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The Occult in Modern Yoga: The Latent Light Culture and Yogic Breath Cultivation (Prāṇāyāma), 1905-1935


· Magdalena Kraler University of Vienna (Vienna, Austria)


07/27 | 15:30-15:50 UTC+2/CEST


Up to c. 1950, modern yoga was ingrained in the heritage of nineteenth-century occultism. Theosophy and American New Thought as one of the most important strands of occultism informed what modern yoga was to become. This is particularly evident when examining yogic breath cultivation, a phrase I use as an umbrella to include both indigenous prāṇāyāma and imported breath practices. Presenting the Latent Light Culture, founded by T. R. Sanjivi (d. 1941) in South India in 1905, as a case study, this paper will show how yoga and occultism are blended, and that, against this backdrop, prāṇāyāma finds new interpretations. The occult society’s main publishing organ is the Kalpaka, an occult magazine having its first edition in 1908. Moreover, the society survives until today by offering correspondence courses. One of the most important figures to influence South Asian integrations of occultism and yoga was the American New Thought author William Walker Atkinson (1862-1932) who published books on “yoga” and “Hindu yogi breathing” under the pseudonym Yogi Ramacharaka. Although the Latent Light Culture conceived occultism as inherently Indian, the society was simultaneously part of a transnational network to inform and distribute its work. In drawing on a chapter of my PhD-thesis on modern yogic breath cultivation, I aim to exemplify that occultism was a crucial framework to reinterpret yogic techniques not just in Euro-American contexts, but also within India.