Citation
Toward meaningful relationships

Material Information

Title:
Toward meaningful relationships yoga as a tool for self-actualization and social change
Creator:
Slythe, Laura Melisa
Publication Date:
Language:
English
Physical Description:
vii, 77 leaves : ; 28 cm

Subjects

Subjects / Keywords:
Yoga ( lcsh )
Self-actualization (Psychology) ( lcsh )
Social change ( lcsh )
Self-actualization (Psychology) ( fast )
Social change ( fast )
Yoga ( fast )
Genre:
bibliography ( marcgt )
theses ( marcgt )
non-fiction ( marcgt )

Notes

Bibliography:
Includes bibliographical references (leaves 75-77).
General Note:
Department of Humanities and Social Sciences
Statement of Responsibility:
by Laura Melisa Slythe.

Record Information

Source Institution:
|University of Colorado Denver
Holding Location:
|Auraria Library
Rights Management:
All applicable rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
Resource Identifier:
655262600 ( OCLC )
ocn655262600
Classification:
LD1193.L65 2010m S59 ( lcc )

Full Text
TOWARD MEANINGFUL RELATIONSHIPS: YOGA AS A TOOL FOR
SELF-TRANSFORMATION AND SOCIAL CHANGE
by
Laura Melisa Slythe
B.A, University of California Los Angeles, 2006
A thesis submitted to the
University of Colorado Denver
in partial fulfillment
of the requirements for the degree of
Master of Arts
Social Science
2010


This thesis for the Master of Arts
degree by
Laura Melisa Slythe
has been approved
by
6 2010
Date


Slythe, Laura, M. (M.A., Social Science)
Toward Meaningful Relationships: Yoga as a tool for Self-Transformation and Social
Change
Thesis directed by Associate Professor Candan Duran-Aydintug
ABSTRACT
The purpose of this study is to explore the experience of power vinyasa yoga practitioners
and their views about the meaning of yoga and the power of yoga to influence positive self-
transformation. The research questions leading this study were: 1. What does yoga mean
to the individual?, 2. What does it mean to transform the self through yoga?, and 3. How is
a transformed self beneficial to society? Or what kind of self-transformation would create
positive social change? I interviewed 20 yoga practitioners for this study, all belonging to a
local power vinyasa yoga studio. Participants were recruited by one of two methods, an
announcement after a yoga teacher training, or purposively. Kenneth Gergens Theory of
Social Construction was used to analyze and interpret the participants' responses in the
interview transcripts. The overall themes revealed in the findings were, for Construction of
meaning: union between mind, body and spirit, awareness, transformation and physical
practice. For Self-transformation: taking yoga off the mat, discipline, acceptance,
responsibility and letting go. For Benefit to society: stronger connection to others and the
earth, community, and improved relationships.
This abstract accurately represents the content of the candidates thesis. I recommend its
publication.
Signed


DEDICATION
I dedicate this thesis to my parents, who have supported me unconditionally through my
entire educational career. I also dedicate this thesis to my grandmother who taught me
about love, compassion and forgiveness and never to give up. And lastly I dedicate this
thesis to all those yogis in the world trying to reach their higher Self and make the world a
better place. Keep working hard, keep doing the work and together we WILL change the
world.


ACKNOWLEDGMENT
I cannot thank my advisor Candan Duran-Aydintug enough for her many hours of
dedication to making this thesis possible. She has given more than 100% of herself to
guide me through this process and I am forever thankful. With her good humor and
amazing personality, she has made my experience of writing a thesis one of a kind. I will
always remember how lucky I was to have such an understanding, spontaneous, smart,
dedicated and inspiring human being guide me through this process. I also want to thank
and acknowledge all the participants of this study for opening up their hearts and sharing
with me their yoga. Dont ever doubt that you are making a difference in the world.


TABLE OF CONTENTS
CHAPTER
1. INTRODUCTION......................................................1
2. REVIEW OF THE LITERATURE..........................................3
Living in the West............................................3
Becoming Mindful..............................................4
Yoga in Action: Academic Studies..............................7
Yoga History and Philosophy..................................13
Yoga and Environmental Consciousness.........................18
3. THEORY OF SOCIAL CONSTRUCTION....................................20
4. METHODS..........................................................27
Situated Self................................................27
Type of Study................................................28
Sample/Sampling..............................................29
Instrument...................................................30
Procedure....................................................31
Locale.......................................................32
5. FINDINGS AND DISCUSSION..........................................33
Overview of the chapter......................................33
Construction of the Meaning of Yoga..........................35
Yoga as Union of Mind, Body, and Spirit.................35
Yoga as Awareness.......................................37
Yoga as Self-Transformation.............................38
Yoga as a Physical Practice.............................39
VI


Tying back to the Literature................................40
Self-T ransformation.............................................41
Taking Yoga Off the Matt....................................43
Becoming Disciplined in your Yoga Practice..................46
Learning to Accept Yourself.................................48
Gaining a sense of Responsibility...........................50
Surrendering................................................51
Tying back to the Literature................................54
Benefit to Society...............................................56
Learning to treat others with Compassion....................56
Practicing Karma in Everyday Life...........................59
Taking care of the Earth and Humanity.......................61
Tying back to the Literature................................64
5. CONCLUSION...........................................................65
APPENDIX
A. INTERVIEW SCHEDULE GUIDELINE........................................70
B. CONSENT FORM APPROVAL...............................................72
BIBLIOGRAPHY ...............................................................75
vii


CHAPTER 1
INTRODUCTION
Since its journey into the United States, yoga has evolved to fit the needs of
modern life. The high demand for an exercise that offers a healthy workout, enhanced
muscle strength, coordination, flexibility, and agility has made yoga very popular in the
United States. Millions of people, including professional athletes, business people,
teachers, the young and the old, practice yoga on a daily basis. This was not the case in
ancient times when yoga was practiced only by the privileged few. Although some would
argue that yoga has lost its original meaning and turned into just another workout, I
believe that its philosophy has remained with it throughout the thousands of years it has
been around. This aspect of yoga, I argue, is another reason why Westerners are attracted
to it.
The philosophy of yoga tells us to be authentic, integral and unified(Feuerstein
2003). Coming from a highly individualistic society, where individuals are taught to always
put themselves first, these ideals reveal an empowering new way of looking at the self. In
the United States, the sociologist Kenneth Gergen (1999) argues that people have become
socially saturated. As technologies develop, the fast pace of human interactions and of life
in general increases and as the exaggerated encounters and friendships we have with
others augment, we become saturated.
My claim is the Western practitioners of Hatha Yoga are frequently attracted to the
practice because it provides an escape from the modern saturated self and a way into a
new empowered and empowering self. In order to show this I have explored the philosophy
of yoga including its goals and how these goals relate to the self. I have also explored the
1


modern self and how the idea of individualism plays out in our society creating a state of
stress and confusion, which leaves us with no choice but to look for alleviation and
solutions. I analyzed the self through the lens of the theory of Social Construction. This
theory deals with how the self is constructed in society and how meaning for human beings
comes through interactions with others. Yoga as a social activity can be analyzed from this
perspective. The goal of this study is to show that the practice of yoga including the
wisdom that is expressed through its philosophy and ideals can create positive social
change for us today regarding the self. Yoga is a tool for a self-transformation that is very
much needed in society today.
The remaining chapters go into the subject of yoga and self-transformation in more
detail. Chapter 2 deals with the history and philosophy of yoga including a discussion of
relevant literature on yoga and self-transformation. Chapter 3 explains the Theory of Social
Construction and its connection to the study of the self and the construction of the self.
Chapter 4 describes the methods used for this phenomenological study including sampling
methods and procedure. Chapter 5 goes into detail describing the findings of the study and
chapter 6 concludes the study with a discussion of the studys strengths and weaknesses.
But before we go on, I would like you, the reader, to know this: through this thesis,
I do not want to speak at you, I want to speak with you; to have a relationship with you, the
reader, a conversation. Ignoring that people will understand and interpret this writing
differently limits the effect any writer can have on society. Please know that I acknowledge
that and understand that the only way to keep this conversation going is to find new ideas
and new solutions to the problems in our society. I also want to tell you my story and share
that I found meaning through yoga that makes me feel more connected to others and helps
me relate better to people. I would not be the same person I am today without yoga, its as
simple as that. My hope is that you will find meaning through my words and idea, take
2


them, transform them, and make they fit into your world. The point is to keep the dialogue
about the self going so that together we might find new ways of relating to each other that
involve open hearts and listening ears. The ideas in this thesis are an open dialogue which
continues to find expression in our modern world. It is the dialogue of the Self with its
criticism of individuality and its attempt to find new ways of defining the self that will
improve our relationships to each other. It is through this dialogue that Social Construction
Theory finds a voice. And it is through this conversation with you, the reader, that these
ideas will find new flight and continue to affect us, helping us to reflect on and find new
ways of living in this world together.
3


CHAPTER 2
REVIEW OF THE LITERATURE
Living in the West
We live in a world where the mind has become human's most prized possession. It
is in our minds that we know who we are, and it is this inner self that guides us through life.
Thoughts, feelings and actions stem from the inside out and we believe we must find
ourselves, identify our needs, and know how we truly feel(Gergen 1999, pg.82). We are in
this way individuals who can make decisions on our own and be held responsible for our
actions. Gergen (1999) argues that our society works through this individualist tradition to
cultivate individual minds and individual thought which help to make democracy more
effective and stronger(pg.83). In our society, individualism in highly valued as it is related to
better democracy, but although we could say that positive things have come from
individualism, we should consider the implications of such a tradition. As Gergen (1999)
puts it, we should ask ourselves what do we gain and what do we lose by sustaining the
tradition of private, individual selves as the wellspring of action?(pg.83).
The threat of individualism finds its greatest voice in the environmental crisis. More
and more, environmental activists are encouraging people to work together in their
communities and around the world to help save the planet from ecological destruction.
They stress that the problem is too big to handle on our own; Mother Earth needs us to
unite in the name of social and environmental justice. However, individualism poses a huge
set back. According to Gergen (1999), because we consider ourselves separate from all
other beings, and because we can never know what the other is thinking or feeling, no
matter what they say, we are in a constant state of distrust and in effect, very isolated. We
3


are left, therefore, with nothing else but to try to please and gratify ourselves as a means of
looking out for ourselves. This causes us to compete with each other in all aspects of life
and creates relationships that are in effect fake because they are used for self-gain. How
are we to work together to save planet Earth under these conditions? Worse yet,
Individualism places Nature outside itself as either a benefit or a threat to the self, therefore
welcoming the exploitation of Nature as the Self sees fit.
Technological advances have also helped expand and increase this problem.
When analyzing the modern state of the self, one realizes that life in Western society
contains many struggles. According to Kenneth Gergen (1999), through the technologies
of the century, the number and variety of relationships in which we are engaged, potential
frequency of contact, expressed intensity of relationship, and endurance through time all
are steadily increasing. As this increase becomes extreme we reach a state of social
saturation(pg,266). In other words, we are in a constant state of internal conflict. The
modern person finds him/herself in a state of an ongoing identity crisis, which leads to
nervousness. The endless possibilities of things we could want and need expands
exponentially through the production of goods and through advertisement that we end up
feeling trapped in a sea of desire; a desire that can never be fulfilled. Kenneth even states
that Buddhists have long been aware, to desire is simultaneously to become a slave of the
desirable. To want reduces ones choice to want not therefore, daily life has become a
sea of drowning demands, and there is no shore in sight(Gergen 1999, pgs.275-276). We
end up constantly doubting ourselves and feel inadequate and empty.
Becoming Mindful
If we are to fill this emptiness we must critically examine our way of living with a
mindful eye. In the spirit of the Theory of Social Construction, which will be explained in
detail in the next chapter, I bring up the concept of mindfulness. The idea of mindful
4


research and mindful education came up as a resistance to the mindless way students are
taught in school and the mindless ways we take in information and do not question it. For
example, "mindlessness can show up as the direct cause of human error in complex
situations, of prejudice and stereotyping, and of the sensation of alternating between
anxiety and boredom that characterizes many lives(Langer and Moldoveanu 2000 pg.6).
In other words, we check out of situations because we do not care about them, or we feel
disconnected and distance ourselves. Because of the lack of meaning, we live mindlessly
from day to day, doing the same things over and over. On the other hand, to be mindful is
to be aware of and live in the present moment. According to Langer and Moldoveanu
(2000), the process of drawing novel distinctions can lead to a number of diverse
consequences, including (1) a greater sensitivity to ones environment, (2) more openness
to new information, (3) the creation of new categories for structuring perception, and (4)
enhanced awareness of multiple perspectives in problem solving(pg.2). In the process of
mindfulness, the individual is involved with all of its being.
The idea of mindfulness can begin to change how we think, act and relate to our
bodies and each other. Language and the media play a huge role in how we define and
treat others and even ourselves. As we become socially saturated with images of how our
bodies should look like, because no one can physically reach the ideal body, we become
resentful of our natural bodies. Some even go as far as to surgically change their bodies to
look like the ideal bodies on magazines, television and movies. However to be mindful is to
understand that all bodies are different and perfect the way they are. When we are mindful
we also recognize that these ideal images are made up in order for companies to sell their
products and gain profit at the consumers expense. As we recognize that many of us share
this internal conflict of trying to reach perfection with our own bodies, we expand our
awareness to others who feel the same way. At the heart of mindfulness is change, and
5


when compared to Western Individualism, we begin to see the power of mindfulness to
shift us away from our individual self and into the realm of relationships. According to
Langer and Moldoveanu (2000), increasing mindful awareness of one another can deepen
and broaden social understanding(pg,7). When we begin to understand each other, we
are able to relate to each other better.
At this point, you may be asking yourself, what does this have to do with yoga? To
bring yoga into the picture means to introduce a solution to the modern problem of the self.
In his book The Deeper Dimension of Yoga, Georg Feuerstein (2003) states that Sri
Aurobindo created Integral Yoga to fit the needs of modern life. Integral yoga, called
purma-yoga in Sanskrit, has the explicit purpose of bringing the divine consciousness
down into the human body-mind and into ordinary life(pg.52). It consists of a self-opening
of the heart to the higher power. This is an example of how yoga has been adapting
through time to fit the needs of contemporary life. Yoga has, in fact, become very popular
in the West, with millions of people who practice it on a daily basis. However, not all of
these people, we could say, get it. In my opinion, there is a distinction between someone
who does yoga for egotistical reasons and someone who does yoga for the good of not
only the self but also of others. I must make another distinction here that although many
people begin to practice yoga for reasons of improving themselves, such as for weight loss
or more flexibility, many yoga practitioners find that as they continue to practice yoga, they
become more aware and compassionate of others in the world.
Feuerstein (2003) exemplifies this idea with the concepts of worldly friends and
spiritual friends. We should strive to have spiritual friends because they are the ones who
uplift our mind and heart(pg.113). In fact, instead of making friends, practitioners of
Yoga would do better to cultivate unlimited friendliness (maitri): They become a friend for
all beings, having their highest good at heart. With this outlook, one has the whole universe
6


as ones friend(Feuerstein 2003, pg.115). This is the modern goal we Westerners can
strive for. It is our own way of reaching nirvana, or ultimate enlightenment. The descriptions
that follow of 3 quantitative and 3 qualitative studies show how yoga, a mindful practice,
creates a shift in the body that undoes the damage western modern life causes it. This shift
can, and very often does, involve the body, mind and/or spirit.
Yoga in Action: Academic Studies
Upon studying the effects of Iyengar yoga on patients diagnosed with depression
and taking medication, Shapiro and others (2007) found some promising results. 17
participants completed the study which included three 60-90 minute yoga classes a week
for a total of 8 weeks. The classes were designed so that students would gradually
progress to more advanced levels of poses, which is characteristic of Iyengar yoga. Before
and after the yoga classes, participants took a mood survey asking them to rate their mood
change from 1= not at all to 5= very much for each of the 20 mood items(Shapiro
pg.497). The results of these ratings were generally positive. Shapiro (2007) states that for
the 17 completers, all 20 moods showed significant immediate changes from before to
after each class... negative moods decreased, positive moods increased, energy/arousal
moods increased (less tired, more energetic, etc.)(pg.498). There was a gradual increase
in participants reporting higher levels of happiness from the beginning to the end of the
study, relating to the yoga classes. This study pointed to the importance of the biological
connection yoga poses have to the inner body. For example Shapiro (2007) states that
Iyengar yoga practice places a great deal of emphasis on opening the chest as in the
case of certain poses such as backbends, which may have direct effects on the circulation
that may elevate mood and psychological well-being(pg.499). Most yoga styles include
heart opening poses which increase a feeling of vulnerability due to the fact that the head
is usually in a position leaning back and the eyes are no longer looking forward but behind.
7


During one such heart opening pose, Camel Pose, yoga instructors usually inform the
student that she/he may feel dizzy and/or slightly nauseous. Coming out of a pose like this
one must be done carefully and with caution. This is why for most yoga practices an
important feature of participation...is sustained attention and concentration(Shapiro 2007,
pg.494). This focus or mindful practice allows participants to notice slight changes in the
biological as well as the mental body. The most interesting finding of this study was that
participation in yoga did not in effect target depression only but also affected psychological
and biological processes indicative of improved mental health in general and more
effective social behavior(Shapiro 2007, pg.499). Thus, this study concludes that yoga is a
promising tool to use against depression because of its effects on the emotional,
psychological, behavioral and biological body. This quantitative study is important because
it points out that yoga affects the body not only on a physical level but on an emotional and
mental level as well, and these can be measured in the biology of the body, via
physiological changes in the body.
A short quantitative study titled Stress, Relaxation States, and Creativity by
Khasky and Smith (1999) suggests that yoga can help reduce anxiety. 114 college
students were included in this study. These participants were asked to take a combined
Smith Quick Stress Test and Smith R-State Inventory" to measure levels of stress and
relaxation responses(Khasky and Smith 1999, pg.410). Then participants were led through
25 minutes of one of three relaxation techniques, progressive muscle relaxation, yoga
stretching or imagery(Khasky and Smith 1999, pg.411). After this process, participants took
the combined test again. Although this study was short (entire study lasted a total of 120
minutes), its results point to an interesting effect regarding disengagement or feeling
distant, far away, indifferent during relaxation(Khasky and Smith 1999, pg.409).
According to the results, physical relaxation or yoga may have both a cognitive and
8


somatic component(Khasky and Smith 1999, pg.415). Some participants reported that as
they became more disengaged in their mind during the relaxation technique, they also
became more relaxed. This was surprising to the researchers because the idea of
disengagement in a previous study was tied to higher levels of stress which they called
relaxation-induced anxiety(Khasky and Smith 1999, pg.415). This again relates to the
idea of yoga influencing both the mind and the body simultaneously. Although initially
disengagement increased levels of stress, they found that the longer that the subjects
performed the relaxation technique, specifically yoga, this disengagement, in fact, allowed
them to relax more. The weakness of this study is that it was short and the authors do state
that in order for relaxation techniques to take full effect, a longer amount of time performing
them is needed as well as a repetition of the techniques over a period of many days. This
study was significant however because it pointed to the fact that yoga is not a one-time
deal. To get the full effects of yoga one must practice continually for an extended amount
of time.
Another quantitative study which compared the effects of using meditation with
yoga, group therapy with hypnosis, and psychoeducation to treat long term depression
showed that meditation with yoga was the most effective at reducing reoccurrences of
depression over an expanded period of time. Forty six people who were diagnosed with
long-term depression participated in this study. The meditation with yoga group had
sessions which included group practice in meditation, hatha yoga, breathing techniques,
guided breathing and visualization^Butler 2008, pg.812). A big aspect of these practices is
the idea of surrendering the thoughts and emotions from oneself. The practice of
surrendering is important because it helps the individual practice acknowledging the
thoughts and emotions that show up in the moment of meditation and yoga and then letting
them go, or releasing them from the body. Because this practice is aided through breathing
9


techniques and through visualization, it also helps with relaxation. According to Butler
(2008), this approach encourages practitioners to recognize that thoughts and feelings are
transient, and it seems particularly suited to mood disorders, which may be maintained by
depressive rumination(pg.811). Although this study demonstrated that meditation and
yoga can be good alternative interventions for treating clinically diagnosed depression, its
main strength is its demonstration of the powerful effects of using the techniques such as
surrendering in a meditation and yoga practice. For someone without depression, yoga and
meditation can become a great way to stay balanced both emotionally and mentally and in
this way it can help to prevent depression. Although the three above mentioned
quantitative studies show promising results for the use of yoga as a therapy, qualitative
studies can help us understand how a yoga participant personally experiences yoga and
how yoga effects his or her life.
One of the most interesting qualitative studies I read as part of the research
process was a study called Mind-Body Medicine and the Art of Self-Care: Teaching
Mindfulness to Counseling Students Through Yoga, Meditation, and Qigong" by Marc B.
Schure and others (2008). The purpose of this study was to use qualitative methods to
explore counseling students' perceptions of the influence of mindfulness practices on their
lives (broadly defined) and their work with clients(Schure 2008, pg.48). Using a program
called MBSR (mindfulness-based stress reduction), students enrolled in a university course
were expected to practice yoga, meditation and Qigong throughout the semester. At the
end of the semester, students were asked how the course had affected their lives, which
practice they liked the most, how the course affected their work with clients and if they saw
themselves using methods learned in the course in their future procession as a counselor.
Students in this study experienced (a) physical changes, (b) emotional changes, (c)
attitudinal or mental changes, (d) spiritual awareness, and (e) interpersonal
10


changes(Schure 2008, pg.49). Specifically because of yoga, some students expressed
becoming more aware of their bodies and the connection to their minds, better confidence
in themselves regarding the challenge of doing the different poses and mental clarity and
concentration(Schure 2008, pg.51). Patience was another effect of practicing yoga and
meditation which one student described as I think it has helped me in my ability to
consciously slow my thoughts and to an extent note and let go of arising emotions... [and] it
has taught me greater patience and given me more resilience to physical pain and
discomfort(Schure 2008, pg.51). These mindful practices promoted positive self-
transformation in these students who learned how to reflect on their thoughts and emotions
before reacting to situations, gained a greater capacity for empathy and compassion
which led to a feeling of being grounded(Schure 2008, pgs.53-54). This study is
significant because of the number of participants (33) and the fact that it was done in a
span of 4 years. Long term studies are helpful in determining if the effects of a practice
such as yoga last over time, and this study was able to provide evidence that the practice
of yoga, meditation, and Qigong helped participants cope with stress.
A second qualitative study by Dittman and Freedman (2009) interviewed 18
women who had responded yes to having had a possible history of eating disorders. All of
the women who participated in this study were currently practicing yoga either at a gym or
at home on a regular basis, at least once a week. These group of women reported how
yoga offered something different than regular exercise, expressed a feeling of accepting
their body as it is and being less critical of it, expressed feeling more aware of their body
and its natural functions, and some even found a spiritual connection to it. One of the most
interesting findings is that of accepting oneself. For example, one respondent said its not
the weight that changed, though I did lose weight, but how I related to my body that
changed(Dittmann and Freedman 2009, pg.284). This points to the power that yoga has
11


to put your mind into an intimate relationship with your body. This means that once you
become aware of your body, you begin to respond to what your body is telling you.
Whether that means it is giving a message of pain, or a message of pleasure, one is able
to embody the practice with mindfulness. One woman described yoga as unlike therapy,
which she also found helpful, yoga offers the ability to be one's own therapist 100% of the
time by providing a place to go within the body where you know you are going to be OK,
thus providing a measure of comfort and safety(Dittimann and Freedman 2009, pg.283).
This study is important because it demonstrates the healing power of yoga with women
who have had or are suffering from an eating disorder. The limit of this study is that only
women participated. It would be interesting to see how men with eating disorders have
responded to yoga. However, this study points out that yoga in fact offers more than
regular exercise can, for example spirituality. Most women in this study described finding a
sense of spirituality linked to feeling more connected with their mind, body and spirit. As
this study shows, yoga has helped women improve body image, body satisfaction, and
eating attitudes while also allowing them to find a spiritual connection which helped
deepen their practice(Dittimann and Freedman 2009, pg.290).
The third qualitative study was actually a Thesis written by Colleen Margaret
McCoy (2006) called Yoga, its health benefits, and the search for the true self. What was
interesting about this study is that McCoy used a phenomenological approach to study
yoga. Phenomenology is appropriate to this study because like yoga it involve[s]
uncovering the essence of an experience or mode of being"(McCoy 2006, pg.39). Her
research concentrates on how a yoga practitioner explains, understands and finds his or
her true self. She explains that once immersed in the culture of yoga, people can quickly
find much more than they originally thought(McCoy 2006, pg.8). This refers to the aspect
of spirituality that goes beyond the physical practice of yoga or asana. According to McCoy
12


(2006) yoga encompasses a persons whole life and addresses topics, such as mental
and physical health, the nature of truth, liberation, a persons relationship to God, what and
who is God, and the true Self (pg.29). For this study she interviewed three participants, two
male and one female who have been practicing yoga for at least 4 years. Although
interviewing only three people is a limit of this study, one cannot ignore that experience in a
practice such as yoga is very important. Overall this study showed that the participants
defined the concept of the true self as a connection with God. They said that to experience
the true self during the practice of yoga involves being present and focused during the
physical practice but also involves interactions, relationships, feelings, and mental
processes that extend beyond the yoga studio(McCoy 2006, pg.79). These participants
placed a huge importance on taking yoga with them off the mat, as many yoga teachers
like to say. This involves the ability to remain present and maintain the connection to the
Self in any situation(McCoy 2006, pg.81). All of these practices on awareness can have a
huge effect on the life of an individual. For example, each participant explained they
experienced certain transformations as a result of a yoga practice, such as the experience
of the path to greater spiritual awareness, rehabilitation, harnessing control in any
situation through the practice of pranayama, or by pushing past the difficulty or
inconveniences that arise in every day life(McCoy 2006, pg.82).
Yoga History and Philosophy
Now that we have seen how yoga affects the individual on a physical, mental and
spiritual level to provide healing and balance in a persons life, lets turn to the source:
yogas history and philosophy, with the aim or answering the question: what is it about
yoga historically and philosophically that has the potential to create self-transformation in
the body, mind and spirit? There are thousands of years of yoga history that would be
impossible to summarize in this thesis. There are however, certain historical and
13


philosophical concepts that do apply and would help the reader understand the yogic
process of self-transformation. These concepts include tracing the historical impulse that
human beings have had toward self-transcendence, understanding the influence of the
historical text written by Patanjali called the Yoga Sutras, and understanding the concept of
Pranayama or breath technique.
In his book The Yoga Tradition: Its History, Literature, Philosophy and Practice,
Georg Feurestein (1998) points to the impulse that humans have historically had toward
transcendence. He explains, the desire to transcend the human condition, to go beyond
our ordinary consciousness and personality, is a deeply rooted impulse that is as old as
self-aware humanity(pg.xxv). He describes that nowhere in the world do we see such a
huge emphasis on self-transcendence as on the Indian Peninsula. Yoga, which originated
in India, has often been referred to as a path to liberation or freedom. According to
Feurestein (1998), the methods and lifestyles developed by the Indian philosophical and
spiritual geniuses over a period of at least five millennia all have one and the same
purpose: to help us break through the habit patterns of our ordinary consciousness and to
realize our identity (or at least union) with the perennial Reality(pg.xxvi). This Reality is
experienced when the ego is removed from consciousness and we realize that we are all
the same.
However, this idea of spirituality, especially in modern times, has been dismissed
as no longer needed or relevant to our society. This shift in thought, Feurestein (1998)
argues, was caused by the growing importance placed on science and technology in our
lives. He in fact argues that in reality, science is merely usurping the supreme place that
was once accorded to religion and theology and that within science there is also a hidden
impulse towards transcendence (pg.xxvii). Quantum Physics is what Feurestein (1998)
says helps us understand this phenomenon. For example, Quantum Physics helps us see
14


the metaphysical roots of science because it undermines the materialistic ideology that
has been the creed of many, if not most, scientists for the past two hundred years(p.xxvii).
Yoga, he says, is a technology itself and refers to it as a psychospiritual technology which
aims at using practiced knowledge and wisdom to help the individual mature to the higher
Self(Feuerstein 1998, pg.xxviii). This higher Self, as mentioned before, realizes that we are
all one and the same. The modern idea that reality exists separate from the individual is
strictly scientific and pervasive in the western world. However, Feurestein (1998) points out
that this view [lately] been challenged by quantum physics, which suggests that there is no
reality that is entirely divorced from the observer"(pg.xxix). The purpose in pointing these
differences out between science and quantum physics is not to say the Eastern world has
it right, but simply to show that there are other ways to explain the phenomenon of self-
transcendence, pointing to the fact that the idea of self-transcendence does not only
belong to the East. The adaptation and change of yoga from its original place to the West
is a testament that Yoga itself can also transcend cultures. This is our invitation in the West
to Self-transcend.
Although yoga has adapted to meet modern day demands, many modern day
students often refer to the Yoga Sutras, a text written by Patanjali sometime in the 2nd
century B.C.E. It is from this book that students gain a deeper understanding of the
purpose of yoga. The book itself is a systematic treatise concerned with defining the most
important elements of Yoga theory and practice(Feuerstein 1998, pg.215). The word Sutra
itself means a thread, which explains the composition of the book. Composed of 195
aphoristic statements that together furnish the reader with a thread which strings together
all the memorable ideas characteristic of that school of thought, the Yoga Sutras is a
student's guide(Feuerstein 1998, pg.215). The four chapters talk about ecstasy, the
path, the powers and liberation(Feuerstein 1998, pg.216). Because this book was
15


originally written in Sanskrit, the language of sound and vibration, some Sanskrit yoga
teachers stress that the best way to understand or really comprehend the meaning of it is
to chant it. However, there are many versions of the Yoga Sutras that interpret its meaning
in English.
One of the most discussed topics among the yoga community, found in the Yoga
Sutras is that of the Eight Limbs of yoga. For many, yoga encourages right and responsible
action, which in turn helps create community and broadens our awareness to others. In the
Yoga Sutras, we find that there are eight paths to self-transformation: proper social
conduct (yama); personal behavior (niyama); posture (asanas); breath-energy control
(pranayama); sensation and perception (pratyahara); attention and intention (dharana);
witnessing consciousness (dhyana); and cosmic consciousness (Samadhi)(Edwards
2008, pg.145). This demonstrates that yoga is a holistic approach to self-realization
meaning that practicing yoga permeates many facets of life, including but not limited to the
physical practice. One cannot practice only poses, he or she must also act morally, yet
through yoga one is able to tap into morality with his or her heart, and find the importance
of practicing acts of kindness. The relationship that yoga helps heal first is our relationship
with ourselves. It is through this positive self-transformation that we are able to reach out to
others through a connection that is deeply felt in our whole being. This process is
described in a quote from one of McCoys (2006) study participants,
Any time you judge something, then you're apart from it. And so, if Im judging you,
Im sitting myself here and youre there, and Im saying [researchers name] this,
or [researchers name] that. And they could all be very positive things, things we
view as positive and good, but Im still judging you. But when I just see you as a
connection of all the beauty thats in the world, then I see you more as part of me.
You become someone to learn from. And you enhance my life and hopefully I
enhance yours(pg.71).
16


It is these concepts that students of yoga become familiar with, especially if they participate
in yoga workshops or teacher trainings. This points to the great influence that this ancient
text continues to have today.
One of the most important limbs of yoga that is used to achieve the highest point of
meditation, whether that is through sitting meditation or vinyasa flow, is pranayama, or the
breath technique. The reason that pranayama is one of the most important aspect of yoga
is because it is the most literal way that human beings connect to the natural environment.
According to Edwards (2008) in Breath Psychology: Fundamentals and Applications, the
breath is our first form of environmental relationship and earthly nourishment, which is
followed by nurturing liquid and then solid foods(pg.132). However, this natural process of
breathing usually goes unnoticed. In other words, because our body naturally needs breath
to survive it breathes unconsciously. What yoga contributes is a special practice of bringing
consciousness into the breath, so we can feel it not only with our bodies but with our minds
as well. Pranayama breathing involves deep inhalations and exhalations through the nose,
usually of the same length of time, which assist in consciously acquiring, accumulating,
storing and releasing breath-energy(Edwards 2008, pg.145). This process takes a lot of
concentration and visualization of the breath going into and out of the body, also known as
meditation. Because one is so deeply concentrated on the breath during this practice, other
distracting thoughts are expelled and the mind becomes quiet, letting the whole being
experience the breath and the environment around him/her very intensely. This, in turn,
leads to a feeling of contemplative gratitude and a profound sense of inner peace.
Explaining this process at a Quantum level, Edwards (2008) gives an amazing
description, which is quoted from an earlier article, of how it is that the breath connects us
to the environment. He describes,
17


Conscious breathing means focusing your attention on the perpetual exchange
that is taking place between your personal body and the extended body of your
environment. You exchange ten billion trillion atoms with your surroundings with
every breath you take. The atoms you inhale everyday have traversed the bodies
of living beings across the universe and across time. Within you right now you
have carbon atoms that once inhabited the body of a Cheetah in Africa, a dolphin
in the South Pacific, a palm tree in Tahiti, or an Australian Aborigine. Ultimately
every particle in your body was stardust, created at the dawn of the universe. Your
breathing is a continuous testimony of the Law of Giving and Receiving, (pg.147).
This vast description helps us understand how deeply our breath connects us to other
living and non-living beings in the Earth, and even the universe. Pranayama breath work
has the capacity to enlighten us in this way but can also help us break habitual patterns of
shallow breathing thereby breaking the patterns of stress in our lives. In Yoga, specifically
in a vinyasa style flow, asanas or poses are used together with the breath to more deeply
involve the body into the meditation. Poses are performed in coordination with the breath,
usually one breath to one movement, bringing awareness to our body, mind and spirit and
the potential for the individual to self-transform.
Yoga and Environmental Consciousness
Yoga is a therapy that has the potential to create self-transformation, which
connects us to our bodies, minds and spirits and in turn to nature itself. In other words,
yoga is a medium by which human beings can find the connection between themselves
and their environment. As we saw in the previous section, this connection is clearly
exemplified by the concept of pranayama or conscious breathing. If one is able to
understand the connection between oneself, others and the environment through the
practice of yoga it becomes easier to feel a sense of responsibility for saving life on earth.
To truly embody yoga, one must incorporate the eight limbs of yoga, including the idea of
practicing non-violence in thoughts, words and actions towards all other living things on
earth. Therefore, practicing yoga and connecting with our true Self, can help us find the
awareness we need to become environmentally conscious. Before we, especially in the
18


United States, can even begin to think of ways of saving the earth from environmental
destruction, we need to genuinely care about saving it. Practicing yoga on and off the mat
can help us reach a point of self-maturity and self-realization. If we become more aware of
our environment we will be more likely to understand that destroying it will do us no good.
We will as well be more likely to want to begin practicing environmental consciousness for
example by recycling, reducing our carbon imprint and other similar activities that promote
a healthy environment. According to Feurestein (1998), in light of what is happening today
[to our environment], I feel, all Yoga practitioners must without further delay commit to a
green lifestyle that is as radical as they can make it... more than ever, unless we engage
the spiritual process bearing all living beings in mind, as well as future generations, we
must not expect much, if any, real benefits from our efforts(pg.xxx). I will return to this idea
in the findings and discussion chapter.
19


CHAPTER 3
THEORY OF SOCIAL CONSTRUCTION
You may be wondering what Social Construction Theory is and why I have chosen
to use it for this Thesis. Social Construction refers to the way in which we create our
worlds, through our relationships in order to find meaning and to understand each other. In
his second edition of An Invitation to Social Construction, Kenneth Gergen (1999) states
that social construction means that what we take to be the world importantly depends on
how we approach it, and how we approach it depends on the social relationships of which
we are a part(pg.2). Although we would usually expect to find a book that defines the
theory for us, we will be surprised to find out that Social Construction cannot be defined
like any other traditional theory. This theory challenges claims to the ultimate Truth or
ultimate objectivity of something. Social Constructionist ideas emerge from a process of
dialogue, which according to Gergen (1999) is always going and inviting anyone to
contribute to it.
At first, the implications that Social Construction Theory makes can be very
threatening to the very way we live our world. You may be thinking, how can you say that
there is no objective world out there, or nothing we can say is True? What do you mean
nothing is real unless people agree that it is?(Gergen 1999, pg.4). However, we must not
be misguided by this threat because as Gergen (1999) states it is not that There is
nothing, but nothing for us. In other words, it is from our relationships with others that the
world becomes filled with what we take to be death, the sun, chairs, and so on...we
may say that as we communicate with each other we construct the world in which we
live(pg.4). If we begin to understand the concept of social construction we will see that it
20


has great potential for changing the world. If what we think is reality, is socially constructed,
that means that there can be many different ways of constructing something as real. Even
further, we can begin to critique the way we construct certain things in life by asking
questions such as: who is affected negatively when we construct our world in this way?
Who is left out? Who is made to seem an outcast? Who is benefited and who is harmed?
When we begin to question the way we live our lives and construct meaning we realize that
we can change the world, because we are the makers of it. We are standing before...a
vast spectrum of possibility, an endless invitation to innovation"(Gergen 1999, pg.5).
There are five assumptions that Social Construction Theory makes. The first
assumption is that the way in which we understand the world is not required by what
there is(Gergen 1999, pg.5). This means that there are infinite possible descriptions and
explanations for how things are. Essentially, each person constructs their own reality and
that reality does not have to conform to what already is. For example, two different people
can come out of a situation thinking two completely different things happened. In general
the claim is that we are not stuck inside a certain perspective. This can be taken as either a
threat to our way of life or as a relief. It becomes a threat if a person becomes attached to
his/her way of life and way of seeing the world. It becomes a relief if one seeks refuge from
a stressful undesired life situation.
The second assumption is that the ways in which we describe and explain the
world are the outcomes of relationship(Gergen 1999, pg.6). In other words, the knowledge
of what we believe to be true stems not from individuals but from interactions and
relationships. These relationships include those we have with other human beings and
those we have with the natural environment, for example, the air we breathe, vegetation,
and the sun. Specifically we are not independent of our surrounds; our surrounds inhabit
us and vice versa. Nor can we determine, as human beings, the nature of these surrounds
21


and our relation with them beyond the languages we develop together(Gergen 1999,
pg.48). This understanding depends also on what culture and historical period we are part
of.
The third assumption is that constructions gain their significance from their social
utility(Gergen 1999, pg.9). In order for us to work together, we need to have shared beliefs
about the world. Depending on what tradition you are participating in, whether that is
religion, political, or other, we must follow the rules of each tradition. Within each tradition
we could say that there are claims or words that speak of the truth. But instead of thinking
that these truths are true outside of society, we are saying that the words have come to
function as "truth telling within the rules of a particular game...or...according to certain
conventions of certain groups(Gergen 1999, pg.10). In other words, there are different
ways of interpreting the world and we participate in these different realities all the time.
However, Gergen (1999) states that we must be careful of how we use the term truth
because it can be useful in some situations and harmful in others. For example, in the
name of universal truth the world has witnessed oppression, torture, murder and
genocide(pg.11).
The fourth assumption is that as we describe and explain, so do we fashion our
future(Gergen 1999, pg .11). This means that our traditional beliefs of the self in society, of
moral issues, educational issues and the like are created, held together and maintained by
how we relate to each other and work together to create the meaning. This also means that
humans are continuously recreating the nature of beliefs in order to keep them existing.
The implications of this assumption are enormous. In this way constructionism offers a
bold invitation to transform social life, to build new futures. Transforming ourselves, our
relationships, or our culture need not await the intervention of some expert, a set of laws,
public policies or the like(Gergen 1999, pg.49). We are free to engage in what Gergen
22


(1999) calls generative discourses or modes of speaking and scripting that question
current belief systems, find innovative ways of making sense of our world and suggest
potential for positive social change.
The fifth assumption is that reflection on our taken-for-granted worlds is vital to
our future well-being(Gergen 1999, pg.12). In order to decide which beliefs will contribute
to our future well-being we must reflect on our current views. Likewise, if we see the need
to change some aspect of our society, it is through reflection that we will reach conclusions
on how to create social change. Specifically, reflexivity... is, the attempt to place ones
premises into question, to suspend the obvious, to listen to alternative framings of reality,
and to grapple with the comparative outcomes of multiple standpoints"(Gergen 1999,
pg.50). We must be open and willing to let change happen.
Now that we know the assumptions underlying the theory of Social Construction
lets see what it has to say about the self. For Gergen (1999), one of the most important
uses of this theory is the fact that it creates potential to transform the self. Gergen (1999)
persuades the reader that through generative theory or accounts of our world that
challenge the taken-for-granted conventions of understanding, and simultaneously invite[s]
us into new worlds of meaning and action" we can replace the traditional assumption of
individual selves with a vision of self as an expression of relationship(pgs.116-17).
Individualism for Gergen (1999) leads to isolation and a sense of distrust in others. Unless
actions lead to self-gain, we are unlikely to engage in them. This narcissistic way of looking
at the world leads individuals to compete with each other. It is through this competition that
we find ourselves in a constant state of stress and agony. The challenge for us is to find
new ways of defining the self that do away with these problems.
The solution for Gergen (1999) is found in the idea of the self as
Relationship(pg.122). First, we must be fully engaged in everything we do and feel.
23


Second, we must confine our full engagement within relationships. This means that the
performances of our actions should be intended with the receiving other in mind. For
example, when we examine emotions, we must see them not as private possessions of
the individual mind, but [as] the property of relationships [for example] Your joy is not
yours but ours, my anger is our anger, and so on(Gergen 1999, pg. 137). Gergen
(1999) argues that this way of dealing with the self reduces the debilitating gap between
self and other, the sense of oneself as alone and the other as alien and
untrustworthy"(pg.137). His argument is summarized nicely in the following passage,
Whatever we are, from the present standpoint, is either directly or indirectly with
others. There is no fundamental reason to be self-seeking or to treat others as
instruments for self gain. We are made up of each other. Nor do we find ourselves
confronting the problem of the earlier relational theorists, to whit, the self is the
product of others, a mere effect of the social surrounds. From the present
standpoint there is no cause and effect; we are mutually constituting.(pgs. 137-38)
(emphasis mine).
When we begin to see the self as a conglomeration of relationships instead of an
internalized self which comes from the mind and is separated from its surroundings, we
begin to understand the foundation with which to analyze Yoga. The experience of yoga is
more than just physical. It is an experience of a community, of an environment and of
relationships. To experience yoga in these ways is to get away from the bubble of
individuality and into the world of self as relationship. Every yoga experience has a story
behind it; a story that speaks about students, teachers, and the community itself. At the
Yoga studio under study, the teachers, the students and anyone that walks through the
door create the yoga environment. There are certain rules to follow, for example, the lobby
and locker rooms are areas of conversation, but once you walk into the yoga room it is time
to be quiet. The teachers are expected to be at the studio behind the front desk half an
hour before and after their yoga class. They greet students with a smile and check them
into class. It is a very personal encounter, with teachers usually addressing students by
24


their first names. The feeling is one of safety, trust, and friendship. It is because this
environment is created that students keep coming back, and why teachers love teaching
there.
The concept of the self as relationship can also be seen during class time. For
example, yoga teachers like to encourage students to say hello to the people next to them
before class starts. I can personally testify to the power of this small gesture. Sometimes
the judgments swirling in my mind of different people in the yoga class including the ones
sitting next to me have been completely erased by my introducing myself to them and
shaking their hand. It is yet another way to show that everyone in class is there to practice
together and support each other through class. There are times during class when
postures get difficult, you feel exhausted and you need to stop and take a moment to rest
on your mat. The teachers encourage this type of behavior and say that it is better for you
to listen to you body. They state that no one will judge you if you need to stop and honor
what your body needs. In this way the teacher helps support the student that might or
might not be judging themselves negatively as an effect of comparing themselves to others
in class. This awareness of others in the room and of support is experienced again and
again during yoga classes and helps bring students out of individuality and into the self as
relationship.
It is important to return here to the idea of Truth. Although many yoga followers
would argue that yoga helps the individual attain their True Self, this paper is arguing
something different. I am not advocating the search for the True Self through yoga, but
rather demonstrating that the relationships and environment one encounters in the yoga
studio bring feelings of happiness, peace and relief of being able to let go of the thoughts
that create suffering. Within the yoga community, some will express this as reaching their
True Self, and within the yoga community this is acceptable and encouraged language. It
25


makes sense for someone who does yoga often to speak of their search for the True Self
and how they have found it through yoga. However as we take a step back, and like
Gergen (1999) states, reflect on our assumptions about Truth, we realize that, although
there might not be a True Self, and although we might be creating the world we think to be
True, we are actually creating a world that brings positive experiences to people and a
world that treats people with respect. The question then becomes, how can we re-create
this type of environment in other places to bring people the happiness they experience at
the yoga studio? Or how can we re-create this environment at other yoga studios that dont
function in the same way? Also, if not everyone can afford yoga, how can we make it
affordable while also taking into account different cultures and how they view the self? It is
these types of questions that the Theory of Social Construction poses for us to answer. But
it is by working together and discussing these ideas that we will find possible solutions.
This is what this paper seeks to do. To express the stories of people who have been
practicing yoga for a long time, why they continue to practice at the studio under study, and
how or if the social construction of the yoga studio has changed the way they define
themselves.
26


CHAPTER 4
METHODS
Situated Self
My experience of yoga began about 5 years ago at a studio in Los Angeles. At first
I did not like yoga because it was not enough of a workout for me and I felt I needed to
loose weight and be in shape. I eventually began a regular yoga practice of about twice a
week at this studio in L A. when I realized the potential of yoga to relieve stress and
connect me with the Spiritual. When I moved to Colorado one of the first things I did was
look for a yoga studio nearby. My online search for a studio led me to the current studio
where I now have a regular practice of about 5 classes a week. My role at and relationship
to this yoga studio extends beyond that of being a yoga student. I have been practicing
yoga for 4 years at this studio and have formed friendships and relationships that
symbolize my acceptance into and connection to the yoga community. I have successfully
completed the Teacher Training Program as well as other yoga programs, a step, which
generally brings those deeply interested in yoga closer to the yoga teachers and yoga
leaders of this community. For about two years, I have been participating in a trade
program at the same studio consisting of cleaning the studio once a week for about 2 and
a half hours in return for unlimited free yoga classes. I recently also began working the
trade program at the front desk. For many, both teachers and students, I have become not
only a familiar face but also a friend. I acknowledge that my relationship to the studio and
its participants has been a great benefit while trying to complete this study. However, I also
gratefully recognize that my experiences, the support and hard work of the many yoga
instructors and friendships I have found there sparked the initial interest and desire in
27


conducting this study. As an insider I understand the experience of yoga myself as I have
also lived it. It is important to point out that for this reason my interpretation of the results
will be somewhat biased. However, also because of this reason, I feel confident and well
suited to interpret the results and understand more deeply what the participants mean.
Type of Study
The practice of yoga itself is a lived experience. Because this study describes the
lived experience and meaning of yoga for 20 participants it is a phenomenological study.
The steps followed in order to correctly analyze the data through phenomenology were as
follows. First I had to understand the concept of doing a study of how people experience
yoga. This included putting aside my own preconceptions of the yoga experience so that I
could understand the meaning through the participants voices. Second, I had to come up
with research questions that explored the meaning of yoga in a persons life.
Phenomenology was founded by Edmund Husserl (1970) who promoted the idea that
everyday experiences should not be overlooked. The focus of phenomenology is what an
individual experiences and how that is translated to others in such a way as to provide
more insight into what is being studied, and ultimately to get to the basis of assumptions
(Polkinghorne 1989).
There are a few different types of phenomenological research. Research
conducted by Mousatakas (1994) yielded what he called transcendental or psychological
phenomenology. The questions used in this approach to phenomenology have the
following characteristics:
1. Seek to reveal more fully the essences and meanings of human experience.
2. Seek to uncover the qualitative rather than the quantitative factors in behavior and
experience.
3. Engage the total self of the research participant and sustains personal and
28


passionate involvement.
4. Do not seek to predict or determine casual relationships.
5. Are illuminated through careful, comprehensive descriptions and vivid and
accurate renderings of the experience rather than measurements, ratings, or
scores (Moustakas 1994, pg. 105)
Phenomenological inquiry is broken down into four different interview strategies. First, the
researcher self-examines his or her experiences with the phenomena in order to obtain a
clear perspective of the phenomena. During this strategy, the researcher employs one of
Husserls concepts, epoche or bracketing, to set aside personal experiences in order to
approach the research with a fresh, personal perspective (Creswell 2007). Second, the
researcher investigates the participants past experiences with the phenomena. The third
looks at participants current experiences. Finally, the fourth is a combination of the first
two accounts, during which the participants' overall experiences with the phenomena are
analyzed (Marshall & Rossman, 1999). It is this personal perspective that will provide the
rich data for this study.
A research proposal was submitted and approved by the Human Subject Research
Committee (HSRC) of the University of Colorado, Denver. After the study was approved, I
collected the data with in depth interviews and I analyzed the data by forming clusters of
meaning that arose from the transcripts, guided by the research questions. This process is
meant to help the reader understand more clearly the experience of yoga.
Sample/Sampling
Participants for this study were recruited by purposive sampling using two
methods: making an announcement during the last day of the Teacher Training program in
the Fall of 2009, or directly asking personally identified participants if they would be
interested in being interviewed. The participant criteria for the study was to have practiced
29


hatha yoga (specifically vinyasa flow yoga) on a regular basis (at least once a week) for
approximately 6 months or more. The total number of interviewees was 20, ages ranging
from 22 to 49. The exact ages are as follows (22, 22, 23, 23, 23, 24, 24, 27, 29, 29, 31,33,
35, 37, 37, 42, 43, 45, 45, 49). There was 14 female participants and 6 male participants.
Interviewees were asked to define their ethnicity and 12 defined themselves as Caucasian
or white, 1 as Argentinean American, 1 as Hispanic, 1 as half Latino/half European, 1 as
German, Danish and Osage American Indian, 1 as white, German and Irish, 1 as Irish and
Italian and 2 as Half Caucasian half Hungarian. As far as education, 1 participant has her
Jurist Doctor Degree, 1 went to massage school instead of college, 2 have a Masters
degree, 4 attended some college and 12 have a Bachelors degree is various disciplines.
Some of the participants (8) who were also yoga instructors have taken many different
types of yoga teacher trainings not just in Colorado but in other areas of the United States
and even Costa Rica and India. These experiences enhance the practice and
understanding of yoga for the participant. For this reason, having practiced at other studios
or with other types of yoga teachers was not an issue getting in the way of this study. All
yoga practitioners are always students of yoga even if they can teach it. Therefore, all 20
participants in this study are treated as students and no distinction is made between those
who teach yoga and those who are just students.
Instrument
The instrument used to perform the study was an Interview Schedule which
consisted of 20 questions for those participants which were not only yoga students but
instructors and 18 questions for those who were yoga students. The questions were
divided into three different sections of study: the first was construction of the meaning of
yoga, the second was yoga and self-transformation, and the third was benefit to society.
For a list of the questions please refer to Appendix A. All interviews were conducted mostly
30


in the form of a conversation and probing was used as necessary. Most questions asked
were open ended, except for a few which asked about the amount of time spent doing
yoga, where their teacher training had taken place, and what books specifically they have
read on the topic of yoga.
Procedure
The first step to setting up an interview was to contact the participants and make
sure they fit the criteria for participating. If they met the criteria and were interested, I asked
them when was a convenient time for them to meet with me. I informed each potential
participant that the interview could take anywhere from 45 minutes to 2 hours depending
on the length of time it took them to respond to questions. I conducted the interviews
between January 2010 and February 2010. The participant and I usually met at a coffee
shop near the yoga studio or at a similar type of location that was convenient for them. The
date of the interview, I sat down with the interviewee and went over the consent form and
attained consent before performing and recording the interview. The participants signed
the consent forms at that time and then the interview was conducted. The longest interview
lasted about 2 hours and 10 minutes and the shortest interview lasted about 36 minutes. I
thanked the participants for their time after the interviews were conducted, and I told them
that if they had any questions they should call me or the Human Subjects Research
Committee. Their copy of the consent form contained both my phone number and the
phone number of the research committee. Some interviewees chose not to take a copy of
the consent form home. I transcribed and analyzed all interviews through content analysis
for specific concepts and ideas relating to self-transformation, meaning and social change,
as well as common themes that came up during and among the interviews.
31


Locale
Although some participants practice yoga at various studios, all of the participants
in thi study practice yoga at the same power vinyasa yoga studio. The yoga studio is
located in a college town in a Mountain state where exercise and fitness is very popular
among its residents. Although most of the participants talk about yoga in a general way, it
is important to point out that when they speak of their experience of yoga they are mostly
referring to power vinyasa yoga, a style of yoga where postures are linked with the breath
in a physically challenging flow series. This style of yoga is relatively new in the yoga world
but growing in popularity at a rapid pace in the United States.
32


CHAPTER 5
FINDINGS AND DISCUSSION
Overview of the Chapter
I have to admit that sitting for the first time in front of 236 pages of data was
daunting at the least. Having never conducted a study of such magnitude, you can imagine
what was going through my head. However there was a deep feeling that what was
contained in those pages was a powerful message of change for humanity: a message that
with many hours of reading, re-reading, open coding, and general analysis I was to put
together and present to the readers through this thesis. I was surprised as I began to read
and analyze the 20 interview transcripts to find many overlapping themes and ideas
between them. How could 20 completely different people, with completely different life
experiences express a very similar understanding of yoga and its benefits to the self and to
society? Although, as I mentioned earlier, all of these participants belong to the same yoga
community in Colorado, they indeed have found yoga in their life for very different reasons
and many belong or have belonged to other yoga communities around the world and have
practiced various different styles of yoga, such as kundalini yoga, and hatha yoga.
Kundalini yoga is a type of yoga where by using breathing exercises, physical exercises,
visualizations and chanting, the yogi awakens the 7 chakras or energy centers of the body
in order to reach spirituality. Hatha yoga can be taught in many different ways, with a
concentration on the pose, the breath and or the mind through meditation. Hatha yoga
incorporates breathing techniques with yoga poses to promote better physical and mental
health. This type of yoga usually moves from pose to pose without incorporating the poses
in a flow.
33


The main type of yoga that the yogis in this study practice at the studio is power
vinyasa yoga. Vinyasa yoga consists of flowing through yoga poses with the breath in
usually a segment of an hour or an hour and fifteen minutes. Sometimes the room is
heated to 95 degrees Ferinheight, sometimes the room is not heated during practice.
According to the founder of the Baptiste Power Yoga Institute, Baron Baptiste (2002),
power vinyasa yoga is an amazing form of fitness that sculpts strong, healthy bodies. The
results are dramatic because it is a whole body system, using full body movements that
encourage the body to move as nature intended(pg.19). Although power vinyasa yoga
helps in loosing weight and getting strong, Baptiste (2002) argues that the physical
changes are only a by-product of a more empowering purpose...the real miracle is what
starts happening underneath, within you(pg,19). This chapter will reveal how this miracle
has manifested in the lives of 20 beautiful, radiant, and amazing yogis.
The three subsections that follow give a description of how the participants
constructed the meaning of yoga, of self-transformation and how they experienced its
benefits. The three research questions this study has attempted to answer are: what does
yoga mean to the individual?, what does it mean to transform the self through yoga?, and
how is a transformed self through yoga beneficial to society? Or what kind of self-
transformation in yoga would create positive social change? The type of qualitative data
analysis used for this study was Open Coding. Open Coding refers to the process of
breaking down, examining, comparing, conceptualizing, and categorizing data(Strauss
and Corbin 1990, pg.61). Through this process various themes emerged from the data
giving us an expansive, detailed, revealing, personal and experience based description of
how yoga affects peoples lives. Participants were given pseudo names, or a code name,
to protect their identity and also to give a personal feeling to the analysis. They are referred
to in the sections that follow by their pseudo name.
34


Construction of the Meaning of Yoga
The term yoga is a difficult to define term because it is associated with many
different traditions and has adapted itself to various different religions and practices.
According to Georg Feuerstein (1998) in his book The Yoga Tradition the Sanskrit term
yoga is most frequently interpreted as the union of the individual self... with the supreme
Self(pg.4). This union is typically referred to as the union between the body, mind and
spirit. In the famous Yoga Sutras, a text which lists aphorisms that describe, explain, and
teach the student how to practice yoga, Patanjali defines yoga as the restrictions of the
fluctuations of consciousness(Feuerstein 1998, pg.26). This definition refers to the way in
which the student of yoga focuses his or her mind on a single point or object, without letting
any distractions within the mind occur. Although traditional definitions of yoga have been
specific to certain groups or religions, for the modern day student, the term yoga is
understood as generally encompassing many of the definitions that were once strictly
separated from each other in ancient times. This can be attributed to the phenomenon of
the spread of yoga to the West from the East. In the transition, yoga has adapted and
sometimes transformed into different types focusing on a specific aspect of its many
practices and or definitions. In the West, the emphasis has mostly been on the physical
aspect or physical poses of yoga, or the asanas. However, many yoga studios do teach
and encourage students to reach a higher spiritual level of being through yoga. The
responses from the participants demonstrate how the way each defines yoga depends on
how much he/she has read traditional yoga sources and how he/she has experienced yoga
in his/her life, both physically and mentally.
Yoga as Union of Mind, Body, and Spirit
Even though all of the respondents found it somewhat challenging to define yoga"
to an other, half of the respondents (10) emphasized that it definitely means to them a
35


unity between mind, body and spirit. For example Jack, a 42 year old graduate with a
Bachelors degree said "I do define it as unity. I define it as like poses but I also define it as
a spiritual practice. Grace, a 33 year old female with 2 years of college experience and
many yoga teacher trainings under her belt, mentioned that yoga incorporates mind, body,
and spirit. For William, a 24 year old with a Bachelors in English Literature, the word
means unity, trying to focus on that mind, body, soul unification while youre very much in
your body but experiencing a different... side of the way in your own mind and in your own
soul. Alexander, a 43 year old graduate with a Bachelors degree, expressed, I can give
the definition of union of mind, body, and spirit and thats exactly what it means to me. It
brings me in touch with my body, it balances my mind, it brings my emotions nicely
together. Chloe, a 35 year old female with many years of teaching yoga, expressed that
yoga is about really finding that connection between the body, mind, and spirit. For
Sienna, a 29 year old with a Bachelors in Sociology, the classical definition is union. Yoga
is union. But for [her] personally it is the attempt for union. Isabella, a 23 year old massage
therapist and yoga instructor, says she would define yoga as being union, simply put
union. Union with breath, union with body, union with spirit, union even with the right and
left hemispheres of the brain!.
Some respondents (7) expressed yoga as being incorporated into a persons life,
as being a lifestyle. For example, Ellie, a 27 year old female with a Jurist Doctor Degree in
Environmental Law, explained that when she talks to most people about yoga she talks
about it as a lifestyle because it includes not just like the physical poses of yoga but it
includes meditation and other spiritual aspects and it is always happening all the time.
William expressed how yoga starts to bleed into the rest of your life... its how you do every
moment of your life... its in every day. Alexander defines it as an adopted permanent
lifestyle, it is something I dont wanna stop doing. Sienna strongly expressed that simply
36


put, its life. Emily, a 24 year old female with an economics degree, described yoga as an
experience of embodiment... it's a way of embodying and creating in the physical that
which you are in the mental of having the experiences that you can have inside in your
physical body. Victor, a 45 year old yoga instructor with a degree in Transcendental
Psychology, stated that he practices it every moment of [his] life and that he is always a
student of yoga. For Joshua, a 23 year old graduate with a Bachelors in Philosophy, yoga
is very much a holistic way of living, not just asanas, not just philosophy, not just
meditation, but a very disciplined way of living. Alice, a 45 year old female with a Masters
in Counseling, said I see [yoga] more like as a practice in your life. Like its a practice,
yoga is all these things... in your life. Eva, a 37 year old female yoga instructor, with a
Bachelors in Sociology, nicely summed it up in the following words,
so yoga really for me is no longer an exercise, its like brushing my teeth... I can go
to bed without brushing my teeth but I feel like eww when I wake up in the
morning. I can really feel like I missed my vitamins. Its like my vitamins, and its
also my spiritual practice...the one thats most consistent and sustaining. When I
say yoga now for me its not about the asanas. Its about chanting, the yoga sound,
its about breathing, its about perception and the yamas and niyamas..l entered
through the doorway of asana and after a period of time discovered that oh wow! I
am really in this whole universe, and this is just one little doorway.
Yoga as Awareness
Some respondents stated that yoga for them is simply awareness and a practice
to observe yourself in your life(Ella, a 29 year old female with a Masters in Spiritual
Science). Alexander talked about becoming more aware because my mind has calmed
down has slowed down... mindfully I'm more right there in the present moment. Sienna
described it specifically as more breath awareness and Anne, a 49 year old yoga
instructor with a business degree, defines is as movement with awareness. Victor
profoundly describes that,
In order to have an orientation of center, one has to sort of experience center
because were talking about something thats ethereal, non-tangible, that can only
37


be experienced, so, its a place within this material existence, within myself and
others and any organism thats alive that is responsible, truly responsible, for the
conception, inception and creation of everything. In this place from my personal
experience is a place where there's a tremendous amount of peace, awareness,
comfort and joy. Its hard to describe to another person unless theyve experienced
it and that one is theirs. The center is a place, where, for me, I run more efficiently.
Theres more stability, theres more presence, theres more awareness.
This idea of being present and living yoga is described by Joshua as having to do mostly
with mindfulness and just overall awareness". Olivia, a 22 year old female with a bachelors
in communication, also expressed how yoga made her feel more centered and so present
and so connected. Alana, a 23 year old female with a Bachelors in International Affairs,
would define it as the practice of observation and being aware of myself. The practice of
learning patience for myself and the practice of presence and learning to be OK with where
you are and seeing how you respond to different situations. For Chloe it is having an
opportunity to kind of remember the things we constantly forget, the purity and the divinity
and the hope and beauty of who we are, who we started off as, how we came into this
world. ...it is coming in and coming home.
Yoga as Self-Transformation
Becoming so aware of ones self both physically and mentally and starting to
notice ones actions and the small things that change in ones life can be described as a
reflection into the way one lives his or her life. This process of reflection is what some of
the respondents explained as the transformative and healing power of yoga. Alice simply
expressed that yoga will transform you, like it will start to transform you. Eva explained
that the times during a really challenging yoga practice where the mind wants to escape
the situation, thats the real practice, the places we want to run from and because yoga
encourages us to stay and confront these experiences or fears it is a transformational
tool. One respondent, Jack, specifically spoke of how his gained awareness of his body
through yoga helped him heal a hurt ankle. He explained how within a couple of weeks [of
38


doing yoga] the swelling was also gone. Isabella also spoke of how yoga helped heal an
AC separation in her shoulder. She stressed that the ligaments [in her shoulder] are
stretched, they are overstretched" and that yoga has really helped me. She even
expressed that it was the most transformational experience. Joshua stated that yoga has
got something deeper going on that I feel like is very transformative on an energetic level.
When I was doing yoga 5 or 6 days a week, I felt like a 12 year old body, no injuries, which
Ive had injuries most of my life. Really healthy, really energetic, really centered. Combining
that with daily meditation, I think theres more depth to yoga, basically. Grace specifically
defines it as a healing practice and expressed that without it I dont know if I would be
the person I am today, meaning that yoga has transformed her.
Yoga as a Physical Practice
Besides the big emphasis on yoga being a great spiritual practice, involving the
union between mind body and spirit, there were 5 respondents who stressed that yoga for
them means or at one point meant a physical practice. Grace mentioned that yoga in the
United States is asana based, physical based. This is an important point to make because
in the United States the assumption is that yoga is just a physical practice. For Emma, a 22
year old college student, yoga is a practice of exercise and flexibility but she does
recognize that at the same time a lot of people have like a religious connection with yoga.
For Jane, a 31 year old female with a degree in business finance, its definitely
physical...you know, the workout and the exercise. Chloe expressed that when she first
started yoga I only went in there. . totally just to loose weight, no other reason, completely
and purely for the physical aspect and this was also when I was severely anorexic so I was
completely addicted to working out. She does express later on that this perspective
changed when she tapped into the emotional and spiritual aspect of yoga. For James, a 37
39


year old yoga instructor with a bachelors degree, however, yoga is mainly physical. He
expresses,
I know that yoga is traditionally defined as this kind of 8 limbed path and people
talk about sort of the spiritual component. For me largely yoga is about the
physical practice mostly I define it as the asana. Yes, you can do yoga of just
telling the truth all the time but I feel like its just not gonna affect me cellularly the
way the physical practice is. So I would define yoga as a physical experience of
your body that challenges it, that nourishes it, that brings it into alignment that
clears out distortions in the energetic fields... largely I guess I would define it as the
physical practice of breathing, moving, stretching, in a way that is nurturing to your
body and at the same time challenges it.
As can be seen, yoga can and often is defined in physical terms, as a physical exercise.
But as the above quote reveals, there are very profound effects in the physical practice of
yoga that might not always be found in other types of exercises. In general, the meaning of
yoga was slightly different to each participant in this study although many of their
responses were similar. To summarize, yoga means to these participants the union
between mind, body and spirit, awareness, transformation and a physical practice. These
aspects of yoga are what many of them spoke of as having transformed their lives.
Tying back to the Literature
Many of the concepts just described can be tied back to some of the literature. The
first study described in the literature review where Shapiro (2007) studied the effects of
Iyengar yoga on patients diagnosed with depression and taking medication described that
yoga affects the body not only on a physical level but on an emotional and mental level as
well. Their findings section explained that participation in yoga did not in effect target
depression only but also affected psychological and biological processes indicative of
improved mental health in general and more effective social behavior(pg.499). These
results are in agreement with the findings in this section of what participants describe about
yoga affecting not only the physical level but the mental level as well. Shapiros study helps
illuminate that there is something measurable in the biology of the body that points to this
40


shift, while this study helps describe in detail the personal experience of this phenomenon.
The study that interviewed 18 women who had responded yes to having had a possible
history of eating disorders, who were also practicing yoga also demonstrated similar
results. The women in this study reported how yoga offered something different than
regular exercise, helped them be less critical of themselves and their body and helped
them feel more aware of their body and its natural functions, and some even found a
spiritual connection to it. These results are in agreement with the findings in this section
that describe yoga as different than other exercise, as awareness and as spirituality.
Self-T ransformation
The second research question that this section answers is what does it mean to
transform the self through yoga? The concept of Self-Transformation in this study refers to
how a person goes through a process of becoming more aware of his or her self through
the practice of yoga and moves away from the Western idea of an individualistic self. The
practice of yoga is a practice of shifting the mind into the realm of mindfulness. In other
words, at the heart of mindfulness is change, and when compared to Western
Individualism, we begin to see the power of mindfulness to shift us away from our
individual self and into the realm of relationships. This self-awareness helps the individual
reflect on his or her self and in turn become open to self-transformation. This self-
transformation through yoga manifests itself differently in different people, but one thing it
has in common is that it is usually perceived as a positive change or awakening in a
person's life. In order to understand how yoga has transformed peoples lives, we need to
know what participants thought of yoga before they began practicing it and what drew them
in. Some participants (5) specifically mentioned that their perception of yoga before they
began practicing was that it was all about exercise, stretching and flexibility. Two people
expressed that their view of yoga came from the media. William stated my perception of
41


yoga was that it was just kind of, it was for hippies, you know it was like for tree huggers.
Alexander felt skeptical about it because he saw it as foreign and of the Hindu Religion.
Two participants even said that they originally thought yoga was distant, weird, and stupid.
Eva explained that
before I started yoga I was body building so my exposure to yoga at that time was
yoga in the gym and I just saw all these bendy people and I thought thats really
not a workout, you know? And I do stretching when I need it so I had these
perceptions of yoga equals stretching, equals weird, and sort of a waste of time
really. I was there to get something done and see results.
Most of these perceptions of yoga however changed after a period of time for these
participants.
Aside from these stereotypes or first impressions of yoga, 8 participants expressed
that they noticed something special about yoga that drew them in. After experiencing a
dramatic experience in his life and feeling very unstable Alexander explained that he
noticed a flyer for a class at his local YMCA and the picture of the instructor's
face. . looked quite peaceful and you know, I yearned to be some of that. After
experiencing a close relatives death, Grace needed something more than what [she] was
using, like using food, trying to stay sober, like having a sober life. Although her fist yoga
class was very challenging she felt that the moment she stepped on the mat she knew it
was gonna be a part of [her] life. The way her body was able to detoxify in this class made
her feel that it was everything [she] had been looking for. For James it was the
connection to his life that drew him in. He expressed, it was tough...but I remember in the
middle of the class the teacher... was talking about yoga and he says, none of us are
where we want to be in terms of our flexibility but yoga is about having compassion for
where you are right now. He felt that this statement spoke to him personally and the
struggles he was going through in his life and said that it flicked the switch on me and I
42


was like I gotta come back to this because anywhere were they are delivering that
message of compassion for where you are right now is something I need to do.
Olivia was drawn into to yoga because I was just like really struggling with my life
at the time and I just needed something to center me a little bit. Joshua remembers feeling
incredibly blessed out and euphoric walking out of [his first] class and realizing that
theres something [special] going on here. Eva expressed that she ended up going to
yoga very reluctantly after she suffered an injury, a torn rotator cuff, and Alana noticed that
her friend, who did a lot of yoga, had great posture, and she was curious about how. Chloe
said I remember one day in class [the teacher] had us in pigeon and I just started crying
uncontrollably and then laughing and I was like I dont know whats happening to me, none.
And thats the first experience I had of like the mind body connection, like I had no idea
before that, none, so it was crazy. All of the reasons that drew these participants into yoga
were the beginning of a personal discovery and self-transformation. After a continuation of
the yoga practice some key themes that stood out as something that was learned through
yoga were: learning to take yoga into ones life or off the mat, learning to become
disciplined both in the yoga studio and in life, learning to accept oneself and others as they
are, gaining a sense of responsibility and learning to let go of negative thoughts and habits
and trusting that everything is going to be ok.
Taking Yoga Off the Mat
Taking yoga off the mat refers to the process of using the skills learned in a yoga
class, such as intentional breathing, focus and concentration and applying or using them in
life situations where one is not in the yoga studio. For example, William states that he has
absolutely taken yoga off the mat, I mean just as a carpenter, I feel like its everyday even
snowboarding you are more conscious of how you are placing your foot and your boot and,
where your hands are and you know where your gaze is and how you are holding your
43


posture I mean its just simple things even when youre driving...all the time. Ella explains
that because of yoga she is able to reflect on herself in her life. Yoga gives her these mini
challenges that force her to look at the places in her life that she is struggling with. For
example, in one yoga class she was doing a hip opening posture called frog squat and she
described,
I was like crying and all and I was just like Im gonna stay here. Part of me is going
youre gonna get hurt, youre gonna get hurt, youre gonna get hurt. And I was like
Im not gonna get hurt! Like Im gonna stay here and be here right now and... I
made myself not fidget and I think that was like an example, like I have huge
amounts of fear running my life all the time scared of just silly things. You know,
which is stuff I shouldnt even be scared of but to be there and sit in... that fear and
not run away from it and choose what I knew was right was like a huge thing that I
can take.
She felt a sense of accomplishment over her fear of getting hurt and after this experience
she felt more confident of dealing with her fears outside of yoga. Alexander says he takes
yoga off the mat by trying to drive better where I go and be a more considerate driver.
He also says I try to think of people and send them, you know, my good thoughts. I try to
move more consciously and more aware...the yoga practice reminds me of those things
that I need to do and many classes, yeah, I try to, you know, call my parents enough,
my...family. For him, yoga is like my little service, church service, I get reminded by that
practice that I need to improve and thats why its good.
Grace explains that she tries to take yoga everywhere she goes. She says "when
Im in a stressful situation, or I catch myself getting irritated about something, I just try to
start breathing. For example while doing laundry she says, I catch myself having to
separate the colors and just get annoyed. Then Im like, I just start breathing and thats a
way I try to take yoga off the mat. Using the breathing techniques she learned in yoga, she
is able to de-stress herself when she is outside of the yoga class. Emma stressed that she
gets a lot of [her] morals and values from church but they are kind of reinforced in yoga,
44


such as that of not stealing. She is reminded in her eyes to be a good person and to
respect others. Isabella believes that when youre on your mat, its teaching you concepts
to take with you off of the mat. For example, its fully embodying the teachings away in the
world. Its easy to be silent and still and receptive on your mat and the challenge is when
youre in the world and there is all this chaos and all these things pulling you so yeah, its
like strengthening part of your brain. James also refers to the brain but as thoughts. He
believes that
there is a watching [of] your thoughts, watching you know the fluctuations of the
mind whether youre driving, or getting into a discussion with somebody, noticing if
somebody says something to you that feels threatening, you know, how I respond
in my body. Theres a lot of ways that Ive kind of just noticed how my mind works.
Just watching it, watching how it works, not really trying to come up with
conclusion just going mmm boy! Theres an old habit and there's an old defensive
structure coming up! Wonder where that comes from and just being curious about
yourself. Just being curious about your cravings, your urges, your expectations,
your judgments, your values. ..just sort of stepping outside of the ego mind and just
sort of watching it, just seeing how it works.
Sienna feels like its an ongoing battle in her life to take yoga off the mat, and
going in deep to confront your inner demons. Its just having these moments of
synchronicity almost of like ok, I am right where I need to be or take a deep breath
because I'm about to flip out or while Im flipping out I should take a deep breath!. She
even laughingly expressed that not the sanest people find yoga, like we find yoga because
we are a little out of whack, you know?...so its not like oh Im this little angel because I
practice yoga, its like I'm freaking insane and thank god I found yoga!. Emily expressed
that what one learns in yoga can not only be used to observe your own thoughts and
actions but it can also affect others. She says you come out of a yoga class on a very
basic level and youre happy, and if you are happy, the next person you see you want to do
something nice for them because you are happy... the instinct when you come out of a
yoga class is to bring that joy with you. This joy is something that others notice and its sort
45


of contagious. Victor made it very clear that there is no such thing as just yoga on the mat.
He stated, you can ONLY take yoga off the mat...if there's only yoga on the mat then
were not practicing yoga...yoga is a microcosm of the macrocosm, it has to be on the mat
to be out in the world... there is not one without the other.
For Joshua, in order to help or serve others you have to be a real yogi. He states,
the best way to serve is to live a certain way, to live the yogic [way] on one real level, by
living peace, by limiting your thoughts. Its amazing how transformative it is to be around
those energies... I think thats why they call them gurus. Its those who awaken the light in
others. This also means that yoga can not only be on the mat, it has to come out of the
yoga studio and into the world, affecting those around you by the way you act. For Eva,
yoga begins when we wake up in the morning. Its about making the decision to live life
fully... and in service to something greater than [yourself] or about trying to get what you
want out of the day. Its about analyzing how you react...thats the real yoga...what lies
beneath the postures, the pretty looking form. For Olivia and Chloe taking yoga off the mat
is about staying with the breath, in the present moment and being able to pause and not
automatically react to situations. This idea is also reiterated by Anne, who says I hope I
move out calmer... I hope to take that calm with me off the mat.
Becoming Disciplined in your Yoga Practice
Many of the respondents express also that it is not easy to take yoga off the mat.
One is forced to notice with awareness the actions, thoughts and habits that make up ones
life. These, as has been demonstrated above, are a reflection on how one lives his or her
life. After taking a yoga class, Ella noticed that her lower back was hurting. She said
afterwards I was really grumpy and I was like kind of sad but I think what yoga does it will
go in and stir stuff up. Like if I was holding things in my lower back it made me look at them
and be like stop holding all this fear, stop letting the fear run you...thats what I experience,
46


I have to get into those spaces and look at it and its not always fun, its not always gonna
end up being happy. Alana also recognizes this and says that you feel really good but the
thing is that yoga is not always feeling good, you know? Sometimes its just meeting that
shitiness with compassion. Beyond just noticing the bad and good habits of life, these
respondents expressed that practicing yoga off the mat has taught them to become more
disciplined with their body and mind in their path to becoming better people. For example,
because Ella knows that yoga will sometimes bring stuff up that forces you to look at
yourself she has learned to set an intention at every class. She says, "I think going into
something thats so intense its easier if you kind of give that little inner child in you a
reason to be there. I think they can be a little more like alright maybe this will be ok.
For Alexander becoming disciplined means taking care of his body and consuming
the right foods. For example, he says. I'd been a vegetarian when I started yoga but I
since then became vegan... my compassion developed somewhat and to me that also
includes you know... not to consume animals. For Isabella yoga has helped her become
more disciplined in her thoughts. Her ability to become the observer becomes stronger.
She also stresses the importance of cultivating that inner teacher, inner listening and
having a discipline I think is really important. Like, you know, purifying the body, getting rid
of toxins... reminding yourself to be healthy. As a professional cyclist, Emily has always
been really disciplined when it comes to practicing. But discipline through yoga has taken
on a whole different aspect. She states that had I not had yoga as a time of introspection,
as a time of balance, as a time of actually trying to take care of myself because I was
throwing so much into this [cycling] sport of self punishment, that I think I would have
cracked. Like I dont think I would have been able to keep riding and I think I would have
ended up in a different place. Discipline in yoga for her is now about nurturing her body
and taking care of it. For Alana the discipline lies in challenging yourself to your physical
47


and mental edge. In yoga, she says, you are always going to your edge and always
exploring your edge, you are always getting stronger both physically and mentally. She
also states,
I still struggle with that but I think [yoga has] just allowed me to be more present,
like sometimes when my mind is just projecting or going backwards I can notice it
and come back to right this second, like take a deep breath and look around at
ANYTHING around me and realize that this is a good moment, or this is a
worthwhile moment that deserves my attention, cuz it's the only thing, its where I
am, and normally there is something to appreciate about it, normally there is! I am
really lucky when I realize it, when I do that.
Becoming more disciplined has helped many of these participants make progress, but one
of the most important messages or lessons they have learned through yoga is that of self-
acceptance.
Learning to Accept Yourself
One can become as disciplined as they want, but frustrations will still arise, and
situations in life will keep testing peoples tempers, and motivations. Most of the
respondents reported that because yoga has taught them to accept themselves as they
are, they have more mental, physical and emotional strength to continue their practice and
have gained compassion for where they are in the progress. Ellie acknowledges that she
used to judge [herself] based on what [she] thought societal standards were but now her
view of [herself] has become less judgmental. William expressed that yoga has
changed... my perception of myself because Ive had to address other people's perception
of me and...to be confident in what you are doing even it if is yoga and some people dont
wanna look at it as an orderly pursuit". He says that because hes had to deal with this
issue he feels that things that you get out of that are incredibly positive cuz you're able
to... accept yourself quite a bit easier no matter what it is that youre doing. Alexander
expresses that yoga cannot but improve ones self-image and self love, and self-respect
because thats what it embraces at least my practice at [the studio]. Thats the thing that
48


they focus on so much, like you gotta love yourself before you can love anybody else.
Emma has experienced that after some time of practicing, yoga brought me to this point
where I like felt comfortable in my body and in my own self. She also realized that
everyone starts somewhere and then moves up from there. Realizing this, helped her gain
confidence in herself and gave her the motivation to continue practicing.
James expressed that yoga has helped him feel more confident. He states, I feel
more at ease in my body, I feel more loving towards my body. Less judgmental about how I
look... I receive myself with much more compassion with whatever is going on in my body.
For Jane accepting her body type and noticing the good things in it was crucial. She states,
Ive always been like a little more curvy and critical of my body and I always
wished I was petite and whatever and... I have hips and butt...the old me...would
have looked in the mirror and be like my butts too big but now I am like wow! Look
at my shoulder muscles, like I am strong!...its the one thing I found that is actually
made me feel good about my body in the way I look and what its capable of.
Emily states that yoga help[s] me personally to view myself in a more sort of being of light
way, in a way of having more value and of being more beautiful and of having more grace
and more presence and more purpose in the world. Olivia also found herself judging
herself less because of yoga. She stresses, I'm just more patient with myself, I am less
critical. Ive always had a certain amount of issues with body image and... I find I am much
more able to just love myself and thank myself for what I am providing myself with. Eva
says that yoga is a tangible way to detach from my judgments about myself, and to have
that same level of love and compassion and forgiveness for myself and to appreciate
myself... to just be lighter, not on a physical aspect but emotionally and to have fun and be
silly and things that are so vital to my everyday life. Alana says that she simply feels more
comfortable in my body. Reflecting on her past and her experience growing up with
parents who were alcoholics and did not care for her like they should have, Chloe states
49


I never felt safe, I never felt good enough, I never felt worthy enough and that
whole anorexia thing broke me down to bring me back up. But ultimately I had to
find that love and that connection on my own and so my 20s were a lot about
returning back to myself and loving myself. So for me independently as a woman I
can say that I truly am starting finally not even fully but like embodying, like I am
bountiful, beautiful, blissful woman. I am really starting to embody that and that is
tremendous. So I would say that yoga has been a humongous aspect of that for
me because it helps me to drop into my sacred center and myself.
Gaining a sense of Responsibility
This sense of acceptance for where one is, is very relieving, however some
respondents brought up the idea that because they are now more aware of where they are
in life, because they have become more disciplined in their life, they also understand that
they are responsible for the decisions and actions they take. William spoke of the
responsibility of knowing you might have emotional or mental issues going on and it is up
to you to work through that. For him yoga is about allowing yourself to address things in
your own psychology in your own psyche, your own mind, your own body. Because I feel
like your emotions... are part of your body and when those emotions are there you have to
be able to flush them... otherwise theyre gonna be there for a long time and you're just
gonna be stuck in the same spot for a long time. Alexander explained what he refers to as
his yoga friends and his regular friends and explained feeling irresponsible around his
regular friends. He states Im afraid I might get to a point where I will go out of my way to
avoid non-kind, non-compassion people...my regular friends... bring out the ugly in me that
I dont want anymore. We gossip, we talk bad about other people and thats just not in
yoga practice. Jane spoke of feeling responsible for a clean earth which she did not feel
before yoga. She said the other day I went to the mall and I parked and there was this big
like to go cup on the ground that somebody had left there...and I totally had to turn around
and go get it and put it in the trash.
50


This idea of responsibility comes hand in hand with the idea of karma. According to
Feuerstein (2003), Karma-Yoga tells us that we must not only act without egoic
attachment, but we must also choose to do the right kind of action(pg.267). If we act
accordingly, Feuerstein states then we are serving the physical, mental, and spiritual
welfare of others, including nonhuman beings(pg.267). With her action Jane felt she took
responsibility for the wellbeing of the earth. Eva expresses that through yoga you become
responsible for how your day is going to go by making a decision when you wake up about
what kind of a day you will have. But there is one more aspect of Self-transformation that is
probably the most powerful tool to free yourself from negative thoughts and emotions and
learn to forgive others and yourself. This concept is the idea of surrendering.
Surrendering
Many of the respondents expressed that sometimes they felt themselves trying so
hard to change themselves and others without success. They felt that they were not
making any progress or that their problems in life where outside of themselves. Some were
simply battling negative thought patterns. Learning to surrender the negative thoughts both
on and off the mat, trusting that everything is going to be ok, as well as learning to forgive
and move on as a way to heal themselves is what many of these participants had to learn
to do in order to allow themselves to progress in their practice. For Ellie, surrendering her
body on the mat to complete relaxation gave her the deepest freaking groin stretch in her
life. She describes wanting to stay in a pose forever and said it was surrendering
because we werent doing any active things, I mean our legs were relaxed...and the
pressure of gravity pushing my feet down into the groin and the way they were opened? I
got into this like place that I dont think Ive really ever been since, and I remember I didnt
really wanna come out.
51


On the mat, James describes, I find that there is an ease, there is a letting go that
can be done and it doesnt have to be legs out arms wide. There can be a complete
surrender in you know with your knees tipping over to one side and your gaze on the
other. He believes that through practice there is a shift that happens in which he is able to
trust that whatever Im feeling in my body is ok and that the body just needs listening to.
James also talked about the power of one to practice yoga effortlessly and surrender to the
flow of energy in a room full of people practicing yoga together. He says, birds do it, bees
do it, and fish do it. There's something effortless about the flocking energy when human
beings come together. There is a greater state of ease because the energy, the field of
energy supports you to go deeper with less effort and thats what I love about the group
dynamic. Emma explained, I just let everything go and most days I can just let my
thoughts go away which is part of the reason why I like to do [yoga]. She expresses that
sometimes you get really overwhelmed with a lot of things going on in your life and so its
been really nice to let it go and I dont seem to like grasp onto it when Im done doing yoga.
So, it kind of sets the day up. She is able for a moment to stop thinking about the thoughts
that stress her out or make her feel overwhelmed and feel calm.
Victor experienced a profound experience during practicing yoga that he
remembers shifted the purpose of his practice. He stated that
one of the most profound [experiences] came to me my second or third time after
practicing yoga years ago... first couple of times I was very egocentric... but around
the third time or so I was pushed so far to this place where I can no longer use my
exertion to move through it, so I was pushed into surrendering and I remember
breaking down and crying and just realizing the potential of this particular practice
and how it could take me to places I necessarily couldnt go on my own.
Similar to Victors experience, Alice was pushed to surrender in a level 3 class. She
explains,
I went in and it was hard... I was dying. Roses boyfriend was in front of me and
hes a lot younger than me and he was dying before me and Im sitting there going
52


through it and the girl next to me was younger too, she was in her 20s and she
was like laying down a lot and I was still in there and then when we come to when
you're doing back work I was so sweaty and the whole room was so hot, that was
probably one of the most primal feelings I ever felt of myself just being there. And it
was so important to me and I felt the most connected to earth... I felt like I
surrendered.
Both of these participants experienced an moment in a yoga class that demonstrated to
them the power of yoga to help you overcome your ego and surrender to the present
moment. Their experiences of surrender were linked to a physical shift in their bodies that
transformed into an emotional and spiritual shift. Chloe expressed this kind of shift nicely
when she stated that were not solid...we are energy and our emotions do affect our
physical body". Her experience of being in a pose and then suddenly starting to laugh
uncontrollably and then cry was a revelation to her about the connection between the mind
body and spirit and because the experience of physical surrender appears as an emotional
shift in a persons body, it is easy to understand why many yoga practitioners would find
the practice very powerful and life changing.
One of the major themes linked to surrendering that came up especially in one
interview was that of forgiveness. Eva experienced such a traumatic life experience that
much of the healing power of yoga for her came through forgiveness of others. She
described this to me,
When I was little... I grew up in a household where my parents were always
fighting, there was lots of violence, lots of abuse and then lots of pretending like
nothing happened. So a lot of sort of double life stuff. Right after I turned 12, three
days after my twelve birthday, my father brutally murdered my mother.
She explained that this event caused her to become very violent in her thoughts of herself
and others and she spent many years trying to hide under the influence of alcohol. She
said, you know? I was pissed and not able to talk to anyone about what had happened
because it was so shocking for everyone. So it was about survival really. She turned to
53


bodybuilding as a way to feel stronger and defend herself. But when she began to break
down in the form of injury it led me to yoga". She explains,
And then I came to yoga and I felt the deeper seeds of what were pulling
me...those were the seeds of forgiveness, passion and healing...healing that level
of loss and seeing that everything I did led me to that place...all the lifting weights
and all the... drinking, all of that led me to that point. This point right now of just
beginning to see the world with different eyes. And its been huge in the realm of
forgiveness. Huge...yoga was absolutely part of that because I think I needed...all
the half pigeons and all the other postures where I wanted to run, and all the anger
and all the memories that I hadnt gotten to grieve and experience and rage. Ive
had to work through those in a way that I couldnt running or lifting weights.
Again we hear about yoga providing participants with something different than what other
exercises provide. We also see that through yoga Eva was able to surrender her negative
thoughts of herself and others in order to forgive and begin to heal and transform her self
physically, emotionally and spiritually.
Tying back to the Literature
There were various synchronicities between what the literature used for this thesis
explained about yoga as a transformative practice and this study. Just like Emily described
feeling happy and joyous after a yoga class, Shapiros (2007) study about the effects of
Iyengar yoga stated that for the 17 completers, all 20 moods showed significant immediate
changes from before to after class... negative moods decreased, positive moods increased,
energy/arousal moods increased (less tired, more energetic, etc)(pg.498). Participants in
Shapiros study also reported higher levels of happiness. What the findings in this section
extenuate is that these levels of happiness are carried into daily life affecting positively
those around you. One of the quantitative studies that compared the effects of using
meditation with yoga, group therapy with hypnosis, and psychoeducation to treat long term
depression, showed that the practice of surrendering the thoughts and emotions from
oneself encourages practitioners to recognize that thoughts and feelings are transient, and
it seems particularly suited to mood disorders, which may be maintained by depressive
54


rumination(Butlet 2008, pg.811). This effect was also talked about in this section by
respondents who described becoming more disciplined with their thoughts and emotions.
The idea of accepting oneself and becoming responsible for ones actions was also
reported in Marc B. Schures (2008) study of counseling students. In Schures (2008)
study, specifically because of yoga, some students expressed becoming more aware of
their bodies and the connection to their minds, better confidence in themselves regarding
the challenge of doing the different poses and mental clarity and concentration(pg,51).
The results of Schures (2008) study are in agreement with my study especially regarding
the concepts of confidence and awareness. The respondents of my study spoke of being
able to confront their fears while the counseling students in Schures (2008) study reported
being able to overcome challenges successfully. Taking yoga off the mat and seeing yoga
as a form of self-transformation was a big part of McCoys (2006) study of yoga and the
true self. The respondents of her study said that to experience the true self during the
practice of yoga involves being present and focused during the physical practice but also
involves interactions, relationships, feelings, and mental processes that extend beyond
the yoga studio(pg.79). As seen in this section, respondents also expressed clearly that
their self-transformation involved taking what they learned in yoga into their daily lives. In
McCoys (2006) study, each participant explained they experienced certain
transformations as a result of a yoga practice, such as the experience of "the path to
greater spiritual awareness, rehabilitation, harnessing control in any situation through the
practice of pranayama, or by pushing past the difficulty or inconveniences that arise in
every day life(pg.82). This result is another way to describe how yoga transforms the self
and is in agreement with the findings of this section.
55


Benefit to Society
Yoga, as we have seen, is a very personal practice. The changes that one
experiences through yoga pertain to the self whether that is physical self, emotional self or
mental self. Based on this very individualized practice it seems skeptical to say that yoga
benefits society as a whole. How can this be possible? Through the words of the
respondents, this section will try to answer this question. How is a transformed self through
yoga beneficial to society? Or what kind of self-transformation through yoga would create
positive social change? To begin to understand the connection between yoga and the
benefit to society one has to understand the importance of the link between the individual
and others. This link, in other words, is formed from the relationships the individual yogi
has with members of society. Once the individual becomes spiritually aligned with his/her
soul through yoga, he/she is able to truly embody yoga off the mat and extend it beyond
the self. Grace nicely summarized this concept for us. She says,
Theres a lot of physical benefits to yoga. Twisting your organs... helps them rinse
and cleanse and detoxify your spine. Theres a lot of benefits. I kind of think about
yoga as a health insurance policy beyond having one really because...you get sick
less often, you feel better about life in general, you look better, your physical
appearance changes...[and] when the physical body is in shape, more upright,
more healthy, then I believe that the soul is as well...you must have the body in
physical shape in order to channel your spiritual energy.
It is because of this spiritual achievement that many respondents expressed feeling more
connected to others and the earth, feeling a need to help others and be kind to them, and
feeling an improvement in their relationships. This they attribute to yoga. More specifically
we can see a change of attitude stemming from an understanding of a different philosophy
of living life.
Learning to treat others with Compassion
Understanding the philosophy of yoga means understanding how to treat others. It
is a type of thought that takes over your life and puts you in connection with others on a
56


more spiritual level. It helps you do responsible things and helps you understand things
and approach them differently. Ellie explained that through taking yoga classes she
learned about the poses, about yoga as a lifestyle and especially as a philosophy. She
says that yoga has taught me that I can affect my surroundings by how I think and how I
feel. And how I think about how I feel and how I feel about what I think. And its changed my
viewpoint of other people to be less judgmental, less condescending and more welcoming
of every thing... I think I can be more honest with people. Yoga has helped Jack look at
the world in a little bit deeper way, helped him have more compassion for people and
made him feel like life has a little more meaning. He places more importance on his
experiences and how those experiences are teaching him about life.
Ella explained that yoga has grounded her more because it has made her reflect
on herself. Yoga has also given her a huge amount of compassion and she realizes that
its just from giving it to myself that I can start to spread it out more... and be like that worm
is doing its thing and thats awesome and Im a part of it and its a part of me and its like I
just feel so much more connected. She also expresses that because of yoga I feel like my
heart is just like much more open and Im just more willing to participate in life more in
general and I think thats spiritual. Eva also finds her self compassion forming a huge part
of how she relates to others. She says, my relationship with others changed because my
relationship with myself changed... I can only be as compassionate and loving to you as I
am to myself. She also says yoga has
made me feel connected to the world... practicing with others I see that others are
me and Im the others and it doesn't matter if the others are in Austria, Haiti...you
know? And to see that when someone suffers and they are suffering its not their
suffering its our suffering...and so when there is healing its our healing and feeling
responsible and accounted to all of that.
Alexander sees the influence of yoga in the way [he] treat[s] people. For example, he
explained that it has always been difficult for him to talk to strangers and trust people but
57


yoga has helped him feel more comfortable to do this. He says I do give a softer side of
me now then I used to before yoga...and I think...a smile is so much more powerful,
kindness, gentleness and so forth...and I think yoga has contributed to that part of me,
treating people, strangers. Grace stresses that with yoga I think I learned how to live and
I think its expanded my horizons of the world.
Emma expressed that there is a connection between people that is expressed
through their individuality. She explains that during a balancing posture called tree pose
she always feels rooted into the ground. She also explains that this pose
reminds me to like look at everyone as their own different kind of tree and their
own thing, I guess, like their own aspect of the world and if we dont have every
different kind of person then things dont work that way... not everybody can just
think the same way... we cant just... have like a bunch of [the same kind of trees]
living in the world so its kind of neat and I feel like this worldly connection just
knowing that this was not the place of origin of yoga. Just knowing that theres
people around the world doing it its kind of cool cuz its the community doing yoga
together.
For Isabella finding compassion in heart opening poses on the mat can open our hearts to
others. She states, in yoga we're lifting...we're strengthening, were building our heart
[and] our backbends so were creating compassion in our heart, in our fourth chakra...so
that translates again off the mat cultivating compassion for other people and noticing where
they are. Jane states that thats the thing a lot of people dont understand about yoga and
I guess I probably didnt either in the beginning and now Ive obviously learned a lot more
but like that its not just an exercise thing or like a meditation thing, its just like the whole
spirituality behind it and the principles of how to live your life and how to treat people. She
feels more connected to others and states that yoga brings us all together. Yoga,
according to Jane, opens your eyes to realize that its not just about you and...you
are... one piece of this whole big picture and how it all kind of works together and how you
58


fit into this whole world. Chloe states that yoga has "changed my worldview as far as the
connection. Like how we are all so absolutely connected. And she explains that
Ultimately, because of the constant forgiveness toward myself and compassion
and love toward myself I seriously believe that I am able to have more compassion
for my parents, for people around me, for people that have hurt me. Ive learned to
forgive over and over again, not necessarily the action but the person.
Emily has realized the importance of truly connecting with others through yoga and
that the world does not revolve around her social life. She says,
you really learn to value the relationships that matter to you and maybe you have 5
really good friends and thats it! And those are the relationships you value and
thats what you want to put your worth in and to a certain extent I think yoga
influences that because it makes you see how much the people that you love truly
matter to you and how much the junk out there doesnt matter... I think that maybe
yoga makes me more aware of it and it makes me more comfortable with the fact
that I'm like I dont have to be friends with everyone.
Victor also gives an example of how his personal practice is taken off the mat affecting his
relationships and connection to others. He states,
well if my fundamental practice is... how do I become more connected to the
mystery, the source, on my mat, which articulates, transfers to the world that Im
conscious of doing the very thing in every other interaction, and when Im not doing
that very same thing, then I need to become conscious of that. So when were in
relationships, were in asana practice right now, were in the other 7 limbs right
now, how am I treating you, how am I speaking to you. It allows me to be more
conscious in my interactions...its changed all my relationships [and] its helped me
become more conscious in the moment.
Olivia explains that yoga has changed her relationships because I really try to look at
people and just say whats their perspective, what are they feeling and why are they acting
this way? And not to label them. She says that she is able to be more patient, more open
and more understanding.
Practicing Karma in Everyday Life
As the participants explain, yoga invites people to be more compassionate to
themselves and in turn more compassionate to others making interactions more positive
and improving relationships. One of the most important concepts in the philosophy of yoga
59


that can help us understand why many of these respondents feel the need to help others
and be of service to society is karma. The concept of karma relates to the idea that your
actions in this world plant seeds that will grow and return to you ten times stronger. In this
way of thinking it becomes logical and better to perform only positive actions towards
yourself and others. This way the individual plants the seeds of positivity and is confident
that his or her actions will be returned with an even stronger and more positive result. This
is partly why being of service to others, respecting others and helping others out play a
huge role in the yoga practice and where we can find the connection of how a transformed
self through yoga can benefit society as a whole. Although some may see this as egoistic,
since one is expecting to get something back from his or her actions, it is important to point
that the idea of karma is not supposed to be thought of in this way. For example, one will
never know which actions led to which reactions. If someone is experiencing something
negative in their lives, the idea of karma makes it easier to deal with the problem because
one is less inclined to blame others for what is happening to them and take responsibility
and right action to solve the problem. It keeps the individual from dwelling on his or her
pain and helps them accept what is happening so that he or she can move onto the next
stage of finding ways to solve the problem. On the other hand, if someone is experiencing
something positive, one can enjoy the moment for what it is without having to go out of
their way to explain it. This yogic way of thinking takes pressure off of someone's life and
helps the person live in the moment opening up new opportunities for positive actions and
for harmony between people in the world.
One way to see how the respondents are practicing this concept of karma in their
lives is to look at their responses when asked why they decided to take part in the
interview. Jack specifically stated I wanted to help you out and it sounded like good
karma". William participated in the study because he believes that the more people that
60


know about yoga I think the better this planet is. Its as simple as that. Ella expresses
since Ive chosen this lifestyle, like every choice I make comes back ten fold. She feels I
just really wanna be of service around yoga, like I just wanna give back whatever I can. Im
like here, take it! And so...you gave me a chance to be of service and Im... honored.
Alexander said he participated in the study to help you out... I saw you are serious about
this and this is to expand...your knowledge and share with the world. And its just a small
part, small price to pay... I know its expected of us to give back. He was reminded of one
of the speakers at his yoga teacher training who said now its your turn to give back, its
now a responsibility as teachers to give back of what youve learned. The baton has been
passed and this is part of that. James expressed that he did not know exactly what I was
going to interview him about but there was a part of me that just wanted to help you out,
you know? Because you are part of our community and I figured you were probably doing
something cool with it!...you know? You have been such a light in our community, cleaning
the floors every Sunday night. Sienna expressed her excitement about helping out by
saying I feel like its this yoga revolution freight train moving full speed ahead, you know?
And I feel like Im riding that train being part of the [yoga] community because we see so
many people and... I just felt like I needed to have a voice, or I wanted to have a voice in
your study. Victor expressed that he participated because I wanted to help you, if I
could...youve supported me through my teaching by showing up, so I wanted to do the
same for you. Joshua stated "mostly I just try and get into the habit of [giving and
providing], and I just do it, because those opportunities are not always around.
Taking care of the Earth and Humanity
Along with wanting to give back and be of service to others, some respondents felt
a need to give back and be of service to the earth and humanity as a whole. Some
61


respondents expressed a concern for the future of humanity but also hope that yoga can
help create positive change. For example Alana expressed
It does make me hopeful for the future cuz I see the potential of human beings and
of how we can change ourselves and uplift ourselves and each other, and that
there is so much goodness. Just by being aware you start seeing so much
goodness in just everyday things... I feel really lucky a lot because of yoga and I
see a lot of good because of it. Just cuz I take the time to notice. It also makes me
feel hopeful. I feel like it transcends a lot of those, because I can get tied up in like
oh my god where the hell is this world going? Why are we doing the things the way
we are doing them?
She also believes that yoga can help us "do so much better as in interactions between
human to human, human to our environment, [and] to other living things. She also
expresses that with the spread of yoga violence is going to be less likely because if you
are completely aware and compassionate of yourself you dont wanna kill. Some
respondents spoke of finding a sense of connection to the earth and the environment
which helped them become environmentally conscious. For Ella becoming environmentally
conscious has to do with saving humanity. She says I was always concerned
about... protecting our planet but one of my pet peeves its like people are like we have to
save the planet and Im like the planet will be fine. Its the living things on it and our
connection to it that needs to be saved. You know? The rock will still be there until the sun
explodes, its...what will be on it is the question. Taking yoga off the mat for Isabella
means that you have to think about recycling your plastic bags instead of throwing them
into the trash everyday. Or recycling paper...just being more conscious about what you do
and how you do it...even driving a car, like sometimes I feel guilty for driving my car.
For Chloe taking care of ourselves goes much deeper than being environmentally
conscious. She believes yoga is very powerful because we practice self-love and...return
back home to the pureness of who we are and the beautiful people that we are and the
beings and the souls that we are. It is this deeper connection that she explains creates an
62


intention during a yoga class that makes it a body prayer that can be sent out to the
world. She points to the fact that there are many people...doing the same thing in yoga
rooms or wherever they are, praying or moving with intention and that when we start
coming together... we can make a massive shift. This is the shift that she believes will
bring humanity back into harmony. She explains,
Its either you take this step and you start moving together and getting back to the
basics of life, putting your fingers into the soil, learning how to cook...getting away
from TV and from computers and having to go back to the basics of life. How to
grow your own food, how to cook your own food, how to come together, how to
barder with one another, how to take care of our land and how to live more
connected to the earth, to one another, to everything! And if we dont do that, the
people that arent moving in the direction and arent doing this work right now, they
are gonna fall back...we need to...come together... [and] if youre on the path of
enlightenment and consciousness you will only rise above it...and I feel like this
year in itself is not only about stepping into and just taking advantage and saying
yes! And going for it, but its also really about taking care of each other.
The many responses of the participants helps us see that each of them has a
different view of how yoga can benefit society. But the general idea is that yoga has the
potential to create positive social change. This change is mainly expressed through
relationships and through peoples treatment of each other as well as peoples treatment of
the environment. Through yoga the individual gains insight into becoming a better person
and expressing this through his or her actions. These actions according to yogic
philosophy will come back to the individual ten times stronger. It is this concept of karma
that motivates yogis to act in a manner that promotes treating others with respect,
understanding and support. Instead of causing people to become alienated from each
other, the practice of yoga and the philosophy of yoga offers a way to connect with others
and to understand the world in a different way stressing the importance of community, of
helping others out and being of service, and of protecting the environment and helping to
save humanity.
63


Tying back to the Literature
Although the studies discussed in the literature review did not explore this idea of
yoga benefiting society as a whole, Schures (2008) study of counseling students did report
that students, who learned how to reflect on their thoughts and emotions before reacting to
situations, gained a greater capacity for empathy and compassion which led to a feeling
of being grounded(pg.53-54). This idea of empathy or of experiencing the thoughts and
feelings of another and the idea of compassion are the feelings that the participants of this
current study explained made them feel more connected to others. This connection is what
the respondents described as making them feel an understanding of the 'other' and gave
them a sense of wanting to help the other out or treat the other better. The findings of my
study help enhance the results of Schures (2008) study because it takes an extra step to
discuss how the feelings of empathy and compassion can affect not only the individual but
others in the world. Most of the studies consulted for the literature review deal with
participants that have been diagnosed with some sort of illness, mental condition or
disorder and are looking to alleviate the symptoms or to get rid of the disease. The strength
of the current study is that it acknowledges that yoga can affect people without illness as
much as it can affect those with a diagnosed illness. This study shows that the effects of
yoga were as strong if not stronger on those people who did not report being diagnosed
with an illness. These results demonstrate the power of yoga not only to heal but to
maintain a healthy mental, physical and spiritual state.
64


CHAPTER 6
CONCLUSION
You may be wondering after reading the findings how can my study contribute to
the study of the self? My findings demonstrate that the self can change, and that self-
transformation is not easy, it takes time, but is possible. First and foremost, the individual
must be willing to allow change to happen in his or her life. Moving in the direction of
finding a solution to the postmodern self, which is in turmoil, my study shows that yoga is
another medium of social interaction in which the self could transform from the post-
modern self and come together. In other words, in our busy stressed out lives, we need
some serenity, some anchoring, and my findings show that yoga provides this. My
research was guided by three questions: 1. What does yoga mean to the individual?, 2.
What does it mean to transform the self through yoga?, and 3. How is a transformed self
through yoga beneficial to society or what kind of self-transformation in yoga would create
positive social change? I chose these questions because I felt they would bring out
responses that would really explain how a person experiences yoga and how they bring
concepts of yoga into the every day world.
Even though all of the respondents found it somewhat challenging to define yoga
to an other, half of the respondents emphasized that it definitely means to them a unity
between mind, body and spirit. Some even expressed yoga as being incorporated into a
person's life, as being a lifestyle. Some respondents state that yoga for them is simply
awareness and a practice to observe yourself in your life(Ella). Becoming so aware of
ones self both physically and mentally and starting to notice ones actions and the small
things that change in ones life can be described as a reflection into the way one lives his
65


or her life. This process of reflection is what some of the respondents explained as the
transformative and healing power of yoga. However, besides the big emphasis on yoga
being a great spiritual practice, involving the union between mind body and spirit, there
were 5 respondents who stressed that yoga for them means or at one point meant a
physical practice.
As we saw in chapter 5, the concept of self-transformation refers to how a person
goes through a process of becoming more aware and mindful of his or her self through the
practice of yoga and moves away from the Western idea of an individualistic self. This self-
transformation through yoga manifests itself differently in different people, but one thing it
has in common is that it is usually perceived as a positive change or awakening in a
persons life. There were a few concepts described that participants tied very closely to
their self-transformation. Some of these concepts were used in every day life. For example,
taking yoga off the mat, which refers to the process of using the skills learned in a yoga
class, such as intentional breathing, focus and concentration and applying or using them in
life situations where one is not in the yoga studio. However, many of the respondents
expressed that it is not easy to take yoga off the mat. One is forced to notice with
awareness the actions, thoughts and habits that make up ones life, which are not always
positive. Some respondents expressed that practicing yoga off the mat has taught them to
become more disciplined with their body and mind in their path to becoming better people.
One can become as disciplined as they want, but frustrations will still arise, and situations
in life will keep testing peoples tempers, and motivations. Most of the respondents reported
that because yoga has taught them to accept themselves as they are, they have more
mental, physical and emotional strength to continue their practice and have gained
compassion for where they are in the process. Learning to surrender the negative thoughts
both on and off the mat, trusting that everything is going to be ok, as well as learning to
66


forgive and move on as a way to heal themselves is what many of the participants had to
learn to do in order to allow themselves to progress in their practice.
Once a person is self-transformed through yoga, there is a feeling that one can
help improve society by living the yogic path and affecting others on a relationship level.
Understanding the philosophy of yoga means understanding how to treat others with
compassion. It is a type of thought that takes over your life and puts you in connection with
others on a more spiritual level. It helps you do responsible things, helps you understand
things, and approach them differently. One of the most important concepts in yoga
philosophy that can help us understand why many of the respondents feel the need to help
others and be of service to society is karma. Karma means that your actions in this world
plant seeds that will grow and return to you ten times stronger. It becomes logical then to
perform only positive actions towards yourself and others. This is partly why being of
service to others, respecting others and helping others out plays a huge role in the yoga
practice and where we can find the connection of how a transformed self through yoga can
benefit society as a whole. Along with wanting to give back and be of service to others,
some respondents felt a need to give back and be of service to the earth and humanity as
a whole. Some respondents expressed a concern for the future of humanity but also hope
that yoga can help create positive social change.
This study has compared the theory of Social Construction to the philosophy,
ideals and goals of yoga, as well as presented the responses of 20 yoga practitioners
regarding their experience of yoga, in order to show that yoga has the potential to create
positive transformation of the self in contemporary society. The message for the self
through the Theory of Social Construction is to unite as one and realize that if we want
good for ourselves, then we want good for others. The value of this message is priceless
and if we accept that change is needed in our society, yoga is one way of achieving that
67


change. One of the biggest emphases of yoga philosophy is Unity. To be unified with
others means that we are no longer alone or isolated. George Feurestein (2003) states that
"we must always remember that our personal efforts could be greatly enriched by others,
and that we could enrich the life and practice of others in turn(218-19). The theory of
Social Construction illuminates that self-transformation is possible and yoga is a tool for
this transformation. Although this study had a small sample and I interpreted the results
with some bias this study is strong in that it is unique and different. I did not find any
literature that examined yoga to the depth of which I examined it. As an insider, I was able
to get incredibly rich data about the experience of yoga. I believe that future research
should focus on the effects of different kinds of yoga on the individual in our society as well
as focus on other areas of the United States. Different populations with different economic
statutes should be studied regarding yoga, and more research should be done about how
yoga benefits society. In the end, conducting this study and writing this thesis was an
incredibly rewarding experience. I hope to continue to contribute to the study of yoga in the
future for I honestly feel that the message of positive self-transformation through yoga is
loud and clear.
During my defense I was asked what is the most outstanding finding and how did
this research affect or change me as a person. I would like to share my answer with you
because I feel that it contains the message I would like to pass on. Looking back at the
interview transcripts, I am amazed to see a recurring theme. No matter what the
explanation every single person I interviewed said that yoga transformed them in a positive
way. Whether that was physically, emotionally or mentally. This to me is very powerful. It
tells me that there is something about yoga that has the potential to transform peoples
lives for the better. I would be lying however, if I said that I was not expecting this result.
However, to hear it from every single participant was incredible. I feel accomplished and
68


really blessed that I was able to do my thesis on something I love, something thats my
passion. I feel that this passion helped carry me through the process, which is not easy. I
feel now even more connected to the yoga community and I appreciate every relationship
that has come from that. I understand the experience of yoga not just in my life, but in the
lives of 20 yoga practitioners.
During my study I was able to keep in contact with those I interviewed and with the
managers of the studio letting them know where I was in the process. Many have
expressed so much interest in reading this thesis. They have emphasized that working
behind the scenes, they dont get the chance to hear the positive effects of yoga on the
members of the community. I feel honored that through my study I have been able to
provide this for them. Our conversation is now nearing its end. I appreciate so much that
you took the time to read my thesis with an open heart and listening ears, engaging not
only with the content but with your own ideas about yoga as well. In reality however, this is
only the beginning. I invite you now in the words of one of the participants to join the yoga
revolution freight train that is moving full speed ahead and help change the world one
down dog at a time. Thank you. Namaste.
69


APPENDIX A. INTERVIEW SCHEDULE GUIDELINE.
Part I. Background questions
1. what is your age?_______
2. Sex: Male_______Female_______
3. Ethnicity (how do you define yourself):_______________
4. Education level/degree:_______________________________
Part II. Interview Questions
1. Construction of meaning
a. How would you define yoga?
b. When and why did you go to your first yoga class? What was your
perspective of yoga before you began practicing it?
c. How often do you attend yoga? How is this determined?
d. Do you do other exercises besides yoga? If so, how is yoga different from
other exercise?
e. For teachers: can you tell me where you got trained to be a yoga teacher?
i. Why did you decide to become a yoga teacher?
2. Yoga and self-transformation
a. Can you tell me a story about a time in class that was memorable?
i. Why this moment?
ii. How did you feel before and afterwards?
b. Walk me through a typical yoga class as a student. What does your day
look like before and after you do yoga?
c. Same question as above, but directed at the teacher.
d. For students and teachers: who is your favorite teacher and why? What do
you/would you prefer in a yoga teacher?
e. Has anything in your life changed or improved since you began doing
yoga?
i. If so, do you attribute this change to yoga?
f. Has your view of yourself changed since you started doing yoga?
g. Have you ever practiced yoga at home or by yourself?
i. If yes, how does it compare to taking yoga at a studio
ii. If no, why do you choose to practice in a setting such as a class
rather than at home?
h. Why did you decide to take part in this interview?
3. Benefit to society?
a. For teachers: what does it feel like to teach a yoga class? Is there a
difference between teaching and being a student in a class?
b. For teachers: Is there a certain responsibility that you feel comes with
being a yoga instructor?
c. What have you learned about yoga from the classes?
d. Many yoga teachers say that the practice of yoga begins when you end a
yoga class not when you start it. Have you ever taken yoga with you off
the mat? If so how?
70


e. Has practicing yoga changed any of your views about the world or your
religious beliefs?
f. Has yoga affected what you think of other people in the world? Have your
relationships with people (relatives, friends and strangers) changed after
doing yoga? If so, how and why do you think this change happened?
g. Have you read books written about yoga? If so, which one(s)? what have
you learned about yoga from reading these books? How would you
compare reading a book about yoga to actually participating in a yoga
class?
71


APPENDIX B. CONSENT FORM APPROVAL.
Date: Valid for Use
Through:
Study Title: Toward Meaningful Relationships: Yoga as a tool for Self-Transformation and
Social Change
Principal Investigator: Laura Melisa Slythe
HSRC No: 09-0810
Version Date: 09/04/09
Version No: 1
You are being asked to be in a research study. This form provides you with information
about the study. The primary researcher will describe this study to you and answer all of
your questions. Please read the information below and ask questions about anything you
dont understand before deciding whether or not to take part.
Whv is this study being done?
This study plans to learn more about the perceptions, ideas and feelings of people who
practice hatha yoga.
You are being asked to be in this research study because you are a practitioner of
hatha yoga who has experienced yoga on a regular basis (at least once a week)
for approximately 6 months or more. Your perceptions, ideas and feelings about
hatha yoga are very valuable to this study.
Up to 20 people will participate in the study.
What happens if I join this study?
If you join the study, you will be asked to participate in an interview of approximately
30-45 minutes which will be recorded. The interview will include specific questions
about your experience with hatha yoga both in class and outside of class.
The study will last for the entire UCD school year, however your participation will only
include one main interview and a possible short follow up interview of about 20
minutes. The follow up interview/questions will only be conducted if the researcher has
follow up questions about your initial responses, or if clarification is needed of one or
some of your initial responses.
72


What are the possible discomforts or risks?
Discomforts you may experience while in this study include embarrassment regarding
the content of some interview questions about your feelings, or about yoga knowledge.
You may also feel embarrassment at having the interview recorded.
What are the possible benefits of the study?
This study is designed for the researcher to learn more about peoples experiences
with hatha yoga. There are no direct benefits to you from participating in the study.
Will I be paid for being in the study? Will I have to dav for anything?
You will not be paid to be in the study.
It will not cost you anything to be in the study.
Is mv participation voluntary?
Taking part in this study is voluntary. You have the right to choose not to take part in
this study. If you choose to take part, you have the right to stop at any time. If you
refuse or decide to withdraw later, you will not lose any benefits or rights to which you
are entitled.
Who do I call if I have questions?
The researcher carrying out this study is Laura Melisa Slythe. You may ask any
questions you have now. If you have questions later, you may call Laura Melisa Slythe
at 818-632-9855.
You may have questions about your rights as someone in this study. You can call Laura
Melisa Slythe with questions. You can also call the Human Subject Research
Committee (HSRC). You can call them at 303-315-2732.
Who will see mv research information?
We will do everything we can to keep your records a secret. It cannot be guaranteed.
Both the records that identify you and the consent form signed by you may be looked
at by others. They are:
73


Federal agencies that monitor human subject research
Human Subject Research Committee
The group doing the study
Regulatory officials from the institution where the research is being conducted who
want to make sure the research is safe
The results from the research may be shared at a meeting. The results from the
research may be in published articles. Your name will be kept private when
information is presented.
All information obtained during our interview with you will be transferred to computer
files and will be stored in password-protected files on a secure server. Paper records
will be stored in a locked safe or locked file drawer. Your name will appear only on this
consent form.
Agreement to be in this study
I have read this paper about the study or it was read to me. I understand the possible risks
and benefits of this study. I know that being in this study is voluntary. I choose to be in
this study: I will get a copy of this consent form.
Signature:__________________________________________ Date:________________
Print Name:
Consent form explained by:
Date:
Print Name:
Investigator:
Date:
74


BIBLIOGRAPHY
Allan, Kenneth. (2006). Contemporary Social and Sociological Theory: Visualizing Social
Worlds. Thousand Oaks, CA: Pine Forge Press.
Anantharaman, T.R. (1937). Ancient Yoga and Modern Science. India: Munshiram
Manoharlal Publishers.
Baptiste, Baron. (2002). Journey Into Power: How to Sculpt Your Ideal Body, Free Your
True Self, and Transform Your Life with Yoga. New York, NY: Simon and Schuster,
Inc.
Behanan, Kovoor T. (1937). Yoga: A Scientific Evaluation. New York: Dover Publications,
Inc.
Bhaktivedanta, A C. (1981). Yoga for the Modern Age: The Path of Perfection. Los
Angeles, CA: Bhaktivedanta Book Trust.
Branaman, Ann. (2001). Self and Society. Malden, Massachusetts: Blackwell Publishers.
Butler, Lisa D., & Waelde, Lynn C. (2008). Meditation with Yoga, Group Therapy with
Hypnosis and Psychoeducation for Long-Term Depressed Mood: A Randomized
Pilot Trial. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 64 (7), 806-820.
Connolly, Peter. (2007). A Students Guide to the History and Philosophy of Yoga. Oakville,
CT: DBBC.
Cunningham, Watts. (1948). How Far to the Land of Yoga? An Experiment in
Understanding. The Philosophical Review, 57 (6), 573-589.
Dittmann, K. A., & Freedman, M. R. (2009). Body Awareness, Eating Attitudes, and
Spiritual Beliefs of Women Practicing Yoga. Eating Disorders, 17, 273-292.
Edwards, Stephen D. (2008). Breath Psychology. Psychology and Developing Societies,
20 (2), 131-164.
Faillace, Katharina Schneider, & Faillace, Constantino. (1999). Yoga as Universal
Education for Self-Development and for Promoting Peace. Yoga and Total Health,
XL (6).
Feurestein, Georg. (2003). The Deeper Dimension of Yoga: Theory and Practice. Boston,
Massachusetts: Shambala Publications.
Feurestein, Georg, & Miller, Jeanine. (1998). The Essence of Yoga: Essays on the
Development of Yogic Philosophy from the Vedas to Modern Times. Rochester,
Vermont: Inner Traditions International.
75


Feurestein, Georg. (1989). The Yoga-Sutra of Patanjali. Rochester, Vermont: Inner
Traditions International.
Feurestein, Georg. (1998). The Yoga Tradition: its History, Literature, Philosophy and
Practice. Prescott, Arizona: Hohm Press.
Gergen, Kenneth J. (1999). An Invitation to Social Construction. Thousand Oaks, CA:
Sage Publications.
Gergen, Kenneth J. (2009). An Invitation to Social Construction. (2nd ed.) Thousand Oaks,
CA: Sage Publications.
Iyengar, B.K.S. (2002). The Tree of Yoga. Boston, Massachusetts: Shambala Publications.
Joshi, K. S. (1965). On the Meaning of Yoga. Philosophy East and West, 15 (1), 53-64.
Khasky, Amy D, & Smith, Jonathan D. (1999). Stress, Relaxation States, and Creativity.
Perceptual and Motor Skills, 88 (51), 409-416.
Langer, Ellen J., & Moldoveanu, Mihnea. (2000). The Construct of Mindfulness. Journal of
Social Issues, 56 (1), 1-9.
Legget, Trevor. (1978). The Chapter of the Self. London. Routledge & Kegan Paul.
McCoy, Colleen M. (2006). Yoga, its Health Benefits, and the Search for the True Self.
(Thesis M.A). University of Georgia.
Morley, James. (2001). Inspiration and Expiration: Yoga Practice through Merleau-Pontys
Phenomenology of the Body. Philosophy East and West, 51 (1), 73-82.
Morley, James. (2008). Consciousness in Tantric Yoga and the Phenomenology of
Merleau-Ponty. Religion and the Arts, 12 (1/3), 144-163.
Scheepers, Alfred. (2005). The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. Amsterdam: Olive Press.
Schure, Marc B., John Christopher and Suzanne Christopher. (2008). Mind-Body Medicine
and the Art of Self-Care. Teaching Mindfulness to Counseling Students Through
Yoga, Meditation and Qigong. Journal of Counseling and Development, 86, 47-56.
Schweizer, Paul. (1993). Mind/Consciousness Dualism in Sankhya-Yoga Philosophy.
Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, 53 (4), 845-859.
Shapiro, David, et.al. (2007). Yoga as a Complementary Treatment of Depression: Effects
of Traits and Moods on Treatment Outcome. Evidence-based Complementary and
Alternative Medicine, 4 (4), 493-502.
Smith, Benjamin Richard. (2007). Body, Mind and Spirit? Towards an Analysis of the
Practice of Yoga. Body and Society, 13 (2), 25-46.
76


Stone, Michael. (2008). The Inner Tradition of Yoga. Boston, Massachusetts: Shambala
Publications.
Strauss, Anselm, & Corbin, Juliet. (1990). Basics of Qualitative Research: Grounded
Theory Procedures and Techniques. Newbury Park, CA: Sage Publications.
Strauss, Sarah. (2005). Positioning Yoga Balancing Acts Across Cultures. New York, NY:
Berg Publications.
77