Roots of Yoga

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Roots of Yoga
Roots of Yoga cover.jpg
On the book's cover, a yogi practises tapkāra āsana, the ascetic's pose. Illustrated manuscript of the Joga Pradīpikā, c. 1830
AuthorJames Mallinson
Mark Singleton
SubjectHistory of yoga
PublisherPenguin Classics
Publication date

Roots of Yoga is a book of commentary and translations from many sources, often not previously published, about the origins of yoga including its varied practices, from āsana to meditation, by the scholars James Mallinson and Mark Singleton.



Roots of Yoga was published by Penguin Classics in paperback in 2017. The book has no illustrations other than the cover image.


The book is a collection of mostly original translations of over one hundred yoga texts, mainly from Sanskrit but also including Tibetan, Arabic, Persian, Bengali, Tamil, Pali, Kashmiri, and early forms of Marathi and Hindi. Its eleven themed chapters cover many of the traditional practices of yoga (such as āsana, prāṇāyāma, mudrā, meditation, and mantra) as well as essential contexts for practising yoga (such as preliminaries to yoga practice, the 'yogic body', special powers (siddhi), and liberation (mokṣa)). The book has a main introduction summarizing the history of yoga and yoga scholarship, and each chapter has its own shorter contextual introduction and notes.[1]

The book provides helps for the reader such as a timeline of important events from the 1500 BCE Vedas up to the 19th century; tables of the systems of the limbs or "auxiliaries" of yoga, including fourfold, fivefold, sixfold, sevenfold and fifteen-fold systems as well as several eightfold systems including Patanjali's; a glossary; lists of primary and secondary literature; notes; and an index.


Neil Sims, reviewing Roots of Yoga on the Indian Philosophy Blog, calls the book scholarly, writing that the editors (James Mallinson and Mark Singleton) "do an admirable job of letting the texts speak for themselves. No hint of partisanship, or even a preferred view, is given." In Mills's view, the book succeeds both on the level of increasing historical understanding among yoga students and teachers, and in contributing to yoga and South Asian scholarship.[2]

In a review in Yoga Journal, the yoga teacher and author Matthew Remski points to the book's "endlessly diverse sources",[3] which include "new critical translations of over 100 little-known yoga texts dating from 1000 BCE to the 19th century, threaded together with clear and steady-as-she-goes commentary".[3] The translations, he states, "explode the available resources for everyday practitioners" and "drown the notions that yoga is any single thing that anyone has ever agreed upon or that it brings everyone to the same place."[3] Remski proposes that it may "become the top book on every yoga teacher training reading list in the English-speaking world."[3]

The researcher Adrian Munoz, reviewing the book in Estudios de Asia y África, notes that while it is principally a sourcebook of "innumerable" yoga manuscripts, mainly in Sanskrit, rather than the presentation of any particular thesis, it is accompanied by an erudite 30-page introduction that sets the documents in their historical context.[4]

The yoga teacher Richard Rosen writes that Roots of Yoga is appropriately in Penguin Classics as "this monumental anthology" of some 150 primary Sanskrit sources is destined to become a classic.[5]

The Indologist Alexis Sanderson writes that the anthology's "unprecedented array of sources [...] will be an indispensable companion for all interested in yoga, both scholars and practitioners".[6]

Theo Wildcroft, reviewing the book for the Open University blog, writes that the most usual dismissal of yoga scholars is that "as non-practitioners [they] can only have the most superficial of understandings of the practice",[7] noting that Singleton is a practitioner of yoga (in modern form) and Mallinson is "much more demonstrably so",[7] having been ordained as a mahant during a Kumbh Mela.[8]

Brian Cooper, reviewing for the Yoga Alliance, writes that it was astonishing given yoga's popularity that so few of its original texts had been translated. He notes that the authors had deliberately made available over 100 primary sources "of key importance" to grasping yoga's history. Cooper notes that the experience of reading such a collection of excerpts is quite unlike that of browsing a complete text, making the material far more accessible. He calls the book "an incredible resource", illustrating the "vast and complex" corpus of knowledge and practice that is yoga, and showing "that yoga is not a static historical object but a dynamic, intertwining and evolving form."[9]


  1. ^ Mallinson & Singleton 2017.
  2. ^ Sims, Neil (30 December 2017). "Book Review of Roots of Yoga, Translated and Edited by James Mallinson and Mark Singleton". The Indian Philosophy Blog. Retrieved 8 February 2019.
  3. ^ a b c d Remski, Matthew. "10 Things We Didn't Know About Yoga Until This New Must-Read Dropped". Yoga Journal. Retrieved 2019-05-21.
  4. ^ Munoz, Adrian (2018). "James Mallinson y Mark Singleton (trad., ed. e introd.), Roots of Yoga, Londres, Penguin Books, 2017, 540 pp". Estudios de Asia y África, (in Spanish). 53 (1): 230–232.
  5. ^ Rosen, Richard. "The Roots of Yoga". You and the Mat. Retrieved 26 April 2019.
  6. ^ "Roots of Yoga | Books". Penguin Random House. Retrieved 2019-05-21.
  7. ^ a b Wildcroft, Theo. "The launch and reception of Roots of Yoga". Open University. Retrieved 21 May 2019.
  8. ^ Sanyal, Amitava (27 February 2013). "Kumbh Mela festival | James Mallinson". BBC.
  9. ^ Cooper, Brian (17 May 2019). "Roots of Yoga". Yoga Alliance.