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We will examine the ways in which race, gender, and capitalism are important factors in shaping how practitioners connect to yoga practice in ways that may have damaging effects on people who are excluded.

– Siân Hawthorne


This PodCourse entitled The Margins of Modern Yoga: Yoga as Transformative Practice is taught by Siân Hawthorne, PhD, a Senior Lecturer of SOAS University of London.

Modern yoga as practiced in the West is an embodied practice that claims to improve physical and mental wellbeing, often connected to spiritual transformation. However much it is both experienced and marketed as a tool for individual empowerment and transformation, however much claims circulate that “yoga is for everybody”, Modern Yoga’s idealisations of the yoga body, and the demographics of its participants and teachers, establish a set of norms that may be exclusionary and alienating to communities who are unlikely or unable to conform to these idealisations.

This PodCourse will examine through a variety of theoretical lenses how body norms function in terms of race, gender and disability to exclude and include certain populations. We will think through how to challenge the body norms of Modern Yoga so that those placed at the margins can make true the claim that “yoga is for everyone”. We will be particularly concerned to ask questions about cultural appropriation, racism, and ableism and to try to offer some answers to how Yoga can be a force for social and political transformation and justice when the margins are centred.

This PodCourse focuses specifically on The Margins of Modern Yoga: Yoga as Transformative Practice and is divided into three modules:

  1. Biopower, Normativity, Whiteness
  2. Normativity, Gender, and Abjection in Modern Yoga
  3. Selling Spirituality: Yoga in an age of Neoliberalism.

Module 1: Biopower, Normativity, Whiteness
In the first module, we will examine the concept of ‘biopower’ developed by a twentieth-century French Philosopher, Michel Foucault primarily because he offers a very compelling account of how we come to think of ourselves as individuals who have free will but how that sense of ourselves is connected to forms of power that are often constraining. We will then explore his ideas about disciplinary power and normalisation before shifting to look at how whiteness is established as a norm which directs people’s behaviour and ensures the exclusion of non-white people.

Module 2: Normativity Gender and Abjection in Modern Yoga
In the second module, we will examine the relationship between gender norms, whiteness, and the frequently cited claim that ‘yoga is for everyone’.

Module 3: Selling Spirituality: Yoga in an age of Neoliberalism.
In the third and final module, we will turn our focus to the relationship between the capitalist marketisation of yoga, its connection to spirituality, and how yoga practitioners can contribute to a more socially just world by resisting and challenging the exclusivist norms and social structures that result in exclusion, exploitation, and inequality.

Learning Outcomes

The learning outcomes anticipated for this course are:

  • Understand the ways in which Modern Yoga establishes body norms that may be exclusionary.
  • Come to understand the arguments concerned with cultural appropriation in the context of Yoga and why these matter.
  • Understand the connections between concepts of race, gender and disability in relation to norms.
  • Challenge discriminatory practices that prevent access and engagement with Yoga.
  • Recognise Yoga as a tool for social and political transformation.
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