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 4, Issue 1, 2019
Yoga programs have taken root, and in some cases flourished, in correctional institutions across the globe, yet few scholars have examined this phenomenon from critical theoretical and qualitative perspectives. The goals of this paper are to explicitly link scholarly discussions of yoga in prisons with theoretical developments in criminology, sociology, and human geography; and to use these diverse perspectives to develop a theoretical understanding of the possibilities and limits of yoga as a transformative spatial practice in carceral settings. Drawing on qualitative data collected on prison yoga, primarily in Canada, this paper considers three lines of theoretical inquiry. Firstly, it examines yoga classes as an “institutional display” that facilitates social interaction between prisoners and community members, yet also serves administrative interests. Secondly, it considers the possibilities for yoga spaces to enable forms of emotional expression that may not be permitted in other areas of the institution. And thirdly, it discusses the implications of yoga in carceral spaces beyond prisons. The paper draws heavily on the emergent field of carceral geography, as well as sociological and criminological research, to advance these arguments. In presenting these theoretical analyses, this paper advocates for a deeper theoretical exploration of the multiplicity of spatial meanings of yoga in carceral settings.
Controlling images of Black womanhood and the exclusivity of mainstream wellness spaces complicate Black women’s relationship to yoga. The purpose of this study is to explore how a popular Instagram page, Black Girl Yoga, engages Black women with the spiritual practice. A combined Visual Discourse Analysis (VDA) and Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA) revealed that BGY engages Black women with yoga by a) constructing a culture of inclusivity, b) affirming the individuality of Black women, c) intertextualizing African American cultural discourse and yogic principles, d) decentering Black women’s oppression, and e) creating continuity with physical yoga counter spaces. Implications for theory and praxis are discussed.
Kerrie Trahan is the founder of Yoganic Flow and Yoga House Detroit. In addition, Trahan holds a Masters of Education in Community Health. In this conversation with Rebecca Kinney, Yoga House Detroit board member and associate professor of American and Ethnic Studies, Trahan, reflects on how her experiences as a black woman and born and raised Detroiter informs her approach to breath, community, and yoga.