Why have two books about the history of yoga in America been published within the space of a few months? Even though I raise the question in my review of “The Great Oom,” by Robert Love, and “The Subtle Body,” by Stephanie Syman, I have no good answer. But as both authors demonstrate, in different ways, the respectability of yoga in this often Puritanical country has been a hard-won battle.
It is odd to have two histories of yoga arrive almost simultaneously. Is there something about the current moment? Has yoga—however one defines it—morphed into something new, and matured into something uniquely American and settled that it demands historical treatment? Syman’s opening scene, yoga at the White House, hints at something extraordinary in its American evolution. The fact that no one in the media had a cognitive dissonance meltdown from this suggests that the age of Yoga Militant is definitely a closed chapter.
Both books are quite good, though I prefer Syman’s longer, broader historical approach. The review was published by The New Republic‘s online cultural magazine. And given a very funny and smart title–Upward Dog–by the editors. David Mills at the First Things blog took notice.