'It's a fine line between . . . self-discipline, devotion and dedication': negotiating authority in the teaching and learning of Ashtanga yoga

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Lea, Jennifer ; Philo, Christopher ; Cadman, Louisa (2016)

This article looks at the production and shaping of the self via Ashtanga yoga, a bodily practice, growing in significance in Western cultures, which can involve a radical form of (re)shaping the self. In particular, it looks at the interaction of external and internal sources of authority, including the yoga student’s own expertise of themselves (experiential authority), the authority of the practice and the authority of the teacher. This allows the article to rethink standard models of authority in educational and ‘spiritualities of life’ literatures, which have generally imagined a top-down singular form of authority, essentially stamped onto the subjects being educated. The article outlines what might enter into a more ‘distributed’ form of authority – being not simply the educator figure (their positionality, status, institutional location, contextualisation within prior fields of knowledge/belief) but also how their exertion of authority meshes (and sometimes conflicts with) the ‘experiential authority’ of the subjects being educated, articulating with their own ‘self-authority’ (what they know, expect and command from themselves, on the basis of countless prior experiences, encounters, interactions, times and spaces). The article draws upon qualitative fieldwork carried out in Brighton, UK.
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