Sinister Yogis

Sinister Yogis

David Gordon White

Print publication date: 2013

ISBN: 9780226895130

Publisher: University of Chicago Press

Abstract

Since the 1960s, yoga has become a billion-dollar industry in the West, attracting housewives and hipsters, New Agers and the old-aged. But our modern conception of yoga derives much from nineteenth-century European spirituality, and the true story of yoga's origins in South Asia is far richer, stranger, and more entertaining than most of us realize. To uncover this history, the book focuses on yoga's practitioners. Combing through millennia of South Asia's vast and diverse literature, it discovers that yogis are usually portrayed as wonder-workers or sorcerers who use their dangerous supernatural abilities—which can include raising the dead, possession, and levitation—to acquire power, wealth, and sexual gratification. As the book shows, even those yogis who are not downright villainous bear little resemblance to Western assumptions about them. At turns rollicking and sophisticated, this book tears down the image of yogis as detached, contemplative teachers, placing them in their proper context.