Romancing the Om: A Look Into Yoga in America

In the days of old, yogis gave up their worldly possessions and adopted a system of ancient techniques and rituals, with the intention to unite with God. Today, Americans have a slightly different approach.

After reflecting on yoga’s history and purpose, it is surprising to me how yoga has become so popular in such a capitalistic society. Steeped in Hinduism, with an objective fueled by the renunciation of extravagant pleasures, yoga seems to be a very unlikely endeavor for Westerners who are known for buying, acquiring, and disposing of stuff.

But the image of yoga carries a subtle hint of romance at its core, and I think that is what makes it a huge success in America. Not unlike mesmerized cobras that sway in response to the seductive sounds of the snake charmer’s whispering flute, those flirting with the desire to learn more about yoga find themselves drunk with love in the wake of a $6 billion dollar industry.

While some admire and support how yoga has evolved to help so many, others would say we have taken it a bit too far. The picture of modern yoga often gets caught in between the covers of magazines, emblazoned with the same dazzle and panache of fashion models in the latest designer threads.

Organizations such as Take Back Yoga, a Hindu American establishment, see the true spiritual significance of yoga being cleaved out of modern yoga classes across the country. Wanting to see yoga return to its Hindu roots, groups such as these work hard at spreading the message that modern yoga is inauthentic and clearly missing the point.

That doesn’t seem to stop us from practicing. The mavens who currently lead the modern yoga movement and their devoted followers add just the right combination of ingredients to keep the industry growing. This dynamic relationship serves both the trade and the people who contribute to it, or so it would seem.

Those allured by the promise of happiness through yoga might be deceived. Chogyam Trungpa, author of Cutting Through Spiritual Materialismwrote:

“Walking the spiritual path properly is a very subtle process; it is not something to jump into naively. There are numerous sidetracks, which lead to a distorted, ego-centered version of spirituality. We can deceive ourselves into thinking we are developing spiritually when instead we are strengthening our egocentricity through spiritual techniques. This fundamental distortion may be referred to as spiritual materialism.”

For more insight into yoga, visit the Huffington Post.

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