This book investigates the rise to prominence of asana (posture) in modern, transnational yoga. Today yoga is virtually synonymous in the West with the practice of asana, and postural yoga classes can be found in great number in virtually every city in the Western world, as well as, increasingly, in the Middle East, Asia, South and Central America, and Australasia.
“Health club” types of yoga are even seeing renewed popularity among affluent urban populations in India. While exact practitioner statistics are hard to come by, it is clear that postural yoga is booming.1 Since the 1990s, yoga has become a multimillion dollar business, and high-profile legal battles have even been fought over who owns asana.
Styles, sequences, and postures themselves have been franchised, copyrighted, and patented by individuals, companies, and government,- and yoga postures are used to sell a wide range of products, from mobile phones to yoghurt.
In 2008, it was estimated that U.S. yoga practitioners were spending 5.7 billion dollars on yoga classes, vacation, and products per year (Yoga Journal 2008), a figure approximately equal to half the gross domestic product of Nepal (CIA 2008).
However, in spite of the immense popularity of postural yoga worldwide, there is little or no evidence that asana (excepting certain seated postures of meditation) has ever been the primary aspect of any Indian yoga practice tradition—including the medieval, body-oriented halha yoga—in spite of the self-authenticating claims of many modern yoga schools.
The primacy of asana performance in transnational yoga today is a new phenomenon that has no parallel in premodern times.
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