Positioning Yoga: Balancing Acts across Cultures

By Sarah Strauss | Go to book overview
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Yoga: A Global Positioning System

Zurich, Switzerland June, 1994

The OEKO (ecological) Fair is a kind of Mecca for environmentally conscious Swiss.
The annual trade show for ecological living draws huge crowds not only of profes-
sionals, but consumers from all walks of life. Many of the booths provide information
on specific building materials or techniques, while others offer samples of organic
food or cosmetics, or show videos relating to solar energy or adventure sports. But
there are also a variety of different kinds of products sold which are thought to be of
interest to the eco-consumers: gardening tools, outdoor sport specialties, and
books. When I inquired about the rationale for devoting at least half of the inventory
to books on yoga, Zen, Native American religion, and a host of other spiritual
traditions, the proprietor of a specialized ecology bookstore who had brought nearly
the entire store contents to OEKO told me that “they simply go together.” She gave
me a look which clearly said that she thought I was crazy, stupid, or both. The
mission statement for the store presents the combined offering of environmental and
spiritual information “als Ausweg der globalen Krise,” the way out of the global crisis,
the path to freedom. Their book catalog gives a list of the topics they cover:
consciousness, evolution, women, homeopathy, American Indians, mysticism,
nature, ecology, permaculture, solar energy, environment, yoga, and Zen. East and
West, material and spiritual, all provide a piece of the answer. The message, though
absolutely New Age and characteristically late modern, is one with which Vivekan-
anda would have been completely comfortable.

Yoga and Health: From the Personal to the Planetary

In this chapter, I consider how the propagation of yoga in India, Europe, and North America over the past century represents one example of a broader effort, primarily by educated, middle-class people, to promote an alternative vision of modernity. This alternative can be characterized by its efforts to transcend a number of dichotomies that have persisted since the Enlightenment. It derives from a perceived need for a corrective to the course of modernity, rather than an abandoning of modernity altogether. Yoga as reinvented through the discourses of the Indians Vivekananda and Sivananda, their disciples, and their critics both at home


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