It is interesting to note the history of Hinduism and its inseparable Yogas. While it is true that there is no Hinduism without Yoga and no Yoga without Hinduism, the denial of the Hindu/Yoga connection has often been fabricated. The history of Hinduism/Yoga in America has been a roller coaster of popularity and disdain. It is clear that whenever the Hindu/Yoga connection has been made aloofness to contempt has followed. Whenever the denial of Hinduism/Yoga is touted, “yoga” flourishes. Of course, we must remember that the Sanskrit/Hindu word “yoga” has nothing to do with the physical body but with Atma Darsana or Spiritual Realization through the Hindu/Yogic lifestyle. One aspect of the Hindu preparation for Atma Darsana is in developing the physical body. It is this Hatha Yoga aspect of Hindu Dharma that has too often been perverted into a secular physical activity or vague “spirituality.”
An introduction into Hinduism/Yoga goes back to the 1800’s. Emerson, Whitman and Thoreau all studied the Gita and various aspects of Hinduism/Yoga. These “Transcendentalists” were on the fringe of society. In 1875, the Theosophists used numerous Sanskrit/Hindu terms and concepts. The public viewed this group with skepticism and basically a derision of Hinduism as a very minor influence in America. By 1893, with help of the bold Swami Vivekananda, the public took the influence of Hinduism/Yoga more seriously and, thus, critically. The incoming Asians were seen as a menace resulting in the banning of citizen ship to all Asians in 1906. In 1911, the L.A. Times reported: “The cult of Yogis lures women to destruction.” They referred to: “The heathen invasion of Asians.” In 1912, the Washington Post reported that the FBI was investigating “these Oriental religions.” In the 1930’s Yogananda came to America and was initially harassed by immigration and run out of Miami. He settled in California and began to mix Christianity and Yoga with less mention of Hinduism. With less emphasis on Hinduism and more on exercise, “yoga” became less threatening. Hollywood stars like Garbo, Cole Porter, Maureen O’Sullivan and Marilyn Monroe legitimized this “yoga.”
A major pivotal point in divorcing of (Hatha) Yoga from Hinduism took place in the 30’s with aid of Eugenie Peterson. A dancer, Peterson went to India to study. In Mysore, she met the Raja’s Yogi Krishnamachariya and asked to be taught about Hinduism/Yoga. Because she was a non-Hindu woman, he declined. Eugenie, who now assumed the name Indra Devi (but never converted to Hinduism), complained to the Raja and Krishnamachariya surrendered. Devi went on to set up business in California teaching many of the Hollywood elites. In Krishnamachariya’s cowardly act of capitulation, we see the ground work for the ensuing massive phony yoga movement. His disciples: Iyengar, Jois, Desikachar would later lead the march of divorcing this “yoga” exercise from Hinduism. These Indian men, in turn, created innumerable “yoga teachers” many of whom would later be involved in monetary and sexual scandal. Even these scandals, however, would not seem to effect the popularity of the yoga exercise business.
The 1930’s to 50’s saw the continued rise of yoga exercise. In the 1960’s, with the Hippie movement, the tide began to shift reemphasizing the Hindu/Yoga connection. More Gurus came from India which resulted in more public resentment towards Hinduism/Yoga. Now, those practicing Yoga were seen as deviants to society. Except for the most ardent (like the Hare Krishnas) it seems the Gurus were quick to pick up on this resentment and began deemphasizing the Hindu/Yoga connection. Through the 70’s and 80’s Swamis Satchidananda, Muktananda, Rama and Yogi Desai became wildly popular making non-Hindu “yoga teachers.” They also made a lot of money with resultant scandals. The Sivananda organization also sent a very mixed message creating non-Hindu “yoga teachers.” Bikram Choudry epitomized the love of fame and money (and illicit sex) and the total surrender of the Hindu/Yoga connection. Tellingly, he boldly created “Hot Yoga;” in other words, if Yoga is not Hindu, it is all hot (stolen) yoga. Shirley Maclaine (who strongly influenced Bikram) and Lilas Folan were also instrumental at this time in advocating a non-Hindu “yoga.” From the 1990’s to the present day, this non-Hindu so-called yoga movement has continued to flourish as an exercise routine completely divorced from any Hindu connection. So-called “yoga” can be found most everywhere even making it into popular television commercials. Today’s general public generally has no idea that this “yoga” has anything to do with religion much less Hinduism. However, at present with more Hindu temples in America and a few individuals and groups willing to state the “obvious,” we may see an inevitable turn around in once again establishing the inseparable Hindu/Yoga connection.