Interviews: "Turn Off, Tune Out, Drop In" (November 21, 2006)
Hanna Rosin, the author of "Striking a Pose," discusses yoga's journey from Himalayan mountaintops to the studio down the street.
Madonna studies Ashtanga, Uma Thurman practices Jivamukti, and Ben Stiller does Vinyasa Flow. And increasingly, so do Americans around the country. In her article “Striking a Pose” in the December Atlantic, Hanna Rosin considers the implications of this newfound fascination with yoga, asking whether it represents a “spiritual antidote to the upscale Western lifestyle, or just the latest manifestation.” Looking back over The Atlantic’s 150-year archive, one discovers that, as a general rule, exercise trends have always been a bit of both.
In “The Gymnasium,” published just two years after The Atlantic’s 1857 founding, David William Cheever described the concept of the ancient Greek gymnasium, characterizing it as a place where, as in the modern-day yoga studio, the paths to fitness and enlightenment converged. “The sedentary,” he explained, could come to the gymnasium “for their customary constitutional on the foot-course, the invalid and aged… to retain somewhat of the vigor of their earlier years,” and “the scholar, to listen to the master in philosophy.” As for the benefits of exercise itself, the Athenians believed “that there could be no health of the mind, unless the body were cared for,” and, like some present-day yoga practitioners, they “viewed exercise also as a powerful remedial agent in disease.”