The Illusions of Scholarly Practice

The academic study of yoga is subtly at odds with its practical objectives. Intellectual gymnastics are clearly a block to the ultimate goal of transcending the mind. Although many scholars perform a great service—translating texts and explaining their history—this is largely detached from applying their teachings. Scholarship and practice are rarely combined. Even those who do both tend to highlight the former, while keeping the latter a private matter. It might inform their research, but not how they present it. They mainly write for each other, not yoga practitioners.

Part of the problem is structural. Constraints of methodology tie people’s hands, along with the need to impress senior colleagues, whose support is essential to build a career. This process starts with securing approval for Ph.D work. However radical the rhetoric of many researchers, an inherent conservatism underpins everything. Plans with institutional backing are generally easier to pursue. Of course, trends change, as in all fields, but the pace can be glacial, and the influence of elders looms large over everyone.

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