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Jon Boda

Dr. Alles

Sinister Yogis

David White’s book Sinister Yogis is an alternative look at the practice of yoga

and the instructors. His book illustrates the ability of capitalism to corrupt the truth and

reality of any practice. White discusses thoroughly how yoga has changed from past to

present and how the people who teach it are not necessarily fit into the classic mold of a


One thing White’s book depicts is how people defected from the ancient practices

of yoga to an easier and less demanding life, that yoga is much different now than it was.

Even the yoga instructors lost their drive to teach meaningfully, instead turning to a more

profitable path. If you look at the quoted passage on page 247, “To a disappointed young

Iyengar, yoga seemed something he could pursue with the ‘mercenary’ intent of making a

living”. This quote points to one of the issues White is trying to not so subtly allude to,

that capitalism is an infectious disease that has brought about laziness and skewed our

perceptions of what yoga is truly about. In fact, much of our world consists of

misinformation and skewed perceptions. The idea that these teachers would abandon the

values of what we thought was traditional yoga for monetary gain is something that

should bother us, but it doesn’t. We are accustomed to this happening; it is the

“American dream,” to come here and make a fortune by swindling others and abandoning

values. White is pointing out that yoga as we know it is commercialized, with no

traditional values and the teachers are merely con artists instead of true yogis. It was

ironic to find that the yoga most people here know of is actually a bad copy. It is another

story in India though. He writes that the Nāth Yogīs have made a return based on

patronage from wealthy benefactors. Part of the reason that many have lost sight of the

historical yogi practices is the world economy does not support people with no income,

and for them donations were hard to get. It seems more that White is speaking of the

American or Western yoga industry instead of the Indian practices although both have

been altered from tradition to some extent. Not to make excuses for it, but some changes

to the culture have been necessary in order for it to remain part of society.

Another point White is trying to make is about the yogis themselves. He stated on

page 37 that none of the yogis fit the stereotypical description of a cross-legged man

praying for enlightenment. He asks why all the yogis that narrate don’t fit the classical

definition of yoga, but we know that the classical definition isn’t completely realistic.

That too is skewed by media and interpretation so we see an idealized version. We see

what we want to see, not reality. White discusses the reason we have these inaccurate

perception on page 244 in the second to last paragraph. He states that “in the latter half

of the nineteenth century the British in India began to romanticize the yogis whose

lifestyles and livelihoods their policies had largely contributed to wiping out”. He

specifically refers to the urban middle class, saying that they got the image of a yogi

completely turned about. People continued to misunderstand the yogis and yoga; both

experienced a great deal of reinvention during the early twentieth century. White takes

care to analyze the yogis throughout the book, providing insight into the original
practices and how it has changed. He includes passages that are meant to reveal exactly

how much we have wrong about the yogi. In India things are very different from the past

despite some benefactors trying to support the culture, yet American yogis and yoga are

completely unrecognizable.

Life for the yogis has changed in the past two centuries; they no longer have the

free and almost carefree life that they led. They are forced to depend less and less on

patrons which has caused their numbers to dwindle considerably. With the lack of people

to remember the history and remain true to it, yoga changed and along with it the yogis.

So although White makes good points about the yogis changing both yoga and their

lifestyles it is understandable why such a change occurred. If you lack the people to

support it or the records to remember it then of course it will evolve over time.

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