Yoga PH.D by Carol A. Horton
Updated: Oct 23, 2018
If building a well-rounded shelf (or bookcase) of books on yoga interests you, you’ll want to include Carol Horton’s “Yoga PhD” as a compliment to the posture focused and unique memoirs of other global yoga voices.
Horton lays out her investigation as to why and how she went from a stretching only participant to loving yoga’s “ability to synthesize the everyday with the extraordinary, the practical with the visionary, the mundane with the sacred.”
Part memoir, part academic inquiry I initially felt like Horton was trying to understand and make sense of coming to love yoga, she writes as though outside of her experience. It’s not until she drops the somewhat forced-feeling (a seriousness) of her self-described academic lens, that I became her biggest champion. It was once she dropped the pretentiousness of this academic lens and dove into her own exploration of what the practice meant to her that the book become more interesting and worth recommending.
I believe you can have a serious conversation about important aspects of yoga, as with topics covered like the over commodification of yoga, while not taking yourself so seriously. I applaud Horton’s tenacity of attempting to cover so many aspects of yoga while yearning for one narrative about her own personal journey. She states that she has become ‘… disillusioned with much of the culture of American yoga itself…” while expressing many opinions and thoughts that support her deepening understanding and appreciation of yoga as it impacts herself. I couldn’t help but think if her intention was to illuminate someone to the problems she finds within the culture of yoga, she succeeded. If her intention was to investigate modern yoga and the paradox’s she sees, she overstepped her intention by revealing her own experience, which has been incredibly positive. This mixture of judgment (mostly negative) with her experiences (mostly positive) doesn’t come off as balanced reporting, but solely an exploration with personal considerations, much critical thinking but limited constructive conclusions.
I struggled with much of the cynical views matched with more upbeat insights and experiences because in striving to offer a point counter-point opinion based reporter style of prose the opposition seemed to water down one clear argument or perspective. Horton uses phrases like “…most practitioners” in describing an indifferent or hostile yoga community that I don’t believe should be lumped into one big statement. Once she shifts her focus to her own experience, though, synthesizing the psychological with the spiritual then it’s clear to the reader that yoga has had a powerful and transformative effect on her. Her writing voice shifts to reflect someone who has been deeply moved by yoga and is sharing her experience in the hopes that it will do the same for the reader. This is not stated directly, but reading between the lines you’ll see in three-fourths of the book her writing shines with respect and love for the history and impact of modern yoga on herself and society.