Mainstream narratives about yoga in the U.S. often describe how the practice promotes physical and spiritual wellbeing. But, yoga practitioners and scholars rarely question who has had access to the practice since its arrival in North America, and thereby its purportedly healing and liberatory properties. Relatedly, they fail to critically interrogate the representation of the prototypical yogi in contemporary America: upper and middle-class white persons, particularly white women.
Race and Yoga is the first scholarly journal to examine issues surrounding the history, racialization, sex(ualization), and inclusivity (or lack thereof) of the yoga community.
Volume 1, Issue 1, 2016
Eating the Other Yogi: Kathryn Budig, the Yoga Industrial Complex, and the Appropriation of Body Positivity
This paper discusses the appropriation of body positivity discourse by Kathryn Budig and the yoga industry. During the appropriation process, the political nature of the movement is decontextualized and erased through adoption of individualized messages of body acceptance that largely ignore bodily differences by participation in ideologies of body-blindness. Despite the best of intentions and positive, heartfelt messages of body acceptance, Budig’s developing role as the face of body positivity continues overrepresentation of the “ideal yoga body” in mainstream yoga culture and contributes to restricted systems of meaning regarding (a) who is an “authentic” yogi and (b) what the practice of yoga looks like that continue to marginalize “Other” yogis who face the burden of new industry demands that you #loveyourbody (as long as it is white, thin, acrobatic, female, heterosexual, and so on). By downplaying the importance of the systemic critique of dominant yoga culture to focus on individual solutions, Budig and the yoga industrial complex contribute to the marginalization and “eating” of the Other yogi while simultaneously profiting from the individualization and depoliticization of the body positivity movement.
In today’s United States, yoga seems to provide a popular antidote to the increasing demands of technology. But, this essay contends, the practice also plays an important part in a larger cultural logic whereby labor from India nourishes a seemingly endless appetite for technological innovation in the United States. This essay shows how imaginative representations of yoga in the autobiography of the Indian guru Paramahansa Yogananda helped to create fantasies that could alleviate U.S. anxieties about technological development. The essay then exposes an inverted mirror of this cultural logic in the representation of information technology migrants from India, whose experiences of grey market exploitation in the United States show the nation’s reliance on a disavowed Indian labor source. This essay contends that both the Indian yogi and the Indian technology migrant can be read as U.S. technology workers. This labor has become important both to the U.S. body politic and to the Indian state, but it can be distinctly debilitating for the Indian diaspora.
The professionalization of yoga teacher-training at Kripalu Center, a yoga facility named after Swami Kripalu, not only displaces the forms of spiritual quest from which the Center emerged. It also makes its yoga culture vulnerable to the circulation and consumption of racial fetishes, or racially inscribed images that distract from, or magically veil altogether, the endemic complications and histories of racial capitalism. Kripalu Center installs professionalization procedures – including the standardization of curriculum and assessment to legitimate teachers for competition in an expanding yoga market – that make it complicit with the transmission of racial fetishes. Ultimately, professionalization becomes one vector of a larger complex I call the metaphysic of racial capital, or an underlying narrative of capitalist production plotted by various forms of racial fetishes that ensure capital’s continuous regeneration.