Namaste Nation: Postcolonial Orientalism and the American Yoga Industry
Though yoga has been a sustained topic of inquiry in South Asian studies in general and religious studies in particular, (c.f., Alter 2004; De Michelin 2004; Jain 2015; Singleton 2010; Singleton and Byrne 2008), a gap exists in information that connects the rise of commercial yoga to broader neoliberal and transnational networks as well as discourses of postcolonialism, feminism, and critical race theory. My research stems from a simple question: how does yoga, as a ubiquitous form of bodily knowledge and practice, implicate and infiltrate categories of gender and race in America? Drawing on media analysis and ethnographic research, I argue that the rise of yoga as a gendered, classed, and consumptive practice exposes the role of advertising, ableism, and wellness in transnational conceptions of gender, race, class, and the body. This research indicates that rather than cultivate tolerance and inclusivity, the American yoga industry, with the support of the Indian government’s policies, including a yoga visa program aimed at Americans, is instead breeding new incarnations of orientalist and postcolonial white supremacy.
A scholar working in the fields of critical race theory, gender, sexuality, and queer theory, media and performance studies, ethnomusicology, dance studies, and popular music studies, Rumya S. Putcha is an assistant professor in the Department of Performance Studies and an affiliated faculty member in the Women’s and Gender Studies Program as well as the Race and Ethnic Studies Institute at Texas A&M University. Her first book, Mythical Courtesan | Modern Wife: Feminist Praxis in Transnational South Asia, examines the relationship between epistemologies of music and dance, gender and sexuality, rape cultures, raciality, and sex work in South Asian media economies. Dr. Putcha is currently working on a project titled, “Refrains of a Hillbilly Elegy: Country Boys, Social Media, and the Affective Politics of 21st Century White Supremacy,” which examines constructions of race, citizenship, and post-9/11 American cultural politics within country music publics. Her second book project, “Namaste Nation: Commercial Yoga Industries and Neo-Orientalism in 21st Century America” extends her work on South Asian dance cultures to critical analyses of commodified yoga practices within neocolonial discourses of body, race, and citizenship. As an Indian classical dancer trained in both the Bharatanatyam and Kuchipudi styles, Dr. Putcha has conducted many years of ethnographic research on dance and yoga in India as well as the United States. She is also a professional soprano, performing in chapel choirs in both Boston and Chicago.