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Strike a Pose For Yoga

Yoga in America. How downward dogs and crow poses went mainstream.

Thousands of people take a yoga class from acclaimed yogi, Elena Brower on the great lawn of Central Park, June 22, 2010 in New York. (AP)

People take a yoga class from acclaimed yogi, Elena Brower on the great lawn of Central Park, June 22, 2010 in New York. (AP)

These days, yoga is everywhere – at the gym, at the mall, at the preschool. In prisons and homeless shelters.

There’s hot yoga, cold yoga; hip-hop yoga, chocolate yoga. Safari retreats and competitions for yoga. Even Savasana for babies and dogs.

Yoga has a deep history in America. My guest today traces yoga’s influence from the first swami to Emerson and Thoreau to today’s power yoga for the over-stressed masses.

This hour, On Point: Breath in, breath out, and center yourself for the story of yoga in America.


Stefanie Syman is co-founder of Feed magazine, and author of “The Subtle Body: The Story of Yoga in America.”  Read an excerpt.  She has practiced yoga for fifteen years.

Barbara Benaugh is owner of The Yoga Studio in Brookline, MA. She has taught yoga in Boston since 1980. She contributes to “Yoga Journal,” and has a line of instructional DVD’s.



Try your footwork with Shiva Rea’s “Yoga Trance Dance”:

Please follow our community rules when engaging in comment discussion on this site.

    Yoga is typically presented as simply a means of physical exercise and strengthening and improving flexibility of the muscles. However, the philosophy behind yoga is much more than physically improving oneself. It is an ancient practice derived from India, believed to be the path to spiritual growth and enlightenment.

    The word “yoga” means “union,” and the goal is to unite one’s transitory (temporary) self with the infinite Brahman, the Hindu concept of “God.” This god is not a literal being, but is an impersonal spiritual substance that is one with nature and the cosmos. This view is called “pantheism,” the belief that everything is God and that reality consists only of the universe and nature. Because everything is God, the yoga philosophy makes no distinction between man and God.

    Hatha yoga is the aspect of yoga which focuses on the physical body through special postures, breathing exercises, and concentration or meditation. It is a means to prepare the body for the spiritual exercises, with fewer obstacles, in order to achieve enlightenment. The practice of yoga is based on the belief that man and God are one. It is little more than self-worship disguised as a high level of spirituality.

    Consequently, yoga is really a religion and should not be promoted in schools just as Biblical Christianity has been kicked out of public schools. Yoga is an insidious “wolf in sheep’s clothing” that tells man what he wants to hear rather than what he needs to hear, namely that mankind is hopelessly lost as a result of the sin nature that each of us inherited from Adam and Eve as well as our own sinful choices that we make. Thankfully, God sent Jesus Christ to die on the cross for our sins and to give eternal life to all who will truly repent and accept Jesus as his/her personal savior. At the end of the day, yoga will simply be another pathway (like all other religions and philosophies other than Biblical Christianity)that leads men away from their deepest need, namely forgiveness for their sins.

  • http://www.richardsnotes.org Richard

    There actually might be a kernel of truth in your comment Winston but unfortunately you clouded it with Christian dogma.

    Americans (or maybe all Westerners, I don’t know) tend to decontextualize practices like yoga from their more spiritual roots so for many yoga is just one more form of stretching and/or bodywork. Nothing wrong with this although those who fold in a bit of spirituality seem to get a lot more out of it.

    My wife has a yoga practice and teaches it in a (private) school, including the use of Sanskrit and Hindi terms, deep breathing and meditation. No doubt they’ve even done some informal chanting (kirtan) which might smell like religion to some. She no doubt played Krishna Das CDs during the class. She is attempting to give yoga a history and a context for her students who seem to appreciate that. Not all yoga practices include this kind of context but I think it’s a useful addition for those who choose to make yoga more than just exercise.

    Winston’s point of church/state separation and how yoga fits into that should certainly be discussed this hour but personally, I would hate it if the only way yoga could be taught in a public school would be to strip it of its history and spiritual context.

  • Brett

    Damn! And here I thought I WAS on the path to God by practicing yoga! Now I realize I’m just talking to Satan! I should have known that God didn’t send down his only begotten son to be crucified and die for my sins for me to just go off contorting my body and meditating; hell, I’m not even summoning our Lord when I meditate! I’ll never be forgiven for my sins by not doing that! Well, I’ll sure be sorry when I get to the Pearly Gates and I haven’t been forgiven for my sins! I can hear St. Peter now: “I see here in your file that you never accepted Jesus Christ as your personal saviour, you just practiced yoga, instead. I’m sorry, but I can’t let you in…sorry” Even worse, I suppose, than thinking I can only look forward to an afterlife hanging around with Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, and other pagans, is knowing there’ll be atheists there, too! …stupid…stupid [smacking forehead with palm of hand]

  • ToTo

    What WINSTON said!

  • Ellen Dibble

    You could also have your spirituality hijacked by watching the whole of March Madness (basketball), I suppose, or actively participating in, say, the Olympics, or maybe going whole-hog into the Marines.
    But from Winston Smith’s analysis, yoga has quite a bit of overlap with Christianity, with the rootedness of faith being within the self (“personal relation to God”?), or belief in the godhood of man/manhood of god (thinking of Jesus, and we are told to “see Jesus” in everyone, from leper to enemy agent, Samaritan).
    At our local laundromat there are yoga magazines right alongside Jehovah’s Witness-type handouts. Also psychotherapists of every kind posting their services. Cleansing the soul, the body, the whole combo. And the clothes while you’re there.
    I don’t see much about forgiveness (cited by Mr. Smith) in the yoga magazines I’ve read, but I definitely forgive the yogis/Hindus their sins, because those articles give me the idea that when I’m doing the kind of ridiculous stretches that I seem not to have outgrown in all my years, that maybe I’m rewiring frayed linkages, reconnecting to the universe.
    A coffee break never does it quite the same.

  • Brett

    Now I like the idea of cleansing one’s soul while one cleanses one’s clothes! In this madcap world of multitasking and endless corruption from the interwebs, I think a little soul cleansing, as well as clothes cleansing, is certainly in order! If we just had drive-through laundries with religious pamphlets that also had free wifi, then we’d have something!

  • gemli

    I remember seeing an ad in the back of a magazine some 50 years ago that touted a cure for baldness. The ad made many extraordinary claims, but backed them up with the words, “Genuine Placebo!”

    So we’re two comments deep into a program on Yoga, and already we’re getting opinions that this does not represent the honest, true, genuine mystical claptrap, but some lesser form. So you heard it here first, Yoga is NOT the genuine placebo.

  • Lark

    Yoga is definitely going mainstream. I re-introduced it as a sport option at my private school (in New Hampshire) back in 2003. That first year it was just me teaching one section, one term, on an experimental basis. Now we have two levels, with two or three classes total each term, and two men, seven women who are teaching or have taught it. Last winter, I had three young men from the fall football team show up for class. One (the star of our best team in years!) said his acupuncturist recommended yoga to help him avoid injury. Another said he’d done yoga over the summer and had found it improved his speed and reduced his injuries.

  • http://www.richardsnotes.org Richard

    Lark: My wife’s school also classifies her yoga class as a “sport” or a sport alternative. She has both athletes and non-athletes in her class; the athletes tend to take it more seriously.

    I’ve always found the “sport” classification interesting and very “American” although I’m not sure how else schools like these might do it (short of Winston calling it a religion class).

    What has amazed my wife is that the biggest, burliest jocks seem to have gotten the most out of it and not just the stretching and poses but also the breathing and meditation.

  • Lauren

    I began my practice at the urging of my migraine doctor. The health benefits and the reduction in stress definitely make a difference in the frequency and intensity of my headaches. I have found that I am in the best shape of my life, and I feel wonderful when I wake up as opposed to creaky. My upper body strength is definitely better than it has ever been which as a woman who hates weight training (personal preference) is a big deal.
    I consider myself to be a Christian. I was raised non-Denominational in the South, and now attend services at an Episcopal Church. I find it funny that people would be threatened by the meditative aspects of yoga. Increasing my mind-body connection has enriched my spiritual life beyond measure. Try it before you knock it.

  • Ellen Dibble

    Richard, it may be a credit to your wife that…
    I’m wondering if a brain scan would reveal (has revealed) what yogic practice does. I am suspicious, after reading your post, that yoga lulls the yang, the testosterone, which might be a great discovered relief to a young male. Look, you don’t have to be jet-propelled in the old American style. You can transcend the hormones. Something like that.
    I was introduced to yoga by a co-worker as a healing modality. She was shaking a bad flu. I was just an imbalanced individual, as far as she could tell. No, yoga didn’t help. I could do yoga with her easily enough, but it wasn’t the Way — the true Placebo, as posted above. I used to say that the way out is through, no shortcuts. (No cheap transcendence for some unfortunates like me.) But when it hits the spot, then it does.

  • http://www.newprestonyoga.com Anne Hungerford

    Well Winston you lost me with yoga is a “form of self worship disguised as a high level of spirituality” and as Richard stated, your Christian dogma. I’m a yoga teacher, of the past 1o years or so, and am just beginning to have a small understanding of the scope and magnitude of what yoga has to offer anyone brave enough to unroll a mat and begin to practice, not just the physical postures but all eight “limbs” of yoga. Yoga predates all organized world religions and is considered by some scholars/theologins to be the most sophisticated pyscho-spiritual tradition in the world. Yoga’s promise, when practiced in it’s totality, is nothing less than yoking or uniting us with our sense, our notion of the Divine. Or Yoking /uniting the finite with the Infinite, helping us to retrace the steps out of the valley of ignorance to the peak of enlightenment. I’m beginning to learn as profound and esoteric as this all sounds, it is really quite simple and it is Humanity’s birth right. I was raised as a Christian and came away with some good stuff. It is my humble opinion that all religions, in their purist forms aim to do what yoga does. But ultimatley I’ve found that it’s been through my yoga practice that I have had glimpses of, intimate moments of Knowing (at the risk of sounding anti-intellectual) there is something more to life than the gross physical level and the material world to which we all falsley identify. There is a vast interior consciousness, within us all, that is one with the Cosmos,(Christ consciousness if you will) one with all sentient beings. We are not seperate from each other and yet our opinions, our preferances our dualistic ideas of right and wrong, good and bad would have us belive in this seperatness indefintely. Yoga does help us physically to peel away the layers of accumulated tightness that is often a manifestation of emotional/mental rigidity. When we begin to move through these “layers” koshas (sanskrit) we can begin to have a truely authentic experience of who and what we are.

  • http://www.richardsnotes.org Richard

    Ellen: It is a credit to my wife, she’s an excellent teacher and her teacher, Anne Hungerford (above) is also an excellent teacher. They’ve both found something in yoga that works for them and it shows in the way they conduct their lives and the way they help others discover yoga.

  • Ellen Dibble

    I’m curious, Richard, and maybe Anne Hungerford knows, maybe not, whether the emotional rigidity that yoga can help unknot includes the rigidities from child abuse. This morning’s Morning Edition included a piece with researcher J. Fallon as to child abuse as the third and precipitating ingredient in the creation of a sociopath/killer. And I read about the rigidities of inner repeating “plots” revealed in Rorschach tests drive people to seek danger (which is not “boring”), rather than allowing the Cosmos to stabilize them.
    So has that been tried on anyone who was abused as a child? I don’t think Medicaid promotes it. (It’s criminal court transcripts that mostly come to my attention.)

  • bruce

    Most Americans do not understand YOGA. They are giving bad name to YOGA. It is not a religion and if it is then it is the best religion world has produced.

  • Joanna

    I started practicing yoga at Laughing Dog Yoga at the behest of my physical therapist in hopes of rehabilitating a chronic shoulder injury. 4 years later my shoulder is fine but I continue going for the other aspects yoga provides, flexibility, balance and relaxing. I will never quit.

    BTW, my 12 yo daughter has been practicing yoga at WMS for stress reduction. She would never do it before when I asked her if she wanted to try but she now loves it!

  • Ellen Dibble

    Has yoga, historically, in India, been practiced equally by all castes?

  • Ellen Dibble

    I noticed the role of music, specifically drumbeat, in the Shiva dance clip posted by OnPoint above, and I am wondering if yoga takes full advantage of the way rhythm and music can influence the mind, the spirit.

  • Bill Luzader

    As Planetarium Director for Brockton High School (Massachusetts) in the early 1980s, I helped the yoga classes (part of the Health curriculum) with sessions in the planetarium theatre with music and the Moon, planets & stars and using the star projector as a big mechanical candle – it was even relaxing for me even though I was running the machine.

  • http://www.personalday.net Erin Reilly

    I just finished teaching a yoga class here in my home in Wellesley, http://www.personalday.net, and came down to hear that you’d be talking about yoga on On Point this morning.

    I spent all day Saturday at The First Boston Yoga and Chant Fest, and then Sunday morning teaching the class at the Lululemon store in the Natick Mall. If that’s not mainstream then I don’t know what is!

    Yoga has been a wonderful addition to my life. I started as a way to “age gracefully”, but as with so many others, as I continued along, I started to receive so many more benefits.

    I highly encourage anyone to try it, and if you try a class that you don’t like, try another one! Because there is a yoga practice for everyone, and everyone can benefit. Even those people who say, “I could never do yoga because it’s not enough of a workout for me.” or “I’m not flexible enough.” There is a way to access the benefits of yoga, either through chanting (as the 500 people did at the Fest on Saturday) or through chair yoga for seniors or people with injuries, etc.

    If you’re in the Wellelsey area, you can try it with me!

    Interesting about Emerson and Thoreau being called “yogis”, as they were also Unitarians; I attend the Unitarian Universalist Church here in Wellesley, and find that the way that the UU “faith” draws from many different traditions, so can a person interested in yoga draw from all the different approaches that are offered today to find what works for your personality.

    I wish everyone good luck on whatever path you’re on.

  • http://www.richardsnotes.org Richard

    “The tchotchke trap.” Great one Stephanie.

    For me, Krishna Das is the best example of the un-rock star rock star.

  • Ellen Dibble

    In terms of the spiritual dimension of yoga, I am listening for the social versus private aspects. There is something almost by definition countercultural to be “dancing” in the woods, in groups (or alone). Someone on air drew a picture like that. Now I do see people doing yoga in the park, and it’s sometimes solo, transfixing to see. But more often the idea of “class” and doing it together, paying an instructor, being a devoted, committed group makes it a little more than a team sport. But you can do it totally alone, which is different from spiritual practices where you are really expected (required) to partake at a certain site at a certain time. The caller who taught herself may be exception to the rule, or she may be more common than actually expected. Here, PBS, public television, teaches yoga at almost every fundraising stretch. Hour after hour.

  • Susan Chase

    I have been practicing yoga regularly for five years. I started out wanting a workout. However, through the grace and experience of my instructors, I was introduced to the spiritual limb of the practice and have come to embrace spirituality in my practice. I attribute my decision to become sober this January to my yoga practice and I will be forever grateful for this life changing experience.

  • http://www.richardsnotes.org Richard

    Jane: Many exercises that cross mid-line can help with sensory integration. Juggling three balls can be helpful as well.

  • John

    Now that I have been informed of the sinful pantheist true nature of yoga, what kind of exercises did Jesus do to get his great abs?

  • gala

    Thank you for bringing some humor into this such serious discussion. Made me laugh.

    Never take yourself too seriously!

  • http://www.planetyoga.com Chrys Kub

    As a pediatric physical therapist and yogini, I have found using the tools of yoga transformational to my practice with the children. By addressing their needs in a holistic way, their healing has been amazing!!

  • http://www.richardsnotes.org Richard

    Stephanie: “Category buster.” Great.

  • http://NPR Doreen

    I have been taking yoga for two years now – i wake up energized every morning with no headaches, back pains (was in therapy for this for a while with no relief until i started yoga)
    I cannot survive an entire week without yoga.

    I try different types of yoga, for different muscle relaxation and also different teachers for different disciplines.

    I practice yoga not for its spirituality, although it goes hand in hand as you medicate during a practise.

    Thanks for this show, it has given me a better insight.

  • gala

    … now if only we can all Om! for world peace

  • http://www.bodyinsync.com Rob

    Yoga has changed my life, as I have transitioned from Low Impact Aerobics, through Step, and many other principles.
    Now on a daily basis, I attempt to apply the principles of Yoga as a practice in my daily life.
    I am thankful that I have found Yoga, and I enjoy, and look forward to my journey as I practice.

  • http://www.personalday.net Erin Reilly

    To Jane Clayson,

    Thanks for taking my call today on air. If you’re still looking for a teacher, I’d love to talk to you! You can see my studio on line at http://www.personalday.net.

    And if you ever do want to start a yoga radio show, I’d love to help! :^)

    It was a great program today. It’s such a rich topic…

  • Quinn

    Yoga is the only thing that keeps me from going totally insane some days, haha. It helps me to balance multiple jobs, a crazy lifestyle, and the stress it comes with. Yoga has brought a sense of calmness and peace to my mind, while traversing my hectic life, that I didn’t have before starting to practice 2 1/2 years ago.

  • http://judywestphotography.com Judy West

    Twelve years ago at The Yoga Studio in Beacon Hill, Barbara Benaugh was my first yoga teacher. Her teachings had a profound influence on my life right from the start. I have taken classes with many instructors since then but Barbara is still the best teacher I have ever had. Even today although I take yoga classes closer to home, I have incorporated many of Barbara’s teachings into my own practice.

  • cory

    The 20 minute workout, the grapefruit diet, the abdominizer, Tae-Bo, Yoga.

    I wouldn’t assign a great deal of signifigance to yoga in America. Don’t think it is an anti christian plot (sheesh!), or the beginning of a karma balanced population. It is just something to do… Another way to excercise.

    I’m sure it is much more to some. I’m equally sure that it is much less to most!

  • joshua

    Yoga does not have to be religious. Eating takes away from your bible study too Einstein. As does sleeping. Baseball. Football. OnPoint radio. Everything. Wow! Craziness.

  • http://www.bowdownyoga.com harry bliss

    Thanks for taking my call today. Wonderful insights.

    If you’d like to hear terrific Jivamukti yoga podcasts go to: http://www.bowdownyoga.com — there are dozens of free classes from Sofi Dillof available on her site, all rich in how the philosophy of the discipline can effect our daily lives.

    Best, Harry Bliss

  • Betsy

    I’m a practicing Episcopalian (sort of) but it never occured to me NOT to try yoga because of my religious beliefs. What did take a leap of faith was trying yoga, as recommended by my physician, to help with my inner ear condition that causes imbalance and vertigo (to name the most relevant symptoms for this discussion). I just found it hard to believe that hanging upside down was going to help stabilize my balance system. But then again, smacking my head on pavement from a drop vertigo attack didn’t do much for me either …. so why not give it a try. Almost a decade later, most of my symptoms have disappeared (I hope writing this doesn’t tempt the Satan that Brett referred to), and I do everything from downward dog to shoulder stands without much thought to anything but my breathing. OK, my tree and other balance positions don’t last long, but this is a life-long practice, so hopefully I’ll have a while to get there. And interestingly, I’ve found that the same thoughts and prayers that I offer in my Christian life, often appear during meditation or as I send thoughts of peace and health in my yoga practice. Namaste.

  • http://www.newprestonyoga.com Anne Hungerford

    Great show this morning. I really enjoyed the discussion! Could have listened to the panelists and everyone that was calling in, for hours. I’ve since purchased Stephanie’s book, look forward to diving in. Thanks NPR!

  • http://www.yogauntwisted.com Carrisa

    Wow!! Some of the comments above are very interesting. lol Yoga can be spiritual on some levels, but isn’t about ‘religion’. Most of my students enjoy the physical benefits of Yoga. However, for my personal practice I am enjoying the deeper rooted philosophies of Yoga as well. I understand how some of us may feel the need to define our existance by placing a label on our religious beliefs, however, even in the deepest realms of Yoga, it is about us… our mind~our body~our existance. It inspires us to find peace EVERYWHERE.

  • Brett

    If one were to look at yoga through a Christian lens, then I suppose one could make an analogy of the various poses, breathing techniques, mental quiet and focus of nothingness but divine spirit, as rituals, with the same intent as any of the rituals one might see at a Sunday morning church service: they are “designed,” if you will, to bring a person’s mind, body and spirit to a place where peace, quiet, and a communion with the self, divine, and universal are possible–as in setting up the possibility that one might find oneness.

    Christian rituals have more formality to a group dynamic than yoga in some respects; the formalization of lighting candles, singing songs, plenty of incense burner swinging, dunking people in large basins of water…that sort of thing. The rituals in Christianity are also more theatrically ceremonious, with alters, flowers, candles, subdued lighting, people dressed up in costumes–robes for the actors, the finest of one’s personal wardrobe for audience members.

    Yoga uses one’s own physicality in an attempt to lead one toward a presence of mind that can have a quiet focus to reach toward a higher consciousness. Christianity uses different means to reach their definition of that state of being.

    Spirituality in yoga is much more abstract than spirituality in Christianity, with Christianity using very defined symbols in art and in rituals.

    I don’t worry that much about the commercialization of yoga. People get different things out of different things. Not everyone gets the same thing from Christianity, not everyone gets the same thing from music, exercise, that Italian class I never seemed to get the hang of, and so on. The first step in the path of yoga would be learning the poses (physical rituals), as in playing music, in a way. Once the poses have been learned well enough, and there is synchronicity in them, then the participant may become able to reach for a higher state of consciousness. A person may only get to the point where he/she thinks of it as “stretching,” but at least some mind-body thing took place if not mind-body-spirit.

    Learning the poses is like a child learning to walk. Some practitioners of yoga may get far in their mind-body-spirit unity quests, some may not, just like some children never grow up…

  • http://beerbrew.com Bruce L

    I’m not a spiritual person, and if yoga were what Winston claims, I wouldn’t be involved. As it is, I’ve been doing yoga for a decade and have never once felt pushed to become a Hindu or pantheist.

    While there are spiritual aspects to yoga, you can be a Jew, Christian, Buddhist, Muslim, or atheist and still enjoy it and gain from it without giving up your beliefs. His view of yoga as ‘self-worship’ is as far off-base as it could possibly be. Self-respect, yes. Self-worship, no.

    Winston obviously knows nothing of yoga and has been fed a highly-prejudiced view, likely from another equally-uninformed person.

  • Virabhadrasana

    RE the first post: If you notice, Winston posted more than three hours before the program aired.

    It’s too bad he was afraid to listen before spouting his opinion about something he’s completely ignorant of. Maybe he might have learned something.

  • http://www.richardsnotes.org Richard

    I think those of you who are deriding Winston are missing an opportunity that his comment affords: what is the difference between spirituality and religion?

    I’m in no way saying yoga is a religion, just that it’s a useful “spectrum” to explore and Winston’s comment, while caustic to folks who practice and know about yoga, is an opportunity.

    Remember, if we get too like minded here yoga will turn into a religion, and that’s not where we want it.

  • Mr Stone

    Maybe I should try yoga.

  • millard_fillmore

    Actually, Winston has an excellent point about how yoga in America (and elsewhere in the west) is being divested from its Hindu roots. He goes off-the-track in the latter part of his comment though, when he compares yoga to Satan and brings in his Christian monopoly-on-truth/god view.

    As an aside, what is this sick pathology that the two major Abrahamic religions indulge in by converting others and claiming exclusivity? Have these people never heard of laissez-faire or are they really so insecure that they need strength-in-numbers?

    I also don’t see any need to indulge in our modern society’s anti-religion biases and to polish our “secular” credentials by trying hard to prove that yoga is “spiritual” but “not religious.”

    And to someone who said that he never felt any pressure to become a Hindu as a result of doing yoga, that’s because Hinduism is not a proselytizing religion and doesn’t claim to “save you” by “converting” you.

  • millard_fillmore

    And I agree with whoever mentioned that there’s much more to yoga than just asanas. The other seven limbs are equally, if not more, important.

  • Mr Stone

    Could someone at On Point send me the name of the participant in the lead photo wearing the blue tank and whether she is a massage therapist.

  • Donna

    Great program!

    I told my husband, Gene, to make sure he catches it, so hopefully tonight he will.

    My husband is a marvelous yoga teacher in the MetroWest Area, and he gets very high marks from all his students – and he teaches in various venues. A brilliant, very loving, patient, caring, humorous, and nurturing teacher, who teaches an eclectic style of yoga, geared towards people’s various levels of strength and flexibility – from seniors to the very athletic.

  • http://www.sewallhouse.com Donna Davidge

    Yikes! Only read the first couple of posts but had to stop at yoga is after all a religion.
    Kind if scary. Yoga is NOT a religion…it is lifestyle that follows a certain philosophy.
    One of my yoga nidra books from India actually says religion causes people to be schizophrenic and while this is a pretty strong statement I would say that might be true to some extent..yoga believes people are based in goodness and kindness and my experience of religion is that people are born sinners which instills fear and even self loathing.Trying to be brief here..in reference to spiritual vs religious, spiritual actually means having a relationship with your breath; to inspire is to bring in the breath, to expire, let is out. ps I even heard Jesus likely went to India and did do yoga and meditation there, very little is known about his life. Religion is belief system. All food for thought.

  • Aaron Smith

    I recently got this amazing yoga chair called Soul Seat. I’ve never felt better at the end of a long work day. It lets me focus on keeping my hips flexible all day long. I no longer lose the ground that I had gained the day before on the yoga mat. In fact, I’ve been working at the computer now for hours and can hop right up without the usual stiffness in hamstrings or quads!

  • tom

    I am a practicing Christian (Presbyterian elder) and avid yoga practitioner for the last two years…going deeper than the asana practice with breath and meditation workshops, now regularly meditating. I start and end my meditation with prayers to my God. This path has definitely deepened my spirituality and broadened by understanding of Christianity…and definitely put me in the “unorthodox Christian” category. Don’t know if yoga is a “religion” (don’t much care, either), but it is definitely a spiritual path if you take it in its full meaning and depth.

  • jamey

    great show!
    what song is playing when she goes on break? kindof a bouncy sounding guitar sound? almost sounds like springstein, but different. Thanks!!

  • http://www.yogadawg.com YogaDawg

    As I continue to be amazed by the yogafication of everything (see yoga seat above) I think it is of value to be reminded of the genesis of yoga http://www.yogadawg.com/yoga%20genesis1.htm

  • chris

    What was NPR thinking when they placed along with this interview a youtube video called “Shiva Rea’s “Yoga Trance Dance”? What does this have to do with Yoga? If this is Yoga, then the every Grateful Dead concert was a giant Yoga fest. But seriously, if people want to attach the word “Yoga’ to every product or activity they want to popularize, then the term is going to lose all its integrity.

  • bellina

    several times, both stefanie + barbara referred to the “abuse of power” by yoga leaders of the 1980s-90s. If they did not wish to elaborate, it was unnecessary for them to refer to it as much as they did.

    But since they did, can anyone please elaborate???

  • Ellen Dibble

    Bellina, I’m thinking of Woodstock, drugs, and “free love,” flower power. I never thought to associate yogic practice with that till you posted, and the era I refer to was 1960s and 1970s, so. But the idea that a younger generation, with many draft resisters, anti-Vietnam War types, the idea that they were testing and challenging all norms probably extended to the idea of the “family” or ashram (I forget what we called them, little self-sufficient collectives in the wilds here and there), governed by a guru who had basically extricated the members from the society of origin and family of origin — that set-up invited abuse. Abuse of power or all sorts.
    The thousands of years of yoga, genesis and development, were surely more mature than that. More disciplined at every level.

  • Jane Cameron

    Yoga is a technology and can be practiced at a variety of depths. Many Christians practice yoga without significant, if any, spiritual conflict. However, I would agree with Winston that at its base it rejects the concept of original sin. If you’re really mired in the requirement of intrinsic self loathing, it may not be for you.

  • Paschall

    Since the translation of Yoga is Union, meaning the awareness that everything is connected to everything else, it’s not really possible NOT to “do” Yoga. You’re either more or less balanced with or in tune with the rest of the cosmos. In that sense, we’re all “doing” Yoga more or less effectively. To the extent that you find yourself dissing Yoga, or Islam or Christianity, or even the state of your own abs, then you’re state of union will result in some inevitable consequences. You’ll be more or less aware of what those consequences are and their source. The formal practice and science of Yoga is simply one of many ways we humans have found to manage our relationship to the larger universe. Of course my dog and cats know quite a lot about how stretching keeps their physical/mental/emotional state at it’s best. No one had to teach them. Our own bodies haven’t forgotten either if we simply breath and observe. To argue about Yoga is to argue about what the cosmos is and our unique and particular contribution to the patterns that connect. Always fun and fruitful.

  • DancingShiva

    Yoga belongs to the Astika (orthodox schools) of philosophical thought from India. This as opposed to the Nastika (heterodox schools)such as Buddhism, Jainism, etc. All such -isms including Hinduism are western colonial understanding of these diverse philosophical schools that came out of India. In this sense, Hinduism is just a market for philosophical ideas.

    Yoga, in short, relies heavily on the Astika – traditional spiritual – thoughts from India such as the Vedas, Samkya, Nyaya, Mimamsa, etc. Yoga also has close relationships to the system of Ayurveda (medicine) and Martial arts traditions from India.

    Someone asked the question about Yoga and castes… many Indian school kids learn Yoga going to Catholic missionary schools and were trained by Catholic Yoga gurus. Caste (correctly Varna)as opposed to Jati (ethinicity or tribe) is a confusing concept for most Western folks. There is no hierarchy to Yoga or spirituality in India. Yogis come from all Varnas and Jathis, even from other religions. Myths and prejudices are harder to change than facts :-)

    To each their own, if physical benefit is all you seek, so be it. Want to learn meditation and how to reach higher levels of thinking, so be it. Want to learn philosophical traditions of India and immerse yourself in that ocean of knowledge, so be it.
    Don’t be afraid that anyone practicing Yoga will try to change your spirituality – that is incongruous with those who really practice Yoga. Last I checked, Yogis don’t bite, but they do contort :D

    So feel free to contort your body – you may see a different point of view!

  • Niranjan Prabhu

    In the Yogasutras of Patanjali, the only mention of religiosity/God is a verse which speaks of “Ishwara Pranidhana” which can be understood as ‘A deep love for the Divine’. This is precisely the reason why Yoga transcends the boundaries of religion. I see Yoga as an experience that the ones with good fortune are destimed to undergo!

  • http://YogaDemystified.com Bob Weisenberg

    Great interview. Thanks to the magic of Kindle, I’m already into the book!

    Bob Weisenberg

  • Tatiana

    Barbara Benaugh is the best yoga teacher.
    The book is does not matter,history is very relevant.
    Yoga is the practice and discipline and much more beyond the asanas. Try yoga with Barbara and you will stop taking and tweeting, but start practice yoga
    Those who talk to much do not have a slides idea about yoga.



  • http://www.studiofitness.net Jennifer Popper/Studio Fitness

    I have enjoyed reading all of the comments that have been posted here, it’s amazing how passionate people can get about yoga, isn’t it? Both for and against it. Very interesting.



  • http://www.totalmotionrelease.com Sunil

    Thank you for this video. its nice that yoga can help all people which need help.thanks for sharing information with us.

  • Phyllis Bregman

    I’m an atheist who practices yoga and who ignores the spiritual and places emphasis on the body and her own mind. I take classes with instructors who are careful not to bring religion into the class. There is no reason not to mould the practice to what is best for your body and mind.

  • Anjeanette

    Hi there. I’m so glad you posted something on yoga as a sport. Leeann Carey, an amazing yoga teacher, says that it is just like any other fitness activity. She has a free yoga video on this that I think your readers might like: http://planetyoga.com/yoga-blogs/index.php/free-yoga-video-breakdown-of-bakasana-crane-pose/

  • skibebe

    I have found that some people in America can’t seem to get to the complete relaxation state of Yoga no matter how often they practice. In fact, a few I know of that do it most every day, may even teach it, get so addicted that I wonder at times if its because it simply is only working for them a modicon of time, a temporary solution of state of “relaxation” before going back to their toxic thoughts (i.e, the media-led myth that America is fighting for its “security and freedom” with its violent, uncessary wars.
    I’ve read (and seen with people) that the state of “Yoga Nidra” cannot fully be attained in one does not “let go” of inbred beliefs that many of us, including myeslf, were taught. It was not until I traveled the world, read hundreds of books outside of the American imperialistic attitude of an its History book, that I myself was able to fully “let go” and enbrace all humanity. After this, a couple stretches, breathing, poses and maybe five minutes of meditation incorporated 2x per week into my daily routine works, I am fully relaxed. People need to let go of anger….believing in war is anger.

  • http://www.alivewithaadil.com Mona

    I suggest interviewiing Aadil Palkhivala, world renowned Yoga Master. He has taught yoga for over 43 years and travels the world teaching yoga.
    He has his own radio show – http://www.alivewithaadil.com and would make for a very interesting guest and as well as an authority on the yoga.

Sep 15, 2014
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President Barack Obama meets with Congressional leaders in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, Tuesday, Sept. 9, 2014, to discuss options for combating the Islamic State. (AP/Evan Vucci)

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