Yoga Body, Yoga Spirit: Can We Have Both?

It’s not hard to understand 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 can be a well researched expose of how modern hatha yoga, or “posture practice,” as he terms it, has altered within and after India was left by the practice.

But the book is mainly about the way in which yoga exercises transformed in India itself in the last 150 years. How yoga’s key, modern proponents T. Krishnamacharya and his students, K. Patttabhi Jois and also B. K. S. Iyengar-mixed their homegrown hatha yoga practices with European gymnastics.

This was how many Indian yogis coped with modernity: As opposed to continuing to be in the caves on the Himalayas, they moved to the city and embraced the oncoming European cultural fashion. They especially embraced its more “esoteric methods of gymnastics,” this includes the influential Swedish strategies of Ling (1766-1839).

Singleton uses the term yoga as a homonym to describe the main goal of the thesis of his. That is, he underscores that the term yoga has a number of meanings, dependent on who uses the words.

This importance is in itself a worthwhile business for pupils of everything yoga; to understand as well as accept that your yoga is probably not the same yoga type as the yoga of mine. Just simply, that there are numerous paths of yoga.

In that regard, John Friend is definitely right: this is undoubtedly one of the most comprehensive analysis of the culture and history of the influential yoga lineage which runs from T. Krishnamacharya’s humid and hot palace studio in Mysore to Bikram’s artificially heated studio in Hollywood.

Singleton’s research on “postural yoga” compensates the majority of the manual. But also, he devotes several web pages to outline the historical past of “traditional” yoga exercises, from Patanjali on the Shaiva Tantrics who, based on much previous yoga traditions, compiled the hatha yoga tradition within the middle ages and penned the famous yoga exercises text books the Hatha Yoga Pradipika as well as the Geranda Samhita.

It is while doing these examinations that Singleton gets into water much hotter when compared to a Bikram sweat. Therefore I hesitate in giving Singleton a straight A for his otherwise excellent dissertation.

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

All yoga styles are fine, these hatha yogis say. All homonyms are equally excellent and valid, they claim. Except that homonym, which the cultural relativist hatha yogis view as an arrogant version of yoga exercises. Why? Because the adherents of its, the traditionalists, state it’s a deeper, more religious and classic from of yoga.

This kind of standing, thinks Singleton, is counterproductive and a waste of time.

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

Basically, Feuerstein’s remarkable writings on yoga have centered on the holistic exercise of yoga. On the entire shebang of practices that traditional yoga created over the past 5000 plus years: asanas, pranayama () is exercised by breathing, chakra (subtle energy centers), kundalini (spiritual fuel), bandhas (advanced body locks), mantras, mudras (hand gestures), etc.

Thus, while posture yoga mainly focuses on the bodily body, on doing postures, integral yoga features both the physical as well as the subtle body and involves a whole plethora of physical, mental and spiritual practices almost never practiced in any of today’s modern yoga studios.

I would not have bothered to take everything set up had it not been for the point that Singleton noted Feuerstein in an important lighting in his book’s “Concluding Reflections.” In other words, it is strategically important for Singleton to critique Feuerstein’s interpretation of yoga, a form of yoga which is the case with essentially coincide with my own.

Singleton writes: “For some, such as best selling yoga exercises scholar Georg Feuerstein, the contemporary fascination with postural yoga can only be a perversion of the authentic yoga exercises of tradition.” Then Singleton quotes Feuerstein, who crafts that when yoga reached Western shores it “was gradually stripped of its faith based orientation and remodeled into physical fitness training.”

Singleton then correctly explains that yoga had already started this particular fitness change in India. He also correctly points out that health and fitness yoga is not apposed to any “spiritual” enterprise of yoga exercises. But that’s not precisely Feuerstein’s point: he simply points out how the exercising part of modern yoga is missing a deep “spiritual orientation.” And that’s a critical difference.

Then Singleton exclaims that Feuerstein’s assertions misses the “deeply spiritual orientation of some modern bodybuilding and female’s fitness education in the harmonial gymnastics tradition.”

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

As he did make the effort about it, I would like to respond.

Based on Feuerstein, the purpose of yoga is enlightenment (Samadhi), not physical fitness, not spiritual physical fitness. Not a much better, slimmer build, but a better possibility at spiritual liberation.

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

The broader question about the goal of yoga, from the point of view of regular yoga is this: is it easy to attain enlightenment through the process of fitness yoga alone? The answer: Not really simple. Not even likely. Not even by doing the sort of fitness yoga Singleton claims is “spiritual.”

As per fundamental yoga, the body will be the first and outer level of the brain. Enlightenment, nonetheless, takes place in and beyond the fifth and innermost layer of the skillful body, or even kosa, not within the physical body. Thus, from this specific viewpoint of yoga, fitness yoga exercises has certain limits, simply because it cannot alone deliver the desired results.

Similarily, Feuerstein and all us other traditionalists (oh, all those darn labels!) are simply saying that in case your goal is enlightenment, then fitness yoga probably won’t do the trick. Though you still will not be enlightened, you are able to stand on your head and do power yoga from dawn to midnight.

Hence, they created sitting yoga postures (padmasana, siddhasana, viirasana, etc) for as nice certain purposes. In fact, they spent more time sitting still in deep breathing over going about doing postures, as it was the sitting practices which induced the desired trance states of enlightenment, or even Samadhi.

Quite simply, you can be enlightened without ever doing the diverse hatha postures, but you almost certainly won’t get enlightened by just doing these postures on it’s own, regardless how “spiritual” those postures are.

These’re the forms of layered insights and perspectives I sorely missed while reading Yoga Body. Hence his criticism of Feuerstein appears to be kneejerk and shallow rather.

Singleton’s single focus on describing the actual physical practice and historical past of contemporary yoga is comprehensive, probably very accurate, and kind of impressive, but the insistence of his that there are “deeply spiritual” facets of modern gymnastics and body posture yoga misses a crucial point about yoga. Specifically, that our bodies are merely as spiritual as we are, from that room in the hearts of ours, deep within and beyond the system.

Yoga Body thus misses a critical point many of us have the right to say, as well as without needing to be criticized for being arrogant or mean-minded: that yoga is mostly a holistic process, in which the actual physical body is seen as the first layer of a series of ascending and all-embracing layers of being from body to mind to spirit. And that ultimately, including the body is the dwelling place of Spirit. In sum, the body is the sacred temple of Spirit.

And where does this yoga exercises perspective hail from? According to Feuerstein, “It underlies the entire Tantric tradition, particularly the institutions of hatha yoga, which are an offshoot of Tantrism.”


In Tantra it’s definitely understood that the individual is a three-tiered being-physical, mental and spiritual. Hence, the Tantrics very skillfully and carefully developed practices for all 3 levels of being.

From this old viewpoint, it’s quite gratifying to see how the greater spiritual, all-embracing tantric and yogic practices including hatha yoga, mantra meditation, breathing exercises, ayurveda, kirtan, along with scriptural study are increasingly becoming important features of several modern yoga studios.

And so, to reply to the question inside the name of this article. Can we’ve both a limber physique in addition to a sacred spirit while practicing yoga? Sure, naturally we are able to. Yoga just isn’t either/or. Yoga is yes/and. The more holistic our yoga practice becomes-that is, the better faith based practice is put into our body posture practice the much more these 2 seemingly opposite poles-the body and the spirit-will blend and unify. Unity was, after many, the objective of early Tantra.

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

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