(Alpen-Adria-University of Klagenfurt, Austria)


Bodily Practices from Afar: Global Flows and Cultural Interferences in Postural Yoga

In the last decade several new insights were gained regarding the ways in which modern postural yoga evolved and how it was disseminated around the world, taking a variety of different forms and directions in the process. Today it seems to be evident that yoga has become a global phenomenon. In this paper, I shall consider some of the underlying assumptions in conceptualizing yoga as an example of global interrelatedness. What implications are involved when yoga practitioners and/or academic scholars refer to overlapping networks of people and practices, to only one or to various yoga worlds, and to imagined transnational communities and ideologies? How do we conceive of dynamic processes commonly labelled as cultural flow? In particular, I shall focus on bodily practices associated with Neo-Hatha Yoga (e.g., āsana, prāṇāyāma) as a kind of technology that is appropriated across national, cultural and religious boundaries. This corpus of practices is propagated on the basis of two assumptions: first, their association with deep meaning, and second their universal efficacy. Drawing on some ethnographic examples, I shall argue that the translocal dissemination of bodily practices differs from other kinds of global diffusion in a significant way. Human beings cannot assess bodily sensations by themselves, rather body perception is inherently relational: referring to forms of previous experiences, to specific social contexts, and to personal and collective memory. In this respect, the experience of postural yoga resists mimesis. Thus, the evaluation of one’s own bodily reactions and improvement is highly contextual and cultural rather than global.