July 2011

The Great Oom in American didn't come from anywhere in the Middle East

It came from Iowa.

When most people think of yoga—even yoga in America—they think of it as something Eastern, transported to this country on the backs of Hindu yogis with sitars in their packs.  Think again.  Robert Love’s The Great Oom: The Improbable Birth of Yoga in America tells the story of Perry Baker, a small-town Iowan, who unexpectedly studied the ancient practice with an Indian yoga instructor named Sylvais Hamati living in Lincoln, Nebraska in 1890.  The rest is oom history. Baker changed his name to Pierre Bernard, created yoga studios in San Francisco, Seattle and New York and involved himself with the seedier uses of backbends and leg lifts. Needless to say he started a revolution, but a revolution with fewer Hindu influences than most American yogis probably would expect.