Above: first page of Yoga at Home lift-out, Woman's Weekly 4 November 1964
Pix magazine was published in Australia from 1938 to 1972. In the earlier part of that span Pix presents yoga is an exotic arrival in the anglo-west, something some few people are involved with. By contrast in 1964 the Women’s Weekly had yoga lift-outs for home practice: yoga for general consumption had arrived.
The articles in Pix lent toward the sensational, partly because that was the tone of the magazine. , but a degree of ludicrousness was probably inevitable in the midst of the massive cultural changes and transplantings that produced transnational yoga. Here be charlatans, but even the charlatans offered something of use. Judging from this small sample we might at least conclude that it is more ludicrous to teach yoga than to practice it.
Pix 1938. Yoga as another chance to show a woman in bathers.
Nothing on where ‘this Sydney girl’ encountered yoga or how she learnt it, but options must have been limited, especially if it came via actual human contact. At this point there is hardly such a thing as a ‘yoga teacher’ and no institutions of any kind. Most likely this is solitary and private practice.
In the 1950’s the advertising sections of Australian magazines carried invitations to send money for programs (booklets?) of ‘Hindu Yoga’. At the bottom of the barrel were companies offering massed arrays of skills for sale (‘If the postman can reach you, Alpha can teach you’):
YOGA AMAZING SECRETS philosophy of a real way of life 30/-
BE A SWIMMER Learn at home and then dive in and swim 10/-
YOGA EXERCISES 22 illustrated, explained postures for fitness 15/-
VITAL NERVE K.O. BLOWS Attack the vulnerable points 10/- (Pix 1953).
A WW2 POW friend of my father’s told me he learnt yoga from a book in the 1930’s—I wish I had asked him which one. This is close to the beginning of instructional books in English with a significant focus on āsana. In 1937 Francis Yeats-Brown published his Yoga Explained. He was famous as the author of The Lives of a Bengal Lancer of 1930, which Hitler told him was one of his favourite books saying he had made it required reading for all members of the SS. In 1936 he had published A Lancer at Large, a travelogue of his quest in India for a guru—widely derided in the Australian press, evidently squirming at this portrayal of a soldier of the British Raj gone native.
My father’s friend did a daily headstand until his 80s, when his doctor told him to stop.
Pix 1939. Nova-Yoga, an early instance of ‘sportsman gets boost from yoga.’ Nova was said to do a headstand before every bout.
He lost to Joe Louis.
The figure on the dais is Pierre Bernard, known as “The Great / Magnificent / Omnipotent Oom”, a self-made swami-entrepreneur and showman (uncle of Theos Bernard) who rode around his property on an elephant while wearing ‘robes.’ Trances and hypnotism featured prominently—forty years earlier a front page notice in the New York Times (29 Jan 1898) had him in a self-induced trance being stabbed with needles through the cheek by members of the medical establishment: his demonstration that “anaesthetic is unnecessary.” Bernard is also the inventor, more or less, of tantric sex; hence his other title, “the love guru.”
The 1924 Immigration Act in the US had restricted entry to non-whites, putting an end to the kind of visits paid by Vivekananda and Shri Yogendra in the preceding decades, leaving the field open for home-grown practitioners. Likewise the White Australia Policy would have expressly excluded Indians from Australia but for British opposition: it was regarded as an affront to the integrity of the British Empire. Instead the dictation test operated as a more flexible and discreet filter.
Pix 1952. New York, Yoga as spectacle: Yogi Rao eats glass, records, drinks acid. Do not try this at home.
Yoga as a means for attaining supra-human powers (siddhis, vibhūtis) is a persistent feature in traditional formulations. (One haṭha text advises that when you attain special powers it is best to keep them a secret or you will be mobbed by people wanting to become your student.) The yogi/fakir as a figure of carnival display (contortionism, walking on hot coals, the bed of nails) is partly a result of the suppression of haṭha yogins after armed conflict with the East India Company.
Yehudi Menuhin was instrumental in the bringing to Europe of B.K.S. Iyengar. India’s first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, had introduced the two in 1952 during a visit by Menuhin, who had already developed an interest in yoga. In 1964 Menuhin wrote an impassioned preface for Iyengar’s Light on Yoga. Their continuing relations opened the way in the 1970’s for a particularly British development, the widespread provision of yoga classes, on a resolutely secular and non-theoretical basis, by public authorities. Only with Thatcher’s dismembering of public institutions did the private yoga studio become a feature in the UK.
They lament that while news in Australia tells of murders in the mother country, there has been no mention of how Sir Paul Dukes (former MI6 agent who spied on the Soviets) had been demonstrating yoga poses on BBC television (from 1948) which had “half of England standing on its head”.
1965 interview with Paul Dukes in the Bulletin.