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Tantra yoga and asana

When I teach a class in tantra yoga, people are always startled by the fact that tantra yoga has no rules. There is no asana. There is no sequence. The focus, you see, is on aware exploration of the body, not some sort of physical sequence that magically opens you up.

Most people in class are startled because their past hatha yoga classes have taught them that asana and sequences are kinda sacred. They are named after famous yogis and reputed to be handed down through millennia of practice. And if you do 108 of anything, you are sure to acquire karma points!

There is a physical and energetic opening that occurs during any conscientious hatha yoga practice, but that is because you are changing physical tensions as you move and moving energy around your body. But all too often, the high you get is the same high as running or bicycling or any other vigorous activity.

It’s refreshing, then, to find out in Mark Singleton’s book Yoga Body: The Origins of Modern Posture Practice that most of what we know today as Hatha yoga was invented in the nineteenth century and based on Swedish gymnastics, with a touch of Indian cultural nationalism and a gloss of yogic awareness.

Mark Singleton

Yoga Body: The Origins of Modern Posture Practice

This is a must read for all yogis. Singleton explores the roots of modern hatha practice and discovers a pre-1920’s scorn of hatha yoga, Swedish gymnastics in the Mysore Palace, and a need to build strong Indian bodies and a strong Indian nation state using something that looked authentically Indian. Even the sun salutation is probably Swedish in origin!

Modern hatha yoga is often credited to T. Krishnamacharya, who taught T. K. V. Desikachar, Pattabhi Jois and B. K. S.  Iyengar. Perhaps the most revealing comment about Krishnamacharya’s connection of yoga to asana is given by Iyengar, who dryly noted of the asana practice given to him by Krishnamacharya, “If my brother-in-law also had an eye to my deeper spiritual or personal development, he did not say so at the time.”

This book is filled with excellent scholarship. The points it makes should help many yogis avoid the ill effects of repetitive physical stress. And hopefully help shift the emphasis in Western yoga from physical accomplishment to the cultivation of body awareness.

In the end, physical exercise does not increase your awareness, though it loosens locked-up energy that can be used to increase your awareness. Physical exercise is good! But if you want to live a better life, your focus should be on increasing your awareness…


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