Roots of Yoga Book by Mark Singleton and James Mallinson [Image: Penguin Classics]
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It is well known that yoga comes from the Vedic tradition in India. But a new book sheds light on the fact that yoga also has roots in Jainsim, Buddhism, and even Sufi traditions. Authors Mark Singleton and James Mallinson shared their findings in a new academic work, Roots of Yoga.

The book, which was five years in the making, was written from intensive research of over 100 core texts of yoga. According to a report in Quartz, Singleton and Mallinson combed through rare texts written in various languages in Persian, Arabic, Tibetan, Tamil, Avadhi, Marathi, Kashmiri, and Pali.

Among the topics they discuss in the book, they reiterate a finding that many yoga teachers already say to students, but is still a point of contention and controversy: that yoga was not a religious practice.

According to Singleton, the Dattatreyayogasastra, a text from 13CE, said that yoga could be practiced by anyone regardless of religious or secular affiliation.

“Yoga was a sort of floating technology between various religious systems,” he said.

Another point their research uncovered was that yoga stemming from Vedic traditions is actually a myth.

The commonly held and spread belief about the origins of yoga is that it can be traced back to the Indus Valley Civilization – around 3300-1300 BCE. However, the book shows that the evidence pointing to this is weak and actually, yoga, as it is known today, has more recent origins – More likely in 500 BCE when dhyanayoga (meditation) began to emerge.

They also pointed out that it was also during this period that Buddhism began to rise.

In addition, the authors also noted that Persian texts offer greater details about yoga than Sanskrit in Vedic texts even though the more famous works were written by Vedic sages, such as the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali.

The authors believe that the book is an important addition to the yoga as well as academic community because it helps to dispel myths and misconceptions about modern and ancient yoga. Especially with many accusing the west of the cultural appropriation of yoga.

Despite criticism at being “two white guys” themselves, they hope that their book will show that since its origins, yoga has been an open and malleable practice that is indeed for everyone regardless of culture, background, religion, or spiritual path.

Roots of Yoga was launched by Abhyas Trust in Delhi and internationally by Penguin Classics on Jan. 26.

Roots of Yoga (Paperback)


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The book follows other texts by yoga scholars that aim to shed light on beliefs about modern and ancient yoga.

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