History of Yoga in America by Aimee Bohn, Shri Vinyasa Yoga
With the variety of practices and techniques that call themselves “Yoga,” it can be difficult to reconcile the seemingly disparate elements out there. Purists will reduce Yoga to a “one thing” – Yoga is (blank.) That singular, definable understanding also legitimates the way in which they have carved out and delineated Yoga for themselves. It tells us more about them than it does about Yoga.
But even a brief exploration of Yoga in America creates a less absolute definition. The story of who we are as 21st century American yogis cannot only be answered by studying the very distant past. A firm appreciation of the events of the last 160 years in America offers much better leverage for explaining ourselves now.
With that in mind, we can also begin to consider our continuing evolution into an expanding future. Echoing or recapitulating a remote and distant past will not bring us closer to the Yoga we experience today, one that comes from such a past.
So how do we reconcile a technique for God realization that’s had at various historical times asked its adherents to eat dirt, mere bits of rice & vegetables begged out of a bowl made of the top of a human skull, mumble incomprehensible syllables, perform daily enemas or floss their nose or stomach with string or cloth – with a set of exercises suitable for American children at recess in public school!?
There are two overarching ideas I’d like us to keep in mind as we explore Yoga in America:
Yoga has flourished in America by careful editing, savvy PR, and attaching itself to famous, popular or esteemed celebrities America has been primed to accept.
Traditionally, America has been skeptical of kings and charlatans, much less gurus. So who is the Yoga teacher? Is she or he a holy person or magician, a healer or superhero, a rock star or a demi-God?
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