Halt at Om: Community Forming in the Yoga and Dressage Worlds
Brewster Bernhardt, Alana
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Sport and leisure play an important role in American society today. The mentality of work hard, play hard is both alive and well in spirit, through the pursuing of a hobby or sport. Many people recognize their distinctiveness more strongly through their leisure activities than through their jobs. Through participation in these activities, social bonds are formed and refined over time. Leisure activities are commonly thought to suggest or indicate intimate details about someone’s identity, and as such serve as a valuable lens through which to better understand communities and how ties within communities are shaped, and consequently how people form their personal identity. The dressage world is exceptionally gendered and class-based, with a majority of its visible demographic comprised of Caucasian, middle/upper middle class women of a certain age. Largely because of this, a majority of academic studies looking at the equestrian community tend to be focused around gender and class dynamics, versus a larger approach focusing on the community itself and how it functions on a smaller, subculture interaction scale. Another community I chose to examine closely was yoga. Yoga is a spiritual practice originating in India over 5000 years ago. In modernity it is used for many different reasons, ranging from a spiritual/religious practice, to therapy, to stress management, to a fitness regime. Yoga can be practiced pretty much anywhere but my study focused on the community forming and practice seen in yoga studios and in online communities. While it may seem a solitary pursuit upon first glance, many yoga studios foster a rich community through pre and post class casual chatting, guided discussion in the studio on the philosophy of yoga. Within the community there is pronounced interaction via social media. Yoga has exploded in popularity in the past decade, largely due to celebrity endorsement and the wave of yoga studios opening up across the country. There have been very few academic studies of yoga, especially focusing upon it as a subculture. This study explores these communities’ social significance, dynamics, and functions. With distinctive fashions, styles and principles, I position them for analysis as subcultures. Accordingly, I look at the social utility that their structure provides. I draw upon sociologists such as Pierre Bourdieu, Robert Putnam, and Randall Collins. I discuss their theories and their influence. This study is aimed at forming a better understanding of the relationship between leisure activities and the social bonds they foster. Finally, and perhaps most in depth, this study explores the transformation of these communities’ values, beliefs, and principles. This is done through looking at the commodification of yoga and through the changing principles and values of the dressage community exemplified by changes in the sport’s legislation.
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