Item Details

Proprioception over Dogma: Sources of Authority and Standards of Orthopraxy in Iyengar Yoga

Issue: Vol 11 No. 2-3 (2017)

Journal: Religions of South Asia

Subject Areas: Religious Studies Buddhist Studies Islamic Studies

DOI: 10.1558/rosa.37024


The purpose of the article is to discuss the factors influencing the ongoing developments in Iyengar Yoga (IY) āsana practice. The hypothesis is that within IY the power of authority, rather than being associated with the guru and his lineage (paramparā), is located within the body and associated with individual proprioceptive experience.Despite its apparent dogmatism, manifesting in rigorous focus on minute detail and strong notions of orthopraxy, Iyengar's system has undergone major changes ever since the publication of Light of Yoga in 1966. Since Iyengar's death in 2014, the need for constant innovation seems to have increased. The author argues, that the plasticity of the method is inherent in its very foundations. Treating āsanāni-and sequences thereof-as higher-order structures built of repetitive minimal units (singular motor patterns and body-part configurations) allows for considerable freedom in āsana practice without jeopardizing orthoperformance. The stress lain on the detailed proprioceptive experience during practice results in locating authority in the experience itself, and in frequent modifications of āsana variations based on this authority.The discussion is based on in-depth analysis of the structure of IY practice and of textual material.

Author: Matylda Ciołkosz

View Original Web Page

References :

Byrne, Jean. 2014. ‘“Authorized by Sri Pattabhi Jois”: The Role of Paramparā and Lineage in Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga.’ In Singleton and Goldberg 2014: 107–20.

Ciołkosz, Matylda. 2014. ‘The Quasi-Linguistic Structure of Iyengar Yoga Āsana Practice: An Analysis from the Perspective of Cognitive Grammar.’ Studia Religiologica 47 (4): 263–73.

Carpenter, David. 2003. ‘Practice Makes Perfect: The Role of Practice (abhyāsa) in Pātañjala Yoga.’ In Ian Whicher and David Carpenter (eds.), Yoga: The Indian Tradition: 25–50. London and New York: Routledge Curzon.

Chomsky, Noam. 2002 [1957]. Syntactic Structures. New York: Mouton de Gruyter.

Damasio, Antonio. 2010. Self Comes to Mind: Constructing the Conscious Brain. New York: Pantheon Books.

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

—2008. ‘Modern Yoga: History and Forms.’ In Singleton and Byrne 2008: 17–35.

Glenberg, Arthur M. 2008. ‘Toward the Integration of Bodily States, Language, and Action.’ In Gün R. Semin and Eliot R. Smith (eds.), Embodied Grounding: Social, Cognitive, Affective, and Neuroscientific Approaches: 43–70. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Hutto, Daniel D., and Erik Myin. 2013. Radicalizing Enactivism: Basic Minds without Content. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.

Iyengar, B. K. S. 1979 [1966]. Light on Yoga: Yoga Dipika. New York: Schocken Books.

—1988. Yoga Vṛkṣa: The Tree of Yoga. Oxford: Fine Line Books.

—1993. Light on the Yoga Sūtra of Patañjali. London: Thorsons.

—2005. Light of Life: The Yoga Journey to Wholeness, Inner Peace, and Ultimate Freedom. Vancouver: Raincoast Books.

—2013. Core of the Yoga Sūtras: The Definitive Guide to the Philosophy of Yoga. London: Harper Thorsons.

Johnson, Mark. 1987. The Body in the Mind: The Bodily Basis of Meaning, Imagination, and Reason. Chicago/London: The University of Chicago Press.

—2007. The Meaning of the Body: Aesthetics of Human Understanding. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Jois, Sri K. Pattabhi. 2010 [1999]. Yoga Mala. New York: North Point Press.

Lakoff, George, and Mark Johnson. 1980. Metaphors We Live by. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

Langacker, Ronald W. 2008. Cognitive Grammar: A Basic Introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Maas, Philipp. 2013. ‘A Concise Historiography of Classical Yoga Philosophy.’ In Eli Franco (ed.), Periodization and Historiography of Indian Philosophy: 53-90. Vienna: Sammlung de Nobili, Institut für Südasien-, Tibet- und Buddhismuskunde der Universität Wien.

Monier-Williams, Monier. 1899. A Sanskrit-English Dictionary. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Newcombe, Suzanne. 2014. ‘The Institutionalization of the Yoga Tradition—“Gurus” B. K. S. Iyengar and Yogini Sunita in Britain.’ In Singleton and Goldberg 2014: 147–67.

Nevrin, Klas. 2008. ‘Empowerment and Using the Body in Modern Postural Yoga.’ In Singleton and Byrne 2008: 119–39.

Sheets-Johnstone, Maxine. 1999. The Primacy of Movement: Expanded Second Edition. Amsterdam and Philadelpia: John Benjamins Publishing Company.

Singleton, Mark, and Jean Byrne (eds.). 2008. Yoga in the Modern World: Contemporary Perspectives. London and New York: Routledge.

Singleton, Mark. 2008a. ‘The Classical Reveries of Modern Yoga: Patañjali and Constructive Orientalism.’ In Singleton and Byrne 2008: 77–99.

Singleton, Mark, and Ellen Goldberg (eds.). 2014. Gurus of Modern Yoga. Oxford: Oxford University Press

Smith, Benjamin R. 2008. ‘“With Heat Even Iron Will Bend”: Discipline and Authority in Ashtanga Yoga.’ In Singleton and Byrne 2008: 140–60.

Staal, Frits. 1979. ‘The Meaninglessness of Ritual.’ Numen 26 (1): 2–22.

—1996. Ritual and Mantras: Rules without Meaning. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers.

Steinberg, Lois. 2006. Geeta Iyengar’s Guide to a Woman’s Yoga Practice, Vol. 1. Urbana, IL: Iyengar Yoga Champaign-Urbana.

Van Gennep, Arnold. 1960 [1909]. Rites of Passage. Trans. Monika B. Vizedom and Gabrielle L. Caffee. London, Henley: Routledge and Kegan Paul.

Varela, Francisco J., Evan Thompson and Eleanor Rosch. 1993. The Embodied Mind: Cognitive Science and Human Experience. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.

Vivekananda, Swami. 2003 [1896]. Raja Yoga. Leeds: Celephaïs Press.

Video Materials

Iyengar, Geeta S. 2015. Yogānuśāsanam December 2015: Āsana. Prāṇāyāma. Dhyāna. Pune: Ramāmaṇi Iyengar Memorial Yoga Institute.

Iyengar, Prashant. 1981. Viparita Chakrana Cycles. Pune: Ramāmaṇi Iyengar Memorial Yoga Institute. (accessed 28 August 2016).

Steinberg, Lois. 2016. ‘Parivrtta Ardha Chandrasana’. (accessed 25 August 2016).