Today, modern yoga—once considered the esoteric pursuit of Indian ascetics—has fans all over the world. The global yoga industry is valued at $5.7 billion, with an estimated 15 million devotees in the US alone professing to some sort of yoga practice.
Stories about yoga, and yogis, have a long tradition in Indian narrative, folklore and oral culture. In many accounts, the scholar David Gordon White shows that yogis were the classic villains of adventure tales. These fictional yogis didn’t spend too much of their time in complicated physical postures or in deep meditative breathing. Instead, they tended to be spies and soul-stealers. They worked close to kings. Yogis were hungry for power. They were fearsome creatures on the border between the human and the supernatural.
In the early 20th century, as yoga began to take the shape familiar to most of us today, influential Indian gurus who wanted to spread yoga around the world decided to start telling their own stories. Spiritual memoirs, they thought, could help them publicise their goals for a broad international audience.
Paramahansa Yogananda was one such guru. After a long period of religious training in India, Yogananda was sent to the US in the early 20th century. In 1946, he published Autobiography of a Guru, which became a hit with spiritual seekers for decades. Continue reading >>