5. Practicing the Yogasūtra? An Approach to the Analysis of Contemporary Yoga Philosophy’s Somatic Aspects
Laura von Ostrowski [+]
University of Hamburg
While the historical, philological, and socio-cultural research on (modern) yoga saw an immense boom in the last two decades, the biomedical dimension of body practices associated with yoga has seldom been taken into account in cultural studies. This paper proposes an approach to an interdisciplinary exchange between methods and theories in the social sciences combined with the insights of neuroscience and cognitive psychology on yoga. The paper’s topic itself, the contemporary reception of the Yogasūtra, an old Indian text, bridges textual exegesis and bodily practices: Combining fieldwork in an advanced Ashtanga Yoga teacher training in Germany with theories in religious aesthetics, my research approach shows that the practitioner’s understanding of the text is substantively related to the somatic techniques they practice and the experiential dimensions that emerge from their practices. In what I call ‘contemporary yoga philosophy’, the exegesis of the Yogasūtra and modern body practices interact with one another and (re-)define each other. Therefore, I argue that such ‘philosophical’ contemporary discourses cannot be adequately investigated without considering the physical practices and their effects with the help of an interdisciplinary approach. The paper presents six aspects of contemporary yoga philosophy and introduces key body knowledge categories which enable a cultural-scientific analysis of body practices. It finishes with two examples, ‘Touch’ and ‘Eutony’ that show, how contemporary religious practices that are intertwined with physical practices can be analyzed.