Between Archive and Repertoire: Modern Yoga as Creative Inspiration

“Performance is not about going back, but about keeping alive.” – Diana Taylor

Yoga in antiquity was fluid, decentralized, and transmitted live from teacher to student. An important factor influencing Yoga’s transference to the West is that there was also no system of central authority for it within India, making it more easily transferable and adaptable to Western lives. The idea and authority of Yoga, for both scholars and practitioners on the street, depends in large part on referring to the past. Yoga is defined by a constant state of historical referral, to scriptural texts, guru lineages, and practices that have been handed down, thus justifying themselves over time through stated relationships with the past.

Diana Taylor’s theory of archive/repertoire is useful here; she explains how in Peru, for instance, engaging in “performance practices, whether drawn from age-old repertoires or marginalized traditions, allow for immediate responses to current political problems… performance is not about going back, but about keeping alive” (208). She describes how Native Americans use a living cultural archive to make something present, making the past present through continuously regenerating cultural production within the cycle of archive and repertoire.

Modern Yoga brings practice, spirituality and activism together to rehearse a mythic and Classical Yoga located in a nonexistent past, defined by how it is conceived of within the present. Just as Yoga poses and rituals are rehearsed, people worldwide have participated in the creation of a modern “repertoire” based on Yoga’s pre-modern “archive.” Rehearsing Yoga and recreating it as an object rooted in (but no longer of) the past is a critical foundation for how women doing Yoga conceive of themselves as activists, through engaging in rituals which support both short- and long-term activism.

Accessing the present through Yoga, as connected to an imagined practice of the past, bypasses key obstacles in social transformation at the individual and community level. “Doing Yoga” is viewed by the public as spiritual or healthy, which are assumed to be socially benign behaviors, whereas there is a deeper underlying significance of rehearsing this pastness, insofar as it can also be an action which reads against modernity and its failed sociopolitical propositions.

The constant referral to Yoga’s imagined past may be read then, as less of a failure on the part of Modern Yoga, and more as an essential and vital characteristic of its practice, rehearsal and repetition. As an example of cultural production, perhaps we can look on this more creative aspect of Yoga’s fluidity for inspiration, as we engage within our own archive/repertoire……..

Thanks for stopping by to think with me,



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