Transnational Yoga at Work: Spiritual Tourism and Its Blind Spots is an ethnography about local wageworkers in the Indian branches of a transnational yoga institution and about yoga practitioners and spiritual tourists who visualize peace through yoga. Practitioners’ aspirations for peace situate them at the heart of an international movement that has captured the imagination of cosmopolitans the world over, with its purported benefits to mind, body, and spirit. Yoga is thought to offer health, vitality, and relief from depression through control of body and breath. Yet, the vision of peace in this institution is a partial vision that obscures the important but seemingly peripheral others of its self-conception. Through in-depth ethnographic analysis, this book explores the processes through which global spiritual movements can have peace front and center in their vision and yet condone and perpetuate cycles of injustice and social inequality that form the critical and problematic foundations of our global economy. The book privileges the experiences and hardships faced by Indian wageworkers—most of them women —but it also offers a sympathetic portrayal of international yoga practitioners and of the complex patterns of work and worship central to a global mission.
Laurah E. Klepinger is assistant professor of anthropology at Utica University.
Chapter 1: Biography of the SYVC in the Context of Transnational Yoga
Chapter 2: Bodies, Blood, and the Land of Modern Yoga: Competing Claims to a Transnational Practice
Chapter 3: Wage Work and Kitchen Hands: Paid Laborers and the Karma Yoga Ethic
Chapter 4: Visible Suffering and the Making of Peace: On Homeless Dogs, Cat Palaces, and Poor People Food
Chapter 5: Real Neighbors and Imagined Communities
Chapter 6: #Sorrynotsorry: Fieldwork, Containment, and the Women Yogis of the SYVC
Transnational Yoga at Work provides a vivid and intimate portrait of yoga as a global phenomenon that brings into sharp focus issues of class, status, and power. Klepinger’s rich ethnography brings to light profound contradictions and inequities that emerge from the quest for spiritual insight.
Transnational Yoga at Work is an expansively detailed and critically self-conscious ethnography that addresses the shadowed and invisibilized laborers who make spiritual tourism in yoga ashrams possible. Crafted with the insights of a Sivananda Yoga scholar and practitioner, Klepinger brings her keen analysis to bear on racialized capitalism in transnational yoga and writes in a cathartic space of loss and confrontation with allegations of abuse.
Transnational Yoga at Work offers a beautifully written, incisive, and much needed analysis of yoga from a fresh angle. Exploring yoga through the lens of labor, the book exposes the hidden systems of inequality and exclusion behind yoga’s reputation for peace and harmony. This book takes on some of the most difficult questions that the transnational yoga world has had to face in recent decades, and it invites nuanced and thoughtful confrontation with these issues. Spiritual tourists will never look at an ashram in quite the same way again.
This book is a self-reflexive ethnography of Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Centres (SYVC), a transnational yoga organization devoted to peace. Through careful storytelling, Klepinger focuses on the ashram’s intimate spaces to better understand inequities between local underpaid kitchen workers, foreign volunteer staff, and guests at the SYVC in India. Klepinger’s complex and fraught history of SYVC is a must-read in Critical Yoga Studies.