Today there is no longer an argument. Yoga is a cultural force and a booming industry. But is it American? Stefanie Syman, author of the compelling and exhaustive cultural history of yoga in America, The Subtle Body: The Story Of Yoga In America, says yes. She’ll be in New Mexico on Friday, July 30 (details below) to make the case and field questions. Until that times, here’s a few teasers from the depths of yoga-Americana—
• Ralph Waldo Emerson was a fan of yoga and wrote a poem called “Brahma” in the first issue of the Atlantic Monthly, but he didn't practice.
• Elvis did yoga (and sang about it) in a movie.
• In 1948, Life featured a photo essay of Marilyn Monroe doing yoga poses.
• President Woodrow Wilson's daughter Margaret became so captivated with yoga that she moved to India and spent the rest of her life on an ashram.
• And let’s not forget the 60’s electric fascination with yoga & sitar. Media darlings like the Beatles, Mia Farrow, Timothy Leary, and Ram Dass helped to popularize the discipline.
• Nowadays, the Obamas feature yoga on the White House lawn.
Syman will be joined by Mark Singelton from St. John's College in Santa Fe, whose book Yoga Body: The Origins of Modern Posture Practice traces how postures, traditionally a relatively obscure aspect of yoga, came to define it.
Spiros Antonopoulos (Ashtanga Yoga Albuquerque | Souljerky) will be your host and guide down these rivers of yogic adventure. Local yoga teacher and entrepreneur Meta Hirschl (Yoga Now), author of Vital Yoga: A Sourcebook for Students and Teachers is scheduled to give a brief introduction.
You can hear Stefanie Syman on NPR (To the Best of Our Knowledge, On Point), or on Expanding Mind (with Erik Davis). And you can read her latest post on the Wall Street Journal's blog (about Tantra, Sting, & Lady Gaga).