The Path of Modern Yoga

From Dharmapedia Wiki
Jump to navigation Jump to search
The Path of Modern Yoga
File:Goldberg Path of Modern Yoga 2016 Cover.jpg
Cover of 1st edition, showing B. K. S. Iyengar in Natarajasana
Author Elliott Goldberg
Subject Modern yoga
Genre Social history
Publisher Inner Traditions
Publication date
Pages 495
OCLC 991434887 [archive]

The Path of Modern Yoga: The History of an Embodied Spiritual Practice is a 2016 history of the modern practice of postural yoga by the yoga scholar Elliott Goldberg.[1] It focuses in detail on eleven pioneering figures of the transformation of yoga in the 20th century, including Yogendra, Kuvalayananda, Pant Pratinidhi, Krishnamacharya, B. K. S. Iyengar and Indra Devi.

The book's thesis is that modern yoga progressed in three stages from its pre-1900 state to what is observed today. Before 1900, haṭha yoga was the despised religious practice of a small minority on the fringes of Indian society. In the first stage, pioneers such as Yogendra and Kuvalayananda treated yoga as the subject of medical inquiry, making it both secular and socially acceptable. Next, advocates of exercise brought standing poses from gymnastics into yoga: Pant Pratinidhi advocated Surya Namaskar (the sun salutation), a jumped sequence of poses, as daily exercise, while Krishnamacharya incorporated those poses and others as standing asanas in his yoga, along with the jumped transitions (vinyasas) between them, making yoga dynamic. Finally, two pupils of Krishnamacharya, B. K. S. Iyengar and Indra Devi, resacralised yoga, connecting the practice of asanas to ancient yoga tradition, and helped to spread yoga across the Western world.

Critics, both academics and yoga teachers, broadly welcomed the book, noting Goldberg's many years of study and its detailed account of yoga's transformations. Others were more doubtful, noting the book's lack of an introduction, overview, or account of yoga's historical context.


The modern practice of yoga as a form of exercise developed from medieval haṭha yoga in the 20th century by discarding most of its practices and focussing on asanas, physical postures. At the same time, it acquired an element of aerobic exercise, initially through the adoption from physical culture of Surya Namaskar, the series of postures connected by flowing movements known as the sun salutation. In some modern styles of yoga, these flowing movements have developed into vinyasas, connecting sequences used throughout the yoga session.[2]


File:Path of Modern Yoga acc to Goldberg 2016.svg
Goldberg divides the path of modern yoga into three steps, corresponding to the three parts of the book: Medicalisation, becoming Dynamic, and Resacralisation.


The Path of Modern Yoga, based on 10 years of research, examines the history of modern asana-based yoga through the lives of eleven pioneering figures: Sri Yogendra; Swami Kuvalayananda; Seetharaman Sundaram; Tirumalai Krishnamacharya; Swami Sivananda; the bodybuilder K. V. Iyer; the rajah of Aundh, Pant Pratinidhi; the journalist Louise Morgan; the diplomat Apa Pant; and two students of Krishnamacharya, his brother-in-law, B. K. S. Iyengar, and one of Iyengar's pupils, Indra Devi. [3]

The 35 chapters are arranged in three parts that map the transformation of yoga during the modern period. The book maps out the development of modern yoga saw the original pre-1900 hatha yoga becoming divested of its sacred trappings (Part I);[4] the resulting secular yoga was then made dynamic, with jumped transitions (vinyasas) between postures (Part II);[5] and this dynamic, secular yoga was then resacralised (Part III).[6] There is no introduction or conclusion.[3]

Part I, "Divesting Yoga of the Sacred", consists mainly of five chapters on Yogendra and five on Kuvalayananda, who pioneered the medical study of yoga, at the start of the 20th century the territory of despised vagrants, beggars, and fakirs, and in so doing helped to make yoga acceptable.[4]

Part II, "Making Yoga Dynamic", consists mostly of three chapters on Pant Pratinidhi, an enthusiast for exercise and a powerful advocate for Surya Namaskar; three on Krishnamacharya, described as the father of modern yoga, who incorporated many standing poses from the gymnastics of popular physical culture into his teaching, alongside the jumping transitions of Surya Namaskar, creating more standing poses and the dynamic vinyasa style of yoga that he taught to his pupils including Iyengar and K. Pattabhi Jois, who went on to found yoga schools of their own; and three on Morgan.[5]

Part III, "Making Yoga Sacred Again", has two chapters on Devi, who helped to popularise yoga in America through her celebrity pupils in Hollywood; and seven on Iyengar, who made yoga precise, in particular with his 1966 book Light on Yoga, and who helped to spread yoga across the Western world, founding institutes of Iyengar Yoga, especially in Britain and in America.[6]


The Path of Modern Yoga was published in hardback (boards) by Inner Traditions of Rochester, Vermont in 2016.[7]

The book is illustrated with historic monochrome photographs of its protagonists and places associated with them, and a few drawings showing movements of the body and muscles affected.


File:Shri Yogendra.jpg
The book begins with 5 chapters on Yogendra, a pioneer of yoga as exercise.

The book was welcomed by many reviewers, both academics and yoga teachers. The yoga researcher Mark Singleton calls the book "the fruit of many years' research and reflection, Goldberg's long-awaited study combines rich cultural history with practical insights into embodied yoga practice".[8] The yoga researcher Joseph S. Alter describes the book as "an important perspective on how different aspects of 20th-century 'body culture' shaped the practice of asana during the modern yoga renaissance."[8] The yoga teacher and women's retreat leader Angela Farmer calls it "a scholarly yet gripping account of modern yoga history", leading up to how asanas embody the spiritual, as seen, she states, in Iyengar's writings.[8] Krysta Gibson, reviewing the book for New Spirit Journal, similarly writes that it explains "how we went from yoga being a hidden, weird thing hippies and new agers did, to yoga studios on almost very corner". In her view, Goldberg "does a masterful job" of explaining the transformation.[9] The San Francisco Book Review likewise comments that Goldberg describes yoga's "massive transition from spiritual practice to focusing on health and fitness". The review states that Goldberg's case is that "instead of desecrating a sacred tradition, this change moved yoga from solitary and inaccessible to embodied, spiritual, and open to everyone."[10]

File:BKS Iyengar.jpg
The book devotes 7 of its 35 chapters to the yoga guru B. K. S. Iyengar.

Other reviewers, while admiring the research behind the book, were more doubtful. Niki Whiting, writing in Spiral Nature Magazine, comments that she struggled with the book, as it isn't an overview of the tradition and poses, nor a history of yoga's changes in the past 40 years, but "a specific history of yoga in the 20th century." She felt the lack of an Introduction section in the book, and had been hoping for what she thought the subtitle suggested, a more spiritual or theological exploration.[11] The critic and yoga teacher Matthew Remski compares historians of yoga to the fable of the blind men describing an elephant (one finds it flexible and leathery, another like a massive pillar, a third like a rope, a fourth smooth, polished, and cold...): Norman Sjoman[lower-alpha 1] found it influenced by South Indian wrestling exercises; Joseph Alter[lower-alpha 2] found it torn between esoteric and scientific; Mark Singleton[lower-alpha 3] discovered a collision of Western physical culture with Indian spirituality. In Remski's view, along comes "Goldberg with a dozen years of dogged research, a sleuthing style metered out in engaging chunks, a deep appreciation for the embodied sensations offered by competing visions of asana practice, a sharp eye for human foibles and historical oddities" and "makes a bold attempt to ride the elephant. As blindfolded as everyone else, he wobbles a bit, but hangs on for long enough to produce something that a lot of people have been waiting for: a penetrating, body-aware cultural history of a modern spirituality, written through richly realized characters." What Remski says he misses in Goldberg's book is answers to questions like what Indian physical yoga was before the transformation.[12]

See also[edit]

  • Yoga Body, Mark Singleton's 2010 book on the origins of global yoga in physical culture
  • Selling Yoga, Andrea Jain's 2015 book on the commercialisation of global yoga
  • The Subtle Body, Stefanie Syman's 2010 book on the history of yoga in America


<templatestyles src="Reflist/styles.css" />

  1. Norman Sjoman wrote The Yoga Tradition of the Mysore Palace in 1996.
  2. Joseph Alter wrote Yoga in Modern India: The Body between Science and Philosophy in History of Religions in 2004.
  3. Mark Singleton wrote Yoga Body: the origins of modern posture practice in 2010.


<templatestyles src="Reflist/styles.css" />

  1. Goldberg 2016.
  2. Goldberg 2016, p. xi.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Goldberg 2016, pp. vii-xi.
  4. 4.0 4.1 Goldberg 2016, pp. 2-178.
  5. 5.0 5.1 Goldberg 2016, pp. 180-336.
  6. 6.0 6.1 Goldberg 2016, pp. 338-445.
  7. "The Path of Modern Yoga" [archive]. WorldCat. Retrieved 1 October 2019.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 "The Path of Modern Yoga The History of an Embodied Spiritual Practice By Elliott Goldberg" [archive]. Simon and Schuster. Retrieved 22 March 2019.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. Gibson, Krysta. "The Path of Modern Yoga" [archive]. New Spirit Journal. Retrieved 22 March 2019.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  10. Barclay, Axie. "The Path of Modern Yoga: The History of an Embodied Spiritual Practice" [archive]. San Francisco Book Review. Retrieved 22 March 2019.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  11. Whiting, Niki (31 October 2017). "Reviews | The Path of Modern Yoga, by Elliott Goldberg" [archive]. Spiral Nature Magazine. Retrieved 22 March 2019.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  12. Remski, Matthew (4 August 2016). "Elliott Goldberg Rides the Elephant: An In-Depth Review of The Path of Modern Yoga" [archive]. Matthew Remski. Retrieved 22 March 2019.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>


  • Goldberg, Elliott (2016). The Path of Modern Yoga : the history of an embodied spiritual practice. Rochester, Vermont: Inner Traditions. ISBN 978-1-62055-567-5. OCLC 926062252 [archive].<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

Template:Modern yoga