5. Practicing the Yogasūtra? An Approach to the Analysis of Contemporary Yoga Philosophy’s Somatic Aspects

Embodied Reception - South Asian Spiritualities in Contemporary Contexts - Henriette Hanky

Laura von Ostrowski [+-]
University of Hamburg
Laura von Ostrowski studied Indology, Religious Studies and Romance Studies at LMU Munich. From 2015 to 2018 she was a fellow of the DFG Research Training Group “Presence and Implicit Knowledge” at FAU Erlangen-Nuremberg and received her PhD in Religious Studies from LMU in 2021. For the Open Access publication of the book on her thesis A Text in Motion she was funded by Open Publishing in the Humanities. Her areas of research include modern and contemporary yoga, the reception of the Yogasūtra, the history of German yoga and of the physical culture movement, contemporary religion, aesthetics and embodiment.


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.

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von Ostrowski, Laura. 5. Practicing the Yogasūtra? An Approach to the Analysis of Contemporary Yoga Philosophy’s Somatic Aspects. Embodied Reception - South Asian Spiritualities in Contemporary Contexts. Equinox eBooks Publishing, United Kingdom. p. Sep 2024. ISBN 9781800503540. https://www.equinoxpub.com/home/view-chapter/?id=44424. Date accessed: 28 Feb 2024 doi: 10.1558/equinox.44424. Sep 2024

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