Yoga in America
I’ve frequently had to address the issue of why Yoga in America (or anywhere outside of India) has come to mean a very different thing than what it has meant in India. Since one of my areas of academic study is how beliefs, practices and philosophies migrate, assimilate (or not) and are reconstructed in new communities, I consider yoga’s historical arrival in the West fascinating history indeed- and will attempt in the coming blog entries to discuss some of the major influences in the yoga movement in the West.
Many excellent authors and researchers have already written on this subject, frequently beginning their narratives with Swami Vivekananda’s address to the World’s Parliament of Religions in Chicago in 1893. Although in many ways his appearance brought recognition to the spiritual practices of India, it did not necessarily propagate yogic teachings.
There already existed translations of Vedic and non-Vedic literature, known by such spiritual authors as Madame Blavatsky and even Thoreau. However, the techniques most common in contemporary yoga practices such as breathing, meditation and knowledge of subtle energy systems began to develop on a more popular level in American during the late 1950’s and 1960’s. It was during these decades that such teachers as Swami Vishnu-devananda, Yogananda (in an earlier book Autobiography of a Yogi), B.K.S. Iyengar, Swami Radha Sivananda and Swami Satchitananda traveled to teach outside of India and published instructional material in English.