Monday, December 29, 2014

Andrea R. Jain's "Selling Yoga"

Andrea R. Jain is Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Selling Yoga: From Counterculture to Pop Culture, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Selling Yoga is concerned with the misguided tendency to reduce modern postural yoga, a variety of modern regimens consisting of postures synchronized with breathing, to a mere commodity of global market capitalism. Page 99’s concern is key to one of the major arguments of Selling Yoga. The book suggests modern yoga transformed from a countercultural phenomenon to a part of pop culture when entrepreneurs succeeded in “selling yoga” by establishing continuity between postural yoga brands and the dominant trends of late-twentieth-century transnational consumer culture. Selling Yoga evaluates exempla from postural yoga in a way that takes insider perspectives seriously in order to demonstrate that popularized yoga, though a product of consumer culture, is not a mere commodity, but can also serve as a body of religious practice.

From page 99:
One response to postural yoga has been to ignore emic accounts (accounts from the perspectives of those who live inside the relevant body of practice, accepting its basic worldview, rituals, and values) and to instead analyze postural yoga based exclusively on etic accounts (accounts from where people live outside the relevant body of practice)...

... some exclusively etic accounts of postural yoga amount to broadly targeted refusals to take it seriously as a body of religious practice, since, from their perspectives, it can be reduced to impotent borrowings from ancient yoga traditions put in service to capitalist values. According to such thinkers, postural yoga represents a mere commodification that exploits or distracts from what is perceived as the ancient, traditional, and homogonous yoga tradition.

Accomplished yoga scholar Georg Feuerstein, for example, refused to seriously analyze postural yoga as a body of religious practice. He considered ‘the popularization of yoga as potentially destructive of the yogic heritage’ since it embodies ‘distortions’ of yoga (Feuerstein 2003).
These accounts and claims are seriously misguided. First, they rely on historically inaccurate visions of yoga, which has always been dynamic, hence the abundant divergences between even premodern yoga traditions and the concomitant absence of a single, homogenous yoga heritage. Second, though there is no doubt that many of the ways in which yoga marketers sell products reflect continuity with consumer culture, and many yoga insiders approach yoga as a consumer good in service to capitalist values, such as profit, postural yoga can also serve as a body of religious practice in the sense of a set of behaviors that are treated as sacred, as set apart from ordinary life; that are grounded in a shared worldview; that are grounded in a shared set of values or goals concerned with resolving weakness, suffering, or death; and that are reinforced through narrative and ritual.

Postural yoga has robust religious qualities when, for example, insiders put yoga commodities in service to aims ranging from moral improvement to self-perfection, approach the yoga class as a healing space set apart from the mundane dimensions of life, or repeat a rich mythology on the transmission of yogic knowledge across generations to their teacher, perhaps one of the postural yoga giants B. K. S. Iyengar or Bikram Choudhury, before finally reaching and transforming them in a local yoga studio on a rubber mat.
Learn more about Selling Yoga at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue