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21st Century Yoga: Culture, Politics, and Practice

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Yoga may be rooted in ancient India, but it’s morphed into something new in North America today. Precisely what that might be, however, is difficult to say. Yoga is taught everywhere from spas to prisons, and foreverything from weight loss to spiritual transcendence. With its chameleon-like ability to adapt equally well to advertising, athletics, and ashrams, contemporary y Yoga may be rooted in ancient India, but it’s morphed into something new in North America today. Precisely what that might be, however, is difficult to say. Yoga is taught everywhere from spas to prisons, and foreverything from weight loss to spiritual transcendence. With its chameleon-like ability to adapt equally well to advertising, athletics, and ashrams, contemporary yoga is a fascinating phenomenon that invites investigation. Written by experienced practitioners who are also teachers, therapists, activists, scholars, studio owners, and interfaith ministers, 21st Century Yoga is one of the first books to provide a multi-faceted examination of yoga as it actually exists in contemporary North America. Key themes addressed in the essays include: - The significance of the body in yoga culture - Yoga’s capacities and limitations as a healing modality - Mind/body splits in the yoga and Zen communities - Healing anorexia through yoga - Holistic recovery through yoga and the 12 Steps - Social engagement and interdependence - Imagination, rationality, and consciousness - Contemporary spirituality - Yoga and the practice of writing


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Yoga may be rooted in ancient India, but it’s morphed into something new in North America today. Precisely what that might be, however, is difficult to say. Yoga is taught everywhere from spas to prisons, and foreverything from weight loss to spiritual transcendence. With its chameleon-like ability to adapt equally well to advertising, athletics, and ashrams, contemporary y Yoga may be rooted in ancient India, but it’s morphed into something new in North America today. Precisely what that might be, however, is difficult to say. Yoga is taught everywhere from spas to prisons, and foreverything from weight loss to spiritual transcendence. With its chameleon-like ability to adapt equally well to advertising, athletics, and ashrams, contemporary yoga is a fascinating phenomenon that invites investigation. Written by experienced practitioners who are also teachers, therapists, activists, scholars, studio owners, and interfaith ministers, 21st Century Yoga is one of the first books to provide a multi-faceted examination of yoga as it actually exists in contemporary North America. Key themes addressed in the essays include: - The significance of the body in yoga culture - Yoga’s capacities and limitations as a healing modality - Mind/body splits in the yoga and Zen communities - Healing anorexia through yoga - Holistic recovery through yoga and the 12 Steps - Social engagement and interdependence - Imagination, rationality, and consciousness - Contemporary spirituality - Yoga and the practice of writing

30 review for 21st Century Yoga: Culture, Politics, and Practice

  1. 4 out of 5

    Gabrielle

    So, I love yoga. And honestly, my personal practice has been a lifeline this year, and it has taken a much bigger place in my life than it had before (partially due to being a convenient way to keep my body active whilst sheltering in place in my apartment for over 6 months…), to the point where I have started thinking about doing yoga teacher training when such things are safe again. But there are weird things about modern Western yoga culture (or MWYC, as abbreviated by one of this book’s cont So, I love yoga. And honestly, my personal practice has been a lifeline this year, and it has taken a much bigger place in my life than it had before (partially due to being a convenient way to keep my body active whilst sheltering in place in my apartment for over 6 months…), to the point where I have started thinking about doing yoga teacher training when such things are safe again. But there are weird things about modern Western yoga culture (or MWYC, as abbreviated by one of this book’s contributors) that always gave me pause: there’s a lot of aggressive consumerism, a lot of emphasis on weight-loss and beauty, an almost competitive edge between practitioners, a sometimes troubling lack of diversity in how it’s represented and a sort of happy delusion that picking up yoga will automatically make you a million times healthier and that you will become a “better person” for practicing it. When I bring that sort of stuff up with the handful of people I know who practice or are interested in yoga, I’m often dismissed as cynical, so I must say it was very refreshing to stumble upon this book of essays. The contributors wrote layered and nuanced pieces about 21st century yoga: they know there are no easy answers and that a practice like yoga, that needs to adapt to the cultural context in which its practiced to stay relevant, means that some weird and complicated issues often arise and must be dealt with. Life-changing as it may be, yoga, just like anything else, needs to be thought about critically, and these authors did a fantastic job of doing that, and tackle almost systematically all the things that make me cringe about the way MWYC is represented and talked about. I made me feel relieved to read essays that dared to voice a lot of problems I have with the “yoga industry” that I have never seen addressed anywhere else that I could find. Don’t get me wrong: these people love yoga, too. Most of them are yoga teacher or studio owners. But that puts them in the perfect position to identify problems and work towards addressing, and hopefully, eventually resolving them. That said, there are no definitive solutions offered here: the aim of this collection is more to spark the conversation and get interested people to think more deeply about their yoga practice but also what yoga’s place in modern Western society can and should be. The main themes explored are the significance of the body, the potential of healing with yoga (and the limitations of that potential), and the community and social awareness and engagement associated with yoga. With the exception of the last essay, which I admit left me scratching my head a little, every piece in this collection was excellent, thought-provoking and inspiring. In many ways, this book reminded me of “Zen Radicals, Rebels, and Reformers” (https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...), because it aims to address some things that we may have gotten a bit complacent about. If you are curious about the different issues mentioned in the previous paragraphs, this book is an excellent source of information and ideas that I’d enthusiastically recommend to anyone interested in the future of yoga culture.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Vern Stevens

    This book contains essays written by modern yoga teachers expressing their viewpoints on the state of modern Yoga, primarily as practiced in the west. The viewpoints are varied, at times in opposition to the others, but with a couple central themes of concern; 1) the commercialization of yoga, 2) the concern for yoga as simply a physical practice, and 3) the lack of real "community" in yoga. The essays are well written, predominately starting with personal stories of the writer. While all are ea This book contains essays written by modern yoga teachers expressing their viewpoints on the state of modern Yoga, primarily as practiced in the west. The viewpoints are varied, at times in opposition to the others, but with a couple central themes of concern; 1) the commercialization of yoga, 2) the concern for yoga as simply a physical practice, and 3) the lack of real "community" in yoga. The essays are well written, predominately starting with personal stories of the writer. While all are easily readable, one essay borders on "scholarly" in approach, not in a bad way. As a new practitioner, I found the book insightful with respect to my own approach to my budding practice.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Alysa Volpe

    My favorite essay was by Matthew Remskis Post-Catholic Yogi. All of them were thoughtful and well written but his struck a chord with me unlike the rest and I continue to ask myself what more can I do. Why am I doing yoga, teaching yoga and studying yoga if not to add to the world in some way? Am I challenging myself and others to do the same?

  4. 5 out of 5

    Anne

    21st Century Yoga provided a serious look into the Western-World of Yoga. The essays were well written and proved that yoga teachers could actually write with substance and also proved that there is still the possibility of great editing in the world of essays and memoirs. Horton and Harvey masterfully put together a book of writings on yoga that provided the reading world with something other than a "happy go-lucky" reading of what is going on in the yoga community and the business of yoga. Ther 21st Century Yoga provided a serious look into the Western-World of Yoga. The essays were well written and proved that yoga teachers could actually write with substance and also proved that there is still the possibility of great editing in the world of essays and memoirs. Horton and Harvey masterfully put together a book of writings on yoga that provided the reading world with something other than a "happy go-lucky" reading of what is going on in the yoga community and the business of yoga. There were two essays that had a huge impact on me personally--they were the 2 essays that I thought would be the least significant since the topic seemed to be either common or I thought too preachy. -"Starved for Connection: Healing Anorexia Through Yoga" by Chelsea Roff -"Modern Yoga Will Not Form a REal Culture Until Every Studio Can Also Double as a Soup Kitchen and other observations from the threshold between yoga and activism" by Mathew Remski Roff's essay made me cry and made me really think about my own personal relationship to yoga and how I've used it to heal. It's not just another story about an eating disorder, it's a story about uncovering connection to authenticity and how authenticity is at the core of healing through yoga. Remski's essay was inspiring because his message connected right to the heart of what I constantly feel is missing in yoga studios--real communing and service to all in need. My business dreams got a heck of a lot more creative and inspired after reading how quickly a studio loses even its most adoring students. I will remember these 2 essays the most because they got to the core of why I practice and teach: Yoga in the Western World is a tool for connection. A tool to practice communing not only with our personal body but with the community of beings we're in relationship with. As for the book as a whole, I feel like it was a great exploration of many different topics, but I was disappointed by the fact that humor was nonexistent. That was not the purpose of the book, but I feel like one of the biggest teachings of yoga is to not take ourselves so damn seriously. And that laughing at ourselves and the obstacles that life provides is one of the biggest healing tools of the human spirit. Because the book was so serious, it became hard to differentiate between the essays. I also found it curious that most of the essayist were teachers. I didn't walk away from the book feeling like the writers were in love with the work they do. The book inspired me to write more about the joys of yoga and the joys of teaching and that joy doesn't mean butterflies, rainbows, unicorns, and a face that smiles all the time. Joy to me means finding beauty in what is raw and authentic. It is something almost every being quests. When I ask my students what their intentions are the most common ones spoken are: To find joy. & To be lovable. 21st Century Yoga, definitely gets you thinking and feeling into what Yoga means in this day and age.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Megan

    Of the ten essays that make up this book, the middle five were really interesting and compelling to me. The outer five meandered more and some didn't even seem to have a point (which was justified as 'starting a conversation on the topic'), so the book is a mixed bag. Of the ten essays that make up this book, the middle five were really interesting and compelling to me. The outer five meandered more and some didn't even seem to have a point (which was justified as 'starting a conversation on the topic'), so the book is a mixed bag.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Lynn Bonelli

    Three essays made this book very much worth while. it also sparked my desire to read more from these particular authors (Michael Stone and Matthew Remski are stand outs) as well as to research some of the points brought up. Very thought provoking and worth reading.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Samantha

    Love the content, not totally in love with the format. Still highly value this book and its contribution to the canon of yoga literature.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Alex Ozlowski

    Enjoyed greatly! Introduced me to more flexible ways of thinking, and certainly inspired.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Andrea

    I had to rate this book at a 3 instead of a 5 or a 1. It’s a collection of essays, so naturally I liked some and didn’t like others. I’d say I enjoyed, to varying degrees, at least 70% of the content so I decided to give it a 3. One I didn’t like, well I forget who it was, but one of the authors wrote this thing about how yoga in North America was its own thing and that it’s not cultural appropriation because it’s changed. That bothered me because I felt like he was toooootally explaining what c I had to rate this book at a 3 instead of a 5 or a 1. It’s a collection of essays, so naturally I liked some and didn’t like others. I’d say I enjoyed, to varying degrees, at least 70% of the content so I decided to give it a 3. One I didn’t like, well I forget who it was, but one of the authors wrote this thing about how yoga in North America was its own thing and that it’s not cultural appropriation because it’s changed. That bothered me because I felt like he was toooootally explaining what cultural appropriation is by explaining that what he and others do and then saying isn’t cultural appropriation to totally detach it from it’s origins (which it is!). There’s nothing wrong with doing yoga, hell, there’s nothing wrong with adapting it to be appropriate for the cultural change text it’s being practiced in BUT it still matters to have knowledge of and respect for the traditions it comes from when acknowledging why some practices (particularly the more monastic ones, like celibacy) aren’t useful for the new setting. That said, just because disagree with his assessment doesn’t mean that everyone has to feel that way, and that’s why books like this matter because it makes you think about a lot of different points of views and question your views, why you feel that way, if you want to change you’re view etc. One I loved was how the author kind of challenged the capitalization of yoga, and how that’s one of the biggest deviations from traditional yoga, and while she recommended stuff that isn’t always approachable for all yoga teachers (eg those who work in a gym versus a studio), I do think that the talk abut being community oriented, trying to provide opportunities for people who aren’t able to afford yoga to still go, such as providing a weekly pay-what-you-can /donation class, having community meals, having a fundraiser to donate to a shelter for people experiencing homelessness, etc. I liked that one just because it got me to thinking about how my yoga studio can also be more community oriented. I also really liked the one about yoga and body image. I forget the exact direction, but it was by someone who had an eating disorder and felt her yoga practice both helping and hindering her practice and her journey to having a healthy yoga practice. As someone who struggles with body image, this resonated with me.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Michelle

    Anyone who's really interested in yoga's influence and rise in the U.S. should read this. It's very interesting. Some essays are better than others. I've been doing yoga on and off for over 30 years, so to me, yoga has never been weird or the "in" thing. It was something I did that was very normal to me. I find the Lululemon fashionistas to be the weird ones. This was a quick and enjoyable read. Anyone who's really interested in yoga's influence and rise in the U.S. should read this. It's very interesting. Some essays are better than others. I've been doing yoga on and off for over 30 years, so to me, yoga has never been weird or the "in" thing. It was something I did that was very normal to me. I find the Lululemon fashionistas to be the weird ones. This was a quick and enjoyable read.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Hope

    " Interesting collection of essays. There is a wide range of tone and content represented here, along with multiple approaches to yoga culture. My personal favorites were Melanie Klein's and Chelsea Roff's essays on yoga and body image, although all the essays were thought-provoking and worth reading. " Interesting collection of essays. There is a wide range of tone and content represented here, along with multiple approaches to yoga culture. My personal favorites were Melanie Klein's and Chelsea Roff's essays on yoga and body image, although all the essays were thought-provoking and worth reading.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Brenna

    My favourite essays were Enlightenment 2.0: The American Yoga Experiment; How Yoga Makes You Pretty: The Beauty Myth, Yoga and Me, and Modern Yoga Will Not Form a Real Culture Until Every Studio Can Also Double as a Soup Kitchen(...). All chapters were thought-provoking but those three stood out. Yoga+sociology does it for me.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Glenda

    Good collection of thought provoking essays. Melanie Klein's essay, "How Yoga Makes You Pretty: The Beauty Myth, Yoga and Me" and Chelsea Roff's "Starved for Connection: Healing Anorexia Through Yoga" were particularly moving and powerful. Good collection of thought provoking essays. Melanie Klein's essay, "How Yoga Makes You Pretty: The Beauty Myth, Yoga and Me" and Chelsea Roff's "Starved for Connection: Healing Anorexia Through Yoga" were particularly moving and powerful.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Timothy Nichols

    A lovely little collection of essays on contemporary yoga practice and what it means to the contributors. It was an enjoyable read in its own right, and also inspired me to think deeply about my own practice and what I am seeking to accomplish with it. Very useful.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Jayney

    Yoga, Culture & Politics. All the things I'm interested in. A fascinating collection of essays that question the cultural dynamics of yoga practise in North America. Throughly enjoyed this. I think it offers the opportunity to open a dialogue about yoga and it's place in society. Yoga, Culture & Politics. All the things I'm interested in. A fascinating collection of essays that question the cultural dynamics of yoga practise in North America. Throughly enjoyed this. I think it offers the opportunity to open a dialogue about yoga and it's place in society.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Nina

    Thoughtful and well written essays, some interesting and thought provoking viewpoints. Found that some essays were easier to read than others as it was difficult to stay engaged when reading some of the stories.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Angela Counter

    Very interesting perspectives. I don't agree with all of it, naturally, but I still think that yoga could benefit from this kind of critical thinking. Very interesting perspectives. I don't agree with all of it, naturally, but I still think that yoga could benefit from this kind of critical thinking.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Stephanie Newell

  19. 5 out of 5

    Geoff

  20. 4 out of 5

    Amanda

  21. 4 out of 5

    Pierian

  22. 4 out of 5

    april

  23. 4 out of 5

    Liz

  24. 5 out of 5

    Catherine

  25. 5 out of 5

    Rebecca

  26. 4 out of 5

    Bianca Fehn

  27. 5 out of 5

    Kevin

  28. 5 out of 5

    Courtney

  29. 5 out of 5

    Ashley

  30. 5 out of 5

    Shawna

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