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#99 – Keen on Yoga Podcast with Norman Sjoman

Norman Sjoman is the author of the 1996 book The Yoga Tradition of the Mysore Palace. The book contains an English translation of the yoga section of Sritattvanidhi, a 19th-century treatise by the Maharaja of Mysore. It contributes an original view on the history and development of the teaching traditions behind modern asanas.

According to Sjoman, a majority of the tradition of teaching yoga as exercise spread primarily through the teachings of BKS Iyenger and his students. He claims this “appears to be distinct from the philosophical or textual tradition of hatha yoga. In addition, it does not appear to have any basis as a genuine tradition. This is due to no textual support for the asanas taught and no lineage of teachers.”

Sjoman studied at the University of British Columbia and Stockholm University. He has a PhD from the Centre of Advanced Studies in Sanskirt at Pune University. In addition, he holds a pandit degree from the Mysore Maharaja’s Mahapathasala. Sjoman spent 14 years in India studying four different shastras n Sanskrit, with several pandits. In the mid 1980s, while doing research at the Mysore Palace, Sjoman made copies of the yoga section of the Sritattvanidhi.

The Yoga Tradition of the Mysore Palace

This “colossal” illustrated compendium, authored in the 19th century by the Maharaja of the time. The book included diagrams of 122 yoga asanas. Unlike the few other known historical yoga treatises, the emphasis was solely on the physical activity. Some appeared based on Indian wrestling and other gymnastic exercises. In that aspect more closely resembling modern yoga as exercise forms such as Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga. Both B. K. S. Iyengar and Pattabhi Jois, who are major influences on modern yoga forms, themselves studied under teacher Tirumalai Krishnamacharya at the Mysore Palace in the 1930s.

Sjoman discovered that the royal family, in the early 1900s, had employed a British gymnast to train the young princes. When Krishnamacharya arrived in the 1920s to start a yoga school, his schoolroom was the former gymnasium complete with ropes. Sjoman argues that several exercises detailed in a purposely written western gymnastics manual were incorporated into Krishnamacharya’s syllabus. The of his vinyasa style being further passed on to Iyengar and Jois.

The Yoga Tradition of the Mysore Palace was published in 1996 causing a stir in the yoga world. This due to the radical, perhaps heretical, idea that some of the practice of modern yoga as exercise is based on something as mundane as British gymnastics.

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