Thursday, September 23, 2010

The Subtle Body - Should Christians Fear Yoga?

The new book by Stephanie Symen, "The Subtle Body: The Story of Yoga in America" has been met with mixed reviews - and most notably a hard reaction from Albert Mohler, President of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.  Mr. Mohler sincerely believes that yoga is a threat to Christianity.  And while he is right to point to the secularization of America as a threat to the institution of religion, yoga itself is not part of that secularization and has been embraced by many Christians as a tool for spiritual growth.  I found the USA Today article to provide ample evidence to the point.

I have yet to read the book myself (it's now made it to the top of a very long list).  However, one review I found particularly interesting was this from an Amazon.com user:


The Less than Subtle Body, August 31, 2010



By Rickter "GRR"

This review is from: The Subtle Body: The Story of Yoga in America (Hardcover)


Having been a student, practitioner, and teacher of yoga for the past 35 years, it was with some positive anticipation that I began reading The Subtle Body. Unfortunately, when I completed the book my first thought was that if I knew nothing about yoga, this book would make sure that I never pursued any form of yoga in the future. Yogis were a pretty weird and suspicious group as described in the book.

The author should be praised for amassing a substantial number of references. However, the errors and omissions in the book would keep me from recommending it to others. For some reason, the author chose to develop individual chapters of the book to the Bernards while only mentioning Paramahansa Yogananda in passing. My view of Swami Prahbavananda, based on reading his books and discussing him with a Nun who knew him was that he was of the highest intellect and morality. In this book he comes off as a chain smoking guy who had some conversations with Isherwood and Huxley.

Certainly, the numerous controversies in which some yogis were involved deserved mentioning. However, the positive aspects of many of the yoga masters described were downplayed or left out. For instance, Muktananda's Siddha Yoga is discussed in terms of Durgananda who left Siddha Yoga on good terms. No mention was made of the several other substantial SY swamis who have maintained their work within the organization.


Of considerable concern is the failure to discuss yoga philosophy and psychology which some feel trump that found in the west. Their is little discussion, if any, of the title of the book. The subtle body needs much more clarification or it seems like some silly fantasy. The trumping of spiritual yoga by the various hatha yoga "studios" has been deplored by such yoga scholars as Dr. Georg Feurstein. This issue is missed by the author.



Anyone wishing to understand yoga would do better to read Prabhavananda and Huston Smith's Spiritual Heritage of India. Then go to various centers offering meditation as a main form of yoga and find one with which you are comfortable.