Book Review by Richard Rosen ← Back to Blog


THE ROOTS OF YOGA | Reviewed by Richard Rosen

Translated and edited by James Mallinson and Mark Singleton (Penguin Classics, 2017), 590 pages.

It’s quite appropriate that this book is published by “Penguin Classics,” because that’s exactly what it’s destined to become, a classic, essential reading for serious students of whatever school or stripe. The two editor-translators responsible for this monumental anthology are perhaps not as well and widely known in Yoga Land as some of our more illustrious teachers, but they should be because they’re both the real deal. As a scholar, Mallinson is an expert’s expert, especially when it comes to Hatha Yoga (Google him and you’ll be treated to a wealth of articles on traditional Hatha); he’s also a card-carrying member of a long lineage of Indian ascetics (his initiation into his guru’s circle is the subject of a Smithsonian TV documentary, Mystical Journey). Singleton, also a dedicated practitioner, is the author or editor of a trio of books, the most controversial and ground-breaking being Yoga Body (2010). In it he traces the development of modern yoga and ruffling some rather prominent feathers along the way. Together they’ve produced a book of English translations of selections from around 150 primary Sanskrit sources, heavy on the Hatha, yet including a broad range of other spiritual traditions, such as Vedanta, Buddhism, and Islamic-influenced yoga.

The material is divvied up among 11 chapters, ranging in size from the 24-page mantra chapter to the 57 pages of The Yogic Body. Most other chapters, on asana, pranayama, meditations and the like, weigh in at somewhere between 35 to 45 pages. Each chapter begins with a short intro to the subject covered, followed by the translated selections, which are rendered in a straightforward style (caveat: Mallinson and Singleton, as academics of the first water, often express themselves in what we might call “academese,” with words on the way far end of the “infrequently used” scale; it would be wise to have a dictionary handy when hala-ing through these intros). In addition to the primary sources, our editors-translators cite almost 250 entries in their secondary literature, a Who’s Who of respected yoga scholars and teachers past and present, which provides much of the grist for the 30 pages of footnotes.

Two questions that everyone should ideally ask themselves are, where have I come from and where am I going? As a yoga student, Roots will certainly help you answer the first, and give you some direction to figure out the second. Available on Amazon for around $13.


Richard began his practice of Hatha Yoga in 1980 at the Yoga Room in Berkeley, and from 1982 to 1985 trained at the BKS Iyengar Yoga Institute in San Francisco. In 1987 he co-founded the Piedmont Yoga Studio with his good friends Clare Finn and Rodney Yee, and taught there for nearly 28 years until it closed its doors in January 2015. He continues to teach at the same location, now called You & the Mat, for the new co-directors, Eric and Denise Antonini.

Richard is a contributing editor at Yoga Journal magazine, and since 1990 he’s written feature articles, book reviews, a variety of columns, and over 300 yoga video reviews. He’s also the author of four books, The Yoga of Breath (Shambhala 2002), Yoga for 50+ (Ulysses 2004), Pranayama Beyond the Fundamentals (Shambhala 2006), Original Yoga (Shambhala 2012), and most recently Yoga FAQ: Almost Everything You Need to Know About Yoga, from Asana to Yama (Shambhala 2017) as well as recording a seven-CD set titled The Practice of Pranayama (Shambhala 2010). Since 1989 he’s been on the board of directors of the California Yoga Teachers Association, and in 2008 helped form CYTA’s grant-making wing, the Yoga Dana Foundation, which supports California yoga teachers working with underserved populations, such as at-risk and incarcerated youth and disabled students.