective hail from? As indicated by Feuerstein, “It underlies the entire Tantric tradition, obviously the facilities of hatha yoga, and they are an offshoot of Tantrism.”

In Tantra it is certainly understood that the human being is a three tiered being physical, spiritual and mental. Hence, the Tantrics very skillfully and carefully developed routines for those three levels of being.

From this ancient point of view, it’s quite gratifying to find out how the greater religious, all embracing tantric and yogic practices including hatha yoga, mantra meditation, breathing exercises, ayurveda, kirtan, along with scriptural study are more and more becoming essential features of many modern yoga studios.

So, to answer the question in the title of this article. Can we’ve both a limber physique in addition to a sacred spirit while practicing yoga? Yes, certainly we can. Yoga just isn’t either/or. Yoga is yes/and. The much more holistic our yoga practice becomes that is, the better religious practice is put into our body posture practice the more these 2 seemingly opposite poles-the body along with the spirit-will blend and unify. Unity was, after many, the objective of age-old Tantra.

Perhaps soon someone will write a book about this new, ever growing homonym of global yoga? Mark Singleton’s Yoga Body is not such a book. But a book about this, shall we telephone call it, neo-traditional, or perhaps holistic form of yoga would most likely be an intriguing cultural exploration.

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