The Story of Yoga in America—The Subtle Body by Stephanie Syman
Stephanie Syman’s groundbreaking book offers a well-documented (almost 70 pages of sources are listed), high-quality perspective of the metamorphosis of yoga in the United States.
Her meticulously documented effort begins with Emerson in the mid 1800s and discusses key yoga advocates, teachers, and celebrities who helped morph public opinion of yoga—from dangerous and corrupt to the multi-billion dollar health industry it has become in the modern day.
The Subtle Body: The Story of Yoga in America is published by Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, FSG Books
How to be a Guru Without Really Trying
As a literary graduate from Yale, Syman offers a rather staunch academic style: though the pithy chapter titles like “Psychedelic Sages” and “How to be a Guru Without Really Trying” are undoubtedly an editorial edition, Syman does highlight some of the juicier personalities in the world of yoga including Timothy Leary, Ram Das, and Marilyn Monroe.
Luckily, the author writes a heavy disclaimer in the beginning of such an endeavor, as it is truly impossible to capture the mechanics behind a force such as yoga throughout history.
Furthering The Wisdom That Yoga Has To Offer
Although I do appreciate the most poignant bit of writing from Syman at the end of the text, a tribute to her teacher Pattabhi Jois, I can’t help but wonder why she has given Bikram so much credence in this line up: to suggest Bikram and Jois as equals seems like quite a stretch. If she was looking for an authentically Indian person when it comes to positive influence and furthering the wisdom that yoga has to offer, Deepak Chopra—who wasn’t referenced once in the text—might have been a better choice.
This Is Only The Beginning
As with any undertaking, you have to start somewhere, I suppose, and the truth is, yoga and its proponents—seen and unseen—are too vast to be contained by any given person or lineage. Syman’s path has brought her here, and this is only the beginning.
For readers who like well-documented historical accounts and don’t mind and even appreciate the academic tone, The Subtle Body: The Story of Yoga in America is informative and offers one person’s account of what ultimately can not be measured or explained with words.