Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Sinister Yoga

Sinister Yoga:
From Modern Mythology:
“Breathe in, hold in, breathe out, old, focus on purifying the mind and body with white light” — how many of you have heard this before? (Quite possibly while internalizing thoughts of lighting the teacher on fire as they use words like “sensation” as code for “agonizing, excruciating pain” as they twist you into a pretzel.)
Here at Modern Mythology we are often looking at the origin myths behind what has become rote practice. This may involve delving into etymological history or just conjecture about the possibilities that have since been forgotten. However, in this case, it seems that our work has been done for us. If you’d like to check out an alternative perspective on yoga and the myth of the yogi, check out David Gordon White’s “Sinister Yoga.” (This is not to say that alternative myths are not myths themselves.)
This approach challenges many of the preconceived Western notions of yoga. There is little meditation, breathing, exercise, impossible contortionism, etc. that is often associated with the practice. Further, it offers an alterative reading of histories of the philosophical development of yogic teachings, which are based primarily on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. What we are presented with is possession, shape-shifting, and creation of multiple selves, among other things. Overall, yogis, were defined as such, when they entered into or took over the bodies of others. White examines this history in a variety of contexts and across a vast expanse of history. Sinister Yogis continues White’s earlier work,Kiss of the Yogini: ‘Tantric Sex’ in its South Asian Contexts and The Alchemical Body: Siddha Traditions in Medieval India, and foreshadows his upcoming projects, Yoga in Practice and The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali: A Biography. Altogether, White’s research is rich and detailed but thoroughly readable, as he is a skilled storyteller. One will discover this with delight already on the first pages, which recount White’s encounters with yogis (or maybe the same yogi) from the mountains of Kathmandu to the parking lot of Los Angeles’ Trader Joe’s.  Listen to podcast interview with the author (MP3) (Newbooksinreligion.com) 
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