Saturday, February 25, 2012

A Kind of Yogic Quest for Viveka - Mark Singleton on Yoga Body: The Origins of Modern Posture Practice

T he long lines of white light, high ceilings and the sprung wooden floors of The National Ballet School of Canada are, for a single weekend in August, the hub of Yoga Festival Toronto. I had a keynote conversation with Mark Singleton, author of Yoga Body: The Origins of Modern Posture Practice at Yoga Festival Toronto, 2011. His book Yoga Body has accrued a devoted and loyal following, and it’s rare to meet a practitioner with little to say about the book's articulation of modern yoga’s complex postural history. So by the time we were all gathered together, bodies and silhouettes were stacked against the walls, a few festival-goers still circulating in and out, as the room came to a slow hum.  Behind the ballet barre the sightlines was vertiginous: a steep sky, static and pale, hovered quietly as a few small feedback squeals from microphones introduced our conversation.

Mark Singleton has a Ph.D. in Divinity from the University of Cambridge. He has written extensively on yoga, notably the books Yoga in the Modern World, Contemporary Perspectives (the first ever collection of scholarship on modern yoga) and Yoga Body, the Origins of Modern Posture Practice, (which Yoga Journal said “should be on the reading list of every serious student and teacher training program"). His current work focuses on the translation of early Sanskrit hatha yoga texts. A new collection, entitled Gurus of Modern Yoga, will appear with Oxford University Press next year. He is a certified yoga teacher in the Iyengar and Satyananda traditions. He teaches at St. John's College, Santa Fe, New Mexico.

(Mark Singleton, author Yoga Body: The Origins of Modern Posture Practice)

As perhaps some of you in attendance might recall, Mark and I had an engaging encounter in which he declined comment on the presence of religiosity in his own personal practice. I admitted to Mark - after our interview-, that I wasn’t sure why I had pressed the issue. I suppose I wanted to know what it might be like to be a scholar that gets up in the blue light of morning to do asana/vipassana. Or maybe part of me thinks scholars, (not just their books), are worth studying. In any case, Mark and I have since been back and forth on my assumptions and his answers. Needless to say, like any yogi, I’m answering my own questions. But I thank Mark for the sharing his conversational circuitry. In our conversation, Mark weaves a narrative of postural practice that intersects with modernity’s emphasis on muscular physical culture, and addresses a few popular misconceptions about his book’s key points. Moreover, he shares fond memories of his early days conducting research with the Indic Institute at Cambridge University, and how writing the book was a manifestation of a “kind of yogic inquiry”, its impetus, a “search for viveka”.

(Mark Singleton at Yoga Festival Toronto 2011)

(Mark's cherished reading room at Cambridge University)