In my introductory post, I talked about the yoga studio that’s close to my apartment that I like going to. I said yoga studios are typically designed to put the body at ease, and it’s a statement that I’ve come to qualify through multiple perspectives.
First, I find it interesting that the practice of yoga in itself is predicated on a practiced and deliberate acknowledgment of the body, which makes analyzing this space all the more interesting. Personally, I symbolically separate the studio from the other spaces where I lead my “normal life”, or the life where I’m largely unconscious of my body. This space is special in that it’s reserved in my mind as a place for me to practice acknowledging my body.
Lefebvre’s spatial triad is really useful in breaking down the space. The physical and quantifiable spatial practice of the studio includes the small size of the studio, its facilities, the careful decoration put into it, the comfortable heat levels, and soothing lighting. I would argue, however, that there are overlapping spaces at play here; the official space of the studio is a communal one, but it also contains highly personal islands of space marked out by individual yoga mats. While the studio classroom is one collective group (engaged in communal breathing and learning), every person has their own mat and corresponding individualized embodied experience, which is encouraged by yoga discourse about respecting your own body’s limits.
What I find the most fascinating is the social production of space and its reproduction. People take off their shoes before entering the studio to “respect” the space, which reproduces it as a space of spirituality or sacredness. I think this also reinforces the idea of “separating” this space from the daily urban experience. That simple act of taking off clothing before accessing a space is really interesting- on one hand, it puts everyone on a sort of equal footing (pun only somewhat intended), but it also makes some assumptions about how clothing affects people’s experiences with their bodies. There’s also a bit of a tension between the different social relationships in the space- there’s the notion of yoga as a collective and collaborative process, but it’s still a classroom with a teacher instructing a group of students.
This space is also ripe for discussions about the reproduction of capitalist space, which feeds into ideas about whiteness as an orientation. There’s a discourse in the studio that centers around mental health, good vibes, and community, but it’s hard to ignore that the Western practice of yoga has produced an incredibly successful market for accessories. In fact, the studio’s reception area has a little boutique that sells journals, yoga mats, and all kinds of goods loosely associated with yoga practice. The space also definitely doesn’t come cheap- memberships are expensive, and prices just rose at the beginning of the year. In that way, the studio reproduces and perpetuates the market for yoga accessories.
In terms of racialized bodies, there’s been a debate over whether or not Western yoga is cultural appropriation. In short, according to Sara Ahmed, bodies are shaped by histories of colonialism and create an inherited white orientation (156) ; in this case, the white colonial system has co-opted a practice created by non-white cultures and then translated it into a practice easily accessible for white bodies. How many stereotypes are there about white suburban moms who do yoga, for example? Of course the question of demographics in my neighborhood matters, but I mostly see white bodies at the studio, and the capitalist reproduction of yoga accessories mentioned above has certainly aided in making my studio a part of the “reachability” that white bodies inherit.
Finally, I realized my comment about negotiating the space in a tense way as a novice relates to performativity. I think that by performing the bodily repetition of being in the studio and doing the yoga poses, I create an identity as a practitioner of yoga and member of the community. The more I physically place my body in the space, the more I identify as a legitimate (or “authentic”) user of the space. My performed legitimacy is also dependent on other bodies- if I’m in a class with more inexperienced students, I perceive my legitimacy and confidence to be higher, while that changes when surrounded by experts.
Lefebrve, Henri. “The Production of Space.” In Gieseking, Jen J. And William Mangold, (Eds.), The People, Place, and Space Reader. (289-293). London: Routledge.
Butler, Judith. (2009). Bodies that Matter. In Mariam Fraser and Monica Greco (Eds.), The Body: A Reader (62-65). London: Routledge.
Ahmed, Sara. (2007) “Phenomenology of Whiteness.” Feminist Theory 8(2): 149-168.