Translations, Belief Frameworks & Modern Yoga Practice

Mark Singleton

Mark Singleton author Yoga Body, the Origins of Modern Posture Practice (Oxford University Press, 2010) excerpt from conversation with Susan Maier-Moul

Susan Maier-Moul:
How does everything we’ve been talking about relate to practice – to actually doing yoga?

Mark Singleton: Practical yoga in modern times has changed immensely, sometimes out of all recognition. This is also a process of translation. Practices are taken from earlier traditions, added to, edited, spun and re-cast, until they become something completely other.

This is particularly visible in the way that yoga these days has become almost synonymous with posture practice—this is a new situation, that has very few precedents in any pre-modern yoga traditions. I examine the reasons for this development in my recent book Yoga Body, The Origins of Modern Posture Practice.

As in translation of texts like the Yoga Sutras, the translation of practices is guided by the belief frameworks and needs of that particular time and place. So in early twentieth century India, Hindu Indians were seeking to assert their own indigenous religious practices, in the face of colonial impositions. One of the names given to this project was “yoga”.

Susan: What we are doing now and naming yoga – whether it’s something that’s being called “classical yoga” or “flow yoga” or something else – it isn’t consistent with even the yoga of Patanjali, much less “ancient” practices.

Mark: The body of practices that grew up (mainly among English-educated, urban Indians) was quite different from what we might call “grass roots” versions of yoga.

For one thing, in spite of their assertions of religious and cultural independence from abroad, many of these men (and occasional women) borrowed significantly from Western philosophical and esoteric concepts. It was these people, and particularly the immensely successful Swami Vivekananda, who first brought yoga to the West, and who, to a large extent, shaped early American and European understandings of yoga.

Translations, Belief Frameworks & Modern Yoga Practice

Mark Singleton author Yoga Body, the Origins of Modern Posture Practice (Oxford University Press, 2010) in conversation with Susan Maier-Moul – The Magazine of Yoga. Mark’s “writing and teaching provide a bridge between the concerns of academia and those of practice.”

Part 1 of the conversation focuses on the difficulty with translation of Sanskrit texts, with particular reference to the Yoga Sūtra of Patañjali and how it can be influenced by the prevailing belief framework.

“Words amplify and change their meaning according to the other words around them. Phrases amplify and change their meaning according to the other phrases around them. And paragraphs change their meaning according to the other paragraphs around them. A good translation is one that is aware of these contexts within and around the text in question, and self-critical with regard to the particular choices that are available to the translator.” Read part 1 of the conversation

To begin to appreciate the depth of knowledge contained within the Yoga Sūtra requires more than mere translation of the words, it requires intelligent interpretation with the guidance of a teacher.

Health Benefits of Yoga

Image: Paul Harvey’s

Most common questions on Yoga relate to the health benefits associated with practicing Yoga, together with questions around how Yoga practice differs from conventional exercise.

Answers to these questions have been researched and are presented in a detailed article published on the IAYT (International Association of Yoga Therapists) website, providing interesting reading.

In terms of the health benefits the information is grouped under physiological benefits, psychological benefits, and biochemical effects. It is based on the regular practice of traditional āsana (yoga postures), prānāyāma (breath), and dhyāna (meditation).

Yoga Compared to Conventional Exercise



Parasympathetic nervous system dominates
Subcortical regions of brain dominate
Slow dynamic and static movements
Normalization of muscle tone
Low risk of injuring muscles and ligaments
Low caloric consumption
Effort is minimized, relaxed
Energizing (breathing is natural or controlled)
Balanced activity of opposing muscle groups
Noncompetitive, process-oriented
Awareness is internal
(focus is on breath and the inifinite)
Limitless possibilities for growth in self-awareness
Sympathetic nervous system dominates
Cortical regions of brain dominate
Rapid forceful movements
Increased muscle tension
Higher risk of injury
Moderate to high caloric consumption
Effort is maximized
Fatiguing (breathing is taxed)
Imbalanced activity of opposing groups
Competitive, goal-oriented
Awareness is external
(focus is on reaching the toes, reaching the finish line, etc.)
Boredom factor

Learning from Life – Wisdom of the Yoga Sutra

Excerpts from an article by Paul Harvey published in cYs Journal exploring the wisdom of the Yoga Sūtra and the application of this wisdom to our everyday lives.

Yoga Sūtra I 5
The activities are fivefold and from them arise disturbance or composure.

“The mind is its own place, and in itself, can make heaven of Hell, and a hell of Heaven….”
John Milton

The starting point for these deeper teachings is that all actions, including re-actions, can be a point of learning and growth even if the insight arises after the event. It is inevitable that our personal buttons, or old unhelpful and often repressed memories, will be pushed by ourselves, though we might project it onto others with such neat phrases as “look what you made me do!” Within this triggering process old patterns surface bringing with them unhelpful and defensive or aggressive attitudes which can leak into our responses. So rather than the ideal of foresight with skilful responses being in place and in readiness whatever the situation, we have the more realistic possibility of progressive levels of learning options starting with hindsight as our guide for insight.

Exercise & Therapy can help ME Sufferers

The results of a British Government-funded trial on treatment of CFS, has recently been published in The Lancet. It was undertaken by researchers led by Prof Peter White at Barts and The London School of Medicine.
The research states that Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT), in which patients discuss their fear and avoidance of physical activity, combined with Graded Exercise Therapy, helps sufferers gradually increase the amount of activity such as walking they can manage.

For more information read article published in the Irish Independent.

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Alternative Treatments and Anxiety Disorders

Anxiety disorders are one of the most common psychiatric disorders. According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), about 40 million American adults aged 18 and older suffer from them each year. Such disorders are highly treatable. However, for an anxious person to seek treatment can be a challenge.

The practice of Yoga for the treatment of anxiety is becoming increasingly affirmed by medical research.

Jason Eric Schiffman, M.D., M.A., M.B.A. a psychiatrist with the UCLA Anxiety Disorders Program and editor-in-chief of says “When someone gets better from anxiety through a practice such as yoga, meditation or through therapy, they get better because they’ve learned something rather than getting better because a pill has made a change or caused a change to their neurochemistry.” Making an effort to change your lifestyle by learning ways to reduce stress and anxiety not only empowers individuals, but creates change that is “much more profound and long-lasting.”

To read full article on Alternative Treatments for Anxiety Disorders

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Yoga & Rheumatoid Arthritis


Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease causing the immune system to attack joints. However it can also affect other areas of the body such as lungs, heart and bone marrow. It is a painful inflammatory condition that can lead to loss of mobility due to pain and damage of joints. It is known that the practice of Yoga can help people with rheumatoid arthritis.

The research was completed in United Arab Emirates. The details of the findings were presented at the 2011 Annual Congress of EULAR – The European League Against Rheumatism, in London. The findings state that “….individuals with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) who practice yoga showed significant improvements in disease activity….” Their view is that the practice of yoga long term could result in further significant improvements. They are continuing their research into the benefits of Yoga in the context of RA.

Paul Harvey – Wisdom of the Yoga Sūtra Part 2

Excerpt from a further article by Paul Harvey published in cYs Journal continuing the exploration of the wisdom of the Yoga Sūtra.

The Yoga Sūtra’s “nearly 200 verses are arranged in a linked developmental structure over four chapters and look at the mind and its strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats within a skillful or unskillful life. It’s opening chapter looks at the question of knowing the mind and acknowledging it as something we can harness to work for us towards a deeper relationship with the source of our being, that essential essence known as awareness.

The second chapter approaches the routes to start to refine a mind that is problematic and unharnessed in its potential. This is through looking at our life and our habits and introducing lifestyle shifts and personal practices which allow us to gather more skillfully the helpful aspects of the mind and be less caught in its unhelpful patterns.

The third chapter tells us that a mind that has been refined through better food and lifestyle, plus establishing an āsana and prāṇāyāma practice can be further refined and directed to subtler aspects of itself and life around us through the practice of meditation. Within the chapter are many meditational possibilities for such a mind to further refine it’s unhelpful patterns so that it works more for us and we less for it.

The fourth chapter again takes us a step further by re-minding us that the goal of Yoga is to go beyond the habits and patterns of the mind whether helpful or unhelpful. Whilst also emphasising that it is the mind itself, once refined, that is the primary tool for bringing about this shift within our relationship with our inner power or Self-resources.”

Paul Harvey – Wisdom of the Yoga Sūtra Part 1


Excerpts from an article by Paul Harvey published in cYs Journal exploring the wisdom of the Yoga Sūtra and the application of this wisdom to our everyday lives.

“Buried within the rich traditions of “on the mat” Yoga practice are many teachings with advice and reflections on how to live more creatively whilst off the mat so to speak.”

“According to the teachings of Yoga, the postural practices of āsana, the breathing practices of prāṇāyāma, and other seated practices of meditation or dhyānam such as chant or japam (repetition of mantra) or reflecting on subtle aspects of attitudes or natural phenomena, sit within a framework of daily living and its constant dynamic of helpful actions and positive responses or unhelpful actions and negative re-actions.”