(University of Pittsburgh, U.S.A.)


“Indian Yoga and German Nature Cure: Parochial Philosophies, Prāṇāyāma and the Provincialization of Modernity”

In the context of 20th-century colonialism and the yoga renaissance, the significant influence of the health reform movement, Muscular Christianity and athleticism on the development of āsana and prāṇāyāma is now clearly documented and well understood. As one might expect, the lines of cross-cultural exchange connected India to England, but also to the United States in terms of itinerate yogis going west and athletic missionaries and body builders such as Eugene Sandow coming east. However, probably the most significant influence on the development of yoga as therapy came by way of Germany. Given the fact that Nature Cure involves the exclusive therapeutic use of earth, water, sunlight and air, it is almost as though late 19th-century advocates for hydrotherapy and heleotherapy in southern Germany couldn’t have imagined anything more perfect than prāṇāyāma for the medicalized use of fresh air. In part this helps to explain why Nature Cure fit almost seamlessly into the rubric of early 20th-century nationalist health reform in India. However, the story is more interesting and complicated with respect to the exchange of ideas and degrees of philosophical and cultural transposition. In terms of what might be called a recursive provincialization of modernity, this paper will focus on parochial philosophies of nature and the environment that link a political ecology of health in 20th-century India to different dimensions of German romanticism, which was, of course, linked to ancient “Hindu philosophy” through the intellectual trajectory of Orientalism in an earlier era. Underlying this, it will be argued, was the overarching problematic of Nature in the context of both European and South Asian modernity, and the relationship between the body and ecology in mediating the boundary between natural and unnatural domains, as well as a host of corollary distinctions.