Historian Philip Deslippe looks at what a few yoga-themed pieces of pop culture can tell us about the perception of the practice in American over the last century.
Long before yoga became mainstream in America, yoga-related phrases and images appeared in our popular culture. In the early 20th century, the most commonly held ideas about swamis and yogis were that they were magical, wonder-working figures who could levitate and bestow fortune were represented on everything from movies and comic books to toys and household products. Even if the vast majority of Americans did not count themselves as yoga practitioners or sympathizers at the time, they were familiar enough with the words and ideas about yoga (however confused and exoticized) that manufacturers felt little hesitation using a yogi or swami for a logo or as part of a product name. Popular culture also helps us to understand the backdrop against which yoga teachers operated. If the public was familiar with yoga and yogis as magical, mysterious, otherworldly, and exotic, it makes sense that they were regularly described to audiences in the United States as scientific, rational, practical, and relatable. Out of the many ways that yoga has made an appearance in popular culture, here are a few items that help to tell part of the early history of yoga in the United States.
See also Yoga History 101
About Our Expert
Philip Deslippe is a doctoral student in the Department of Religious Studies at the University of California Santa Barbara. More at philipdeslippe.com
Items and images courtesy of the author