Yoga From the Mat Up: How words alight on bodies

Educational Philosophy and Theory 46 (6):655-673 (2014)
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Yoga is a unique form of expert movement that promotes an increasingly subtle interpenetration of thought and movement. The mindful nature of its practice, even at expert levels, challenges the idea that thought and mind are inevitably disruptive to absorbed coping. Building on parallel phenomenological and ethnographic studies of skilful performance and embodied apprenticeship, we argue for the importance in yoga of mental access to embodied movement during skill execution by way of a case study of instruction and practice in two related traditions, Iyengar and Anusara. Sharing a pose repertoire, they are based on distinctive philosophical systems with different teaching styles and metaphoric structures. To address relations between pedagogy and practice in embodied expertise, and to investigate the reciprocal influences of embodiment and thought, we explore in detail the linguistically mediated learning context where practitioners work with yoga teachers. Here, the mind/body problem comes to practical life. We demonstrate the effects of words on bodies, as knowledge is literally incorporated. We show why interpersonal influence on our movement capacities is sometimes needed to enhance expertise. We theorize and identify ‘signature patterns of tension’ among practitioners. These patterns have four sources: ghost gestures, innate differences in bodily form, functional fusing, and signature patterns of affective experience, modulation and expression. These patterns of tension produce ‘silent zones’, cognitively impenetrable actions, functional fusing of a skilful, compensatory form, and signature patterns of pain and damage. We show how instruction can disrupt these silent zones, enhancing mental and physical flexibility.



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John Sutton
Macquarie University