Sociology is a social science focused on the study of society and the dynamics of human interaction within it. This usually involves the examination of the constituent parts of a society, such as its institutions, communities and populations, and how these play a role in influencing human behaviour. The basic organisational elements of any society are economic, religious, educational and political, but sociological studies also consider specialised cross-sections and groupings within society such as the family, the military, peer groups and special interest associations. The practice of Sociology draws on both quantitative and qualitative data and methods to explore social phenomena and place these within a wider societal context.

Within the field of Yoga Studies sociology offers a lens through which to explore the place and practice of yoga in contemporary society and how this varies between different geographies and communities. This calls for an appreciation of the social constitution of yoga as a practice or model of belief, and steers away from the tendency of past scholarship to inflate agency and subjectivity, or to treat yoga and meditation as isolated and timeless  traditions independent of social forces (See Altglas and Wood, 2018: 1-28).

Sociological research themes within Yoga Studies over recent years have included the consideration of some of the prominent systems and lineages of postural yoga that have characterised the twentieth century, such as Iyengar, Sivananda and Ashtanga yoga. These have been examined both as organising structures and as coherent systems of practice that result in both social groupings and dynamics as well as individual behaviours (See Strauss 2005, Newcombe 2019 and Matylda Ciołkosz 2022). Conversely, Theo Wildcroft’s recent work, which presents the post-lineage yoga community in Britain, highlights how social networks, community dynamics and practice behaviours also exist and thrive outside of more institutional structures. Finally, an important line of emerging research is concerned with the psychosocial elements of yoga and the dynamics of power, authority and abuse this can facilitate (see the work of Amanda Lucia and Amelia Wood).

Image credit: yoga festival photo courtesy of Leticia Valverdes

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Further reading