In an article in the Huffington Post, Harvard historian Leigh E. Schmidt relates the Hindu American Foundation’s “Take Yoga Back” campaign to the subject of his most recent book, Heaven’s Bride, a biography of “idiosyncratic” 19th century mystic Ida C. Craddock. Schmidt uses Craddock as an example of how much the perception of yoga has changed in the past century:

A little more than a century ago when yoga was first introduced to the United States through visiting swamis and a small handful of upstart American teachers, few were rushing to claim it, let alone copyright or market it. Advocating yoga could land you in jail rather than in splashy magazines or swanky studios. There was a lot more grief in it than money or tranquility.

No one made that clearer than the American misfit Ida C. Craddock who set herself up in Chicago in 1899 as “pastor” of the Church of Yoga, only to die by her own hand three years later in Manhattan after being found guilty once again in federal court of blasphemous obscenity. “PRIESTESS OF YOGA A SUICIDE–Miss Ida Craddock, the Leader of a Peculiar Religious Sect, Kills Herself Rather Than Go to Prison,” shouted one New York newspaper’s headline.

Today, the American perception of yoga is much different:

Few things demonstrate how much the American religious landscape has changed over the last century than yoga’s transformation from feared and reviled import to integral spiritual and physical regimen. As the Hindu American Foundation’s protest suggests, the enthusiastic buzz that yoga now generates has still left some skeptical. Religious conservatives particularly have their own reasons for lamenting this cultural shift. Taking yoga’s popularity as exhibit A, the prominent Southern Baptist pundit Albert Mohler recently suggested that the United States was becoming crazily syncretistic. Yoga’s attractiveness, Mohler concludes, is “a symptom of our postmodern spiritual confusion”; it is a sure sign that evangelicalism’s cherished hope for a Christian America has finally come undone.

Yoga has also been the subject of recent American legal debates over its regulation and tax status. Read Schdmidt’s article in its entirety here, and click here to read a review of Schmidt’s new book in the Wall Street Journal. For more posts related to yoga, click here or on the “yoga” tag below.