The debate has intensified among yoga scholars and teachers as yoga practice has grown in popularity. Between 1998 and 2005 alone, the circulation of the 30-year-old Yoga Journal tripled. Now there are yoga cruises, yoga book clubs, yoga dating services, yoga snacks (created specifically for yoga), yoga music ... the list goes on.

Todd Jones, senior editor of Yoga Journal, explained the evolution. Yoga “did start primarily as a meditative-spiritual practice. But it’s gone in so many different directions.” There are so many styles practiced in America, he said, it’s nearly impossible to describe a “typical” yoga class.

“We live in a market-driven culture,” Jones said. “If you’re a yoga teacher, there’s pressure to separate yourself in some way from the hundreds of others.” Instructors often do this by “emphasising whatever feels most compelling to them, and that differs from person to person.”

But when Swami Param, now 56, was curious about yoga as a 16-year-old in New Jersey, it was by no means ubiquitous. So he turned to a dictionary. “I looked up yoga and it said, “Sanskrit, Hinduism.” That’s what it is. Just look at the facts.”

Sanskrit is the language of sacred Hindu writings. “Every Sanskrit word these teachers are saying in yoga classes, they are using a religious language,” he said.

Imagine the outcry if Christian, Jewish or Islamic prayers were commonly and casually used in nonreligious contexts, Param said. —