Social Sutra: Yoga, identity, and health in New York’s changing neighborhoods

P Biswas


Taking note of the rapid, visible expansion of yoga studios in American cities, this article explores the role of yoga as a social determinant of urban health and yoga’s entanglements with race and class identities. Who are the interpreters of yoga in America, and how has yoga, based on a premise of psychosomatic wholeness, paradoxically served as a prism for refracting social difference? Answers to these questions hold significant implications for the culture of health observed in cities today and possibilities for wellness. Through narrative inquiry, my argument centers on three identities that embody the role of yoga in health: the yoga teacher as healer, the yoga student as seeker of spiritually informed mind-body wellness, and the modern yoga practitioner as consumer of a physically focused, commercialized yoga.

A recombination of the identities involved in yoga – healer, seeker, and consumer – can recover the possibilities for yoga to contribute to improved urban health across race and class.

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