Yoga’s greatest myth is somewhere in your asana

So what is yoga’s greatest myth?

One you may already know (although may not fully believe): that all your asanas are dozens, not thousands, of years old.

That’s the hook to NPR’s (via Fresh Air) coverage of the new book on Indra Devi (which we pointed you toward a few days back):

That yoga pose you’ve been practicing may not be as ancient as you thought. In fact, journalist Michelle Goldberg says that most of the poses that we do in modern yoga classes have no antecedent beyond 150 years ago.

“Probably the greatest myth is when you do these poses, when you do sun salutations or the warrior poses, that that there’s some sort of continuity to what yogis were doing 3,000 years ago on the banks of the Ganges, and that’s just not true,” Goldberg tells Fresh Air‘s Terry Gross.

You can contrast, if you like, with another myth Goldberg mentions:

On why yoga is aerobic

Krishnamacharya was the yogi-in-residence at the Mysore Palace, and the Maharajah of Mysore was this very progressive nationalist figure who really wanted to unite the best of the East and the best of the West. And so he sponsored Krishnamacharya to run a yoga school in the palace. Krishnamacharya — because a lot of his students were young, royal boys — created a system that would sort of capture the animal energy of an 8- or 9- or 10-year-old boy. So he put in things that if you do yoga now are really familiar to you — the jump backs and the chaturanga, which is the sort of half-pushups and these very fast, flowing movements that we call vinyasa — he created a lot of those things.

You’ve heard our expert on that one, but to repeat:

One of the many delightful moments at this month’s Ashtanga Yoga Confluence was when Eddie Stern invited everyone in the audience to pass this message on:

“Ashtanga was not designed for adolescent boys.”

If you want, you can take that to mean take her first myth-busting with a grain or salt. Not to mention that other strands of yoga from Krishnamacharya’s line aren’t so aerobic.

You can read more or listen to the full 37-minute interview at the link.

Posted by Steve

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Two Ashtangis write about their practice and their teachers.

One thought on “Yoga’s greatest myth is somewhere in your asana”

  1. It is always going to be challenging to separate the myth from facts flowing through centuries of oral transmission. David Gordon White’s book on history of Yogasutra has some interesting hypotheses and observations. The chapter on Krishnamacharya is amusing to say the least.

    Think about it for a moment. 35-40 year old householders in India cannot do large parts of primary series without modifications. Not now and not 150 years ago. It is a bit of stretch to assume that this was not created with younger, athletic audience as the core of the students. When the early cohorts of westerners were training at KPJ’s house in Mysore, there were no locals. Only sick people came for therapy. For a long time, the scene was (and still is) dominated by young non-locals.

    Krishnamacharya himself seems to have taught asana practice as therapy (no linear progression on a set sequence) and in the later years emphasized more on pranayama practice for older students.

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