"It's a Practice, Not a Performance": Unraveling the Atomized Self and Becoming Nomadic Through Ashtanga Yoga
Modern forms of yoga practice are increasingly focused on the body, emphasizing the physical benefits of the practice while positioning the body as an effective tool for accessing and working with the mind. Holding patterns in the body are often interpreted in relation to psychological or emotional tendencies and certain postures are seen as manifestations of fears or anxieties encountered in daily life. In this way, the yoga mat can be interpreted as an intensely psychological space, one that mobilizes the body in the project of self-transformation and healing and lends itself to the creation of therapeutic communities and relationships. This work explores the links between the embodied nature of yoga, specifically ashtanga yoga, and the cultivation of more relational and nomadic forms of subjectivity. Through participant observation and individual interviews conducted with ashtanga teachers and practitioners at a specific yoga studio in Western Canada, I explore the contexts in which the practice of ashtanga yoga can unsettle bounded or atomized understandings of self. I focus explicitly on how, when practiced in an intersubjective environment that emphasizes healing over transcendence or enlightenment, the practice can provide an effective medium for identifying across and between difference, challenging conceptions of what a body is and does in ways that can open up the possibility for a more affirmative relation with alterity. By encouraging practitioners to understand the body as intimately connected to them yet exceeding their ability to fully know or control it, a sustained engagement with the ashtanga practice can introduce a quality of Otherness into practitioners’ understandings of self and can help relinquish some of the need for ownership and control characteristic of settler subjectivities. I examine the factors that render practice more accessible to certain segments of the population, namely the middle-class, and emphasize the need to continually investigate ways of keeping practice communities open and flexible.