History of Modern Yoga: Patanjali and Western Esotericism

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9780826465122: History of Modern Yoga: Patanjali and Western Esotericism

In recent years yoga and meditation have become mass-market pursuits in the West. A History of Modern Yoga traces this phenomenon back to its ideological roots in the esoteric circles of late 18th century Bengal, then follows some of its main developments to date. Fully-fledged Modern Yoga, the author argues, started with the publication of Swami Vivekananda's seminal Raja Yoga (1896), in which Patanjali's Yoga Sutras were reconfigured along the lines of a then emerging New Age style of secularised and individualistically oriented religiosity. But what exactly are yoga and meditation as taught and practised today? Many committed practitioners and sympathisers take them to be straight continuations, or even rediscoveries, of ancient South Asian religious practices, but use peculiarly modern ideas when they define them as powerful tools for cultivating one's human potential' and as ultimately aimed at achieving 'self-realisation'. Thus, despite the fact that Modern Yoga encapsulates many religio-philosophical presuppositions (some of which are discussed in this book), it is often characterised as a 'philosophy' or as 'a way of life' rather than as 'religion' per se. In order to map this unknown territory, the present book offers a four-fold typology of Modern Yoga comprising Modern Psychosomatic, Modern Meditational, Modern Postural and Modern Denominational forms. Special attention is then given to Modern Postural Yoga as widely practised today in America, Australia, Britain and other English-speaking countries and milieus. The theory and practice of lyengar Yoga, one of the most influential schools of Modern Postural Yoga, are analysed in this context, while the conclusion shows how a typical Modern Postural Yoga session may be interpreted to reveal the forms and contents of a healing ritual of secular religion.

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