The Path of Modern Yoga: The History of an Embodied Spiritual Practice, by Elliott Goldberg
Inner Traditions, 9781620555675, 512 pp., 2016
I have loved yoga for almost 20 years. Like most people finding their way to yoga, I started taking a random class to relieve some aches and pains and to complement my existing fitness routine. After several years of infrequent classes, I started getting more serious about the tradition, and I fell down a rabbit hole of history, colonialism, health, spirituality, fanaticism, and so much more. Yoga is a complex and rich tradition that I have come to love very much. Because of my own interest, I jumped at the chance to review Elliott Goldberg’s The Path of Modern Yoga: The History of an Embodied Spiritual Practice. I’ve had the book for five months now and, well, I’ve struggled with it.
The Path of Modern Yoga is not for beginners. It’s not for people who want an overview of the tradition, the poses, the leading voices of yoga throughout time, nor of how yoga has morphed in the last 40 years.
No, this book is a specific history of yoga in the 20th century. From the first pages, we begin retracing each step of Shri Yogendra, and the book doesn’t let up. I wish the book had an introduction. It might have prepared me better for the dive straight into the deep end. It took me two chapters to accept that this was the pace of the book, and that this was not going to be the book that I expected.
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I was hoping for more of an overview history of how yoga has chosen to embody a spiritual practice. One part of that was hoping for a more theological or spiritual exploration of the tradition, which the subtitle suggests. The other part was, admittedly, perhaps a little colonialist at core: I was hoping to see how an ancient embodied spiritual practice ended up selling tight spandex pants for 65 bucks a pop.
Instead, Goldberg has a book that is filled with insight and facts in every sentence. Every sentence is full of detail. It is too dense and, I hate to say it, really boring. I felt like I was reading someone’s Ph.D. dissertation; it is all fact and no passion.
For those who just want detailed facts about the major Indian forces in modern yoga, from Shri Yogendra to BKS Iyengar, The Path of Modern Yoga: The History of an Embodied Spiritual Practice is a treasure trove of information. It really is extensively and immaculately researched! For those who want and need more guidance through the eras and perhaps not explained in microscopic intensity, this book may not be for you.
Image credit: vijvijvij
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Niki Whiting is a mother, singer, writer, editor, and tarot reader. She holds a BA in history and an MA in religious history and systematic theology. She is one of the founders of Many Gods West.