The history of modern yoga is rooted in the history of alchemy and the practice of magic in medieval India. In physiological terms it is also intimately linked to tantric ideas concerning the immobilisation of semen. However, modern yoga as a form of practice which emphasises physical fitness, wellness and holistic health, emerged more directly out of the early twentieth-century yoga renaissance. Leading figures such as Shri Y ogendra and Swami Kuvalyananda sought to purge yoga practices such as asana, kriya and pranayama of all things esoteric, mystical and magical and establish practice on the basis of pragmatic, rational, scientific principles. They did this within a framework of what can be called secularised spiritualism. Since the early part of the last century yoga has been popularised, systematised and routinised on these terms, as reflected in countless schools founded by teachers with various degrees of training and experience, as well as in thousands of popular, scientific and academic publications. In all of these schools and publications—both more and less spiritual and philosophical—there is, it will be argued, a degree of profound ambivalence if not explicit contradiction between a secularised, 'sanitised' scientific ideal of medicalised practice, and the 'other history' of sex, magic, and alchemy. This 'other history' both undermines and authorises the idea of yoga as medicine, and, it will be argued, the tension between pragmatic rationalism and esoteric magic makes yoga powerful.
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