Sinister Yogis

Most of us, in America at least, tend to think of yogis as benevolent beings, and yoga as that series of semi-spiritual stretches that can really stretch those tight places in our hips on a Sunday afternoon.  We can channel our breath, open our hearts, and do a few Sanskrit poses whose names derive from animals or the natural world: dog, pigeon, lotus, tree. But in this fascinating counter-history of yoga, White shows us that the slim slice of yoga we Americans practice, and even the yoga most academics study, is leaving quite a lot of yoga's deep roots out.  He argues that yoga, an ancient practice whose word derives from the Sanskrit "yuk" -- to yoke -- has a much wider purview.  In this deep genealogy of yoga, White isolates how yoga's yoking, while ultimately in the service of actually losing oneself to practices, is sometimes about practicing unyoking the self entirely -- and not necessarily just to reach a peaceful inner heart space. Instead, White studies a tradition of yogis who practice tricks, move between bodies, and use their powers in morally dubious, if always fascinating ways.  This tradition of  yogis is, in White's words "far more interested in supernatural powers and self-externalization"  (crossing into and out of bodies) "than in the quietistic, meditative realization of the divine within." While yoga could hardly spring from Indian roots if it weren't  multiple, immensely complex, duplicative, and even contradictory, White offers a surprising, counterintuitive take on the roots of an extraordinary, sometimes mystical discipline.  The book is a tad academic, but anyone with a few guideposts in South Asian history should be able to navigate its path.


April 17: "In less than three years, both GM and Chrysler would be bankrupt, and a resurgent Ford would wow Wall Street..."

Donna Tartt's The Goldfinch is the winner of the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. James Parker calls this Dickensian coming-of-age novel "an enveloping…

Books, CDs, DVDs to know about now
Poems That Make Grown Men Cry

And women too.  Luminaries from Colin Firth to Nick Cave and Jonathan Franzen chose the poems that bring them to tears, and the result is a stunning collection of poignant verse from writers like Auden, Whitman, Bishop, Larkin, Neruda and many others.  Warning: choking-up hazard.

The King of Pain

Trapped beneath his entertainment system, reality TV mastermind Rick Salter reflects on his life and tries to piece together the events of the previous evening. Seth Kaufman’s romp is an outrageous meditation on pain and entertainment in a deranged world in which the two are often interchangeable.

The Good Inn

Frank Black, frontman for the Pixies, has written a transgressive historical fiction with shades of Thomas Pynchon (focused as it is on the history of explosives and cinematic pornography), all set in a hallucinatory Edwardian Europe.