I don't typically write reviews for these letters-in fact I've never written one here before-but I have a new book hot off the press that needs and deserves all the hype it can get. Last Fall I was fortunate enough to be invited to a yoga conference at Cavallo Point, just on the Marin side of the Golden Gate Bridge, a beautiful spot (with a great restaurant) if you're ever looking for a retreat location. The gathering was billed as "An Opportunity to Consider an Authentic Voice for Yoga Today" three days of talks on topics like the relationship between yoga and buddhism, yoga and art, and yoga and tantra ... well, what did you expect yoga people to talk about when they get together? The best part of the conference was that I got to hang out with some old friends-teachers Patricia Sullivan and Mary Paffard, both of whom I've known for a quarter-century, and our own Ann Dyer-and make some new ones-Ian Whicher, author of The Integrity of the Yoga Darshana, Chris Wallis, a Tantric scholar wise beyond his years, who's doing his best every Thursday night to teach me Sanskrit, and Mark Singleton, a tutor at St John's College in Santa Fe.
I was especially excited to meet Mark, who worked with Elizabeth de Michelis on her book, The History of Modern Yoga, the story of how modern yoga developed and came to the West. Back then at the conference Mark's book on a similar topic was due out at the start of the new year and, sure enough-after three months of edge-of-the-seat anticipation-his new book just arrived in the mail a few days ago (actually I've had a manuscript version for a couple months). It's titled Yoga Body: The Origins of Modern Posture Practice, published by Oxford University Press, and it's a good one. It's a relatively short read, I finished it in one day-take away the footnotes and the bibliography (which runs to a staggering 33 pages) and you're looking at just over 200 pages-but it's chock full of information, illustrations, and photographs.
The material is divided into nine chapters and covers the evolution of modern asana from every possible angle. Mark first takes us back to seventeenth century when European travelers in India first encountered the strange practice of asana, next traces the slow deterioration or near extinction of Hatha practice through to the nineteenth century, then takes us into the early twentieth century when Hatha was to a large extent re-invented and successfully revived by several Indian teachers, including the well-known T Krishnamacharya and the lesser known but no less influential Swami Kuvalayananda. Along the way Mark investigates the various disciplines, movements and innovations that have profoundly influenced modern asanas, such as the international physical culture movment, what he calls "harmonial gymnastics" and "esoteric dance," and most surprisingly the invention of the camera.
This is a beautifully written book, though at times the language might be a tad academic for a truly popular audience. I believe though that with the high level of instruction at PYS, our students are well prepared to appreciate, along with other studies like the de Michelis book and Joseph Alter's Yoga in Modern India, one of the most important books on modern yoga to hit the streets in the last 10 years. If you want to understand the true roots of your practice-and no, it's not 5000 years old-and all the elements that contributed to it, both in India and in the West, over the last century then I highly recommend Mark's book.
Now next month I'll get back to writing the usual stuff for you to read just before bedtime to assure a good night's sleep. While you look forward to that I'll review the coming month a PYS. For the sake of space and your sanity, I'll be brief in describing all our offerings. You can find details about these events at our website and unless otherwise noted, register there online as well.