Yoga in America – The First One Hundred Years – Yoga Journal by Richard Leviton


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YOGA in
AMERICA

The First 100
Years

by Richard
Leviton

WE’VE
FINALLY OUTDONE OURSELVES.

In a burst of precelebratory
enthusiasm, we decided last spring to commemorate the 15th
anniversary of our inception by commissioning a
comprehensive took at hatha yoga in America, from its
introduction in Chicago back in 1893 to its contemporary
proliferation across heartland U.S.A.

Writer Richard Leviton, whose
homeopathy cover story garnered so much praise just a year
ago, courageously agreed to undertake the voluminous
research and cross-country travel required to capture not
only the spirit, but the remarkable moments, that have
characterized yoga’s hundred-year efflorescence in this
country. The result, all 20,000 words of it, promises to be
the most authoritative coverage of the yoga movement for
years to come.

Part one, “How the Swamis Came to
the States” tells the captivating tale of how Indian
teachers and their diligent students have established yoga
in a nation where, three quarters of a century ago, it
was
still
considered a Hindu abomination even in liberal urban centers
like Boston and L.A. All the major teachers and lineages
have been covered, from Swami Vivekananda, whose talk at
the
World
Parliament of Religions in 1893 galvanized his largely
American audience, to Swami Satchidananda, whose benediction
at the Woodstock rock festival invoked the spirit of a
generation. We’ve also taken advantage of our expanded color
capabilities to bring you yoga photos shot at sunrise
against the sand dunes of California’s Death
Valley.

Part two, “From Sea to Shining
Sea,” is a documentary sampling of six yoga centers (and as
many styles) in various regions of the country, including a
small studio by the sea in Maine, a sweaty refuge for
athletes and busy executives in downtown Manhattan, a junior
college in Texas’ big sky country, and centers in urban San
Francisco and suburban Atlanta and Chicago. Author Leviton,
traveling with his yoga-teacher-wife Alonssi, has managed to
recreate the unique ambiance of each venue. We think you’ll
be fascinated to see how many guises yoga wears, and how
many accents it speaks, as it takes to the mats in different
parts of the country.

We hope you find this 15th
anniversary special issue as enjoyable to read as it was
for
us to compile.
We think it captures some of the variety and vitality that
mark the American brand of hatha yoga – and we trust you’ll
want to save it as a resource for future
reference.

 

How the Swamis CAME
to the STATES

A comprehensive history of yoga
in the U. S., from Swami Vivekananda in 1893 to Prospects
for hatha yoga in the 1990’s

 

In
the autumn of 1861 Lahiri Mahasaya, 34, a government
accountant in the Indian military, a family man, and a yogi,
sat in a cave in the Himalayas. He was about to receive an
initiation from his deathless guru, the reputed avatar
Babaji, that would one day help make yoga a household word
in America.

Babaji, though immortal, had a
distinct flair for the correct setting. He materialized “a
vast palace of dazzling gold” to satisfy a secret wish of
his young disciple, and then instructed Lahiri through the
night in the ancient science of kriya, “the indestructible
yoga,” which Babaji had rediscovered for this epoch. He told
Lahiri it was the same spiritual science that Krishna had
imparted millennia ago to Arjuna.

A deep purpose underlay the fact
that Lahiri took his Himalayan initiation as a married
householder, Babaji told him. His city life would make him a
model of the ideal householder yogi. “The millions who are
encumbered by family ties and heavy worldly duties will take
new heart from you, a householder like themselves. You
should guide them to understand that the highest yogic
attainments are not barred to the family man.”

Lahiri’s initiation ended, and
Babaji with his golden palace vanished. But the next morning
as Lahiri made his way down the mountain, “consoled by his
wondrous promise and rich with the newly found gold of
God-wisdom,” his footsteps in essence were taking this
spiritual treasure West, to America. There, with the birth
of the 20th century, Babaji’s revelation of kriya yoga, in
confluence with other powerful spiritual practices
transmitted by other Indian teachers, would introduce a new
impulse, a new orientation, that would transform the
spiritual lives of millions.

In the past 129 years, many hands
have planted and tended the tree of yoga in America. Today
in 1990, as thousands of Americans of all ages – not
renunciates, but householders with jobs – practice their
asanas and pranayama each day and fold their legs for
meditation, the tree of yoga is clearly flourishing in new
soil. America, after all, though one of the world’s most
materialistic countries, is also one of the most pragmatic.
Yoga has burgeoned here because it works: It brings health,
changes lives, even spiritualizes and liberates, depending
on one’s level of engagement.

But as we settle down to practice,
we can’t help but wonder, How did yoga ever come to this
pluralistic, Christian country? The history of the yoga
transmission from India to America reveals a continuous
series of waves of influence, beginning in 1893. Each decade
has brought another lineage of teachers, a new set of
practices, another deepening of the yogic impulse – a
multiplicity of practical ways to adapt and individualize
this ancient Indian spiritual science to an ultra
contemporary, secular America.

So Lahiri Mahasaya went back home to
Benares, glorious as a rose of heaven, and quietly started a
spiritual renaissance, according to Paramahansa Yogananda in
Autobiography of a Yogi. Lahiri instructed students in kriya
until his death in 1895, advising them that the image of the
wandering ascetic was no longer appropriate. Instead, he
told them, the yogis of the new age

should earn their own living, not be
dependent on a hard pressed society for their support, and
practice yoga in the privacy of their homes. Surely he had
America in mind.

 

EMERSON, THOREAU, AND THE
TRANSCENDENTALISTS

Strictly speaking, the Eastern
impulse arrived first by hearsay, through a handful of
Indian sacred texts that made their way to an intellectual
enclave in Concord, Massachusetts. There, beginning in 1841,
such luminaries as Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau,
and Bronson Alcott read, talked about, and wrote about the
Bhagavad Gita. Although they may at times have mistaken the
Gita’s religion – Emerson called it that “much renowned book
of Buddhism” – they seem to have understood its
spirit.

The contemplative Thoreau studied
the Gita every morning at his Walden hermitage. “The pure
Walden water is mingled with the sacred water of the
Ganges,” he wrote. In 1849 he boasted to a friend: “Depend
on it that, rude and careless as I am, I would fain practice
the yoga faithfully. To some extent, and at rare intervals,
even I am a yogi.” Most probably Thoreau’s Headstands were
strictly mental, but the Oriental impulse was registered in
Concord and to a large extent disseminated throughout
intellectual circles in America like a tiny spring flower
poking through the thinning snow.

In 1878 William Henry Charming,
another member of the Concord circle, persuaded Bronson
Alcott, director of the Concord Summer School of Philosophy,
to get his son-in-law’s new book published. This was The
Light in Asia by Edwin Arnold, a Victorian-flavored
biography of Gautama Buddha, which would soon go through 80
editions and sell half a million copies.

The next step in preparing the
American soil for yoga came in September 1875 with the
founding in New York City of the Theosophical Society.
Helene Blavatsky, a free-wheeling, cigar smoking Russian
emigre and occultist, and Colonel Henry Steel Olcott, a
prominent New York lawyer, founded the society to promote
Eastern esotericism in the West, allegedly under the direct
guidance of Indian adepts. Blavatsky published two massive
tomes – Isis Unveiled in 1877, The Secret Doctrine in 1888 –
which put secret teachings from the Vedas and Puranas into
the hands of American readers. By 1891 the Society had 54
U.S. branches, and the whole operation was being directed
from India.

 

(Also see: Women
in Yoga – A short history below
)

 

SWAMI VIVEKANANDA,
1893

It would take the physical presence
of an Indian teacher, ‘ however, to shift the involvement
with Eastern spirituality from something intellectual to
something practical and daily. This occurred in September
1893 with the arrival in Chicago of Swami Vivekananda
(1863-1902), all of 30, whose speech to the World Parliament
of Religions ignited the largely American audience. He was
kept busy for the next two years lecturing and teaching raja
yoga in Detroit, Chicago, Boston, and New York.

Vivekananda was India’s ideal
ambassador, observed Christopher Isherwood, British
playwright/agnostic and a supporter of the Ramakrishna Order
in 1940s America. “There was much in his nature which was
akin to the American spirit,” said Isherwood. Vivekananda
was college educated, a skeptic, yet deeply spiritual. His
teacher had been Ramakrishna (1836-1886) of Dakshineswar
(outside Calcutta), acknowledged throughout India as a saint
of celestial
proportions. Just
before he died, Ramakrishna empowered his young disciple “to
do great things in the world. Very soon he’s going to shake
the world with his intellect and his spiritual
power.”

At the end of a three-year
pilgrimage through India, Vivekananda paused at Cape Comorin
in the south and had a vision of a fruitful exchange of
values between a religious India and a materialistic West.
“In America is the place, the people, the opportunity for
everything new,” he noted. “The Americans are quick, but
they are somewhat like a straw on fire, ready to be
extinguished.”

The Vedanta fires lit by the swamis
of the Ramakrishna Order in America burned brightly for
several decades, mostly on the two coasts. Vivekananda made
a second tour of America in 1899, founded the New York
Vedanta Society (still open), and gave group instruction in
raja yoga. Four of his colleagues, who were direct disciples
of Ramakrishna, arrived at the turn of the century. They
would open two ashrams near Los Angeles, Shanti (1902) and
Ananda (1923), and America’s first Hindu Vedanta temple, in
San Francisco (1906). One hundred years later, the Vedanta
spark thrives in America, with 17 centers throughout the
country and a publishing house in Hollywood,
California.

Hatha was “probably” not part of the
formal practices taught by the Ramakrishna swamis,
speculates Bob Adjemian, Vedanta Press publisher. “Privately
they were given little exercises like a certain posture for
stopping a cold.” Vedanta emphasizes the intellectual
(jnana), meditative (raja), service (karma), and devotional
(bhakti) elements, says Adjemian. “But certainly individuals
practice the asanas for health purposes. In India hatha was
more like physical education is here, not so
special.”

Yet hatha continues to flourish, if
modestly, within the Vedanta movement. Although not formally
in the American Vedanta fold, the N.U. Yoga Center of
Chicago, organized in 1972, is based on the teachings of
Swami Narayananda (1902-1988), a disciple of Swami
Shivananda (not to be confused with Swami Sivananda of
Rishikesh), one of the dozen original students of
Ramakrishna.

 

EARLY 20TH-CENTURY
PIONEERS

The early missionary work of the
pure Vedanta stream of the Ramakrishna Order prepared the
ground in America. The seed of yoga had been planted.
Meanwhile, other important contributory factors from the
Orient were at work.

The California Gold Rush of 1848
brought 63,000 Chinese to California by 1870, and by 1900
there were 400 Chinese temples on the West Coast. The first
Zen master ever to visit America, a Japanese named Soyen
Shaku Roshi, spoke at Chicago’s World Parliament in 1893,
and his student, Nyogen Sensaki, opened the country’s first
Zen center in 1926 in San Francisco. Thus, while the Hindu
tree of yoga was sprouting in America, a parallel,
century-long transmission of Buddhism
was
also under way. And a few daring Americans followed the
example of Blavatsky and Olcott and headed East in the early
1900s for some serious sadhana.

A stressed-out lawyer named William
Warren Atkinson went to India in the early decades of the
20th century, studied with a guru named Baba Bharati, then
returned as Swami Brahmacharaka. He published about 20 books
and taught a modified hatha yoga system. Another American,
renamed Pandit Acharya, abandoned a career as a New York
playwright, somehow took initiation in yoga, lectured,
wrote, and founded the Yoga Research Institute in Nyack, New
York, in the 1920s. And on the West Coast, a yoga ashram was
established in southern California’s San Marcos Pass by
Rishi Singh Grewal, an Indian, whose numerous books on yoga
and kundalini were published by the J. F. Rowney
Press.

But the early history of how yoga
came to America would have remained veiled in obscurity had
not comparative American religions scholar Jay Gordon Melton
drawn on the resources of his 30,000-volume library
(including 5,000 books he inherited from the now-defunct
Rowney Press) and an unflagging curiosity to put the story
together. Among 15 books written by Melton, who since 1969
has directed the Institute for the Study of American
Religions in Santa Barbara, California, is the Encyclopedia
of the New Age (Gale Research, 1990). The “History of Hatha
Yoga” entry alone is based on more than 100 yogi biographies
and practice books.

“Hatha yoga in India had fallen by
the wayside in the 19th century,” explains Melton. “But by
the beginning of the 20th century and peaking in the first
two decades, a revival had begun. It was part of the overall
Hindu revival centered in Calcutta, which had been
stimulated by the continual pressure of British thought and
culture.” At that time a very well-preserved Paramahansa
Madhavadasaji (1798-1921) organized a small circle of hatha
practitioners in Bombay to reformulate the ancient yogic
practices around more modern, scientific
principles.

“What made them different,” says
Melton, “was they tried to be scientific. They taught and
sold hatha on its benefits to the body, rather than through
its religious trappings.” Madhavadasaji’s remarkable
longevity itself would surely have been a good marketing
point. He was born in East Bengal into a family devoted to
Vaishnaivism (Vishnu worship), was a disciple of Sri
Gauranga Mahaprabhuji, and was versed in English.

 

T.K.V. Desikachar (left), whose
Viniyoga emphasizes yoga therapy and

individual instruction, studied
for many years with his father, Sanskrit

scholar and yoga master Sri
Krishnamacharya (right).

 

Madhavadasaji had three principal
disciples. The first was Sri Gopaldas, who was held in high
esteem in India. The second, Swami Kuvalayananda
(1883-1966), met Madhavadasaji in 1918 and trained with him
until the great teacher’s mahasamadhi (death) in 1921. In
1921 Kuvalayananda founded the Kaivalyadhama Ashram and
Research Institute and YogaMimamsa, its technical journal,
at Lonavla, near Pune.

Kuvalayananda is regarded as one of
India’s pioneers in physical education. By 1937, working
through his numerous governmental administrative positions,
he had developed an integrated program of scientific yoga
and physical education. He conducted some 84 scientific
experiments of yogic practices (such as the effects of
pranayama on cardiorespiratory function and muscle tone),
and he wrote several practice texts. In 1932 Yale University
dispatched K. T. Behanan to train in yoga under
Kuvalayananda, and some of his firsthand information made
its way back to America’s academic cloisters via his book
Yoga: A Scientific Evaluation.

It was Madhavadasaji’s third
student, Yogendra Mastamani, 22, who would bring the fruits
of Kaivalyadhama’s scientific yoga to America. In 1919 he
landed in Long Island, where he would remain until 1922,
establishing the first American branch of Kaivalyadhama.
“Yogendra moved among the medical community, particularly
the alternative physicians, teaching hatha yoga,” comments
Jay Gordon Melton. “He introduced hatha as a discipline to
northeastern America.”

During that period, in New York
City, Yogendra met Benedict Lust, the founder of
naturopathy. This was a watershed meeting because in the
next decades hatha yoga would be introduced to America
largely as an adjunct to the multiplicity of alternative
healing techniques advocated by naturopaths.

In 1922 Yogendra returned to India,
planning to revisit America. But in 1924 the U.S.
restructured its immigration laws, setting a quota of only
200 Indian immigrations per year. Yogendra couldn’t return.
“So what little hatha yoga there was then, grew out of the
people Yogendra had influenced,” explains Melton.

One of these was Pierre Bernard, who
began teaching tantric and hatha yoga to the “rich and
famous” of Long Island. He was also associated with the yoga
group upstate at Nyack. Theos Bernard, his nephew, studied
with Pierre, then journeyed to Bombay in the 1930s to study
directly with Yogendra. In the late 1930s Theos Bernard
returned to America, took a master’s degree at Columbia
University in Eastern studies, and in 1947 published Hatha
Yoga: The Report of a Personal Experience, which described
yoga’s eightfold path and explained its asanas. “It became a
major hatha sourcebook [in the 1950s],” says
Melton.

The Madhavadasaji lineage returned
to America in 1971 when Vijayendra Pratap, a student of
Kuvalayananda, a researcher at Kaivalyadhama, and a
Yoga-Mimamsa managing editor, accepted an invitation by yoga
teachers to teach in New Jersey. In 1972 he established SKY
Foundation in Philadelphia to propagate “classical yoga” –
postures, breathing, relaxation, concentration, and
meditation. Today about 300 students train every week at SKY
yoga classes, and since 1973 the foundation has cohosted an
annual conference (with the Yoga Research Society) on
contemporary themes of yoga and world health, science,
fitness, stress management, and parapsychology.

Pratap’s hatha style involves a
gradual progression of asana, pranayama, mudra, then sound.
“We base our practices on less energy expenditure, lower
metabolic rates. We go slowly. We choose only certain
practices – some postures, kriyas, bandhas, breathing, and
meditation. The process of going into the posture is slow.
You stay there a while, then come out slowly. The breathing
in the posture is as natural as possible.” After the asana
is mastered, breathing techniques are taught, then posture
and pranayama are combined in “a complete body mudra,” says
Pratap, followed by work -with chanting and “searching for
the inner sound.” The SKY style is “strictly
nondenominational, suitable for all ages and backgrounds,
with the only requirement a personal commitment to
self-improvement.”

 

It might surprise many people to learn that
yoga has a long history in the United States. For a
lot of Americans, their knowledge of yoga may only
date back to the 1960s, when the concepts of
spiritualism and meditation were embraced by the
country’s counterculture.

But it may surprise some people to learn that
yoga in the U.S. has a history that dates back to
the late 1800s.

In 1883, Swami Vivekananda made an appearance
at the World Parliament of Religions in Chicago
where he greeted his “sisters and brothers of
America”, a salutation that brought a standing
ovation from the large audience in attendance. His
idea that all of the religions of the world are
merely separate parts of a larger religion was a
new concept to those hearing him speak about the
mind, body and spirit.

Swami Vivekananda was followed by Yogendra
Mastamani, also from India, who arrived in the U.S.
and settled on Long Island, N.Y. in 1919 and
established the American version of Kaivalyadhama,
an Indian organization that made major strides in
the scientific exploration of yoga. Mastamani
introduced Hatha Yoga to the United States.

One year later, one of the most popular yogis
of all time, Paramahansa Yogananda, arrived in
Boston to introduce kriya yoga to the U.S. He
created the Self-Realization Fellowship, which now
has its headquarters in Los Angeles. Yogananda also
wrote the world-famous best seller, “Autobiography
of a Yogi”, a book that is still an inspirational
resource for many yoga instructors and
students.

In the 1930s, Jiddu Krishnamurti brought the
yogi to new level of awareness in the U.S. thanks
to this popular, eloquent speeches on Jnana-Yoga
yoga, which is the yoga of discernment. His talks
earned him the admiration of a number of
celebrities of the time, such as writers Aldous
Huxley and George Bernard Shaw and actors Charlie
Chaplin and Greta Garbo.

In 1924, the U.S. imposed a restriction on
the number of Indians it would allow to move to the
U.S., meaning students who sought the teachings of
yogis had to travel to India. One of these students
was Theos Bernard, who traveled to India and came
back in 1947 to write the book “Hatha Yoga: The
Report of a Personal Experience”, an influential
book which is still widely today.

The same year that Bernard penned his
examination of Hatha Yoga, Russian-born yogi Indra
Devi opened one of the first Hatha Yoga studios in
Hollywood and earned the title “First Lady of
Yoga”. Devi was admired by housewives across
the U.S., as well as Hollywood stars such as Gloria
Swanson, Jennifer Jones and Robert Ryan. Devi died
in her home in Buenos Ares in 2002.

But the man who is generally credited with
introducing yoga to middle America is not even a
native of India. Richard Hittleman, who studied in
India for a number of years and returned to the
States in 1950 to become a yoga instructor in New
York, introduced a non-spiritual-based yoga to the
United States and forever changed the way yoga was
thought of and taught in America. It was Hittleman
who placed emphasis on the physical side of yoga,
letting a Western audience focus on the bodily
aspects of yoga and not just the mind. Hittleman’s
goal was to teach American students to gradually
embrace the spiritual side of yoga, which many
people have.

As Hittleman worked to expand yoga on the
East, Walt and Magana Baptiste were working to
increase yoga’s scope on the West Coast when they
open a studio in San Francisco in the 1950s. Both
of the Baptistes were students of Yogananda and
Walt brought the influence of Vivekananda to the
practice, creating an entirely new approach to
yoga. Their yoga influence is being continued by
their daughter and son, Sherri and Baron.

Elsewhere in San Francisco, Swami
Vishu-devananda immigrated from India in 1958 and
created “The Complete Illustrated Book of Yoga”
with famed artist and designer Peter Max. The book
has become a go-to manual for yoga instructors and
students. Vishu-devananga would later go on to
create the Sivananda Yoga Vedanta yoga centers,
which has become one of most prominent yoga school
franchises in the entire world.

When the counterculture began to take hold in
the 1960s, the idea of yoga and its emotional
effects caught the interest of many people, and one
of the most famous groups to explore the meditative
possibilities of yoga were The Beatles, whose
relationship with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi was
famous around the world. He created the
Transcendental Meditation school of yoga that today
employs more than 40,000 instructors and
approximately 4 million followers
worldwide.

In the late ’60s, Professor Richard Albert of
Harvard took a journey into India and came back
with the name Ram Dass and gave talks to college
students around the nation in support of his
blockbuster book “Be Here Now”, which set thousands
of young people on a journey of discovery through
yoga. The book continues to be source of
inspiration for many people in their quest for
spirituality through yoga.

In the 1970s, yoga continued to grow as
studios began popping up all over the nation. The
Mount Madonna yoga school, founded by Baba Hari
Dass, gave residential yoga to the inhabitants of
Santa Cruz, California. Shrila Prabhubada began the
International Society for Krishna Consciousness,
which led to the international spiritual study of
Bhakti Yoga. Ashtanga-vinyasa Yoga was brought to
the U.S. by Pattabhi Jois in the mid ’70s and made
yoga popular with new groups of people. Swami
Satchitananda was probably the most famous
non-musician to appear at Woodstock. Swami
Sivananda Radha is the female yogi credited with
first investigating the link between the
spirituality and psychology of yoga. And the
teachings of Swamii Chidananda, who himself was a
student of yoga master Swami Sivananda, were
delivered to the world by one of his former
students, instructor Liliias Folan through her
landmark PBS television series “Lilias, Yoga and
You” which aired on the network from 1970 to 1979
and made yoga available in every home in the
U.S.

Yoga has continued its influence across
America with classes and studios in cities all
over, from the smallest town to the major metro
areas. In addition, the advent of digital media,
including CDs, DVDs and streaming Internet video,
yoga can go anywhere, further giving it a foothold
in the United States.

By: Linda Adams

 

Article Directory:
http://www.articledashboard.com

 

PARAMAHANSA YOGANANDA,
1920

The next stage in the transmission
of kriya yoga from Babaji through Lahiri Mahasaya to the
West came in January 1894 in Allahabad, during the Kumbha
Mela, India’s great religious festival. There Sri Yukteswar
(1855-1936), Lahiri’s disciple, encountered the elusive
Babaji. “Some years hence I shall send you a disciple whom
you can train for yoga dissemination to the West,” Babaji
told him. “The vibrations there of many spiritually seeking
souls come floodlike to me. I perceive potential saints in
America and Europe, waiting to be awakened.”

That disciple was Paramahansa
Yogananda (1893-1952). In October 1920 Yogananda began to
fulfill Babaji’s prophecy when he was invited to address the
International Congress of Religious Liberals in Boston,
Massachusetts. His speech on “The Science of Religion” was
well received and widely reprinted, and he spent the next
three years in Boston. In 1924 Yogananda began a national
tour, calling in at all major American cities, and in 1925
he founded the Self-Realization Fellowship (SRF) in Los
Angeles. “During the decade of 1920-1930 my yoga classes
were attended by tens of thousands of Americans,” he wrote.
A nonplussed Los Angeles Times called him “a Hindu invading
the United States to bring God in the midst of a Christian
community.”

That Hindu invasion has survived
well on American soil. Today SRF has about 800,000 members
worldwide, some 300 ordained nuns and monks, 250 affiliate
U.S. groups, and nine temples in California and Arizona.
Kriya yoga, explains SRF’s Bruce Mars, is “an advanced raja
yoga technique that reinforces and revitalizes subtle
currents of life energy in the body. As a result,
consciousness is drawn to higher levels of perception,
gradually bringing about an inner awakening.” Kriya yoga is
an instrument through which human evolution can be
quickened, explained Yukteswar. A half-minute of kriya
equals one year of natural spiritual unfoldment.

“Hatha has a presence in the SRF
kriya practices,” says Mars, but not a big one. “Our members
mostly do hatha practice on their own to strengthen the body
for meditation. We offer hatha classes in five of our
temples. When Yogananda came in 1920 he taught hatha
minimally as a great energizer for the body.”

 

ANANDA WORLD
BROTHERHOOD

Hatha practice gained much greater
prominence in the H kriya system through the efforts of one
of Yogananda’s American disciples, Swami Kriyananda. James
Donald Walters (b. 1926) became a direct disciple in 1948
and often publicly demonstrated Yogananda’s approach to yoga
postures. He became a swami in 1955, ascended to the SRF
vice presidency
in 1960, then
left the organization two years later over doctrinal
disputes. Kriyananda founded Ananda World Brotherhood
Village in 1968, a 700-acre residential community near
Nevada City, California, where he formulated his hatha
approach into a system called Yoga Postures for Higher
Awareness.

“Each pose is an expression of a
particular, spiritually helpful and uplifting state of
consciousness,” explains Kriyananda. Yoga’s true purpose is
not only “greater flexibility, radiant health, and other
physical benefits, but heightened self-awareness – an
invaluable preparation for meditation.” The practitioner
should never strain into a posture, but seek “progressively
deeper relaxation.” A distinctive feature of Kriyananda’s
hatha is the recitation of an affirmation in each asana. In
Matsyasana one says, “My soul floats on waves of cosmic
light.” In Bhujangasana, “I rise determinedly to meet all
obstacles.” The yoga postures, says Kriyananda, “are not
only a series of physical positions, but exercises in mental
awareness.” Following Yogananda, Kriyananda also emphasizes
a series of energizing exercises (vigorous “double
breathing”) and the importance of energy (prana) control in
spiritual development.

Ananda has been offering a yoga
teacher’s training certification program for over a decade,
explains program administrator Valerie O’Hara. “Hatha for us
is the physical branch of raja yoga,” says O’Hara, “and is
practiced here as a preparation for meditation – to release
physical and emotional tensions so that one can go more
deeply into meditation. Students practice postures with an
inward focus, a concentration on the breath, and an
awareness of releasing energy blocks. Yoga postures are a
tool for the expansion of self-awareness into Selfawareness
gained by exploration, observation, and experience of the
present moment.”

 

(see: Women
in Yoga – A short history below
)

 

Berlin-born Canadian Swami
Sivananda Radha (Sylvia Hellman), a concert dancer by
training, gesticulates at the feet of her guru,
Swami
Sivananda
Saraswati, in the 1950’s

 

 

The Yogananda impulse eventually
took different forms in a few other corners of America as
well. In 1953 Kriyanandaji, another direct American
disciple, began teaching kriya yoga, and by 1983 his Temple
of Kriya Yoga in Chicago was offering instruction for
students outside his inner circle. Roy Eugene Davis,
ordained by Yogananda in 1951 and a kriya teacher since
1954, founded the Center for Spiritual Awareness in
Lakemont, Georgia. Davis has written or published some 20
books and is still very active leading retreats and
seminars.

 

BISHNU CHARAN GHOSH,
1938

In his autobiography Yogananda is
laconic about his childhood. He had four sisters and three
brothers, the youngest being Bishnu Charan Ghosh
(1903-1970). After Yogananda founded his Yogoda-Satsanga, a
kriya initiation and practice school in Ranchi, India, Ghosh
joined the faculty. Later he founded his own College of
Physical Culture in Calcutta, which had an enrollment of
6,000 students and gained him an international reputation.
In 1938, accompanied by his best student, Buddhabose, Ghosh
headed west and for the next two decades traveled
continually through Europe and America. He lectured on yoga,
bodybuilding, weight lifting, and all aspects of physical
culture and gave public performances of his own considerable
prowess, strength, and muscular control. Columbia University
professors were “amazed by demonstrations of the power of
the mind over the body,” reported Yogananda.

Ghosh’s primary U.S. disciple is
Bikram Choudhury (b. 1945), who declares with evident pride,
“My guru was the highest authority on physical culture in
America.” Dubbed the “Siddhartha of Hollywood” and the “Yogi
Star of Beverly Hills,” Choudhury came to Los Angeles from
Calcutta in 1970, after directing yoga schools in Germany
and Japan since 1963, and immediately opened the first of
many branches of his Yoga College of India.

In the past 20 years, the energetic
Choudhury has opened an estimated 150 branch centers in 50
countries, and he claims his college has instructed three
million students. It’s remotely possible. His Hollywood
center alone has received 50,000 admissions since opening,
and his current personal teaching load is 36 hours a week
with large classes.

When Choudhury left India, Ghosh’s
burgeoning center had a staff of 500 instructors. Ghosh
individually prescribed asana sets for students, then the
instructors showed them how to do the postures. “This is how
yoga is practiced throughout India,” says Choudhury. “It’s
individualized.” Lacking Ghosh’s prodigious staff, the
inventive disciple reasoned that the American body is pretty
much “a Xerox copy” throughout the culture. “Everybody’s
joints are stiff, the spine is terrible, nobody can do
backbends. Everybody’s shoulders are frozen like concrete.
They all have a rabbit posture.”

So Choudhury choreographed a
26-asana sequence with which a student can reach “100
percent of a pure, internal body.” He claims that it’s very
important to perform the 26 postures in his prescribed
order. “Now in one class I can teach 50 students who have
the same average physical problems with just these 26
postures.”

Choudhury’s asana sequence is really
preventive medicine, he suggests. “It’s a vaccination for
the average healthy person and an antibiotic for the
patient. All people must have a healthy body first, then a
healthy mind, always under their control. This is yoga for
the householder. You don’t have to give up
everything.”

 

Swami Satchidananda came to the
United States for “two days” in 1966

and ended up staying
permanently. His Integral Yoga Institute includes
an
ashram in rural
Virginia and over 40 branch centers
worldwide.

 

SRI
KRISHNAMACHARYA

Sri Tirumalai Krishnamacharya
(1891-1989) was the wellspring of several major currents of
American hatha yoga. His lineage was brought here by four of
his principal students: Indra Devi (1947); his
brother-in-law, B.K.S. Iyengar (1973); Pattabhi Jois (1975);
and his son, T.K.V. Desikachar (1976).

Krishnamacharya began his yoga
studies at age five under his father’s tutelage. Then as a
grown man, he received the Indian equivalent of a Ph.D. in
Sanskrit, Indian philosophy, ayurveda, and Vedic religion.
In 1919 he traveled to the vicinity of Mount Kailash in
Tibet, where he remained for seven and a half years studying
with Rama Mohana Brahmacari. “My father was instructed in
the use of asana and pranayama for people with sickness by
this great yogi,” recounts Desikachar. Here Krishnamacharya
also learned the vinyasas, the flowing sequences of
movements and jumping-through style of yoga
practice.

His austere Tibetan apprenticeship
was immediately acknowledged and put to public use. In 1930
the Maharaja of Mysore, a learned Indian prince, appointed
Krishnamacharya as his personal yoga teacher and in 1934
asked him to preside over his yogashala (yoga academy) at
the royal palace, a position that lasted until 1950. In this
capacity, Krishnamacharya gained a wide reputation as a yoga
therapist who could help people with a range of physical
problems – asthma, deafness, liver and heart complaints,
even paralysis. He stressed that asanas must be individually
adapted to students and that the programs must always be
open to modification. Krishnamacharya also pioneered the use
of various yoga props, such as chairs, stools, and bars, to
help students prepare for the more stressful asanas. In the
1950s he moved to Madras and took on students, then in 1976
he founded the Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram, a
state-certified yoga health care center with 20 teachers. By
1988 the center had taught over 7,000 students.

Krishnamacharya’s spiritual lineage
goes back to the great 10th-century yogi Nathamuni, a
preceptor of Vaishnavism. Nathamuni is credited with
authoring two key texts – Yoga Rahasya (“Secret Doctrine of
Yoga”) and Nyaya Tattva, both of which Krishnamacharya
memorized. “I have been very fortunate,” says Desikachar,
“because my father was kind enough to explain four sections
of the Yoga Rahasya that he had learned by heart. Many of
the features of Krishnamacharya’s teaching seem to be rooted
in this text, for example, the use of breathing in
asana.”

Sometime during the period
1934-1950, while at the Maharaja’s yogashala in Mysore,
Krishnamacharya and his student Pattabhi Jois (b. 1915),
also a Sanskrit scholar, discovered an ancient manuscript in
a Calcutta library. It was printed on leaves, written in
rhyming, metered sutras, and called Yoga Korunta, with an
authorship attributed to a seer named Vamana Rishi. He
described a complete system of yoga – several hundred asanas
linked by flowing-through movements, or vinyasas, and done
with breathing and bandhas. Krishnamacharya incorporated the
Yoga Korunta into his own yoga methodology, and today the
teaching styles of Jois, in particular, and Desikachar, to a
lesser extent, include these techniques.

 

 

 

INDRA DEVI, 1947

The transmission of
Krishnamacharya’s yoga to the West began with Indra Devi,
popularly called the First Lady of Yoga in America. In 1947
she returned to Hollywood after studying with
Krishnamacharya and opened her own yoga studio. Her epic
biography reveals her immense contribution to the progress
of yoga worldwide.

Born in Russia in 1899, Devi went to
India in 1927 and in 1939 opened the first yoga school in
China, in Shanghai. She introduced yoga to the Kremlin in
1960 and to Bulgaria in 1979, founded the Yoga Teachers
Training Center in Tecate, Mexico, in 1961, and since 1982
has lavished her unflagging energies on Argentina, through
her Indra Devi Foundation in Buenos Aires.

Devi has also taught and influenced
a great many American yoga teachers. One of the best-known
is Renee Taylor, a Belgian emigre and Hollywood
scriptwriter, who taught with Devi in her Hollywood studio
beginning in 1953. In the 1960s Taylor gained international
fame for her books and films on the Hunzas, the long-lived,
peaceful people of the Himalayas. Since 1964 she has
maintained her Redondo Beach, California, yoga studio,
where, with her staff and 20 branch centers, she teaches 600
students weekly.

The Indra Devi influence also made
its way to Fresno, California, where Yogi Shalom (Charles
Schoelen) has been teaching the Yoga of the Old Masters
since 1964. According to Shalom, his method harkens back to
the original purpose for doing postures: to slow down the
brain pulse in preparation for the deeper aspects of yoga.
Shalom studied yoga breathing with Selvarajan Yesudian (b.
1916), an Indian yogi based in Switzerland, then took asana
instruction from Devi in 1964. In 1968 he opened the Yoga
Center of Fresno, introducing his system of 80 postures in a
sixpart yoga session.

 

B.K.S. IYENGAR,
1973

Probably the name most often
associated with yoga in America today is Iyengar. B.K.S.
Iyengar (b. 1918) studied with Krishnamacharya for several
years in the 1930s, but his yoga career spans more than 50
years and many countries. He gained world prominence in 1954
when he left his native Pune, India, with one of his
promising Western students, a violinist named Yehudi
Menuhin, who brought him to teach in Switzerland. In the
1960s Iyengar trained Western students at European
workshops; in 1964 his widely read Light on Yoga appeared,
followed by Light on Pranayama – “a precious gem in the
firmament of yoga,” declared Krishnamacharya – and his
stature was secured. In 1973 Iyengar visited America (Ann
Arbor, Michigan) for the first time, then in 1974 he came to
California, and the American love affair with “the lion of
Pune” began.

As with any movement, Iyengar had
his early key supporters. One was Rama Vernon, who in 1974
became a lynchpin in the Iyengar transmission to America.
With her San Francisco colleagues, Vernon laid the
foundation for what would soon become the Iyengar Yoga
Institute, the epicenter of one of the country’s largest, or
at least most visible, yoga organizations. Today there are
100 U.S. Iyengar centers, 25 Canadian, and a “minimum” of
500 U.S. Iyengar teachers (100 in Canada), estimates
Patricia Layton, Iyengar Institute director. Some 500
students a week take classes at the San Francisco studio
alone, “the hub of Iyengar yoga in the U.S.” The 1990
Iyengar convention in San Diego (the third in North America;
the first, in San Francisco in 1984, drew delegates from 17
countries) will have to set a lid on attendance at
750.

“I think Iyengar is the most visible
yoga system today mainly because the teachers are
extroverted, energetic people,” explains Layton. “They’re
tied into using the body as a vehicle, working on the
here-and-now plane. We’ve offered yoga more as a
psychophysical discipline. Our idea is that life and yoga
are one and that the purpose of yoga is to put you into
contact with the most concrete things in life, to expand
your awareness in this reality. So when we work with the
body, it’s something concrete that everybody can relate to.
This makes Iyengar yoga more accessible. Although the style
is yang and tends to attract more males than other yoga
systems, we still have six women for every man in
class.”

The Iyengar style, generally
speaking, emphasizes the development of stamina, strength,
flexibility, balance, and concentration. A variety of props
– benches, ropes, pelvic swings, sandbags, mats, blocks,
chairs – are a mainstay of the practice. Precision in the
execution of postures and meticulous anatomical alignment
are particularly important, and here the physical
ministrations of the instructor are often experienced.
Iyengar has a reputation for skillfully `jumping” on
students whose bodies haven’t achieved the maximum
expression of asanas. The postural precision helps students
dissolve “stubborn musculoskeletal blocks,” explains
Layton.

Many well-known American yoga
teachers have come out of the Iyengar camp: Arthur
Kilmurray, Judith Lasater, Donald Mover, and Ramanand Patel
in California, John Schumacher in Maryland, Mary Dunn in New
York, and Karin Stephan and Patricia Walden in
Massachusetts, among numerous others.

 

PATTABHI JOTS,
1975

Meanwhile, back in Mysore, Pattabhi
Jois took up the development and mastery of the Yoga Korunta
system. He formulated it into a set of 240 postures in six
successive series and called the whole business Ashtanga
Yoga. Jois had been head of the yoga philosophy department
at the Sanskrit College of Mysore for 36 years, but after he
“retired,” he continued teaching yoga classes six days a
week (first class, 4:30 a.m.) at his yogashala, the Ashtanga
Yoga Research Institute. This center is also a highly
regarded ayurvedic healing clinic. Then in October 1975 Jois
and his son Manju, a teacher, made their first tour of
America. Since then he’s been back six times, focusing on
teaching students in Colorado, Hawaii, and California. Manju
never left America and maintains a small teaching practice
near San Diego.

In Jois’s Ashtanga, the six series
of asanas are mastered sequentially. The primary series is
called yoga chikitsa (therapy) with 75 postures; next comes
the intermediate set, nadi shodana (nerve purification);
then stira bhaga, which cultivates strength but requires
great endurance. Very few of Jois’s Western students have
mastered even the intermediate series, however. If there is
an essential kernel to Jois’s Ashtanga, surely it’s this
command from Yoga Korunta: “0 yogi, don’t do asanas without
vinyasa.”

Vinyasa are flowing physical
movements, “jump-through”
connecting
exercises that link every asana. The vinyasa most resemble
an abbreviated Sun Salutation, which makes the 75posture set
very demanding. Each movement is coordinated with ujjaya
breathing, a special, forceful, throaty exhalation. Students
lock their perineal and abdominal muscles (bandhas) in each
posture to move vital energy upward in the body. The locks
tone the body, control the breath, and direct prana, and it
is imperative to “keep the heat up.”

The Jois Ashtanga system works when
the body is hot and sweaty from the unceasing vinyasa
movements. There is no pause in a typical 90-minute class
because the overriding intention is to purify the body
through heat. “Practice is most valuable when one maintains
a continued progression of asanas,” says Jois, “so that the
body rises to a crescendo of heat, then gradually cools
down. Ashtanga Yoga is 99 percent practice, one percent
theory. At times the practice can be painful, but it is very
sweet pain. You will create the compact, strong, light body
of a lion.”

Jois’s energetic yoga is only
beginning to take root in America. Possibly this is because
it takes “about a decade” to master, as some practitioners
have wearily observed. In the early 1970s three Americans –
Norman Allen, Clifford Sweet, and David Williams – took the
full Jois teachings in India and, while they may have
developed the bodies of lions, they aren’t teaching today.
About a dozen Jois teachers are presently available in the
U.S., including Beryl Bender and Tom Birch in New York, Brad
and Linda Ramsay in Hawaii, and Jane MacMullen in San
Francisco.

 

T.K.V. DESIKACHAR,
1976

The Krishnamacharya lineage sent
another major taproot
into
American soil beginning in 1976 through the Viniyoga
tradition of T.K.V. Desikachar (b. 1938). From 1961 until
Krishnamacharya’s death in 1989, Desikachar worked with his
father at the Yoga Mandiram in Madras. However, he didn’t
start out as a yoga aficionado.

In his youth, Desikachar apparently
found hatha yoga so “boring” he once climbed a coconut tree
to avoid practicing. He took a degree in structural
engineering in 1960, then a job with a Danish engineering
firm, but five years into his career his father asked him to
teach yoga to the renowned philosopher J. Krishnamurti. By
this time the formerly bored Desikachar had become an
engaged yoga teacher. He traveled with Krishnamurti to his
centers in Switzerland and England in 1966-1969, then in
January 1976 he gave his first American yoga course at
Colgate University in Hamilton, New York. Since 1986
Desikachar has made annual summer teaching visits to the
U.S.

In a sense Desikachar never gave up
his engineering background, explains longtime student Martin
Pierce of Atlanta. “Partly because of his training as a
structural engineer, Desikachar has a unique gift for
looking at students’ bodies and seeing exactly what their
problems are and what the exercises are doing for them. He
sees bodies in terms of stress, leverage, torque, and
fulcrum.” Or, as Desikachar puts it, “Yoga is basically a
program for the spine at every level – physical,
respiratory, mental, and spiritual.”

Like his father, Desikachar
emphasizes the one-to-one interaction between teacher and
student, and the individualization of technique, explains
U.S. disciple Richard Miller, a founding member of Viniyoga
America. “Viniyoga is the adaptation of yoga techniques such
as asana, pranayama, textual study, meditation, counseling,
imagery, prayer, chanting, and ritual to meet the needs of
the individual.” Conscious breathing is precisely integrated
into asana practice so that “extension occurs within the
spine with each breath.” This sense of extension and
adaptability to circumstance and student lies at the heart
of Viniyoga and was reiterated in his July 1989 U.S.
program, “Yoga and the Dynamics of Change.”

The silent master Baba Hari Dass,
pictured here with children from the orphanage he founded in
India, teaches a traditional version of eightlimbed
(ashtanga) yoga at his Mount Madonna Center in
California.

 

The continual adaption of asanas to
the unique requirements of students – health, age,
occupation, life-style, beliefs – is what Sonia Nelson,
president of Viniyoga America and a Desikachar student since
1975, finds “so very exciting. The applications always
follow the needs. Rather than imposing the form, in Viniyoga
the form follows from the particular use of the asana by the
student. The relationship of teacher to student, often in
private classes, is strongly emphasized. That’s what makes
the individual applications possible.”

Viniyoga America, with headquarters
in Ojai, California, has 125 active members and a board
composed of some of Desikachar’s core American students –
Yan Dhyanski, Gary Kraftsow, Larry Payne, Martin and
Margaret Pierce, Mary Louise Skelton.

 

SWAMI SIVANANDA
SARASWATI

In his influence on American yoga,
Swami Sivananda (1887-1963), the jagatguru of Rishikesh, is
unarguably a pillar of equal stature to Krishnamacharya.
Since 1954 the Sivananda wave has been cresting through
America, with Yogi Gupta, Swamis Chidananda,
Vishnudevananda, Satchidananda, Sivananda Radha,
Vignanananda, and several other key lineage
holders.

Sivananda was a spiritual polymath:
medical doctor, teacher, prolific author, guru,
indefatigable initiator of new projects. Born Kuppuswami
Iyer in Pattamadai, South India, he took a medical degree,
practiced in Malaysia, and from 1909 to 1913 published
Ambrosia, a medical journal. Kuppuswami’s parivrajaka (the
traditional period of ascetic wandering) took him to
Himalayan Rishikesh in 1924, where he received initiation
into the Sringeri line of Shankaracharya (one of Shankara’s
10 swami orders) from his guru, Swami Viswananda Saraswati.
In 1933 Sivananda founded his Swarg Ashram Sadhu Sanga, then
in 1939 his Divine Life Society, which in 1986 had 400
worldwide branches.

Sivananda’s zeal for initiating
projects continued in 1948 when he established the Yoga
Vedanta Forest Academy in Rishikesh, a formal yoga training
center on the edge of the sacred Ganges, whose “whole
object,” according to its founder, was to “make mankind
spiritually vibrant. It will be a center for the generation
of spiritual energy, whose currents are to reach kindred
souls all over the globe.”

Sivananda was an exacting but
benevolent taskmaster, as many of his older swamis now
teaching in North America (Satchidananda, Vishnudevananda)
will attest. “Yoga is a perfectly practical system of
self-culture,” said Sivananda. “You attain a harmonious
development of your body, mind, intellect, and soul by the
practice of yoga. It is an exact science. It imparts to
every practitioner definite practical knowledge of the means
to enjoy fine health, longevity, strength, vim, and
vitality. Yoga is the secret master-key that unlocks the
realm of Elysian bliss and deep abiding peace.”

Sivananda also made a statement,
possibly with America in mind, as he was about to dispatch
several of his disciples westward. “Hatha yoga is not the
goal. It is only a means to an end.

Take to raja yoga after possessing
good health.”

The Sivananda Forest Academy
currents began to waft to America in 1954. The first of his
graduates to arrive was Yogi Gupta, aka Swami Kailashananda
Jee Majaraj. Accepting an invitation to speak at a health
convention at Chicago’s Morrison Hotel in August 1954, he
left for the West as a Divine Life missionary with
Sivananda’s blessing. “Now the time has come for you to go
abroad and teach those in poor health and an unhappy state
of mind,” Sivananda told him.

Yogi Gupta debuted in America as a
practitioner of “authentic Raja yoga,” and his teaching was
received with “immense interest,” as he stated in Yoga and
Long Life (1958). This book, and its sequel, Yoga and Yogic
Powers, were among the primary hatha practice texts for the
late 1950s. Gupta went on to found the Yogi Gupta New York
Center and the Yoga Foundation of America.

The next representative of the
Sivananda lineage was Swami Chidananda, who undertook an
extensive North American tour in 1959 as part of a
three-year journey through Europe and the Americas on behalf
of the Divine Life Society, of which he was then general
secretary. While in Montreal, Chidananda called in at the
Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Society, directed by Sylvia Heck, 23,
and Sita Frenkel, 20. Both young women had recently returned
from solo trips to Rishikesh to study with
Sivananda.

“Sivananda was extremely kind in
taking care of me, like a father,” says Frenkel. “His
personality was unbelievable: joyous, forceful, powerful. He
took care of everybody.” After studying with Dr. Ramamurti
Mishra at his Ananda Ashram in Monroe, New York, Frenkel and
her husband, Hans, founded their own branch of the Divine
Life Society in Harriman, New York, in 1964. There they
received Chidananda on his subsequent American visits. In
the late 1970s the Frenkels moved to the Washington, D.C.,
area and founded their Yoga Sadhana Mandir. Recently Sita
Frenkel started a quarterly newsletter called Heart of
Sivananda.

The Chidananda impulse took a
different turn in the Pacific Northwest through Ralph and
Lois Mitchell, who founded their Academy of Yoga and
Psychical Research in Seattle in 1964 for “body, mind, and
soul integration through hatha, raja, tantra, ancient wisdom
teachings, ESP, and meditation.” In 1959 the Mitchells
received Chidananda in Seattle, and their infant
organization became a Divine Life Society branch.

Yogi Amrit Desai’s Kripalu Yoga is a
spontaneous flow of postures
directed
by the “innate intelligence of prana (energy or breath).”
Here
Yogi Desai himself
demonstrates his approach.

Certainly the most popular of
Chidananda’s American students is the effervescent Lilias
Folan, 54, the amiable yogini of PBS. Folan, married and the
mother of grown children, began her yoga studies in 1964
with J. B. Rishi in Chicago and Swami Vishnudevananda in
Montreal, then in 1973 she traveled to Rishikesh and studied
with Chidananda.

Folan’s first PBS-TV series, Lilias,
Yoga & You, was launched in 1970 through WCET TV in
Cincinnati, and by 1977 over 200 stations carried it. So
popular did it become that Time quipped, “Lilias promises to
become the Julia Child of yoga.” The original series ended
in 1979 after 500 installments, but in January 1989 Lilias
returned to PBS with a new offering, Lilias! Alive With
Yoga.

“Teaching on television is like
having a yoga class with thousands of students,” says Lilias
today. The core of her teaching, she says, whether on TV, in
books, or in workshops, is “service and universal love. I
have only the burning desire to communicate yoga. The outer
body before the TV is very tight. When people begin to move,
to breathe, to relax, there is a soft inner body that begins
to awaken. There is more in my new PBS series of tuning in
to a contented silence. It’s daring to be silent on
television. But a relaxed state is a humble, loving state,
releasing all our self-concepts.”

 

SWAMI VISHNUDEVANANDA,
1958

T he next Sivananda wave came in
1958 with the arrival in San Francisco of Swami
Vishnudevananda (b. 1927). Perhaps “tsunami” would be a
better way to describe it, because if nothing else – and he
is many things – Vishnudevananda is a fabulous yoga
businessman who has found alluring, innovative ways to
market the yoga experience – yoga camps, exotic vacations,
conferences, teacher training courses. Through these
programs, he has introduced many thousands of Westerners to
the fundamentally spiritual principles of the Divine Life
Society. “Swami Sivananda revolutionized yoga, both in the
East and West, in recent times,” says Vishnudevananda, but
the same can equally be said of him. “Swami Vishnu was a man
with a push,” says his colleague, Swami
Chidananda.

In 1946, after two years in the
Indian army, the young
Thankaswamy
arrived at Sivananda Ashram in Rishikesh. There he remained
for 10 years, training in all aspects of yoga. In 1949 he
became a swami, and in the 1950s he was the principal hatha
instructor at the Forest Academy, India’s only center for
formal, systematic yoga training. Everyone spoke English
because Sivananda knew that “English was going to be the
future world language in the coming century. One day in 1949
he said to me, `Swami, you go to the West.’ I protested, but
in December 1957 I did come.” After a brief residency in New
York City, Vishnudevananda established his headquarters in
Montreal, and in the past 23 years his Canadian organization
has mushroomed.

Founder of the Himalayan
Institute in Honesdale, PA, Swami Rama

teaches the philosophy and
practice of raja yoga. Instructors at the institute offer
hatha yoga as a preparation for meditation.

 

When Vishnudevananda discovered that
his Montreal students flocked 50 miles north in the
summertime to the cool Laurentian Mountains to escape the
urban heat, he followed them, founding his first Sivananda
Ashram Yoga Camp in Val Morin, Quebec, in 1961. Today the
350-acre facility offers hatha classes, meditation,
vegetarian meals, mantra chanting, a swimming pool, a sauna,
picnics, nature walks, sophisticated conferences. It’s “a
place to relax, renew, contemplate, and tune in to the
stillness within.” By 1977 Vishnudevananda had opened more
camps in Kerala, India; Woodbourne, New York; Grass Valley,
California; and Nassau in the Bahamas, birthplace of the
yoga vacation.

Nassau is a favorite location for
Vishnudevananda’s fourweek teacher training course, as well
as special Easter and Christmas programs. The training
program curriculum, in practice since 1969, and from which
some 5,100 students have graduated at the current rate of
about 300 per year, includes instruction in asanas,
pranayama, mantra, japa chanting, cleansing, kriyas,
scriptural study, anatomy and physiology, yoga and Vedanta
study, and daily selfless service.

The 1989 summer training program
generated some interesting demographic data, according to
Swami Padmapadananda at the Val Morin headquarters. “We
found the people taking up yoga are health care
professionals, psychologists, nurses, artists, householders,
and college students.” At one session of 103 students drawn
from 14 countries, 16 percent were Americans, 12 percent
Canadians, 15 percent Spanish, 13 percent French, and 56
percent women. The average age for 81 percent of the
students was 20 to 49, of which 50 percent were single, 25
percent married, 14 percent divorced, and 26 percent without
children. Half the students had outside employment, but 26
percent were self-employed; leading professions included
education (27 percent), health (17 percent), and business
(11 percent).

Five essential principles are always
emphasized in any Vishnudevananda program. “Yoga is a
complete science of self-discipline,” says Vishnudevananda,
and it’s based on proper exercise, breathing, relaxation,
diet, thinking, and meditation. “By following these points,
yogis discover the real goal of life – God
realization.”

“The list of prominent yoga
instructors who began their training with Swamiji would fill
a mini yoga teachers guide,” comments Karen Minsberg of the
Val Morin office. One of these prominent yogis is Ganga
White, who studied with Vishnudevananda in 1967, opened his
own Center for Yoga in Los Angeles, and since 1983 has
directed the White Lotus Center in Santa Barbara,
California.

For five years White was vice
president of the Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Society in Val Morin
and received various yoga teacher honorifics (Yoga Acharya,
Yogiraj) from the Yogi Niketan and Sivananda Ashram in
India. Kudos notwithstanding, White was never a company man.
His true preference, he admits, is an eclectic, nondogmatic
synthesis of classical and contemporary techniques drawn
from the best major systems today, including Iyengar, Jois,
and Krishnamurti.

“Everything we do at White Lotus
Foundation is meant to empower the individual, not to make
him or her conform to dogma,” states White. “We aim to
awaken the fire of yoga within each student. The majority of
people come here with the intention of learning asanas. They
leave thinking in terms of transformation.”

Another American Sivananda pioneer,
Sylvia Hellman (b. 1911), studied with Sivananda in
Rishikesh in the mid-1950s, then returned as Swami Sivananda
Radha in 1957 and opened her Yasodhara Ashram in Burnaby,
near Vancouver, British Columbia. She was the first Western
woman to take sannyasa initiation from Sivananda.

Born in Berlin to wealthy parents,
Swami Radha had from childhood “a sensitiveness, an
extrasensory awareness, which brought occasionally happy,
but most often, sad revelations.” It was through her innate
clairvoyance that Radha first met her guru, who was able to
“project himself to me in Canada,” she recounts in her
autobiography, Radha: Diary of a Woman’s Search.

Radha, a successful concert dancer,
had emigrated to Montreal in 1951 and was ethereally
beckoned east by Sivananda in 1955. In 1963 she relocated
Yasodhara to its present location on Kootenay Bay, an
83-acre retreat in the Canadian Rockies – “the Himalayas of
the West,” she calls it. In 1981 Radha began establishing
five Shambhala Houses (four in Canada, one in California)
“to provide a connection to the teachings, which helps to
keep the initiative going.”

Since 1969 Yasodhara has trained
students in Radha’s distinctive hidden language approach to
yoga. Here the physical aspects of an asana are combined
with the inherent symbolism, the secrets, and the
metaphorical connotations. In Tadasana, for example, the
student reflects, “What does a mountain mean to me?”
Possible responses: standing up, standing still, upright.
Each asana becomes an invitation for deep psychological
reflection, even visual, symbolic participation. Radha’s
asana sequence groups the contemplative postures according
to structures, tools, plants, fish/reptiles/insects, birds,
animals, and ends with Savasana.

“As Westerners we have to start
within our own culture and go as far as we can with Western
psychology, using some of the yogic approach,” says Radha.
“Even yoga psychology is not sadhana; it is a preparation.”
Other elements of Radha’s pedagogy include kundalini, prayer
dance, divine light invocation, mantra, dream
interpretation, and “intensive
self-investigation.”

 

SWAMI SATCHIDANANDA, 1966

T he year that saw Swami Radha
teaching Hidden Language Yoga in British Columbia, 1969,
also witnessed a pivotal moment in American cultural history
on a Catskill farm in New York State – Woodstock. About
500,000 young, mostly stoned Americans gathered for the
communal rock epiphany of a generation. Opening this muddy,
euphoric, psychedelic love-fest with a brief talk and
blessing was a tall, bearded, longhaired man in orange
robes. To the assembled multitudes, he must have looked like
an a radiant, aging hippie.

“My beloved sisters and brothers,”
he began, recalling Vivekananda’s egalitarian invocations of
76 years earlier in Chicago to an earlier generation of
Americans. “I am overwhelmed with joy to see the youth of
America gathered here in the name of the fine art of music.
The future of the whole world is in your hands. The entire
world is going to watch this. The entire world is going to
know what the American youth can do for
humanity.”

The guru of Woodstock was Swami
Satchidananda (b. 1914), whose appearance helped midwife the
1960s psychedelic hippies’ rite of passage into the 1970s of
sadhana, spiritual communities, and yoga.

Satchidananda had only meant to
visit America for two days when he accepted the invitation
of two American artists (Conrad Rooks and Peter Max) in
1966. Instead, he ended up staying permanently, becoming a
U.S. citizen in 1976. In his 24 years in America,
Satchidananda has helped transform Woodstock into Yogaville.
Born in South India as C.K. Ramaswamy, he took his sannyasa
initiation from Swami Sivananda in 1949. After a successful
All India lecture tour in 1951, which saw the creation of
numerous new Divine Life Society branches, Satchidananda
went south to Kandy, Ceylon, where he remained from 1953 to
1966, when the filmmaker Rooks lured him out of his sedate
ashram into the uncharted wilds of America.

 

 


The Roots of Yoga

“Yoga is like an ancient river,”
explains yoga scholar
Georg
Feuerstein. “It has countless rapids, eddies, loops,
tributaries, and backwaters and extends over a vast,
colorful terrain of many different habitats.” According to
Feuerstein, whose authoritative history Yoga: The Technology
of Ecstasy was recently published by J. P. Tarcher, the
roots of yoga are complex, ancient, and only scantily known.
“So, when we speak of yoga, we speak of a multitude of paths
and orientations with contrasting theoretical frameworks and
occasionally incompatible goals.”

Orthodox Hinduism is based on the
vedic revelation, as contained in the four Vedas – Rig,
Yajur, Sama, and Atharva. These are India’s sacred
scriptures, whose ancient origins are unknown. The vedic
orthodoxy accords validity to six schools (or darshanas,
“points of view”): Purva-Mimamsa, Vedanta, Samkhya, Nyaya,
Vaiseshika, and Yoga. (Some scholars add Buddhism as the
seventh.) Each school has its founding sage and canonical
sutra.

The Purva-Mimamsa (“earlier
discussion”) school, founded by Jaimini (c. 200 B.C.), is a
philosophy of ritualism, a catalogue of priestly duties, a
science of moral action, and a schema for ethical
behavior.

Vedanta, also called Uttara-Mimamsa
(“later discussion”), means “Veda’s end.” Formulated by
Shankaracharya (788820), it is fundamentally monistic and
nondualistic and is based on the Upanishads, the Bhagavad
Gita, and the Brahama Sutra. Some believe Shankaracharya to
be a divine incarnation of Shiva; in any case, he taught
that reality is a single, indivisible whole. Shankaracharya
founded 10 new orders of swamis and established four holy
seats (maths) throughout India, important Hindu “bishoprics”
still occupied and revered today.

The Samkhya (“number”) school,
founded by the sage Kapila and elaborated by Ishvara Krishna
(c. 350 A.D.), is Vedanta’s intellectual rival in the Hindu
fold. Samkhya concerns itself with the number and
description of the categories of existence. Its focus is the
plurality of being, and its methods emphasize discrimination
within a dualistic framework involving spirit (purusha) and
matter (prakriti).

The Nyaya (“rule”) system,
established around 500 B.C. by Gautama (not to be confused
with the historical Buddha), taught rules for logic,
rhetoric, and causation and proposed a general theory of
knowledge.

Kanabhaksa formulated the tenets of
Vaiseshika around 600 B.C. He described six fundamental
categories of existence and stressed the differences
(vaisesha) between things.

Classical Yoga (“union”) was
propounded in 196 sutras by the great sage Patanjali, who
lived in the second century A.D. Hindu tradition contends
that Patanjali was an incarnation of Ananta, Vishnu’s
thousand-headed Lord of the Serpents, the race that guarded
the secret treasures of Earth. With his systematic treatise
on yoga practice, Patanjali “supplied the yoga tradition
with a reasonably homogeneous framework that could stand up
against the many rival traditions,” explains
Feuerstein.

Within the school of Yoga, six major
forms (sameimcs eight) have gained prominence and comprise
‘.bats called the Wheel of Yoga.

Raja yoga is “the resplendent yoga
of slirilol hips.’ says Feuerstein. It is the eightfold high
road of contemplation and meditation.

Hatha yoga, the yoga of the
‘adamantine bog,’ s a !sTchospiritual technology that
strengtimess tie bady and prepares it for the rigors of
meditation and lie demurs of transcendental realization.
Shiva, as the god ranipad (“Lord of the Beasts”), was hathas
patron sail, aaomi is tradition, and if we believe the Hatha
Yafr PYj, be. – – nally taught 84 postures. Shiva also
foaled dae t – a lineage of immortal beings (natbas) who
ranted tie Himalayas. Matsyendra (“Lord of Fish”), one of
hnia yagp”s founders, was a principal representative of
Naiiom.

Jnana yoga, which cultivates the eye
of wisdom, is a non-dualistic path of Self-realization
through inspired reason, understanding, and discernment. It
is oftern associated with the teaching known as advaita
(“nondual”) vedanta.

With bhakti yoga, the path of heart
and de.iC -. inividual emotional energy is redirected toward
a transcendental love of the Divine. Bhakti is an expression
of “supreme attachment to the Lord,” according to the sage
Shandilya.

In karma yoga, the practitioner
achieves freedom by tsn – scending egoic motivations through
selfless, sacribew tars vice. Mantra yoga concentrates on
sound, vibration, and chanting for Self-awakening. Laya yoga
involves meditative absorption and uses the tantric energy
model of chakras, kundalini currents, and nadi channels.
Laya, says Fenersiein. “makes a frontal attack on the
illusion of individuality.”

Raja yoga (also called ashtanga,
“eight-limbed”) is elaborated into the eightfold yoga vrksa,
the tree of yoga, whichs what many yoga students first hear
about in their chose%. The roots of the yoga tree are yama,
the ethical reshmiaI of nonviolence, truth, freedom from
avarice, control of ssst ality, and noncovetousness. The
trunk is niyama, pmA I ~f’ disciplines including
cleanliness, contentment, anstenitft study, and devotion.
Asanas, the familiar postures of yoga, comprise the
branches, while pranayama, the breathing exercises and
circulation of vital energy otr forms the leaves.

Pratyahara, or sense withdrawal from
physical acf”nim the bark, and dharana, concentration and
complete is the sap. Meditation, or dhyana, is the flower,
and (“diffusing the soul into each and every part of the
body, says B.K.S. Iyengar) is the fruit of the tree of
yoga.

“Patanjali says that when an asana
is correctly formed,” explains Iyengar in his lucid guide
7br Tnr al (Shambhala, 1989), “the dualities between body
and mind and soul, have to vanish.” To perform an asaa
rectly, he continues, is to embody the complete yama to
dhyana, within each posture. Then samad & superlative
fruit of practice, may be tasted.



The Yoga Journal
Story

“You don’t have to look at Yoga
Journal to see how yoga has
grown
in America,” says Judith Lasater, one of the magazine’s
founders. “You can pick up Vogue or American Health and find
articles on yoga.” Even so, a comparison of the first and
most recent issues of Yoga Journal does show how much the
magazine has matured. The premier issue, born back in May
1975, was a modest 10-page offering, typewritten, offset
printed, and hand addressed. Initial circulation was 300
copies, and the whole operation was set in motion with a
personal credit card.

Today Yoga Journal’s circulation
tops 55,000 copies, and its annual sales exceed $1 million.
The ads alone are indicative of how much the yoga movement
has grown in America in the past 15 years: yoga videos and
audiotapes, inversion swings, heart benches, Molivos mats,
yoga calendars, T-shirts, training centers, and lush yoga
vacations in Maui, the Yucatan, the Canadian
Rockies.

Clearly, word about yoga has
permeated America – but that was always the intention. Back
in 1974, Rama Vernon and Rose Garfinkle, under the auspices
of their San Francisco-based California Yoga Teachers
Association, began sending out a mimeographed newsletter
that knit together the infant yoga teachers community. Its
title, appropriately enough, was The Word.

In early 1975 Vernon and Garfinkle,
together with Judith and Ike Lasater, Jean Girardot, Janis
Paulsen, and William Staniger, decided to-transform The Word
into Yoga Journal, with Staniger as its first editor. “We
didn’t have any money,” recalls Rama Vernon. “But when God
is behind something, nothing can stop it. That’s how this
whole movement began.” Start-up funds in fact consisted of a
$ 500 charge on Paulsen’s credit card.

Staniger, who stayed until September
1977, was the helmsman for the first 15 issues. “Our
intention is to bring you material that combines the essence
of classical yoga with the latest understanding of modern
science,” he announced in the debut issue. Deena Brown
succeeded him and moved the offices from foggy San Francisco
to the present Berkeley location, with its contemplative
view of the bay. When she resigned in October 1980 (she is
now advertising director), Yoga Journal’s circulation had
grown to 25,000 copies.

Maia Madden, the third editor, who
remained until January 1984, guided the magazine during a
time of modest growth and considerable financial
difficulties. “Yoga Journal was started on nothing but
willpower, hard work, and a little luck,” noted Madden, “and
we managed to survive in the difficult, competitive field of
publishing.”

The years 1982 to 1985 found Yoga
Journal in “dire financial straits,” explains publisher
Michael Gliksohn, who joined the staff in 1979 with a
background in business management and holistic practices.
“When I started working here, there were a lot of small
loans from board members for $1,000 and $2,000.” But
something more was required to support the magazine,
groaning at 30,000 copies and faced with a dwindling bank
balance.

“We’ve been making phone calls,
writing letters, and generally sounding the alarm that Yoga
Journal needs money if we are to survive,” Gliksohn wrote in
the November/December 1984 issue. Reader response to that
appeal and to several mailings sent out between 1982 and
1985 was overwhelming, and by March/April

1985 over $50,000 had been raised,
while the supporting subscriber program began delivering
another $4,000 annually. “I am happy to report that our
situation has definitely improved as a result of your help,
and that we are alive and well at the age of 10,” announced
a much-relieved Gliksohn in mid-1985.

The fourth and current editor,
Stephan Bodian, joined the staff just before the financial
gauge struck empty, and he has piloted the magazine through
a period of unparalleled ascent, both editorial and
financial. Bodian brought a rich background to the magazine:
a degree in English literature from Columbia University, 15
years of Zen meditation practice, including seven years as
an ordained monk, and professional book editing experience.
Shortly after he arrived, he rewrote Yoga Journal’s
statement of purpose.

“This magazine is dedicated to
communicating to as broad an audience as possible the
qualities of being that yoga exemplifies – peace, integrity,
clarity, and compassion,” he declared in 1984. Today he
comments: “That has been my guiding vision all along, and it
continues to inspire me.”

Yoga’s transformational power is
what inspires managing editor Linda Cogozzo, who joined the
staff in 1981. Cogozzo brought a background in corporate
business and a deeply committed Iyengar yoga practice to her
responsibilities at Yoga Journal. “My yoga practice is very
important to me, and so is sharing it with people through
print, because I know how yoga can empower
lives.”

In 1982 Yoga Journal had a new idea
for increasing that empowerment. Under the magazine’s
auspices, Cogozzo compiled the American Yoga Newsletter, an
eight-page monthly (circulation 400) for joining yoga
teachers into a nationwide network and “for banging the drum
about unity in yoga.” The drum rolls continued until 1985,
when subscriptions and “editorial energy from the yoga
community” dwindled, and Cogozzo refocused her full
attention on Yoga Journal.

“The changes in Yoga Journal in the
past 10 years have been phenomenal,” comments Cogozzo, “in
terms of circulation growth, magazine size, and quality of
presentation. All these improvements have made the subject
more palatable for readers. But, more important, Yoga
Journal has opened its borders so yoga is now a more
comprehensive term than it was in 1975, when it was strictly
hatha.”

This expansion of the editorial
borders has taken the magazine into that broad territory
Bodian calls the perennial philosophy. “There is an
essential wisdom that runs through all the world’s great
spiritual traditions,” he explains, “and we have the
capacity to experience it directly for ourselves. Most of
the articles we publish are an expression of this perennial
wisdom. As much as possible, our articles offer direct
guidelines for people, perhaps even point them toward a
teacher or a practice. Although we’ve certainly improved our
quality, our design, and our editorial coverage, our
essential purpose remains the same.”

Publisher Gliksohn, who has overseen
the publication of 68 of the magazine’s 91 issues, concurs.
“We’ve broadened our coverage to include many practices
besides hatha yoga that lead to those heightened qualities
of being. Yet we still remain true to our roots and give the
most coverage to hatha yoga of any magazine in the country.
And we’re paying our way as we go!”


A SHORT HISTORY OF WOMEN IN YOGA
IN THE WEST

By Eric Shaw, MARS, MASE, RYT

Posted on 15-Feb-2011

Dr Eric Shaw recently sent us this
article, which provides a fascinating insight into what
happened historically as women became involved in yoga in
the west.

 

“I think that if we do not
encourage women, the great Indian traditions will die
because the men are not following the Vedic rules and
regulations. They are all becoming business
people.”

Sri Tirumalai Krishnamacarya,
1938

 

Before
the modern period, there are stories of great yoginis and
female Tantric gurus but with modernity the strangest of
candidates wins the prize for first Western yogini. Queen
Victoria, the “Empress of India,” a very
Christian, and, of course, a very “Victorian”
woman, had 18 lessons from the long-lived yogi Shivapuri
Baba, who she entertained at court sometime after
1870.

A deeper story of women in yoga
begins with another woman of nobility, the Russian, Helena
Petrovna Blavatsky—one of the most independent thinkers
who ever lived. Leaving her husband, she travelled the world
exploring divergent religions and occult societies from the
late 1840s to the early ‘70s. In this period, she
became familiar with yoga. She later introduced it to the
world through her popular books. Blavatsky founded the
Theosophical Society, which fostered East-West dialog.

It took the lead in translating and
publishing yoga texts. Blavatsky’s successors in the
Society, Kathleen Tingley and Annie Besant also promoted
yoga (But like Helena, they were disparaging of it,
too—it’s complicated!). Besant’s commentaries
on the Bhagavad Gita and Yoga Sutras are genius works that
remain compelling, and Tingley opened what was arguably
America’s first ashram with a “Raja Yoga
Academy” in Point Loma, California in 1897. Like many
women who followed on the path, Tingley was globally active
in helping others and building world peace through teaching,
protests, and work in NGOs.

The Bostonians, Sara Bull and Sarah
Farmer became good friends during international travel and
were among the first true yoga practitioners in the West.
They hatched a plan to host the great Swami Vivekananda (who
had brought yoga to America in 1893) giving him a platform
at their Green Acre conferences.

Jesophine McLeod, Mrs. Ole Bull,
Vivekananda, and Sister Nivedita.

 

Wealthy women hosted many Indian
Gurus after Vivekananda and there was something of a scare
in America about their influence, for no small number of
U.S. women gave up normal lives for their gurus. Chief among
these was Margaret Noble, who took the name Sister Nivedita,
who committed herself to Vivekananda in 1898 to become the
first woman to join an Indian monk’s order. She lived
the rest of her life in India, becoming a champion of
national independence and the nobility of Indian
life.

Ruled by the United Kingdom, many
women Britons toured India. Mollie Stack came in 1912,
learning yoga from a local pandit. After her husband died,
she modified what she learned and devised posture sequencing
called the “Stretch and Swing” system. Hence, she
created flowing posture workouts almost a decade before the
“Ashtanga” system, worked out by Pattabhi Jois and
Krishnamacarya in Mysore.

In Mysore, Krishnamacharya applied
yoga to pregnancy and taught the practice to the women of
his family as well Indra Devi (see below). His contemporary,
Sri Yogendra, who founded the Yoga Institute outside Bombay
in 1924, taught his wife. Sita Devi. She subsequently became
the first woman to publish a book on yoga for women, Yoga
Simplified for Women of ‘34.

Before Vivekananda came West, Pierre
Bernard was trained by a Syrian Tantric in Nebraska
beginning in 1888. Bernard later taught his wife yoga.
Blanche Devries began to teach some time after 1913 and is
the first influential female yoga teacher in America. In
1938, she opened up the first female-owned yoga studio (in
New York City). She taught until 1982 and influenced movie
star clients and a host of teachers who would influence the
practice in later years.

One of these was Rebekah Harkness,
though her fame—like Bull and Farmer’s—came
from being a great host, rather than a great yogi. She
invited B. K. S. Iyengar to America in 1956, and so he made
his first visit. Not pleased (he said Americans cared just
for three W’s: “Wealth, wine and women”), he
did not come again for 17 years, but the precedent had been
set.

 

“Iyengar might be making inroads
into both British and European society, but his stature
could not have attained the heights it did unless he had, at
some point, come to the attention of the USA. Indeed,
nothing symbolized the world events that facilitated the
spread of his methods in yoga than what befell him
there.

 

The spread of Indian thoughts and
ideas was greatly—and negatively—affected in 1924
when the United States passed a law setting a quota to the
number of Indians who could visit or immigrate. Shortly
after Iyengar’s first visit to Europe at Menuhin’s
invitation, in 1954, he came to the attention of one of
Menuhin’s influential friends, Rebekah Harkness, an
heiress of Standard Oil. She was drawn to his ability to
explain how to use yoga to resolve specific health problems
in a clear and easy manner. In 1956, she invited him to
visit her in the USA so he could help her with some stomach
problems she was having. He fell within the quota system and
so was able to visit. Although he was in the USA for three
weeks, the only people to benefit from his instruction were
Mrs. Harkness, some members of her family, and a few of her
close friends. While there, he gave demonstrations in New
York and in Washington, DC. But unfortunately, he did not
find this first visit to the USA particularly pleasant. He
later said: “I saw Americans were interested in the
three W’s, wealth, women and wine. I was taken aback to
see how the way of life conflicted with my own country. I
thought twice about coming back”.

Iyengar
Biography

 

When Mary Palmer hosted B. K. S. in
Ann Arbor in ’73, a new crop of powerful female
teachers burst onto the scene. Among them was Palmer’s
daughter Mary Dunn, plus Patricia Walden, Patricia Sullivan,
Rama Jyoti Vernon, and Judith Hanson Lasater.

Iyengar’s yoga was workmanlike,
not glamorous, and outside this stream of teachers devoted
to Iyengar’s modest style, Indra Devi taught great
women of film beginning in 1947. Following DeVries lead, she
opened a studio on America’s opposite coast, in
Hollywood, where yoga’s promise to “end gray hair
and allow neither old age or wrinkles to arise”
attracted the backlot’s beauties: Gloria Swanson, Ruth
St. Denis and Greta Garbo among others. The Livonian-born
Devi showed a communal spirit in her work and toured the
world with her skills, landing in Russia, China and South
America—where she was much beloved.

One who came to learn from her was
already a skilled yogi. Magana Baptiste, a dancer in movies,
Miss USA runner-up in 1951, and mother to the great teachers
Sherri and Baron Baptiste, opened a gym devoted to
bodybuilding and yoga in San Francisco with her husband,
Walt, in 1956. Walt, a Mr. America in 1948, taught her the
yoga he’d learned from the Paramahansa Yogananda
lineage. Magana supplemented this by lessons from Devi in
Hollywood and San Francisco—where she hosted her
teacher.

Like Sister Nivedita, Devi had been
the first Western woman to devote herself to her specific
guru (Krishnamacarya), and the Canadian, Swami Sivananda
Radha had the same role with her teacher, Swami Sivananda.
She saw him in a vision in 1955 and traveled to India to be
his chela (student). After taking monastic vows, the Swami
routed her back to Canada in ‘56, where she established
one of the first Canadian Ashrams, Yasodhara. Significantly,
she eschewed any cult of personality by forbidding
likenesses of her guru or herself on the estate. Like her
mentor, she wrote as easily as she breathed. She founded
Ascent Magazine and published close to 30 books in her
lifetime.

The explosion of international
dialog in yoga was strongly stimulated by Devi (in addition
to travel, she wrote books too), but dialog was restrained
by immigration law. When the America’s Asian Exclusion
Act was rescinded in ‘65, a flood of Eastern teachers
came to serve the divine curiosity of the Baby
Boomers.

Iyengar yoga came then, too, in the
form of his Light on Yoga (in 1966). His practice appealed
more to women than Pattabhi Jois’ more athletic
Ashtanga form—which arrived in 1975. Ashtanga
conscripted mainly male teachers. But when Tim Miller
created freestyle vinyasa in the mid-1980s, a door was
opened to the spirit of dance. Women then took hold of the
flow practice as they had in Mollie Stack’s
time.

In the crowd of teachers who
developed the form, Shiva Rea, Sharon Gannon and Seane Corn
stand out. Each elaborated a strong culture around
posturework that involves activism. Corn has taken her yoga
to Africa with large projects, Rea has been involved in
environmental and cross-cultural issues, and Gannon’s
book on vegetarianism has this statement, “I became a
yoga teacher only because I felt it might provide a platform
for me to speak out for animal rights.”

These three are the most prominent
females on today’s yoga scene, though many other
important movements are also headed by women. One thinks of
Emmy Cleaves leadership in Bikram Yoga, Gurmukh Kaur
Khalsa’s work in Kundalini Yoga, Anna Forrest’s
powerfully athletic form that has a psychological bent
(Forrest Yoga), and Beth Shaw’s leadership of the
YogaFit training. Sarah Power’s powerful intellect and
championing of a more feminine Yin style is also
significant. Great gurus, too, like Gurumayi Chidvilasananda
approach Vivekananda in influence. Her SYDA organization has
midwifed dozens of great teachers and scholars.

When women suffragettes were arguing
for the vote (they finally got it in 1920), they claimed it
would change the way things run. The outcome is
questionable, but when we look at the work of modern yoginis
we see activism, communalism and care for The Other being
played out in a big way. This is perhaps the chief gift of
women in yoga: a wider view, a capacity for re-constituting
the tradition along more caring and universal lines. Mere
athletic systems persist, but the biggest players are
working in the deep field of the mind and the broad stage of
the world. What female leaders are doing isn’t just
women’s yoga, this is the greatest yoga of the modern
day.

All contents © Eric
Shaw
, 2010, world rights
reserved


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