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The Great Oom: The Improbable Birth of Yoga in America [Hardcover]

Robert Love


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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.7 out of 5 stars  19 reviews
17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Delightful and Important Book 8 May 2010
By Mark Michaels & Patricia Johnson - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
The Great Oom is essential reading for anyone interested in the history of Tantra and Yoga in America, and it should delight the general reader as well. Pierre A. Bernard was an extraordinary and paradoxical individual, perhaps both genius and fraud, and his life story has implications that extend far beyond his role as "the father of American Yoga." Robert Love is both a thorough researcher and a superb storyteller. He has done a brilliant job of illuminating a life that was heretofore shrouded in mystery.
17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An addictive, fascinating read 5 May 2010
By Jancee Dunn - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
I had never heard of Pierre Bernard before I read this book; now I'll never forget him. This meticulously-researched history of the early days of yoga in this country has everything: scandal, drama, sex, eccentric characters, performing elephants..I read it in one gulp.
15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An intricate tapestry 27 Jun 2010
By David H. Peterzell PhD PhD - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Well I've read two amazing new books on yoga this year. One is Deborah Adele's "Yamas and Niyamas: Exploring Yoga's Ethical Practice," which covers long-neglected keys to yoga practice (see my review). The other is Robert Love's "The Great Oom." Add me to the list of people who loved this book!

The main topic (Pierre Bernard and his determined efforts to teach and sell hatha yoga in early 20th century America) will probably be fascinating to anyone interested in yoga or US history. And Robert Love knows how to tell a good story, that's for sure. I was amazed at the quality of the writing from start to finish.

As others have noted, Bernard appears in the book as a mysterious, resourceful, strange figure. Imagine some combination of Citizen Kane, PT Barnum, Harry Houdini, and Deepak Chopra. He strikes me as being the prototype for a wide variety of powerful and flawed (or perhaps misunderstood) gurus who seem to turn up with great frequency on the American spiritual scene. I'm still astonished at the remarkable twist of fate that brought Bernard and Hamati (his teacher) together, and the powerful intent that enabled Bernard to overcome dark and profound obstacles, despite challenges to him and his tantric/yogic vision.

The book weaves an intricate tapestry, with each thread representing its own remarkable subplot. Some of my favorite threads/subplots included :
1) The appearance of the reknowned Theos Casmir Bernard, Pierre Bernard's famous nephew, who was himself a legendary early practitioner/scholar of yoga and Tibetan Buddhism. And while Theos' appearance in the story was perhaps not a surprise, his story was completely unexpected;
2) The cameo appearances of Paramahansa Yogananda and other esteemed yoga practitioners from India. Again, while such appearances in Bernard's hatha/tantric sphere of influence made sense, the stories themselves were not what you (or at least I) might expect. Even the smallest bit about BKS Iyengar (who made enormous contributions to establishing hatha yoga in America) is not without surprises.
3) The ever-changing zeitgeist in American cities like San Francisco, Seattle, New York City, and Nyack, NY. Watching an "outlier" (Bernard) live and work in challenging places during challenging times helps us understand the world beyond Bernard's vision.
4) The uneasy emergence of tantric practices (and tantric sex) in America. Bernard seems to have known plenty about tantric sex, and (as the author explained), this wasn't always the polite, sanitized, monogamous version shows in The Idiot's Guide to Tantric Sex.

So get ready for an amazing story. Highly recommended...

Also - I found that my enjoyment of the book was enhanced by listening to available media (an NPR interview with Robert Love), and by perusing the Omnipotent Oom website.
13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great read 6 May 2010
By Albert Baime - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
This book is about a lot of things: a wonderfully quirky main character, a new spiritual movement, sex, mischief, and scandal. But in its own weird way, it's really about...America. A page turner indeed.
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Yoga for the masses 27 July 2010
By Deborah Barchi - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
The Great Oom by Robert Love is a fascinating and well researched study of the life and teachings of the Iowan born Perry Baker who early in his young adulthood transformed himself through intense study and practice into Dr. Pierre Bernard, a man who for decades was considered the foremost expert on Tantric yoga in the United States.

At first Bernard tried to sell Tantric yoga as a kind of side show entertainment, offering his body up for forms of ritualized, public torture, which he, in his self imposed Tantric state, was able to endure without pain or bad side effects As his reputation and passion for Tantric practices grew, Bernard was able to win more and more friends and supporters. Interestingly, he seemed to be particularly effective in drawing the love and loyalty of the richest of America's ruling classes.

With funding from these powerful friends, he built the first Ashram in America. Located on the Hudson River, the lavish and luxurious Clarkstown Country Club (the CCC) became a Mecca for the wealthy seeking ways to live a happier life and to escape the pressures of their wealth or celebrity. Not just the wealthy but hundreds of gifted and famous actors, singers, dancers, and musicians were all drawn to the promise of a life of bliss and joy proffered by Dr. Bernard.

But it was not all smooth sailing. The citizens of the sleepy town that rubbed shoulders with the CCC were deeply suspicious of the "goings on" at the club, which it was rumored included sexual orgies and all manner of bizarre and disgusting behaviors. The newspapers knew a juicy story when they smelled one. Branding Pierre Bernard "the Great Oom", they hounded him through most of his life.

Scandals, jail time, bankruptcy, betrayal, and divorce all crossed the Great Oom's path, but he also knew great wealth, power, influence, and joie de vivre. Whether he was a true yogi and sage, master of the greatest mysteries of the universe, or a plausible rogue, able to bilk millions from his credulous followers, there is no doubt that Pierre Bernard had a profound and lasting effect on the practice, understanding, and acceptance of yoga in the United States.
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