Forthcoming Book: Feminism From the Inside Out: Women and Yoga in the United States

For the past five years, I have been researching and writing my dissertation project–”Feminism From the Inside Out: Yoga and Women in the United States.”

While the benefits of Yoga are widely touted in the media, and meditation is increasingly researched in the hard sciences, research demonstrating the significance of Yoga as a physical and psychological practice for women is nonexistent. This project examines the critical function of Yoga in the lives of contemporary American women through a feminist analysis of Yoga teachers–their embodied spiritual practice, ethics, lifestyle choices and spiritual activist projects.

For millions of American women, their Yoga teachers have become critical new role models for psychological and physiological healing outside mainstream psychoanalysis and medicine. Analyzing Yoga through the lens of feminism, embodiment and political engagement, I focus on the practice of Yoga in daily life, as one that involves and operates on and through women’s bodies. I explore these women’s stories of transformation, healing and empowerment through Yoga via the premise of feminism–that gender, gendered norms, and public practices rooted in patriarchy and based on female subordination depend in great measure on control and definition of women’s bodies.

Yoga teachers re-define gender and feminism in terms of living as an American yogini, and their personal and ethical observances have forged a new kind of activism, based on the tenets of karma yoga. Juxtaposing interviews with observations of their teaching process, personal life choices and activism, I analyze approximately one hundred women teachers’ work at festivals, classes and conferences across the United States. Though Yoga has yet to completely shed its countercultural baggage of the 1960s, it has now become mainstream. Yoga in popular culture today connotes a style of exercise that guarantees a slim body that can be obtained if only the correct Yoga accoutrements are purchased beforehand. My research reveals that–contrary to this popular belief–women routinely use their Yoga practice to heal from deeper social wounds, such as the social and mental effects of gender oppression, patriarchy, and misogyny.

Despite its varying styles and schools, today’s Yoga operates as a holistic, philosophical and spiritual ritual for women–through bodies, emotions and minds in a systematic fashion, creating a feminist consciousness that responds to patriarchy both on the personal and local community level.

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4 thoughts on “Forthcoming Book: Feminism From the Inside Out: Women and Yoga in the United States

  1. Coming from a deeply rooted Indian perspective and a rather different understanding of the philosophy of Yoga, my take on how Yoga must be understood and perceived is quite different from how it is understood and perceived anyone in the world, especially in Western countries.
    I am fascinated that Yoga is considered more of a physical activity, when it is meant to aid in deeper spiritual understanding of the unity of all things and beings – and therefore, to help transcend all dualities and multiplicities – such as the conflict between genders, and so on.
    If you want to discuss this over tea somewhere on campus, let me know. I would be curious to know what you think, and share my experiences as a meditator.
    By the way, we are both on the UCD Grad studies page, which is how I found you and this weblink

    1. Hello Anand.
      Thank you for the thoughtful comment. My spiritual name is Anandi, so I can see we already have a lot in common 😉 I think it would be a mistake to suppose that we are coming from very different perspectives without knowing my practice and work. It is a deep misunderstanding that Yoga in the West is only physical activity. There are many reasons and examples behind this, but for one–it is a tendency of lay Indian people to presume such “watering down” of contemporary Yoga. I was one of these people, until I discovered how Hindu concepts and rituals play a major role in modern yoga practice, even of the “most” mainstream teachers out there. Second, many Yoga teachers have Indian gurus, and their practice is much more than asana. Third, in the academic Yoga Studies field, there is also a bias against what they called Modern Yoga, saying it has very little spiritual intent. Fourth, nondualism is very important to me, and I have presented many papers on this topic as it pertains to the idea of nondualism and gender in feminist theory. I will be presenting this theoretical work at the National Women’s Studies Conference this year. I myself am a Sivananda yoga teacher, which menas I follow the teachings of Swami Sivananda and Swami Vishnu Devananda, take my precepts very seriously, and also read scripture daily, etc. Maybe it was premature of you to make this comment without knowing the seriousness with which I approach the sacred science of Yoga. My practice is 20 years long and very devotional. I am also a daily meditator since going to India almost 20 years ago 🙂 I am on dissertation retreat right now, so I cannot meet. I think you will enjoy reading this article of mine on bhakti. http://www.elephantjournal.com/2010/07/gita-talk-14-special-guest-amy-champ-on-bhakti-yoga/ Wishing you and your family the best. With prem and bhakti and good wishes for your immediate moksha.

  2. Dear Anandi,

    For the longest time, I’ve wanted to visit the Sivananda Ashram at Grass Valley, perhaps you can take us there (my wife and I)?

    I did not mean to cast aspersions about you or your practice at all, my comment above was meant only to reflect my opinion that most people, including in today’s India, as you seem to agree, think that Yoga is a set of exercises, that is all…

    We can talk about our practices and life experience etc and discuss theory too. – for example, there is something that seems contradictory to me when you say ” I have presented many papers on this topic as it pertains to the idea of nondualism and gender in feminist theory” – but without listening what you have to say, I cant make any conclusions… but Advaitic teachings, culminating in Vedanta, indicate Nirguna Brahman (without Upadi) as the Ultimate Reality – so by exploring gender issues, or for that matter any other Upadi, would you not be reinforcing some aspect of Maya in your mind? This is of course a very esoteric discussion already. And without the benefit of a face-to-face, there is a danger of my writing being misconstrued as an argument or debate, when I am really thinking aloud 🙂

    Ultimately, I agree that love and devotion will greatly enhance the joy of spiritual practice. I have also had a GURU for more than 3 decades now, so it would be very nice to meet you, because we can relate to one another…. right? 🙂

    So when you are back from your dissertation retreat, send me a message please. Perhaps we three can sit down and meditate. I wonder if you can introduce me to meditators in your circle of friends. I miss such people in Davis…

    – Anand

    1. Hello Anand,
      You should definitely go to Sivananda Yoga Farm without haste. It is so peaceful and Swami Sita is a very good teacher. I do not deny nirgun of Brahman, so I hope I did not imply that. Everything (including gender) that we deal with is maya, so this is obviously a relative concept. Through illusions such as race and gender, we can use our Yoga practice to help those who are living under the delusion of difference. This is my realm of dharma. Thank you. Peace to You.

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