WAWADIA Update #22: The Prescriptive Kinesiognomy of Modern Postural Yoga



The IGG campaign to support this coming book is galloping to its conclusion. (Four days left, 3K to go!) Thank you to every contributor so far, and to everyone who’s spread the word. Thank you especially to my crack editorial/promotional team: Jason Hirsch, Carol Horton, Roseanne Harvey, Laura Shaw, and Alix Bemrose.



Oh chosen one, oh frozen one / Oh tangle of matter and ghost. 

— Leonard Cohen, “The Window”


[dropcap]I[/dropcap]’m about to take some time off from the post-pushing phase of #WAWADIA to plunge into a few corners of quieter research. One of them will be this:

A crucial but mostly-unacknowledged premise that roots the tree of modern postural yoga is the principle of prescriptive kinesiognomy.

Of course, if I make up a term, I have to define it. “Kinesiognomy” would be: The practice of assessing a person’s character from the appearance of their movement. MPY makes this practice prescriptive insofar as it suggests postural and movement solutions for insufficiencies of character. Anxiety, depression and poor self-esteem are presumed to be remedied by altering the architecture and flow of physical poise. Freshly sculpted poise is taken as evidence of moral and emotional change.

I believe that analyzing this premise is crucial to the discussion of why – beyond practicing with poor instruction in biomechanics or receiving harsh adjustments – some people injure themselves in asana. It’s not enough to understand that practitioners can drive towards postures and movements that are constitutionally inappropriate for them. It’s not enough to understand that some are influenced by the charisma of teachers who are actually elite athletes affecting the public personae of therapists without appropriate training. It’s not enough to understand that many hounded by an advertising discourse that relies on as much or more manipulative female bodily objectification as any other industry. Intense drive on the mat is not only provoked by dreams of physical prowess or idealized visions of beauty or sexuality. Driven yogis are also breaking themselves against the physical premise of psychological virtue.

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