In 1893, a World Parliament of Religions was held in Chicago. The aim of the parliament was to bring the religious leaders of the world together, and learn about other religions and spiritual communities in order to promote active engagement in creating a more just and peaceful world.
One of the speakers at the meeting was to set rolling downhill a snowball which had 37million practitioners back in 2016. The speaker was Swami Vivekananda and with his opening words, he opened the gates for eastern ideas to make their way to the west.
It was a good start, but a quota system limiting Indian access to the USA, plus the effects of two world wars, caused a hiatus in popularization.
Americans who went to India
Three pioneering Americans went to India with the goal of learning about yoga. Theos Bernard came back in 1947 and published a sourcebook still read today. Indra Devi brought back the ideas of B.K.S. Iyengar’s guru and she published another three books before the 1960s.
The man who took the first step to yoga superstardom was Richard Hittleman. In the 1960s made a number of significant adjustments. He secularized the practice making it non-religious hoping that people who were interested would dive deeper and find out more. He also used television to develop popularity.
Taking America by storm
Since the 1960s yoga has taken America by storm, the expected number of practitioners by 2020 is expected to be in excess of 50 million. The statistics for classes and products point to a $27billion dollar industry. But the number is an underestimate because it doesn’t take into account yoga classes are part of gym memberships where classes in many disciplines are offered as a perk of membership.
Does American yoga have a religious side?
In typical American fashion, with a brilliance the rest of the world finds too complicated to try to work out, this question can be answered with a mysterious response. ‘Only if you want it to’ is the answer to the question. If you want to add or compliment a religious practice by adding yoga to it, you’re more than welcome to. But since a court decision in 2013, yoga is definitely not a religion.
American yoga is on the whole secularized, even classes that start with a chant and end with Namaste are more acknowledging the roots of the practice than expressing a religious belief.
Does it lead to a religious belief? Maybe, but it doesn’t necessarily matter. Yoga is still healthier than not doing yoga for the most part.
What is yoga in America now?
Yoga can be simplified as an exercise craze. But it is much more. It is a multi-billion business. There are in excess of 11 different types of yoga – there’s a yoga of some sort for everyone. It is still under practiced by men. There are about three women to every man. What we can be sure of is it will still continue.