Varieties of embodied yoga practice: a typological exploration of modern yoga
MetadataShow full item record
As a distinct category of yoga practice, “modern yoga” evades simple definition. Researchers study modern yoga within a variety of disciplines, adding to the ambiguity of the category. These diffuse approaches can harden the disciplinary boundaries that surround certain expressions of the category. Consider that although yoga originated within South Asian religious traditions, some current expressions of yoga practice, such as those found in fitness or biomedical contexts, can appear to have little to do with Religious Studies. However, I suggest that bracketing off such expressions of modern yoga practice—although necessary for specialized analysis—can hinder the fruitful investigation of “yoga” as a more complex category and limit the potential reach of Religious Studies inquiries. In this dissertation, I draw on methods from intellectual history, phenomenology, and comparative analysis to explore the category of modern yoga by developing a typology built around three organizing principles: legitimacy, embodiment, and American identity. Legitimacy represents the various ways that types of modern yoga practice are considered authentic. Embodiment represents the common theme among the various expressions of modern yoga practice that each is an embodied form of practice. I develop embodiment further to analyze the concept of connectedness, which includes connection with oneself, others, and one's environment. Finally, American identity represents how the varieties of modern yoga practice dynamically respond to their cultural contexts. The typology proposes that modern yoga comprises five sub-categories: religious yoga, spiritual yoga, fitness yoga, wellness yoga, and biomedical yoga. Like the unique colors on a palette, these categories are themselves distinct. Yet, also like colors on a palette, each represents just one shade among a nearly infinite number of real-world expressions. I argue that this classificatory system is useful to Religious Studies, because comparative analysis of the subcategories illustrates how even the most apparently secularized forms of yoga practice are relevant for Religious Studies inquiries. By constructing the categories of this typology, while simultaneously blurring their internal boundaries, I provide an expanded conceptual vocabulary with which to discuss the expansive expressions of modern yoga and to support future interdisciplinary work.