Tradition, the Guru, Authorship in the Creation of B.K.S. Iyengar’s Light on Prāṇāyāma

Newcombe, Suzanne (2024). Tradition, the Guru, Authorship in the Creation of B.K.S. Iyengar’s Light on Prāṇāyāma. In: Hankey, Henriette; Jacobson, Knut A. and Keul, István eds. Embodied Reception: South Asian Spiritualities in Contemporary Contexts. The Study of Religion in a Global Context. Sheffield: Equinox (In Press).

Abstract

This chapter explores themes of authorship and authority within the yoga tradition through unpacking the publication process of B.K.S. Iyengar’s Light on Prāṇāyāma (1981). The argument is based on extensive use of newly discovered sources which include early manuscript drafts and correspondence relating to the composition of the text found in the personal collection of Gerald Yorke now held at the University of Reading’s Special Collections. The exploration of these primary sources shows how the technical content of Light on Prāṇāyāma developed primarily through Iyengar’s intense phenomenological practices and powerful of observation of his own experiences, challenging idealistic assumptions about the nature of guru-śiṣya paramparā (student-teacher transmission lineage) in the development of yoga traditions.

Moreover, it will argue that an effective transmission of Iyengar’s teaching in this publication emerged out of a dialogue with his English editor Gerald Yorke and several ‘test readers’ who ensured that the instructions were coherent and understandable across cultures. The paper explores the hidden labour of several women central to eventual publication of Light on Prāṇāyāma, whose contributions were handled (and largely erased at the point of publication) within the gendered social expectations of the late 1970s. The conclusions are a salutary reminder of the complex dialogical process involved in any successful transmission of an embodied tradition.

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