Healing myths, yoga styles and social bodies: socio-logics of yoga as a health practice in the socially stratified city of Marseille, France

Anthropol Med. 2021 Sep;28(3):374-394. doi: 10.1080/13648470.2021.1949963. Epub 2021 Jul 22.


Drawing on participant observation and interviews in two yoga studios in the highly socially stratified city of Marseille, France, this paper explores the understandings of yoga as a health practice that emerge at the intersections between yoga styles and their social contexts of consumption. Its insights emerge from the comparison of three modern yoga styles that were developed for Western English-speaking cultural contexts - Iyengar, Bikram and Forrest - and which differ in form but also in the chronology of their emergence on the global yoga market and that of their reception in France. These three yoga styles are also branded through contrasting mythologies of transformational healing, and the aim of this paper is to explore how a brand conceptualization of yoga as a health practice relates to or resonates with the embodied experiences of practitioners, and to the socio-cultural contexts in which practitioners and their practices are embedded. The paper contributes a new case study to the global yoga scholarship and to a poorly studied French yoga scene, but more importantly, it cross-examines the discourses through which a yoga style is branded, the way it is transmitted, and the social context and social positioning of the individuals who practice it. Combining perspectives on the body, narrative and rituals, it identifies how yoga healing is construed in relation to gender, ethnicity and class and the points of consensus and dissent that emerge from the encounters between French social bodies and exogenous yoga styles.

Keywords: France; Yoga; class; ethnicity; gender; transformational healing.

MeSH terms

  • Anthropology, Medical
  • Attitude to Health / ethnology
  • Female
  • France / ethnology
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Yoga*