Is yoga an invented tradition?

I recently went to Ayurvedic Man exhibition at the wellcome collection and it got me thinking about the history of yoga.

I was aware of Krishnamacharya from my training. I knew he taught Indra Devi, Jois, Iyengar and Desikachar. I knew he influenced our modern practice.

What I didn’t know until very recently, is that modern postural yoga (or yoga asana) is very modern. As in, the last century. 

Krishnamacharya (1888 to 1989) developed asana as we know it, at a nexus between yoga, bodybuilding and physical education in India in the early twentieth century.

So surya namaskar, downward dog, upward dog: all brand new.

Confused? Yep.

Not many people mention that the yoga asana we practice has nothing to do with the ‘ancient, centuries old’ system of yoga dating back intact to Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras in the fifth century CE. There were only 15 original seated poses. And yoga did not mean the physical practice we know it as today.

If anything, some yoga schools encourage the idea that asana as we know it has been passed down through the centuries. 

Do we need this ancient authority to believe in its effects?

As Sita Reddy writes in her essay ‘Who owns yoga’, the roots of yoga run deep, but modern postural yoga, including surya namaskar, is an invented tradition.

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