The Story of Yoga

From Ancient India to the Modern West

Alistair Shearer

The fascinating story of how an ancient Indian practice became a truly global phenomenon.

Bibliographic Details
The Story of Yoga Hardback
January 2020£25.00
9781787381926 432pp

Available as an eBook
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How did a venerable Indian spiritual discipline turn into a £20 billion-a-year mainstay of the wellness industry? What happened along yoga’s winding path from the caves and forests of the sages to the gyms, hospitals and village halls of the modern West?

This comprehensive history sets yoga in its global cultural context for the first time, leading us on a journey from arcane religious rituals and medieval body-magic, through Christianity and the British Empire, to Indian nationalists and the twentieth-century West. Yoga has now become embedded in powerful social currents including feminism, digital media, celebrity culture, the stress pandemic and the quest for authentic identity.

Shearer’s revealing history boasts a colourful cast of characters past and present, in an engaging tale of scholars and scandal, science and spirit, wisdom and waywardness. This is the untold story of yoga, warts and all.


Alistair Shearer is a cultural historian specialising in the art and architecture of the Indian subcontinent and a former lecturer at SOAS University of London. He is a teacher of meditation and the psychology of yoga, and his translation of the Yoga Sutras has remained in print for almost forty years. Alistair is the co-creator of an award-winning retreat hotel in Kerala.


‘This is a tale of what happens when East and West meet, and about a shift from the sacred to the secular. [Yoga’s] journey west gives Shearer a compelling cast of characters.’ — The Sunday Times

‘Erudite, scholarly and engrossing.’ — The Sunday Telegraph

‘A clear-eyed, elegantly written and wonderfully informative history of yoga … Shearer’s remarkable book is a wide-ranging and rather sobering discussion on the nature of authenticity.’ — The Spectator

‘Amid a sea of guidebooks, historian Alistair Shearer has provided a worthwhile counterpoint, [offering] advice as important as any guru’s techniques.’  Financial Times

‘A quick-witted and erudite chronicle of the Hindu practice that is now a lucrative staple of “wellness” in the West.’ — The Wall Street Journal

‘This is a compelling history of how an amazing ancient art became an integral part of western life.’ The Irish Times

‘Shearer … writes with exquisite sensitivity about the teacher-student relationship.’ Hindustan Times 

‘The history of East meeting West through yoga is as complex and enigmatic as it is important. Alistair Shearer unfolds the narrative with just the right combination of scholarly rigour and compelling prose.’ — Philip Goldberg, author of American Veda and The Life of Yogananda

The Story of Yoga offers an absorbing chronicle of the rise of yoga, tracing its evolution through history to its rapid global proliferation today, with insights into the challenges on the way ahead. Exceedingly accessible and engaging, this is the definitive account of the remarkable growth of one of the world’s most popular and beneficial human activities.’ — Shashi Tharoor, author of Inglorious Empire

‘Frequently amusing, but always scholarly and engaging, Shearer’s study deftly works it way through the history of yoga, from the purity of Patanjali’s Sutras to the mix’n’match brands endorsed by modern celebrities.’ — John Zubrzycki, author of Empire of Enchantment: The Story of Indian Magic