Singleton interview

Graphic: Cover art for yoga book
Chal­leng­ing mis­con­cep­tions about the ori­gins and evo­lu­tion of transna­tional yoga

As announced ear­lier this month, The Mag­a­zine of Yoga came out a con­ver­sa­tion with Mark Sin­gle­ton Part One and Part Two Sin­gle­ton wrote Yoga Body: The Ori­gins of Mod­ern Pos­ture Prac­tice,
an extra­or­di­nary study about the con­tem­po­rary roots of yoga as prac­ticed in the United States (but it’s really about India in the first half of the 20th century):

Mark Sin­gle­ton is one of the most valu­able, vocal and artic­u­late advo­cates for yoga prac­ti­tion­ers and yoga schol­ars to put aside their dif­fer­ences and engage the ques­tions that bear upon their shared inter­ests. His writ­ing and teach­ing pro­vide a bridge between the con­cerns of acad­e­mia and those of practice.”

Susan Maier-​​Moul, the MoY edi­tor, takes advan­tage of the online for­mat to have an extended chat and dig into the most reveal­ing aspects of Singleton’s stud­ies. The first part is about the con­cept of “cul­tural trans­la­tion,” which is key to under­stand­ing the trans­for­ma­tion that yoga under­goes as it is trans­planted to the United States and Europe. This con­cep­tual frame­work is needed to deci­pher the polit­i­cal and cul­tural forces, both inside and out­side India, that change yoga. This is also intel­lec­tual process which will offend many who think of yoga in “sacred” terms.

By under­stand­ing how we are tra­versed and con­structed by cul­tural and his­tor­i­cal sto­ries about the world, we can open up far richer avenues of mean­ing within our yoga prac­tice. Espe­cially when we com­bine this with a study of the other two con­texts (the philo­soph­i­cal frame­work around the text and the tra­di­tional commentaries).

Photo: yoginis in a hamstring stretch
Get­ting into a deep stretch in a Bryan Kest-​​led class at Thrive Yoga

The sec­ond part gets into the nitty gritty of yoga as a cul­tural phe­nom­e­non here in the United States and Europe and how we are chang­ing it, no mat­ter how faith­fully we try to read Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. We are going to project onto yoga our own pref­er­ences and prej­u­dices. This can affect how we view a par­tic­u­lar pos­ture or how we trans­late a text; Sin­gle­ton gives exam­ples of each of these facets.

Our own con­tem­po­rary under­stand­ings of yoga are sim­i­lar kinds of mix­tures. It’s for this rea­son that it’s prefer­able to speak of plural “yogas” rather than “yoga”in the sin­gu­lar. There is no sin­gle body of prac­tices called “yoga” (although there are cer­tainly dom­i­nant ones through his­tory). Mod­ern yogas are usu­ally very par­tic­u­lar and unique ren­der­ings, which often rad­i­cally depart from tra­di­tion. They are, in other words, translations.

As I read the tran­script my mind kept jump­ing back and forth between the inter­view and the book, and then skip­ping to the Bryan Kest class this week.  In some respects the inter­view is a good pref­ace to the book because it strips away the aca­d­e­mic scaf­fold­ing and leaves. You can also read between the lines of Singleton’s responses to sense some of the cri­tiques that have been made against his conclusions.

Of course, I am actu­ally get­ting ahead of myself because I have already fin­ished read­ing the book, and need to record my thoughts here. More to come soon.

One thought on “Singleton interview

Comments are closed.