Yoga Under the Sociological Lens: Examining Western Culture’s Influence on an Ancient Practice

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Sociology, as a discipline, encourages critical analysis of the world around us. The study of yoga, both as a cultural practice in its own right and as an imported practice in Western societies, offers a rich terrain for such analysis. Lori Hunter, a professor of sociology at the University of Colorado Boulder, teaches a course titled “Yoga, Culture & Society.” This course examines the sociological implications of the practice of yoga in modern Western culture.

Decolonizing Yoga

The course begins by examining the concept of decolonization, both in its original context of land acquisition and in its metaphorical application to other aspects of culture. Hunter and her students question what it means to “decolonize” yoga and consider how aspects of the practice have been appropriated and commodified within Western culture.

Dynamics of Power and Privilege

The course explores the dynamics of power, privilege, and exclusion that manifest in the practice of yoga in the West. Hunter notes that yoga is predominantly practiced by women, raising questions about the influence of gender norms and expectations. Additionally, the overrepresentation of white individuals in yoga magazines and studios highlights issues of race and the commodification of the practice. The availability and cost of yoga classes and gear, including expensive yoga pants, further contribute to issues of economic and social exclusivity.

Mindfulness and Physicality

Modern Western culture has significantly influenced the practice of yoga, shifting the emphasis from mindfulness and self-reflection to physical fitness and aesthetic concerns. This change raises questions about the preservation of yoga’s traditional values and the commodification of the body in Western culture.

Course Structure and Methodology

The course relies on various sources to foster critical thinking and discussion. Hunter incorporates readings from sociological essays, clinical research studies, and guest speaker presentations, including discussions on yoga in correctional facilities and the relationship between yoga and activism. Students engage in critical analysis of the social dimensions of yoga, sharing their own observations and experiences through yoga journals.


Hunter’s course represents a groundbreaking approach to the sociological examination of yoga. By analyzing the practice through the lens of social dynamics, power structures, and cultural appropriation, the course offers a nuanced understanding of the influence of modern Western culture on an ancient Eastern practice. This unique perspective contributes to the emerging field of sociology of yoga, encouraging critical thinking and fostering a deeper understanding of the social implications of cultural practices.

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