yoga in practice


“I realized that there are a lot of other ways to read these yoga texts and combine them. And there’s not a right and wrong. It’s a chaos of traditions. There’s just no way to make them all fit together nicely, because they never did.” (David Gordon White)

Built out of the vitality of yoga’s fractured, hybrid history, Yoga in Practice gathers a diverse collection of texts from India, greater Asia and the West into a jumbling whole. And in the process of reading its chapters, you’re reminded just how fluid yoga’s history is, shapeshifting with colossal dexterity over the yugas. With solid contributions from twenty-six yoga scholars, and sources that span four major religious traditions (Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, Jainism)…

In his own words, David Gordon White’s loyalty is to history. But calling him an historian, and thereby anchoring him to history alone, somehow overlooks the enormous scope of his work with mythology and folklore. What’s behind the love of a story and are its moorings the same as historical narrative? What allows an historian to grapple with yoga’s fragmented, discontinuous story without the “normative” paralysis of the researcher/observer?

And to that end, David Gordon White has made endless contributions to the history of yoga, revealing the inaccuracies that are inevitably woven into the fabric of contemporary practice…making it clear that our yoga practice contains preferences. And if he seems occasionally worried, maybe he’s got good reason.

Occasional preferences are benign enough, but sustained historical preferences are hard to locate and treat. And left unchecked…well, they can turn ugly. You all know this. Surely, you’ve strained or pulled a muscle somewhere somehow. Ultimately, it’s not the strain you treat, it’s the habit that got you there. Neutralizing yoga’s history seems at least as difficult as getting one’s body into a state of balance.

And as for David’s question about why it is that we settle with a hodge-podge of philosophies? Or more particularly, why we insist on the Yoga Sutras as a primary text of sorts?…

Still, it seems wonderful and amazing that our yoga practice made of inaccurate, ill-conceived historical fragments and shambles can have such ritual power. It would seem then that an inaccurate practice is not an entirely ineffectual one…

I suppose I’d like to have another chat with David…maybe when the next book comes out. In the meantime I’m curious to see what would happen if people like David White (who like swimming more than yoga), were to design a new yoga. Would it gently bend to either historical or physical preference? Perhaps in David White’s masterful hands, the ubiquitous “downward dog” would become the liminal “downward dog-man”, a new canine shape with an ancient folkloric history?? I’d not mind that. Wouldn’t you like to see scholarship in the flesh…where the plot is messy and mutable?

Yoga in Practice: In and Out of the Labyrinth with Historian David Gordon White, Phd  Excerpts from Article and Intereview By Priya Thomas

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