Yoga’s Complex Role in the Narrative of Sex and Religion in the Twentieth-Century United States
This chapter features influential figures of American yoga, whose life and work illustrate the re-reaction of “exotic” Indian devotions into idiosyncratic forms of American yoga. Those responsible for appropriating and re-creating yoga as a mode of subversive spirituality varied as widely as the turn-of-the-century sex reformer Ida C. Craddock (1857–1902), the Hindu-Indian nationalist Vivekananda (1863–1902), the tantric guru Swami Muktananda (1908–82), and the devotional guru Daya Mata (1914–2010). The architects of this spiritual practice of modern yoga blurred religious boundaries and challenged mainstream Christianity as they also subverted sexual norms. However, this decidedly countercultural image shifted markedly by the end of the twentieth century. For this reason, yoga provides a unique exemplar of the intertwined transformations of twentieth-century religion and sexuality. Initially largely perceived as a perverse and heathen challenge to the Protestant moral establishment, yoga by the century’s end typified ascendant cultural ideals of bodily and spiritual health.
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