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Hinduism Yoga
by
David Gordon White

Introduction

The Sanskrit term yoga is first encountered in the Vedas, where it refers to the act of yoking, the animal so yoked, and the conveyance pulled by the yoked animal. The Vedic poets also applied the term to the yoking of their minds to poetic inspiration, by which their thoughts could journey outward to the distant worlds of the gods. This led to the techniques of meditative ascent found in the classical Upaniṣads (600 BCE–200 CE). Because they linked the mind to the breath, the Upaniṣads also introduced breath control as a component of meditative practice. The Vaiśeṣika Sūtra and Nyāya Sūtra (200 BCE–200 CE) classified the level of perception proper to the Vedic poets and seers as the most powerful and valid source of knowledge, because it entailed the perception of imperceptibles. This came to be known as “yogi perception.” These traditions coalesced in the time of the Bhagavad Gītā (200 CE), an early teaching on “yoga” by the god Krishna. The most important philosophical synthesis of all of these earlier traditions was the Yoga Sūtras (350–450 CE) of Patañjali. It and its rich commentarial tradition, which continues down to the present day, are the core of Yoga philosophy. About 450–600 CE, yogic postures (āsanas) first appear in texts and iconography. These became the principal focus of works on haṭha yoga that appeared between 1100 and 1700 CE. From the same period, the Yoga Upaniṣads wove together the philosophical and meditative traditions of the Yoga Sūtras with āsana practice. Prior to both haṭha yoga and the Yoga Upaniṣads, the Hindu Tantras innovated yoga systems of their own, combining meditative ascent, visualization techniques, the manipulation of mantras, and breath control. Both tantric and the hathayogic works contain accounts of the centers (cakras) and channels (nāḍīs) of the yogic body, portraying it as a replica of the universe. Dating from the same period as the earliest Yoga Upaniṣads and the middle Tantras, the Kashmirian Yogavasiṣṭha (800–1000 CE) combined yoga philosophy, “yogi perception,” tantric yoga, and haṭha yoga into a unique synthesis. Since the late 19th century, “modern yoga” has retrieved and reinvented many of the elements of these earlier systems, relying heavily on the Yoga Sūtras in formulating its theoretical principals, but also appropriating elements from tantric and hathayogic traditions into constantly evolving novel forms.

General Overviews

Given the heterogeneous nature of the yoga traditions, very few satisfactory books have been written that provide a comprehensive overview of the field. Larson and Bhattacharya 2008, which is in fact a volume in the Encyclopedia of Indian Philosophies, is by far the most comprehensive source; however, much of its analysis is highly technical. Feuerstein 2001 casts a still wider net and is far more accessible to nonspecialists; however, the book’s overall approach is anecdotal. Connolly 2007 is written more for present-day yoga practitioners than for scholars. Eliade 2009 is the earliest historical overview of India’s traditions of yoga and meditation. Sarbacker 2005 is a compact useful update. White 2009 approaches the history of yoga through the lens of its practitioners. Whicher and Carpenter 2003 and Jacobsen 2005 are multiauthor works containing chapters by many of the world’s leading yoga scholars on a wide range of historical and philosophical themes.

  • Connolly, Peter. A Student’s Guide to the History and Philosophy of Yoga. London and Oakville, CT: Equinox, 2007.

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    A balanced presentation of the history, theories and practices of yoga, with chapters on yoga in the Vedas, renouncer traditions, yoga in the Hindu Epics, yoga philosophy, modern yoga, and yoga and psychology. Geared more toward the yoga practitioner than to scholars.

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  • Eliade, Mircea. Yoga: Immortality and Freedom. 2d ed. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2009.

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    A reprint of the 1973 edition, with a new introduction by David Gordon White. (First English edition was published in 1958.) A pioneering work, the first comprehensive survey of yoga to expand the parameters of Western scholarship beyond yoga philosophy. Highly readable and still relevant, in spite of a number of outdated theories.

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  • Feuerstein, Georg. The Yoga Tradition: Its History, Literature, Philosophy and Practice. Unabridged, new format edition. Prescott, AZ: Hohm, 2001.

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    A well-illustrated encyclopedic survey of yoga traditions, this popularizing work casts a very wide net in what it treats as “yoga.” The author’s chronology of Indian religions is seriously flawed.

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  • Jacobsen, Knut A., ed. Theory and Practice of Yoga: Essays in Honour of Gerald James Larson. Numen Book Series, Studies in the History of Religions 110. Leiden, The Netherlands: E. J. Brill, 2005.

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    A collection of twenty erudite studies of the yoga traditions of India, mainly written by Larson’s former students. Also contains chapters on yogic practices of Indian Sufis, Jungian psychology and yoga, “yoga” in the Platonic dialogues, and yoga in the United States.

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  • Larson, Gerald James, and Ram Shankar Bhattacharya, eds. Encyclopedia of Indian Philosophies. Vol. 12, Yoga: India’s Philosophy of Meditation. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 2008.

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    Authoritative reference work on the entire sweep of the yoga tradition, from the Yoga Sūtras to modern yoga. Highly readable presentation of very technical aspects of yoga philosophy, with well-balanced presentations of haṭha yoga, Yoga Upaniṣads, modern yoga, and other aspects of yoga, as well as summaries of seventy-five yoga texts.

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  • Sarbacker, Stuart Ray. Samādhi, The Numinous and the Cessative in Indo-Tibetan Yoga. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2005.

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    An engaging and highly readable analysis of two major trajectories in the history of Hindu and Buddhist yoga theory: yoga as a means to supernatural powers, and yoga as an intellective meditative practice. May be used for undergraduate teaching.

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  • Whicher, Ian, and David Carpenter, eds. Yoga, The Indian Tradition. London: RoutledgeCurzon, 2003.

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    Contains nine well-written chapters by a variety of specialists on patañjalian yoga philosophy and later Indian yoga traditions.

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  • White, David Gordon. Sinister Yogis. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2009.

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    Argues that yoga and the yoga philosophy of the Yoga Sūtras must be contextualized within broader currents of Indian philosophy (Nyāya-Vaiśeṣika, Kashmir Saivism, etc.), narrative accounts of the practice of yoga, and descriptions of persons called yogis. May be used in undergraduate teaching.

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Early (Pre-Patanjalian) Yoga Traditions

Prior to the appearance of the earliest systematic presentation of yoga philosophy around 350–450 CE, the Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali and a number of Hindu sources (vedic, upanishadic, and epic) offered data on “yoga.” In the Vedas, the term denoted the yoking of horses to war chariots and, by extension, “wartime,” as opposed to “peacetime.” It also referred to the battlefield apotheosis of chariot warriors and the techniques by which the vedic singers of hymns were able to poetically link the world of the gods to the world of men. In the Upaniṣads, the term came to be applied to theories and techniques of meditative ascent, within the broader context of sāṃkhya metaphysics. The Epic Mahābhārata, in addition to using the term in its vedic and upanishadic senses, also portrayed yoga as a practice through which a practitioner could create or take over other creatures’ bodies. This was the yoga displayed by Krishna at the climax of his teachings to the warrior Arjuna in the Bhagavad Gītā. The most comprehensive overview of the history of pre-patañjalian yoga is White 2009, which traces the uses of the term yoga from the Vedas through the Epics (and beyond). Connolly 2007 gives a somewhat dated overview of the history of meditation in the Vedas and Epics. Schreiner 1999 and Brockington 2003 are original studies of the emergence of yoga as a philosophical school and a body of meditative practice in the Mahābhārata. Fitzgerald 2010 provides a close reading of two seminal chapters from the Mahābhārata, including chapter 289 of Book 12, which contains an earlier discussion of yoga than that found in the Bhagavad Gītā. Bronkhorst 1993 provides a close reading of discussions of meditation in the Mahābhārata and compares these with coeval Buddhist and Jain sources. Malinar 2007 includes an original and insightful interpretation of yoga in the Bhagavad Gītā. Biardeau 1993 is a groundbreaking study of the relationship between yoga and time reckoning in the early Purāṇas.

  • Biardeau, Madeleine. “Purāṇic Cosmogony.” In Asian Mythologies. Compiled by Yves Bonnefoy; translated under the direction of Wendy Doniger, 43–49. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993.

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    A condensed English version of Biardeau’s groundbreaking study of the relationship between yogic ascent, as presented in the Kaṭha Upaniṣad, and the cosmic cycles, regulated by the “Great Yogi” Vishnu, as described in the Vaiṣṇava Purāṇas.

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  • Brockington, John. “Yoga in the Mahābhārata.” In Yoga, The Indian Tradition. Edited by Ian Whicher and David Carpenter, 13–24. London: RoutledgeCurzon, 2003.

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    Surveys the narrative and philosophical accounts of yoga and its practitioners in the Mahābhārata.

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  • Bronkhorst, Johannes. The Two Traditions of Meditation in Ancient India. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1993.

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    Compares depictions of meditation (sometimes identified as yoga) across early Buddhist, Jain, and Hindu sources.

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  • Connolly, Peter. A Student’s Guide to the History and Philosophy of Yoga. London and Oakville, CT: Equinox, 2007.

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    Chapter 2 (“Yoga in the Texts of the Veda”) reproduces the principal passages on yoga from the classical Upaniṣads; while chapter 3 (“The Epics and the Bhagavad Gītā”) offers an overview of yoga in the Mahābhārata.

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  • Fitzgerald, James. “The Sāṃkhya-Yoga ‘Manifesto’ at MBh 12.289–290.” Paper presented at the 13th World Sanskrit Conference, Edinburgh, 10th–14th July 2006. In Battles, Bards, Brahmins. Edited by John Brockington, 185–212. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 2010.

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    Detailed study, including critical translation of two essential chapters from the Mahābhārata, on the differentiation between sāṃkhya philosophy and yoga philosophy.

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  • Malinar, Angelika. The Bhagavadgītā: Doctrines and Contexts. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2007.

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    Provides a chapter-by-chapter analysis of the Bhagavadgītā, with particularly astute sections (pp. 144–164) on the language of Krishna’s presentation of yoga to the warrior Arjuna.

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  • Schreiner, Peter. “What Comes First (in the Mahābhārata): Sāṃkhya or Yoga?” Asiatische Studien/Études Asiatiques 53.3 (1999): 755–777.

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    An important study of the emergence of yoga philosophy, traced through critical passages of the Mahābhārata.

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  • White, David Gordon. Sinister Yogis. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2009.

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    Contains extended discussion of the uses of the term yoga in the Vedas, Upaniṣads, Mahābhārata, and Nyāya-Vaiśeṣika philosophy, arguing that the earliest senses of the term denoted warfare (in the Vedas), bodily apotheosis, entering into other people’s bodies, and a special category of perception called yogipratyakṣa.

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Yoga Philosophy (Patanjalian Yoga)

On the basis of its rich history of commentarial tradition as well as its omnipresence in manuscript holdings in Indian libraries and archives, one must conclude that the text known as the Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali has long been considered a foundational work of Indian philosophy. Prior to the 9th century, this work was considered to be the exposition of a particular form of Sāṃkhya philosophy, but following this watershed, it was held to be the fundamental text of Yoga philosophy, the fourth of the six schools of traditional Indian philosophy. Therefore, by definition, virtually every study of yoga philosophy is a study of the Yoga Sūtras and its commentarial tradition. For the past century or so, the philosophy of the Yoga Sūtras has also been termed “classical yoga” or rāja yoga (the “royal” yoga, as opposed to haṭha yoga).

Yoga Sūtras: Translations

The Yoga Sūtras (Aphorisms on Yoga; c. 350–450 CE) attributed to Patañjali, is, alongside the Bhagavad Gītā, the most widely translated Sanskrit-language work of the 20th and 21st centuries. Given the elliptical nature of the Sanskrit language of the aphorisms themselves, translations vary widely. Most of the translations listed here have the same structure. Each of the aphorisms is presented in Sanskrit (either in Devanagari or transliterated Roman script), with the Sanskrit terms of each aphorism glossed and translated. Following this, a literal English translation of the aphorism is provided, followed by the author’s commentary. In several of these translations, the author’s commentary will be preceded by or woven together with the commentaries of one or more of the text’s principal Indian commentators. These most often include Vyāsa or Vedavyāsa (c. 350–450 CE), Vacaspatimiśra (9th or 10th century), Vijñānabhikṣu (16th century). Translations of the Yoga Sūtras range from highly technical and scholarly works, such as Woods 1914, Angot 2008, and Larson and Bhattcharya 2008, to far more user-friendly translations, such as Bryant 2009, Feuerstein 1989, Miller 1996, and Ranganathan 2008. Aranya 1963 is in fact an English-language translation of a far earlier work by a practitioner-scholar who has come to be regarded as a saint.

  • Angot, Michel. Le Yoga-Sūtra de Patañjali: Le Yoga-Bhāṣya de Vyāsa, avec des extraits du Yoga-Vārttika de Vijñāna-Bhikṣu. Paris: Les Belles Lettres, 2008.

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    The most erudite of all extant translations, with an exhaustive introduction and appendices addressing the principal terms found in the text. In French and difficult to access in the United States.

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  • Aranya, Hariharananda. Yoga Philosophy of Patañjali. Translated by P. N. Mukherji. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1963.

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    This very lucid translation includes the commentary of Vedavyāsa as well as the learned commentary of Aranya, a 19th- to 20th-century yoga practitioner.

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  • Bryant, Edwin F., ed. and trans. The Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali: A New Edition, Translation, and Commentary, with Insights from the Traditional Commentators. New York: North Point, 2009.

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    A massive and sweeping presentation, gloss, and translation of the Yoga Sūtras, complemented by the author’s wide-ranging and highly engaging commentary, which draws on the interpretations of nearly a dozen of the principal traditional commentators.

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  • Feuerstein, Georg, trans. The Yoga-Sūtra of Patañjali: A New Translation and Commentary. Rochester, VT: Inner Traditions International, 1989.

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    Clearly presented translation of the Yoga Sūtras, prefaced by a highly readable and penetrating introduction to the text, focusing on the relationship between Patañjali and his commentators and the work’s principal themes. Originally published in 1979 (Folkestone, UK: Dawson).

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  • Larson, Gerald James, and Ram Shankar Bhattacharya, eds. Encyclopedia of Indian Philosophies. Vol. 12, Yoga: India’s Philosophy of Meditation. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 2008.

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    Larson’s concise translation and summary of the Yoga Sūtras is found on pp. 161–183.

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  • Miller, Barbara Stoler, trans. Yoga: Discipline of Freedom; The Yoga Sutra Attributed to Patanjali. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996.

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    A poetical and highly readable rendering of the Yoga Sūtras, with a helpful introduction and author’s commentary. May be used in undergraduate teaching.

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  • Rangananthan, Shyam, ed. and trans. Patañjali’s Yoga Sūtra. New Delhi: Penguin, 2008.

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    An engaging translation with a thoughtful introduction on the philosophy of the Yoga Sūtras and the translator’s craft. Translation is forced at times by the translator’s insistence on reading dharma as “ethics” or “morality.”

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  • Woods, James Haughton, trans. The Yoga-System of Patañjali. Harvard Oriental Series 12. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1914.

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    Very accurate translation, but not recommended for non-Sanskritists. Reprinted in 1966 (Delhi: Motlal Banarsidass, 1966).

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Yoga Sūtras: Commentaries

Well over twenty important traditional commentaries were written on the Yoga Sūtras between the 4th and 20th centuries. These include the Yogabhāṣya of Vedavyāsa (c. 350–450 CE), the 9th- to 10th-century Tattvavaiśāradī of Vacaspatimiśra, the Rājamārtaṇḍa of Bhoja (c. 1050 CE), the 16th-century Yogasārasaṃgraha of Vijñānabhikṣu, and the 17th-century Yogasiddhāntacandrikā of Nārāyaṇa Tīrtha. Partial translations and detailed summaries of these five commentaries are found in Larson and Bhattacharya 2008. The 11th- to 14th-century Yogaśāstravivaraṇa attributed to Śaṅkarācārya is fully translated in Leggett 1990. The “pātañjala-yoga” section of the 14th-century Sarvadarśanasaṃgraha of Sāyaṇa Mādhava is translated in Cowell and Gough 2000; the 16th-century Yogavārttika of Vijñānabhikṣu is translated in Rukmani 1981–1989; and the same author’s Yogasārasaṃgraha is translated in Jha 1933. In addition to the commentaries in certain translations of the Yoga Sūtras themselves (see Yoga Sūtras: Translations), these titles provide the best and most complete translations of the principal Yoga Sūtras commentaries.

  • Cowell, E. B., and Archibald Gough, trans. The Sarva-darśana-saṃgraha, or Review of the Different Systems of Hindu Philosophy, by Madhava Ācārya. London: Routledge, 2000.

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    Contains Sāyaṇa Mādhava’s overview of the “pātañjala-yoga” system, with a commentary on the Yoga Sūtras. Originally published in 1882.

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  • Jha, Ganganath, trans. An English Translation of Yoga-sāra-saṅgraha of Vijñāna Bhikṣu.Madras, India: Theosophical, 1933.

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    A translation of theYogasārasaṃgraha of Vijñānabhikṣu.

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  • Larson, Gerald James, and Ram Shankar Bhattacharya, eds. Encyclopedia of Indian Philosophies. Vol. 12, Yoga: India’s Philosophy of Meditation. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 2008.

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    Includes detailed summaries of the commentaries of Vedavyāsa (by Bhattacharya, pp. 184–217), Vacaspatimiśra (by Karl Potter, pp. 218–239); Śaṅkarācārya (by T. S. Rukmani, pp. 239–60); and Bhoja (by Bhattacharya, pp. 266–282); Vijñānabhikṣu’s Yogavarttika (by T. S. Rukmani, pp. 295–320) and Yogasārasaṃgraha (by Bhattacharya, pp. 320–333); and Nārāyaṇa Tīrtha’s Yogasiddhāntacandrikā (by Anima Sen Gupta, pp. 334–352).

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  • Leggett, Trevor, trans. The Complete Commentary by Sankara on the Yoga-Sutras. London: Kegan Paul, 1990.

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    A translation of the Yogaśāstravivaraṇa, with an introduction addressing the likelihood that this work was in fact written by the renowned 9th-century religious leader and commentator, Śaṅkarācārya. T. S. Rukmani, who also translated this text, doubts that Śaṅkarācārya was its author.

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  • Rukmani, T. S., trans. The Yogavarttika of Vijñanabhiksu. 4 vols. Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal, 1981–1989.

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    Authoritative translation, with massive critical apparatus, of the Yogasūtras, together with Vijñanabhiksu’s “Yogavarttika” commentary.

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Yoga Philosophy: Studies

Many of the translations of the Yoga Sūtras (see Yoga Sūtras: Translations) are also studies of yoga philosophy, inasmuch as they include extensive introductions and critical apparatus. In addition, there are a small number of useful studies of the Yoga Sūtras that are not included in translations of Patañjali’s work or its commentaries. Larson’s introduction in Larson and Bhattacharya 2008 is the most formidable analysis of yoga philosophy; however, it is too technical for nonspecialists. Likewise, the focused studies in Bhattacharya 1985 are for a specialist readership. Koelman 1970 offers sensitive insights into particular philosophical issues in the Yoga Sūtras, while Feuerstein 1979 provides an excellent analysis of the process of the text’s compilation. Chapple 2008 and Bryant 2009 offer personal but probing interpretations of yoga philosophy as presented in the Yoga Sūtras and its principal commentaries.

  • Bhattacharya, Ram Shankar. An Introduction to the Yogasūtra. Delhi: Bharatiya Vidya Prakasana, 1985.

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    Wide-ranging series of essays on the text and context of the Yoga Sūtras, discussing philosophical antecedents, authorship, composition, and chronology. Difficult to access.

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  • Bryant, Edwin F. The Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali: A New Edition, Translation, and Commentary, with Insights from the Traditional Commentators. New York: North Point, 2009.

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    Wide-ranging and highly engaging introduction and commentary on the Yoga Sūtras that weaves together the interpretations of the principal traditional commentators with the author’s insightful analysis, which is somewhat marred by his insistence on reading all references to īśvara as referring to the devotional cult of Krishna.

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  • Chapple, Christopher Key. Yoga and the Luminous: Patañjali’s Spiritual Path to Freedom. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2008.

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    Contains insightful introductory chapters on the imitation of animals in yoga postures, luminosity, and yoga, reading the Yoga Sūtras without Vedavyāsa’s interpretation, and the use of the feminine gender in Patañjali’s descriptions of yoga practices.

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  • Feuerstein, Georg. The Yoga Sūtra of Patañjali: An Exercise in the Methodology of Textual Analysis. New Delhi: Arnold Heinemann, 1979.

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    Presents the most elegant and satisfying text-critical analysis of the Yoga Sūtras, arguing that apart from a very few later interpolations (on eight-limbed yoga, etc.), the text is a unified single compilation.

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  • Koelman, Gaspar M. Pātañjala Yoga. From Related Ego to Absolute Self. Pune, India: Papal Athenaeum, 1970.

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    Sensitive and insightful analysis of the Yoga Sūtras and its commentarial traditions, unrivalled in its discussion of the eight states of awareness (samāpattis). Unfortunately, this forty-year-old study is quite inaccessible.

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  • Larson, Gerald James, and Ram Shankar Bhattacharya, eds. Encyclopedia of Indian Philosophies. Vol. 12, Yoga: India’s Philosophy of Meditation. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 2008.

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    Larson’s formidable but highly technical introduction to this encyclopedic volume (pp. 21–136) constitutes the most complete and concise available treatment of the Yoga Sūtras and broader yoga philosophy.

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Yoga in the Hindu Tantras

There is no unified South Asian tradition of “tantric yoga.” However, yoga is an important topic in many South Asian Tantras, beginning with the Āgamas of orthodox Śaivasiddhānta and Saṃhitās of Vaiṣṇava Tantra, and continuing down through works of the later tantric canon. A wide range of practices are termed as “yoga” in these works, ranging from meditation and visualization techniques to the use of mantras to haṭha yoga-style practice to various forms of sorcery. Generally speaking, the goals of these practices are self-deification (understood as a divine level of consciousness and mode of being) and supernatural powers or enjoyments (siddhis).

Yoga in the Śaiva Tantras

The principal divisions of the medieval scriptures of Śaiva or Śākta-Śaiva traditions comprise the Atimārga (whose yoga traditions are discussed in Sanderson 2003–2005), the Śaivāgamas (discussed in Brunner 1994), the Kubjikā Tantras (discussed in Heilijger-Seelens 1994), the Trika Tantras (a system also broadly referred to as Kashmir Saivism; three of its yoga systems are discussed in Vasudeva 2004, Muller-Ortega 2005, and Mallinson 2006), the Krama Tantras and the Śrīvidyā Tantras. Silburn 1988 and White 2009 contain partial translations and studies of several works from the yoga systems of the Śaiva Tantras. The studies listed here are highly erudite. This is unavoidable, given the highly abstruse nature of the traditions under study.

  • Brunner, Helène. “The Place of Yoga in the Śaivāgamas.” In Pandit N. R. Bhatt, Felicitation Volume. Edited by Pierre-Sylvain Filliozat, S. P. Narang, and C. P. Bhatta, 425–461. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1994.

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    An overview of the rather limited place of yoga in the Śaivāgamas.

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  • Heilijger-Seelens, Dorothea. The System of Five Cakras in Kubjikāmatatantra 14–16. Groningen, The Netherlands: Egbert Forsten, 1994.

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    An exhaustive text-historical and analytical study of the tantric practice of yoga as detailed in the 12th-century Kubjikāmata and other Kubjikā Tantras.

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  • Mallinson, James (Sir). The Khecarīvidyā of Ādinātha: A Critical Edition and Annotated Translation of an Early Text of Haṭhayoga. London: Routledge, 2006.

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    In spite of this book’s title and the text’s focus on the technique known as khecarī mudrā, Mallinson’s introduction and exhaustive critical apparatus provide an excellent overview of the tantric yoga of Kashmir Saivism, which combined meditation, the use of mantras, techniques of haṭha yoga, and alchemy.

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  • Muller-Ortega, Paul Eduardo. “‘Tarko Yogāṅgam Uttamam’: On Subtle Knowledge and the Refinement of Thought in Abhinavagupta’s Liberative Tantric Method.” In Theory and Practice of Yoga: Essays in Honour of Gerald James Larson. Edited by Knut A. Jacobsen, 181–212. Leiden, The Netherlands: E. J. Brill, 2005.

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    Presents a detailed survey of tantric yoga as understood by Abhinavagupta (fl. 1000), the greatest of all the tantric commentators, in his Tantrāloka and Tantrasāra. Focuses on the place of tarka, “perfected reason,” in the practices of the four means to liberation.

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  • Sanderson, Alexis. “The Lākulas: New Evidence of a System Intermediate between Pāñcārthika Pāśupatism and Āgamic Śaivism.” Indian Philosophical Annual 24 (2003–2005): 143–217.

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    Highly detailed study of the very early tantric yoga system of the Śaiva atimārga tradition, which predated the Śaivāgamas. Includes translations of long excerpts from the 4th- to 6th-century Niḥśvāsatattvasaṃhitā and other works. Accessible online.

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  • Silburn, Lillian. Kuṇḍalinī: Energy of the Depths. Translated by Jacques Gontier. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1988.

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    A collection of several translated excerpts from tantric and hathayogic texts on the yogic body and kuṇḍalinī, with highly erudite analysis of tantric yogic practice.

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  • Vasudeva, Somadeva. The Yoga of the Mālinīvijayottaratantra. Publications de l’Institut Français d’Indologie 97. Pondicherry, India: L’Institut Français de Pondichéry, 2004.

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    Offers a detailed analysis of the yoga of a foundational Trika Tantra, together with the sources out of which it developed, as well as later commentarial traditions.

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  • White, David Gordon. Sinister Yogis. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2009.

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    Contains a highly readable compendium of tantric yoga narratives from the Kathāsaritsāgara and other medieval anthologies (chapter 1), together with a partial translation and discussion of the tantric yoga of the Netra Tantra (pp. 192–194), and a survey of the yogas of several other Śākta-Śaiva tantric traditions (pp. 104–110).

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Yoga in the Vaiṣṇava Tantras

Yogic practice is a feature of two medieval Vaiṣṇava tantric systems. Combining meditation, visualization, subtle body concepts, sexual techniques, and the use of mantras, the practice of yoga is a means to self-purification, self-deification, and bodily immortality. The earlier of these is the Pāñcarātra system, whose principal texts date from the 7th to 10th centuries. Gupta 1992 relates Pāñcarātra metaphysics to its yoga system, while Rastelli 2000 focuses on the prescriptive account of Pāñcarātra “yoga” practitioners found in the Jayākhya Saṃhitā. Flood 2000 is a translation and introduction to a chapter on inner practice, according to the same Pāñcarātra scripture. The Vaiṣṇava Sahajiyā traditions are from a substantially later period, emerging as part of the northeastern Indian “tantric revival” of the 15th to 19th centuries. Dimock 1989 remains the most comprehensive study of this school. Hayes 2003 provides an overview of Sahajiyā yoga, while Hayes 2000 is a translation of a Sahajiyā work on yoga practice, preceded by an introduction. The Kartābhajās appropriate Sahajiyā imagery as they weave together a subversive discourse of business and trade; Urban 2001 offers a masterful survey of their yoga traditions.

  • Dimock, Edward. The Place of the Hidden Moon: Erotic Mysticism in the Vaiṣṇava-sahajiyā Cult of Bengal. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1989.

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    A groundbreaking historical and analytical study of the yogic practice (especially pp. 124–248) of the Vaiṣṇava Sahajiyā movement in Bengal. May be used in undergraduate-level teaching. Originally published in 1966.

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  • Flood, Gavin. “The Purification of the Body.” In Tantra in Practice. Edited by David Gordon White, 509–520. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2000.

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    Highly accessible introduction to and translation of chapter 10 of the Jayākhya Saṃhitā, which treats of the inner practices of Pāñcarātra yoga for the transformation of the practitioner’s physical body into a “radiant” body. May be used in undergraduate-level teaching.

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  • Gupta, Sanjukta. “Yoga and Antaryāga in Pāñcarātra.” In Ritual and Speculation in Early Tantrism: Studies in Honor of André Padoux. Edited by Teun Goudriaan, 175–208. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1992.

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    Relates Pāñcarātra cosmogony and metaphysics to meditative and yogic practice, iconography, and yogic body mapping. A detailed and technical work.

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  • Hayes, Glen Alexander. “The Necklace of Immortality: A Seventeenth-Century Vaiṣṇava Sahajiyā Text.” In Tantra in Practice. Edited by David Gordon White, 308–325. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2000.

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    Partial translation of a Sahajiyā work on yogic practice and yogic body mapping, preceded by a historical and thematic introduction. May be used in undergraduate-level teaching.

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  • Hayes, Glen Alexander. “Metaphoric Worlds and Yoga in the Vaiṣṇava Sahajiyā Tantric Traditions of Medieval Bengal.” In Yoga, The Indian Tradition. Edited by Ian Whicher and David Carpenter, 162–184. London: RoutledgeCurzon, 2003.

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    Gives a general overview of yoga and yogic body mapping in the 15th- to 18th-century Sahajiyā traditions of Bengal. May be used in undergraduate-level teaching.

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  • Rastelli, Marion. “The Religious Practice of the Sādhaka according to the Jayākhyasaṃhitā.” Indo-Iranian Journal 43 (2000): 319–395.

    DOI: 10.1023/A:1026585208746Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Highly technical account of the parameters of practice of the sādhaka, the third level of Pāñcarātra initiate, whose goal is supernatural power in the world as well as liberation from the world. Compares the Pāñcarātra sādhaka to the yogin and tapasvin of other tantric traditions.

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  • Urban, Hugh B. The Economics of Ecstasy: Tantra, Secrecy, and Power in Colonial Bengal. New York: Oxford University Press, 2001.

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    Fascinating treatment of the Kartābhajā traditions of colonial and postcolonial Bengal, integrating a subversive discourse on colonial markets and trade into accounts of Sahajiyā-based yogic practice and body mapping. See especially chapters 5 and 6.

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Yoga in the Yoga Upaniṣads

The Yoga Upaniṣads are a collection of twenty-one medieval Indian texts that follow the style of the so-called classical Upaniṣads. Their content is devoted to metaphysical correspondences between the universal macrocosm and bodily microcosm, meditation, mantra, and techniques of yogic practice. The earliest Yoga Upaniṣads were compiled in northern India some time between the 9th and 13th centuries. These were greatly expanded—to include a wealth of data from the haṭha yoga traditions of the Nāth Yogīs (kuṇḍalinī, āsanas, body mapping, etc.) as well as from nondualist Vedanta philosophy—by southern Indian brahmins between the 16th and 18th centuries. Thus, many of the Yoga Upaniṣads exist in short “northern” and longer “southern” versions. Deussen 1980 contains translations of many of the northern Yoga Upaniṣads; Aiyar 1997 is the best translation of the southern recensions; a less precise translation is Ayyangar 1952. Varenne 1976 contains a full translation of one of the most important works of this collection. Detailed summaries of the contents of the Yoga Upaniṣads are found in Larson and Bhattacharya 2008. Ruff 2002 is the most comprehensive overview of the Yoga Upaniṣads in the English language; Bouy 1994 offers a more detailed text-historical analysis in French.

  • Aiyar, K. Narayanasvami, ed. and trans. Thirty Minor Upaniṣads: English Translation with Sanskrit Text. Delhi: Parimal, 1997.

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    Includes the best and most complete translation of the southern Indian versions of the Yoga Upaniṣads. Originally published in 1914.

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  • Ayyangar, T. R. Srinivasa, trans. The Yoga Upaniṣads (with the commentary of Śrī Upaniṣadbrahmayogin). Edited by G. Śrīnivāsa Murti. Rev. 2d ed. Adyar Library Series 20. Madras, India: Adyar Library, 1952.

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    An adequate free translation of the southern Indian versions of the Yoga Upaniṣads.

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  • Bouy, Christian. Les Nātha-yogin et les Upaniṣads. Publications de l’Institut de Civilisation Indienne 62. Paris: De Boccard, 1994.

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    Provides a comprehensive historical assessment of borrowings by compilers of southern Indian versions of the Yoga Upaniṣads from hathayogic sources attributed to Nāth Yogī authors such as Gorakhnāth.

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  • Deussen, Paul. Sixty Upaniṣads of the Veda. Translated by V. M. Bedekar and G. B. Palsule. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1980.

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    Good-quality translations of many of the northern Indian versions of the Yoga Upaniṣads.

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  • Larson, Gerald James, and Ram Shankar Bhattacharya, eds. Encyclopedia of Indian Philosophies. Vol. 12, Yoga: India’s Philosophy of Meditation. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 2008.

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    Contains detailed summaries of the Yoga Upaniṣads by N. S. S. Raman, K. N. Misra, and R. N. Mukerji (pp. 589–629).

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  • Ruff, Jeffrey. “History, Text, and Context of the Yoga Upanishads.” PhD diss., University of California, Santa Barbara, 2002.

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    A balanced historical and analytical study of the Yoga Upaniṣads, including their social context and relationship to the “classical Upaniṣads” and works of mantra yoga and haṭha yoga.

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  • Varenne, Jean. Yoga and the Hindu Tradition. Translated by Derek Coltman. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1976.

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    Includes a full translation of the Yoga Darśana Upaniṣad (pp. 193–222).

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Yoga in the Yogavasiṣṭha

The Yogavāsiṣṭha is a text composed in Kashmir whose earliest portions date from the 10th century. As such, it is coeval with other Kashmirian works in which tantric yoga figures prominently, including the Netra Tantra, the Mālinīvijayottara Tantra, and the commentaries of Abhinavagupta and Kṣemarāja. While the philosophical position of the Yogavāsiṣṭha is one of subjective idealism—that consciousness creates the worlds it inhabits—it also contains a wealth of data on yoga as the term was understood in its 9th-to-10th-century Kashmirian context. As such, it contains several teachings and illustrative narratives concerning tantric yoga (which, as the Netra Tantra describes it, consists of the power to enter into and take over other people’s bodies). It also appears to be the earliest witness to several elements of haṭha yoga, including body mapping, breath control, and other techniques. Venkatesananda 1984 is a partial translation of this massive work. O’Flaherty 1984 contains translations and illuminating discussions of several narrative accounts of yogic practice in the Yogavāsiṣṭha. Smith 2006 contains a translation of a description, found in the Yogavāsiṣṭha, of the yogic practice of entering into other people’s bodies. Chenet 1998–1999 provides a sweeping overview, in French, of the philosophy of this text.

  • Chenet, François. Psychogenèse et cosmogonie selon le Yoga-Vāsiṣṭha: “Le monde est dans l’âme.” 2 vols. Publications de l’Institut de Civilsation Indienne 67.1–2. Paris: De Boccard, 1998–1999.

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    Highly erudite study of the subjective idealism of the Yogavāsiṣṭha, with Part 3 devoted to a survey of Indian philosophical, yogic, and meditative traditions that maintain that consciousness creates its own reality.

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  • O’Flaherty, Wendy Doniger. Dreams, Illusion and Other Realities. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1984.

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    Engaging study of Indian theories of knowledge, perception, and errors of perception, with chapters 4–6 based on the narrative teachings of the Yogavāsiṣṭha, many of which are translated in full. May be used in undergraduate teaching.

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  • Smith, Frederick M. The Self Possessed: Deity and Spirit Possession in South Asian Literature and Civilization. New York: Columbia University Press, 2006.

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    Contains a discussion and translation (pp. 290–294) of the subtle body and the yogic takeover of other people’s bodies as described in the Yogavāsiṣṭha.

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  • Venkatesananda, Swami, ed. and trans. The Concise Yoga Vāsiṣṭha. With an introduction and bibliography by Christopher Chapple. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1984.

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    Several of the Yogavāsiṣṭha’s analytical and narrative teachings on yoga are found in this highly readable translation (pp. 67–71, 237–248, 282–287, 322–323, 333–345, 373–383, and 413–418).

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Haṭha Yoga

Haṭha yoga first emerged in 12th-century India as a coherent body of techniques—combining breath control (prāṇāyāma), fixed postures (āsanas), locks (bandhas), and seals (mudrās)—and goals (bodily mortality, invulnerability, supernatural powers). Originally, the techniques and goals of haṭha yoga diverged greatly from the meditative practice and soteriological goals of the Yoga Sūtras. However, from about the 15th century forward, and most particularly since the 1950s, commentators, practitioners, and scholars have gradually fused the two traditions, identifying haṭha yoga as a propaedeutic to the higher path of so-called rāja yoga, the yoga of the Yoga Sūtras.

Translations of Primary Sources

All of the earliest Sanskrit-language works on haṭha yoga are attributed to Gorakhnāth, the 12th- to 13th-century founder of the Nāth Yogīs or Nāth Siddhas. The earliest of these is likely the original Gorakṣa Śataka, the “Hundred Verses of Gorakhnāth.” Another early text possibly authored by Gorakhnāth himself is the Amanaska Yoga (Yoga without mental states), a work that has passages in common with the 12th-century Yoga Śāstra, the work of Hemacandra, a Hindu convert to Jainism. Birch 2006 is a critical edition and translation of this text. A work originally titled Vivekamārtaṇḍa (Sun of true discrimination) is best known today under the title Gorakṣa Śataka, while the original work by that name has been largely forgotten. Editions and translations of this work, in its 100-verse and 201-verse versions, exist in English (in Briggs 1938), French (in Michaël 2007), and German. A number of other seminal haṭha yoga works postdate Gorakhnāth by several centuries, but he is cited as their author in their colophons in order to give them a cachet of authenticity. These include the Amaraughaśāsana (Discipline of the immortal order), Gorakṣapaddhati (Gorakṣa’s guidebook) andYogabīja (Seed of yoga). The Siddhasiddhāntapaddhati (Guidebook to the philosophy of the perfected beings; French translation in Michaël 2007), of which portions date from as late as the 16th century, is also attributed to Gorakhnāth. It is possible that some or all of the mystic poems on the experiences of the yoga practitioner contained in the collection known as the Gorakh Bāṇi (Gorakh’s speech), poems written in an early northwestern Indian vernacular, were also authored by Gorakhnāth himself. These have been translated in Djurdjevic 2005. Other important works on haṭha yoga not attributed to Gorakhnāth include the 12th- to 14th-century Yogayājñavalkya (Yājñavalkya’s teachings on yoga; translated in Ely 2000), the 14th-century Khecarī Vidyā (Esoteric knowledge concerning the one who flies) of Ādinātha (translated in Mallinson 2007), and the 15th- to 16th-century Haṭhayogapradīpikā (Elucidation of haṭha yoga) of Svātmarāma (translated in Akers 2002). Later, entirely derivative works include the 17th-century Śiva Saṃhitā (Śiva’s compendium) and Haṭharatnāvalī (The jewel necklace of haṭha [yoga]) of Śrīnivāsa Bhāṭṭa, and the 18th-century Gherāṇḍa Saṃhitā (Gherāṇḍa’s compendium). Descriptions and detailed summaries of most of these works are found in Larson and Bhattacharya 2008.

  • Akers, Brian Dana, ed. and trans. The Hatha Yoga Pradipika. Woodstock, NY: YogaVidya.com, 2002.

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    Includes Sanskrit text (in Devanagari script), English translation, and a Sanskrit commentary, also translated. This is the most accessible English-language edition and translation of the Haṭhayogapradīpikā. Accessible online.

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  • Birch, Jason, ed. and trans. “Amanaska Yoga: A Critical Edition, Translation, and Dissertation.” Honors thesis, B.A. (Sanskrit), University of Sydney, 2006.

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    Edition (based on four manuscripts) and translation of the Amanaska Yoga of Gorakhnāth.

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  • Briggs, George Weston. Gorakhnath and the Kānphaṭa Yogis. Calcutta, India: Oxford University Press, 1938.

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    Briggs provides (pp. 284–304) transliterated Sanskrit text and English translation of the 100-verse version of the later Gorakṣa Śataka (that is, the Vivekamārtaṇḍa). This is the most readily accessible English translation of this work: a superior edition and translation, by Swami Kuvalayananda, is very difficult to access. A recent French translation is found in Michaël 2007.

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  • Djurdjevic, Gordan. Masters of Magical Powers: The Nath Siddhas in the Light of Esoteric Notions.” PhD diss., University of British Columbia, 2005.

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    Contains a complete translation of the bāṇi and pada sections of the Gorakh Bāṇi compendium. As Djurdjevic acknowledges, he was greatly aided in his translation by the Indian scholar Shukdev Singh.

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  • Ely, John, ed. Yoga-Yajnavalkya. Translated by A. G. Mohan. Madras, India: Ganesh, 2000.

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    English-language translation of the Yogayājñavalkya. The translator’s introduction is not particularly helpful.

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  • Larson, Gerald James, and Ram Shankar Bhattacharya, eds. Encyclopedia of Indian Philosophies, Vol. 12, Yoga: India’s Philosophy of Meditation. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 2008.

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    Contains descriptions and detailed summaries, by Dolgobinda Shastri, Ram Shankar Bhattacharya and others, of the contents of over twenty works on haṭha yoga dating from the 12th to the 20th centuries.

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  • Mallinson, James. The Khecarīvidyā of Ādinātha. A critical and annotated translation of an early text of haṭhayoga. London: Routledge, 2007.

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    An exhaustively researched edition and translation of the Khecarīvidyā, based on over twenty manuscripts. The author’s massive critical apparatus is invaluable for an understanding of the medieval links between haṭha yoga and tantric yoga.

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  • Michaël, Tara. La centurie de Gorakṣa suivi du Guide des Principes des Siddha. Paris: Éditions Almora, 2007.

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    Michaël’s highly readable French-language translation of the Siddhasiddhāntapaddhati is the sole translation of this work to date. Her book also contains a French translation of the 100-verse version of the later Gorakṣa Śataka (that is, the Vivekamārtaṇḍa).

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Studies

While there are hundreds of “how-to” books on the practice of haṭha yoga in its many modern offshoots, these are unreliable sources for persons seeking to understand the history of haṭha yoga, its early practitioners, and the techniques and goals of their practice. Following in the footsteps of Swami Vivekananda, the great majority of modern scholars writing on yoga limit their analysis to the yoga of the Yoga Sūtras, making for a very short list of acceptable books on haṭha yoga. Early exceptions to this rule are the groundbreaking works of two scholar-practitioners, Avalon 1950 and Bernard 1950. Varenne 1976 provides an engaging, albeit dated, survey of haṭha yoga; White 1996 is more detailed and more reliable. Bühnemann 2007 is a primary source for art historical work on the postures of haṭha yoga.

  • Avalon, Arthur (Sir John Woodroffe). The Serpent Power, Being the Shat-Chakra-Nirūpana and Pāduka-Panchakā. 4th ed. Madras, India: Ganesh, 1950.

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    A pioneering study of the theory and practice of haṭha yoga and yogic body mapping, based on late (16th-century) works, which are translated with an extensive introduction and commentary.

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  • Bernard, Theos. Haṭha Yoga: The Report of a Personal Experience. London and New York: Rider, 1950.

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    The first book published in the United States on the subject of haṭha yoga. Based on the author’s own discipleship under teachers in India, it includes thirty-six photographs of the author demonstrating haṭha yoga postures.

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  • Bühnemann, Gudrun. Eighty-four Asanas in Yoga: A Survey of Traditions (with Illustrations). New Delhi: D. K. Printworld, 2007.

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    A wide-ranging survey of sources on the canonical eighty-four postures (āsanas) of haṭha yoga, with reproductions of line drawings, manuscript illustrations paintings, murals, and photographs of the postures from six different 19th- and 20th-century sources.

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  • Varenne, Jean Varenne. Yoga and the Hindu Tradition. Translated by Derek Coltman. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1976.

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    Chapters 7 and 12 present highly readable accounts of the theory and practice of haṭha yoga. May be used in undergraduate teaching.

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  • White, David Gordon. The Alchemical Body. Siddha Traditions in Medieval India. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996.

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    This is the sole academic work to give a comprehensive account of the history, theory, and practice of haṭha yoga (albeit in relationship to the Indian alchemical tradition). May be used in undergraduate teaching.

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Yogic Body Mapping

A salient feature of the yoga of the tantras and the haṭha yoga traditions is the mapping of centers (often called cakras) and channels (often called nāḍīs) of energy within the body. These centers and channels often form the warp and weft of these traditions’ systems of correspondences between universal macrocosm and bodily microcosm, such that the backbone is analogized to Meru, the cosmic mountain at the center of the universe, the channels to Indian rivers, and so forth. A particularly detailed tradition of this type is analyzed in Dyczkowski 2004. While depictions of the nāḍīs are relatively uniform across these traditions, there is no unified system of cakras: different schools, sects, and texts count and describe the cakras differently. The kuṇḍalinī (she who is coiled) appears relatively late in the history of yogic body mapping and is not a universal feature of these traditions. An early and important study of the kuṇḍalinī and the cakras is Avalon 1950; more recent works on the subject are Silburn 1988 and White 1996. Identifications of cakras with circles of yoginīs and with powerful, transformative phonemes of the Sanskrit alphabet are a feature of several tantras; for an analysis, see Heilijger-Seelens 1994 and White 2003. Das 1992 surveys a recent syncretistic tradition of yogic body mapping.

  • Avalon, Arthur (Sir John Woodroffe). The Serpent Power, Being the Shat-Chakra-Nirūpana and Pāduka-Panchakā. 4th ed. Madras, India: Ganesh, 1950.

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    A pioneering study of yogic body mapping based on late (16th-century) works, which are translated with an extensive introduction and commentary. Avalon’s book, with its evocative illustrations, is the source of the modern yoga orthodoxy of the fixed set of seven color-coded cakras.

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  • Das, Rahul Peter. “Problematic Aspects of the Sexual Rituals of the Bauls of Bengal.” Journal of the American Oriental Society 112.3 (1992): 388–422.

    DOI: 10.2307/603078Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    In charting what he terms the “syncretistic” beliefs of the Bauls, the author presents data from a wealth of mainly Bengali medieval systems of yogic body mapping. His analysis is skewed, however, by an assumption of uniformity across the many systems.

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  • Dyczkowski, Mark S. G. A Journey in the World of the Tantras. Varanasi, India: Indica, 2004.

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    Chapter 4 (“The Inner Pilgrimage of the Tantras”) is a highly detailed study of the projection of India’s sacred geography upon the yogic body, according to the Kubjikā Tantras and the writings of Abhinavagupta. The outer world of India’s pilgrimage sites and the inner world of the yogin’s body were considered to be mirror reflections of one another.

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  • Heilijger-Seelens, Dorothea. The System of Five Cakras in Kubjikāmatatantra 14–16. Groningen, The Netherlands: Egbert Forsten, 1994.

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    Exhaustive text-historical and analytical study of the highly detailed cakra system of the Kubjikā Tantras.

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  • Silburn, Lillian. Kuṇḍalinī: Energy of the Depths: A Comprehensive Study Based on the Scriptures of Nondualistic Kasmir Saivism. Translated by Jacques Gontier. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1988.

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    A collection of several translated excerpts from tantric and hathayogic texts on the yogic body and kuṇḍalinī, with highly erudite analysis of tantric yogic practice.

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  • White, David Gordon. The Alchemical Body: Siddha Traditions in Medieval India. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996.

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    Chapter 8 is devoted to accounts of the inner worlds of the yogic body in medieval Nāth Yogī and alchemical texts. May be used in undergraduate teaching.

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  • White, David Gordon. Kiss of the Yoginī: “Tantric Sex” in its South Asian Contexts. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2003.

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    Provides an extended discussion (pp. 203–234) of how the internalization of early tantric yoginī practices led to the development of the various cakra systems of South Asian Tantra.

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Yoga and Yogis in South Asian Art

Apart from a handful of post-6th-century sculptures of Lākulīśa, the legendary founder of the Pāśupata order, there are few verifiable artistic representations of the yogic body or of yoga practitioners prior to the 16th century. A compendium of miniature paintings of tantric and yogic practitioners and practice from India and Nepal are brought together in Mookerjee 1982. A number of miniatures from the Mughal period depict yogis in various postures and settings, but very few of these have been published: they are surveyed in Chandra 1984. The 19th-century Marwar kings, who were patrons of the Nāth Yogīs, were the patrons of an artistic school that produced a rich collection of miniature paintings of yogis and their practice; their work is the subject of Diamond, et al. 2008. A great number of drawings, lithographs, and later photographs from the period of the British Raj depict yogis from every corner of South Asia. Many of these are accessible through the British Library’s website, but they have yet to be published in a printed volume. A great volume of illustrated manuscripts depicting the yogic body with its cakras and nāḍīs appeared in the 18th and 19th centuries, in India and Nepal. The earliest artistic depictions of the various hathayogic postures (āsanas) also appeared during this period, and collections of these works have been published in Sjoman 1996 and Bühnemann 2007.

  • Bühnemann, Gudrun. Eighty-four Asanas in Yoga: A Survey of Traditions (with Illustrations). New Delhi: D. K. Printworld, 2007.

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    A wide-ranging survey of sources on the canonical eighty-four postures (āsanas) of haṭha yoga, with reproductions of line drawings, manuscript illustrations paintings, murals, and photographs of the postures from six different 19th- and 20th-century sources.

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  • Chandra, Pramod. “Hindu Ascetics in Mughal Painting.” In Discourses on Śiva: Proceedings of a Symposium on the Nature of Religious Imagery. Edited by Michael W. Meister, 312–316. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1984.

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    A brief survey of depictions of yogis and other Hindu ascetics in Mughal miniature painting.

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  • Diamond, Debra, Catherine Glynn, and Karni Singh Jasol. Garden and Cosmos: The Royal Paintings of Jodhpur. Washington, DC: Sackler Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, 2008.

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    A sumptuous and well-researched catalogue containing stunning early 19th-century miniature paintings of Nāth Yogīs and the cakras and other subtle centers of the yogic body.

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  • Mookerjee, Ajit. Kundalini: The Arousal of the Inner Energy. New York: Destiny Books, 1982.

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    Contains over a hundred visually arresting reproductions of mainly 17th- to 20th-century manuscript images and diagrams depicting elements of yogic body mapping, yoga practitioners, and so forth.

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  • Sjoman, N. E. The Yoga Tradition of the Mysore Palace. New Delhi: Abhinav, 1996.

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    Contains reproductions of yogic postures from the illustrated 19th-century manuscript of the Śrītattvanidhi.

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Yoga and Yogis in Islamic Sources

The Muslim, mainly Sufi, fakirs who shared the landscape of medieval Indian mysticism with the Hindu yogis quickly incorporated elements of haṭha yoga and, to a lesser extent, Indian yoga philosophy into their own religious systems; their syncretistic traditions are analyzed in Ernst 2005. A similar type of syncretism also occurred among the Satpanthīs of western India, who combined doctrines, practices, and hagiographies from Nāth Yogi and Nizārī Shi’a Isma’ili traditions. Khan 2000 provides a discussion of this tradition, together with a translation of one of its texts. A similar syncretistic tradition is found among the Bāuls of Bengal, analyzed in Das 1992. Al-Bīrūnī, the Muslim scholar who accompanied Mahmud of Ghazni during his conquests of western India around the turn of the 11th century, wrote a long and unique Arabic commentary on the Yoga Sūtras (summarized in Gelblun 2008) which also figure in the 16th-century Ā’in-i Akbarī of Abū al-Faḍl ʿAllāmī (translated in Jarrett 1948). The prestige of the Indian yoga systems was such that certain of its texts were also translated or adapted into Persian and Arabic, both in India and far to the west. These traditions are analyzed in Ernst 2003.

  • Das, Rahul Peter. “Problematic Aspects of the Sexual Rituals of the Bauls of Bengal.” Journal of the American Oriental Society 112.3 (1992): 388–422.

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    Survey of Bāul theory and practice contains valuable data on Bāul hybridization of Hindu and Islamic systems of “yoga.”

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  • Ernst, Carl W. “The Islamization of Yoga in the Amrtakunda Translations.” Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society 3d ser. 13.2 (2003): 199–226.

    DOI: 10.1017/S1356186303003079Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Traces the translation and eclectic transformation of an eastern Indian medieval tantric and hathayogic text titled The Pool of Nectar or the Kāmarūpa Seed Syllables into an Islamicized synthesis in 16th-century Arabic and Persian works.

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  • Ernst, Carl W. “Situating Sufism and Yoga.” Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society 3d ser. 15.1 (2005): 15–43.

    DOI: 10.1017/S1356186304004675Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This important theoretical study concludes that India’s medieval yoga tradition was syncretistic to such a point that boundary lines between “Hindu” and “Muslim,” as imagined by Orientalists, break down completely.

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  • Gelblun, Tuvia. “Al-Bīrūnī, Book of Patañjali.” In India’s Philosophy of Meditation. Edited by Gerald James Larson and Ram Shankar Bhattacharya, 261–266. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 2008.

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    Provides a brief synopsis of Al-Bīrūnī’s Arabic version of the Yoga Sūtras, with a discussion of the historical conditions of its composition. Gelbun is also the coauthor (with Shlomo Pines) of a complete annotated translation of Al-Bīrūnī’s text, which appeared in installments in the Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies between 1966 and 1989.

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  • Jarrett, Colonel H. S., trans. ʿĀin-i Akbari of Abul Fazl-i-Allami. Vol. 3. Calcutta, India: Royal Asiatic Society of Bengal, 1948.

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    Contains Abūl al-Faḍl’s interpretation of the contents and philosophy of the Yoga Sūtras (pp. 187–198).

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  • Khan, Dominique-Sila. “Conversation Between Guru Hasan Kabīruddīn and Jogī Kāniphā: Tantra Revisited by the Ismaʿili Preachers.” In Tantra in Practice. Edited by David Gordon White, 285–295. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2000.

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    A translation of a dialogue between a Nāth Yogī and a Nizārī master, preceded by an overview of the syncretistic yoga tradition of the Nizārī Shiʿa Ismaʿilis.

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Modern Yoga

Much of what is known as yoga today emerged out of a late 19th-century and early 20th-century synergy between various forms of Victorian spirituality (Theosophy, Unitarianism, transcendentalism, Freemasonry, occultism) on the one hand, and physical culture and romantic, rational, and scientific reinventions of yoga by (mainly Bengali and South Indian) neo-Hindu and neo-Vedantin intellectuals and reformers on the other. The most important figures in the early history of modern yoga include Vivekananda, Yogananda, Sivananda, Kuvalayananda, Aurobindo, and Krishnamacharya. The most important and accessible studies of these figures and the origins of modern yoga are Alter 2004, De Michelis 2004, and Singleton 2007. The special focus of the pioneers of modern yoga was the Yoga Sūtras (see Yoga Philosophy [Patanjalian Yoga]), which they, following the lead of the Theosophist Madame Blavatsky, identified as rāja yoga, or “classical” yoga. A “second generation” of Indian innovators of modern yoga, led by three disciples of Krishnamacharya—B. K. S. Iyengar, K. Pattabhi Jois, and T. K. V. Desikacar—has been especially responsible for the introduction of yoga to Europe, the United States, and the rest of the world. These innovators synthesized and expanded on principles and techniques from recently “rediscovered” haṭha yoga traditions, augmenting them with military calisthenics and other physical culture techniques, and often linking them (spuriously) to the philosophy of the Yoga Sūtras. The lives and innovations of these innovators are chronicled and analyzed in Sjoman 1996 and Kadetsky 2004. The direct and indirect disciples of these three innovators constitute the vanguard of “postural yoga” teachers on the contemporary scene (see Singleton and Byrne 2008). An early American practitioner who studied yoga under Indian teachers and later sought to spread the “gospel” of haṭha yoga was the Californian Theos Bernard (see Haṭha Yoga: Studies). Overviews of the origins and growth of modern yoga in the United States are found in Albanese 2006 and Jacobsen 2008.

  • Albanese, Catherine L. A Republic of Mind and Spirit. A Cultural History of American Metaphysical Religion. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2006.

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    The section titled “The Metaphysics of American Yoga” (pp. 346–372) is a highly readable history of yoga in the United States. May be used in undergraduate teaching.

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  • Alter, Joseph S. Yoga in Modern India: The Body between Science and Philosophy. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2004.

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    An insightful and provocative cultural anthropological approach to modern yoga, focusing on the ways in which Indians have interpreted and applied the term to a variety of philosophical, political, medical, and religious endeavors over the past one hundred years. May be used in undergraduate teaching.

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  • De Michelis, Elizabeth. A History of Modern Yoga: Patañjali and Western Esotericism. New York and London: Continuum, 2004.

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    A groundbreaking analysis of the historical sources and transformations of the modern yoga tradition, from Vivekananda and his Bengali contemporaries down through Iyengar and modern postural yoga.

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  • Jacobsen, Autumn. “Contemporary Yoga Movements.” In India’s Philosophy of Meditation. Edited by Gerald James Larson and Ram Shankar Bhattacharya, 148–159. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 2008.

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    Includes a summary of Sjoman 1996 together with a very useful historical and descriptive survey of the principal forms of yoga currently on the American “market.”

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  • Kadetsky, Elizabeth. First There Is a Mountain: A Yoga Romance. Boston: Little, Brown, 2004.

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    Folded into this personal account of the author’s personal exploration into Iyengar Yoga is a biography of Iyengar himself and the history of Iyengar Yoga, based on extensive interviews with B. K. S. Iyengar and his entourage.

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  • Singleton, Mark, ed. “Special issue: Yoga.” Asian Medicine: Tradition and Modernity. 3.1 (2007)

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    A well-balanced collection of articles on various aspects of modern yoga. Includes contributions by De Michelis, Alter, and Singleton, encapsulating the principal arguments of their monographs. Several articles may be used in undergraduate teaching.

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  • Singleton, Mark, and Jean Byrne, eds. Yoga in the Modern World: Contemporary Perspectives. London: Routledge, 2008.

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    Excellent collection of chapters—by De Michelis, Alter, Sarbacker, Singleton, and others—on themes of modern yoga studies, “classical yoga” as an Orientalist category, and modern-day postural yoga. Several chapters may be used in undergraduate teaching.

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  • Sjoman, N. E. The Yoga Tradition of the Mysore Palace. New Delhi: Abhinav, 1996.

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    Argues convincingly, on the basis of a manuscript of the mid–19th-century Śrītattvanidhi—which is photo-reproduced and translated—that Krishnamacharya’s system of yoga (foundational to most contemporary forms of postural yoga) grew out of a synthesis of haṭha yoga and traditions of gymnastics and calisthenics indigenous to Karnataka, in southwestern India.

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LAST MODIFIED: 01/27/2011

DOI: 10.1093/OBO/9780195399318-0062

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