Yoga: Meaning and Embodiment—A Dunedin Inquiry

Hannah Bailly

Abstract


Using participant observation, qualitative interviews and autoethnographic research methods, I inquire into the perceptions and experience of six contemporary yoga practitioners, as well as my own, to explore some of the embodied meanings of yoga in the context of Dunedin. Suggesting that yoga's surge of popularity in the West may have more to do with aspirations for health and body maintenance than the spiritual aspirations of classical yoga's original design, I ask whether engaging with the age old postures and techniques of hatha yoga might bring about unanticipated and sometimes transformational outcomes for its practitioners. To explore the strong appeal of yoga to its Western—and more specifically, Dunedin—practitioners, I invoke Foucault's (1983) sociopolitical theories of embodiment, and address how the subjective self is constituted through alignment with dominant ideologies of health and fitness. To explore whether an embodied practice of hatha yoga might subvert ideologies which reinforce an obsession with body-image, I invoke phenomenological theories of embodiment and practice—especially the insights of Marcel Mauss ([1935]1973) and Pierre Bourdieu (1990) who elucidate how culturally shared techniques of the body are stored as bodily memory and accessed through schemas of movement. I am interested in whether the enactment of asana (yogic posture) and pranayama (yogic breathing) predisposes the practitioner to (latent) spiritual qualities embedded in yoga's original design.

Keywords


Yoga, Embodiment, Transnational Practice, Autoethnography

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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.11157/sites-vol11iss2id282