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one percent theory

24th January 2008 permanent link

“99% practice, 1% theory” is one of Pattabhi Jois’s famous bits of gnomic guidance on how to approach ashtanga vinyasa yoga.

I was sure this was just what I needed when I first started practicing yoga seriously. My life was down a pretty deep hole at the time, and I was convinced one of the reasons for that was too much reading and thinking and not enough doing. So for my first few years of ashtanga yoga, I deliberately concentrated entirely on practice and left the theory to be taken care of later. It was a series of philosophy lectures by B.N.S. Iyengar at a workshop in the summer of 2001 that finally convinced me it was time to start catching up on the one percent. So I bought Desikachar’s The Heart of Yoga, including his translation of and commentary on the Yoga Sutras, and read it. Pattabhi Jois says the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali and the Bhagavad Gita are all the 1% theory you need.

Sooner or later one’s karmic burdens reassert themselves, though. My practice-to-theory ratio is sill reasonably healthy, but Amazon has figured out that the former academic historian in me is irresistibly drawn towards books by western academics attempting to make sense of yoga’s history, and relentlessly recommends them to me. Fortunately so far they are few & far between. Ian Whicher’s The Integrity of the Yoga Darsana seems like it will be interesting one day, but I haven’t really managed to get to grips with it yet. I ground my way painfully through much of Joseph Alter’s Yoga in Modern India. One of the reasons I never made it as an academic was my belief that the ability to write is a vital skill for a historian. This belief is deeply unfashionable or even heretical in contemporary academia, and Professor Alter clearly does not subscribe to it. Just arrived is Elizabeth de Michelis’ A History of Modern Yoga. Let’s see how that goes.

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