An interview with Andrea R. Jain who wrote Selling Yoga: From Counterculture to Pop Culture lays down some pretty heavy timber on pop analysis of yoga’s introduction into American mainstream culture and even the sniping from India about Western yoga being a bastardization of yoga’s true essence:
Fake, Evil, Spiritual, Commodified; What’s the Truth About Popular Yoga? | Religion Dispatches. The key message for Selling Yoga’s readers is that yoga has been perpetually context-sensitive, so there is no “legitimate,” “authentic,” “orthodox,” or “original” tradition, only contextualized ideas and practices organized around the term yoga. In other words, the innovations unique to pop culture yoga do not de-authenticate them simply because they represent products of consumer culture.
Postural yoga is a transnational product of yoga’s encounter with global processes, particularly the rise and dominance of market capitalism, industrialization, globalization, and the consequent diffusion of consumer culture. To reduce its innovations to borrowings from, or the mere commodification of, otherwise authentic religious wares, however, would undermine the narrative and ritual functions and meanings of yoga for many of the practitioners I engage with in my study—the insiders to modern postural yoga.
This means I’m going to have to buy another yoga book on Amazon for my Kindle. At least, it will not crowd my bookshelves or weigh down my shoulder bag. It was published in December
It’s a sad day when we have to bid farewell to one of the cornerstones of modern yoga as practiced around the world. BKS Iyengar died of kidney failure on August 20 in Pune, India:
BKS Iyengar, who helped bring yoga to the West, has died Iyengar had been ill for weeks, according to the Times of India, and had been suffering from heart problems. Admitted to the hospital on August 12, Iyengar’s condition had worsened in recent days, and he was put on dialysis.
There will be an outpouring of grief, gratitude and remembrances, as well as attempts to take stock of the state of yoga with the death of one of the three major Indian propagators ( Pattabhi Jois died in 2009 and TKV Desikachar is in ill health) who took the mantle from T. Krishnamacharya. Iyengar left a legacy of literature about hatha yoga, pranayama and other techniques, as well as a focus on the health-giving potential from the practice.
How did I miss this! Debra Diamond, curator of the “Yoga: The Art of Transformation” exhibit at the Freer-Sackler Gallery, spoke before the Yoga Alliance Conference on “The Business of Yoga” in mid-2013. It took place before the exhibit opened. Debra presented the broad brush strokes of the exhibit ,and the rush of joy and comprehension that came from pulling together the diverse parts of the exhibit and laying out stories that told of the emergence and transformation of yoga. It’s 40 minutes long and has a few slides from the exhibit to illustrate her points. She did a great job of underscoring the messages that they want to transmit. YA has an article on her presentation.
I remind all visitors to this blog that there is only one week left to see the exhibit before it decamps for extended visits to San Francisco and Cleveland, and then never more to be seen. I hope that any self-respecting DC yogi has made time to see the exhibit.
Holland Cotter, the New York Times staff art critic, published an article about the “Yoga – The Art of Transformation” exhibit at the Sackler Gallery on the DC Mall (only until January 26). He liked it:
NYTimes.comEons Before the Yoga Mat Became Trendy
The fact is, yoga was always rational, and more so in its old, extremist forms than in its present domesticated version. How else would you characterize a spiritual discipline that directly and boldly addressed life’s most intractable problem, the persistence of suffering, and took practical, but radical steps to do something about it? To alter the rules of the existential game, it redefined the possible. What’s great about the Sackler show, apart from the pleasures of its images, is that it not only lets us see the history of that practice in action, but understand how radical it was — and is — and take that seriously.
Cotter has a good eye for revealing details and incarnate contradictions, which he sprinkles throughout his article. This was not a fly-by snapshot that he fit in between New York galleries and major artists: he saw the art and let it affect him.
The next major event of the Yoga: The Art of Transformation exhibit is the Medical Yoga Symposium to take place on the weekend of January 11-12, 2014. The first day with the theme of “Discovery and Didactics: Professional Perspectives and Personal Stories” will be in the Meyer Auditorium at the Freer-Sackler Gallery while the second day (Master Classes, Experiential Workshops, 3-hour intensives and Discussions ) will take place at the Marvin Center of the George Washington University. Participants should be prepared to get down on the mat.
The event will be led by a lot of heavy hitters in the American yoga scene, especially those devoted to yoga therapy and related applications, as well as medical researchers, doctors and psychiatrists—more than 20—too many to list here so you can consult the flyer or the website for more details. It is shaping up to be as thought-provoking and body-shifting as the yoga symposium in November.
The event is being organized by the Gallery, the Center for Integrative Medicine at George Washington University Medical Center and Therapeutic Yoga of Washington, DC. Because the two-day event is not only an exposition, but a teaching event (attendees are eligible for continuing education credits), it comes with a cost: $180 the first day, $100 the second day. Student and group pricing is available.
Evidence-based Integrative Health Practices
Yoga Practice in Modern Society
Yoga as a Therapeutic Intervention
Transformations in Modern Medicine
Scientific Research on Yoga and Yoga Therapy
“Yoga: The Art of Transformation” exhibit will remain at the Freer-Sackler Gallery until January 26, when it will go on a road show to San Francisco and Cleveland. Several special events are planned for the final week.
There was so much information saturating us during the yoga symposium that I’ve barely had an opportunity to review my notes and impressions. One of the things that came up was that several people noticed that many of the Indian temples showed figures of yoginis (female demi-gods, not the current use as female yogis) using yoga straps (yogapatta) to bind their legs in cross-legged position, leaving their knees raised off the ground. I did a quick search through the PDFs of the Yoga: The Art of Transformation catalog (page 146 for one reference) and found at least three illustrations that demonstrated using a strap to hold a seated posture:
Following up on my previous commentary on the yoga art exhibit, I want to express my frustration about trying to make meaningful remarks about the exhibit, symposium and catalog. Here we have a major trans-global intellectual enterprise about yoga, past, present and future. Major authorities participate in the conceptualization of the the enterprise, its visual nature fills the eyes with light, the juxtaposition of artifacts sets off ripples of imagination, the road map points in multiple direction of investigation and meditation.
I see a picture of an Indian ascetic seated in Lotus pose and I myself am seated in easy pose (Western hips don’t lie), and I feel a connection across the centuries, across the oceans, across the cultural and language barriers. I can feel it in my bones, tissues, blood and breath because yoga affects the physical bodies of all human beings the same way—it’s in our DNA, our genetic code. But the meaning is not. That’s why the physical practice, hatha yoga, is the most easily and directly assimilated by Westerners. Continue reading Symposium’s message: yoga is more than vogue, Part Two→
The second day of the “Yoga and Visual Culture: An Interdisciplinary Symposium” culminates a long process that began in the summer of 2009 when the Gallery brought together scholars for two interdisciplinary colloquia, which is a break from precedent for most Smithsonian initiatives. So in a sense, the exhibit/symposium had several exploratory discussions and then an extended period of research, planning, writing, editing, peer review and then execution of the physical display and the catalog.
Meanwhile, outside the scholarly confines of the Smithsonian Institutes, yoga as expressed in mainstream culture (North America, Europe and even newer frontiers in Asia) has been growing. In the United States, its spread has taken on the trappings of snake-oil salesmen (“Yoga can cure diabetes and bad posture!”). Among Hindus, both in India and here in the United States, there has been deepening despair that yoga has been cut loose from its historical moorings. In addition, many American yogis have had their eyes opened to the flaws in their one-dimensional vision of yoga as a 2000-year-old, immutable practice that taps into transcendental truths. Continue reading Symposium drives home message: yoga is more than vogue→