Yoga Body is an important tool for every yoga scholar, well written and well documented. It is the author's PhD dissertation at the Faculty of Divinity, University of Cambridge, where he worked as Research Assistant to Elizabeth De Michelis. Mark Singleton teaches at St. John's College, Santa Fe (NM), and was one of the main contributors to the recent Encyclopedia of Hinduism (Routledge, 2007). Singleton is a fervent yoga practitioner and has yoga teaching diplomas in the Iyengar and Satyananda traditions. He concentrates on the transition from the classical conception of yoga as a philosophical system to the version we know today as postural yoga. Without denying that some Asanas were mentioned in classical texts (around 450 AD, Vyasa's comments on Patanjali's Yoga Sutra named 12 poses, and the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, around 1350, included 84), Singleton examines in detail why Asanas did not initially receive the same attention that they have in modern times.
This book goes further in the analysis of modern yoga than three previously published outstanding scholarly books: Joseph S. Alter, Yoga in Modern India (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2004), Silvia Ceccomori, Cent ans de yoga en France (Paris: Edidit, 2001), and Elizabeth De Michelis, A History of Modern Yoga (London: Continuum, 2004).
After presenting a brief summary of the development of yoga since its origins to the first contact with Europeans, Singleton explains that postural yoga is a recent development with many sources, particularly from the physical education taught in the British Army. He traces many of the European roots of British gymnastics, including the German "physical revivalism" of J. F. C. Gutsmuth (1793), the "British Manly Exercises" of Donald Walker (1834), "Muscular Christianity" (1857), the Swedish gymnastics of P. H. Ling (1766-1839), and "bodybuilding" of Eugene Sandow (1867-1925). He then examines how physical education began to flourish in India as `drill mastering' with Manick Rao and K. Ramamurthy (early 20th century), Captain P. K. Gupta (Mysore in the 1920s), and H. C. Buck (the American who was YMCA director in India in the 1930s). Further developments were done by K.V. Iyer (1897-1980), and the Rajah of Aundh (aka Pratinidhi Pant, the creator of the modern sequence Suryanamaskar -`Sun salutation' in the 1930s) and many others. Singleton pays particular attention to Shri Yogendra and T. Krishnamacharya (1888-1989), including his students B.K.S. Iyengar, Pattabhi Jois, Indra Devi, and T. K. V. Desikachar. The author gives particular attention to the role played by the expansion of print technology and the availability of photography in the rapid dissemination of postural yoga.
Because of its iconoclastic approach, this book has generated a large variety of opinions. Singleton studied in detail the European and American reception of yoga, examined rare documents from Indian, European and American archives, reviewed numerous yoga manuals written before 1940, and interviewed many of the major figures in yoga today. One of his major conclusions is that "to a large extent, popular postural yoga came into being in the first half of the twentieth century as a hybridized product of colonial India's dialogical encounter with the worldwide physical culture movement."
Many yoga aficionados have found his analyses unexpected and irreverent. Many readers will be surprised and upset by Singleton's findings as he puts into question many of the commonly held beliefs about the origins of modern yoga. While Pattabhi Jois, for example, had many discussions with the author, B. K. S. Iyengar refused to be interviewed on these topics but allowed the author to make use of his library in Pune. For a happy ending, Singleton concludes his survey by emphasizing that many of the yoga masters were innovators and always tried to adapt their "teaching to the cultural temper of the times while remaining within the bounds of orthodoxy."