Positioning Yoga: Balancing Acts across Cultures

By Sarah Strauss | Go to book overview

4
Moving Out: Yoga for a Transnational
Community of Practice

Hannover, Germany - November, 1993

After an evening's rest at the youth hostel in Rheine, I arrived in Hannover. Stella met
me at the busy, modern, dreary train station. The functional post-war edifice was
filled with bored and somewhat dangerous looking youth, public bathrooms with a
purple cast from the bacteriacidal ultraviolet lights, and police on patrol. Everyone
seemed to be circling warily for one reason or another, and the feeling of urban,
industrial decay was inescapable. We left quickly for her flat, a few kilometers away.
Stella was about 65 years old, and quite slight. Her graying hair was pulled back into
a bun, revealing strong, sharp features. As a professional ballet dancer, she had
traveled from her native Hungary to live all around Europe for many years. Though
she had once married - her daughter was now 40 - she had been separated for over
twenty five years. While Stella was working as an itinerant dancer in Bern, Switzer-
land, she first saw a German translation of Vivekananda's Lectures from the 1000
Islands,
as well as other books that discussed the practice of yoga. In Switzerland,
Stella met the well-known yoga teacher Selvarajan Yesudian, who had lived for a
number of years in Hungary after leaving India. From these books and Yesudian's
classes, Stella became interested in the practice of yoga. She moved to another
dance company in Hannover, and eventually retired to start her own ballet school
there. In the 1960s, she met a woman who had been to Rishikesh, met Sivananda,
and brought back his books and ideas to Germany. That woman in turn introduced
Stella to Swami Chidananda on one of his visits to the Divine Life Society of Cologne,
Germany. Although she has had at least two dozen yoga teachers over her thirty
years of practice, she considers Chidananda to be her guru. Our paths initially
crossed at the DLS Spiritual Retreat held in Maryland before the 1993 Centenary of
the Parliament of the World's Religions, where I helped translate English instructions
and comments for her. Stella retired from her ballet school in 1989 in order to pursue
her training in yoga. She completed the German Yoga Teachers' Association's full
three-year intensive teacher training program, and, as she put it, “failed to achieve
enlightenment.” Stella had visited the DLS in Rishikesh once before, and wanted to
return for a longer stay. When I met her, she had begun a course in Sanskrit at the
university, and hoped to be able to read the ancient texts in the original - perhaps
that way, she thought, enlightenment would finally come. When I asked her what
goals she had for her daughter, a professor of classics at an institution a few hours
south, she answered “Happiness and Peace of Mind.” “That,” she said, “is yoga.
That is a good life.”

-87-

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Positioning Yoga: Balancing Acts across Cultures
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Figures ix
  • Acknowledgements xi
  • Glossary and Orthographic Note xiii
  • “Lineage” of Swami Sivananda of Rishikesh xvii
  • Preface a Note to Anthropologists and Interested Others … xix
  • 1: Re-Orienting Yoga 1
  • 2: Lives and Histories 23
  • 3: Balancing Acts 53
  • 4: Moving Out 87
  • 5: Yoga 115
  • Afterword: Virtual Yoga 141
  • Notes 145
  • Bibliography 157
  • Index 177
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