I was lucky enough to stumble upon a book reading by Stefanie Syman this weekend at YogaWorks Soho. Her book / seven-year research project, The Subtle Body: The Story of Yoga in America hit shelves this summer, and taught me a lot about the ways that Americans have interpreted “yoga” over the years. (Thanks Anya Porter, host of Saturday’s Breakti, for teaching the free community class beforehand!)
Stefanie talked about several notable shifts in the yoga community. The first, in the early 70’s, when Iyengar and other teachers were reclaiming yoga from its “dirty hippie” associations with the psychadelic 60’s. Iyengar forbade chanting and meditation in classes, and many teachers followed their gurus’ direct instructions to secularize yoga, to “save” it from irrelevance. Yoga could cure insomnia, help your back pain; you didn’t need to worry about the spirituality.