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Lazy Monday Book Review: The Great Oom

May 27, 2014

20140526-212119-76879706.jpgAfter visiting the Yoga exhibit at the Asian Art Museum, I visited another public institution (the library) and checked out this little piece of non-fiction (instead of buying it in the museum gift store).

As promised this book tells the story of the birth of yoga in America through the lens of Pierre Bernard. I’ve read about Bernard before, but this is a far more complete biography. It seems like perhaps there is a lot about Bernard that isn’t known, but this book seems to do a pretty convincing job rebuilding his story more than 100 years after it began.

While it seems like yoga is a thread that binds the story of Bernard it is by no means the only narrative in this book. There seem to be periods of Bernard’s life where yoga may have lurked in the background but was by no means his foremost venture or the most pertinent topic of this book.

All and all, I really enjoyed this book, mostly because it gave me one of those gilded glimpses into the rich past of this country. The end of the book made me sad. It traced the decline of Bernard’s career, his legacy and his life but it also was directly linked to major historical events such as the great depression and WWII. I can’t really imagine being a figure such as P.A. Bernard. He was a strong willed man from a family of relative nobodies, from the middle of nowhere Iowa; a man of modest beginnings. Through spiritual entrepreneurialism he was able to become a veritable celebrity; first in San Francisco, then in NYC and then finally in Rockland County where he built his empire. He weathered the Victorian Era’s tough morals, then Great War, only to flourish in the roaring 20’s amidst some of the most celebrated members of society. He barely held on to his empire through the depression and then sunk into oblivion and financial distress in the midst of a number of laughable ventures in his later life. He died a lonely old man, and shortly after his passing few remembered him as  the great figure that built an empire on tantric yoga.

Damn, that is a tough ass break. And there I was thinking I’d be  some sort of “yoga celebrity.” The moral of this story, yoga kids, is don’t quit your day job. Watch out Bikram, your day of decline is ahead.

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