Tuesday, July 13, 2010

America's First Yogi?

Since I've been writing about yoga, I will mention that I've just begun reading Stefanie Syman's new book, The Subtle Body, which is a thick, much researched, apparently very inclusive book about the history of yoga in America. Ordinarily I would not write about it until I've finished it which will be some time as it's the sort of book I read along with at least two others -- since it's dense [but not difficult] and I want to read it slowly enough to retain her facts, conjectures and ideas. But I think I may have several things to say about the book as I go through it.

The first interesting idea I've come across is her contention that Henry David Thoreau was America's firs yogi. She not only makes a very good case -- he read extensively in Emerson's library of books on Indian religions and translations of Sanskrit texts, but he tried to live a yogic life in his little cabin those couple of years and he reports that he was able to meditate all morning long and be refreshed afterwards. Syman even found a quote in which he called himself a "yogee."
Syman understands yoga in its broadest meaning, as many writers do not. I'm enjoying the book although as I page through, I see she has given enormous amounts of space to movie stars and other celebrities -- no doubt making her agent and publishers happy. To me it's mainly a yawn that Gloria Swanson and Greta Garbo practiced yoga, along with many, many others.

I regret that I bought the book last week; for the simple reason that this week Borders has issued a 40% off coupon that I could have used and when a book costs $28, that's a very nice saving. Ah well ... I already recommend the book to those interested in how yoga infested America almost as unexpected as the Zebra mussel infested the Great Lake -- which, incidentally are about to be infested with the apparently devastating Asian carp. This is a non sequitor aside but comes to mind because it emphasizes that we are one world whether thinking of animals or ideas. While the carp and mussels devastate indigenous species, yoga, as Americans have adapted it is a very positive addition to our physical fitness routines. The Buddhism that sometimes seems to go along with yoga [although it existed before Buddha's time and is Hindu in origin] actually is quite a different phenomenon that doesn't warrant discussion today.

[Brief, I hope, hiatus in posts as my MacBook is taking a respite back home in California for some fixes.]

1 comment:

standing on my head said...

i'd heard thoreau described that way before, and am interested in getting this book. by the way, i couldn't finsh "the great oom." i just could not get interested in it long enough to stay the course. i'll try again when i'm feeling more patient. or totally run out of other things to read!