Yoga and gendered wellbeing: exploring new ontologies of wellbeing and gendered body shame through innovative and ethnographic studies of yoga practic

Lead Research Organisation: University of Exeter
Department Name: Geography


This multi-sited ethnography of diverse yoga practices and spaces will deploy a novel 'moving interview' method to contribute to debates on gendered and embodied geographies of health and wellbeing. Modern postural yoga has rapidly gained popularity in the West (Singleton, 2010), and this research will foreground practitioners' lived experiences of the body in contemporary yoga spaces, enabling an exploration of new ontologies of wellbeing and gendered body shame. This will open up novel analytical lines towards understanding wellness outside of consumerist, neoliberal and medico-scientific discourses (Dolezal, 2012).

Gendered body shame is underpinned by normative gendered body expectations and has been linked to increased rates of mental health illnesses amongst women (Tiggermann & Slater, 2015; Dolezal, 2016). There is evidence that yoga can reduce stress, anxiety, depression and enhance wellbeing (Woodyard, 2011; Bussing et al., 2012), and my previous research found that yoga can help women to develop 'alternative' modes of bodily awareness which allow them to positively reconceptualise their bodies outside normative gendered expectations (Lucas 2018). I will extend this research in two important ways:
1. Exploring feminine and masculine identities in yoga;
2. Exploring the extent to which yoga has the potential to shape experiences of 'body shame'.
Feminist geographical research has highlighted the complex tensions within practices like yoga which centralise both the discipline and care of the body. Such disciplining tendencies can increase 'corporeal anxiety' (Little, 2013), however an inward facing imperative can also foster a more caring, less shameful relationship with the body. The encouragement of relationality and connection in yoga classes can also impact upon wellbeing and embodied experiences (Perrson, 2007; Lucas, 2018).


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Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
ES/P000630/1 01/10/2017 30/09/2027
2253873 Studentship ES/P000630/1 01/10/2019 30/04/2024 Gemma Lucas