The Great Oom

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 24 April, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 24 April, 2011, 12:00am

The Great Oom
by Robert Love
Penguin, HK$136

Asanas, prana, mudras, tantra. If you recognise those words, you will probably be attracted to this book, subtitled The Improbable Birth of Yoga in America. Those hoping for instruction on the sun salutation or how best to align their chakras, however, might initially be disappointed that this book focuses on Pierre Bernard, the swami impresario who saw a niche for hatha yoga in the US and found a receptive audience among the rich and needy. But readers will quickly warm to Robert Love's depiction of a man who, early in the 20th century, was portrayed as the epitome of the 'licentious, greedy Svengali' and called 'the Omnipotent Oom, Loving Guru of the Tantriks'. Although Bernard promoted the practice of yoga as a counterbalance to the excesses of the jazz age, the scent of sex and scandal trailed his career which, as Love points out, profited from the times: with Darwinism undermining dogma came the elevation of self-proclaimed mystics including Aleister Crowley, G.I. Gurdjieff and P.D. Ouspensky. The Great Oom might not propel you to an ashram (Bernard's was the first in the US) but it will help you understand why even the inflexible yielded to yoga.


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The Great Oom

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