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In Session: Breathing Well: Breath, Body, and Air in India
2: "Inhale Deeply": Breath, Prana and the Yoga Body Today
Wednesday, March 24, 2021
8:30am – 10:00am EDT
Shiv Nadar University, India
The human body, across space and time, has been understood variously according to different epistemologies of the body. In the current pandemic situation, as the vital materialities of human bodies and the novel coronavirus collide, we see different epistemologies of the body intersecting with one another. Drawing on observations foregrounded during and because of the pandemic, this paper will focus on the intersections of the yogic and scientific/medical epistemologies of the body in contemporary yoga in the Indian context. I shall specifically use the lenses of life, breath and prana (vital airs/life force/breath). Breath or rather breathing well has gained renewed salience globally given the virus’ “attack” on the afflicted’s respiratory system. In India, this understanding has become intertwined with an emphasis on the yogic practice of pranayama or breath control. Several gurus are promoting pranayama as a way to strengthen one’s respiratory system. The paper interrogates such epistemic intersections of biomedical notions of breath and breathing with yogic notions of prana and pranayama to reflect on life and the body. Today, prana is equated primarily with breath, even simply carbon-dioxide, representing a medical-scientific perspective. However, traditionally, prana is more polysemic, encompassing meanings ranging from vital airs to life force. Drawing on these different understandings of prana, and focusing on the current intersections of these with notions of breath, the paper argues that the human body can be understood as emerging through the matrix of matter and vitality where ultimately yogic and scientific-biomedical understandings of life both reinforce and contradict each other.