Society for Psychological Anthropology
Oral Presentation Session
Contemporary yoga has been blossoming at the crossroads between Hindu and Euro-American traditions for more than one century. Bringing together provocative tensions between different conceptions of body, mind, and their multiple interminglings, contemporary yoga ashrams in Euro-America are loci of self-transformation through mind-conscious bodily practice. Relying upon an ongoing inquiry on Advaita Vedanta ashrams throughout the world, I explore the relationship between transformative events, namely mantra diksa (i.e. initiation by a personal mantra), and self-reconfiguration processes reshaping practitioners' lives. By integrating insights from bio-social sciences, neuroanthropology and critical theory, I focus on key aspects of mind-body experience in advaita vedanta yoga, namely the embodiment of non-dualistic/non-binary ontologies. Non-binary ontologies are based on the belief that commonsensical dichotomies such as presence/absence, good/evil and material/immaterial are illusions to overcome in order to attain an enlightened state of consciousness. Paradox is deliberately used to unveil the illusoriness of such oppositions. Advaita yoga, for example, entails a deliberate paradox between enhancing bodily awareness and insisting on the unreality of the flesh. Mantra practice embodies this contradiction by making acoustic verbal vibrations both a hyper-sensuous and a bodily-transcending experience. I explore how non-dualistic spiritual paths are grounded in paradoxical feelings of the body, fostering a fluid dynamism between connection and disconnection to the immanence of sensations. This acquired fluidity has profoundly biological impact on the flexibility and overall physiological regulation of yogis. Thus, mantra practice is a salient site or understanding the bio-looping between bodily transformation, cultural meaning, and the ontology of the "disembodied flesh".