Yoga practice in 21st century Britain: The lived experience of yoga practitioners




Journal Title

Journal ISSN



Volume Title


De Montfort University


Thesis or dissertation

Peer reviewed


This thesis investigates the nature of ‘the self’ modern yoga practitioners cultivate. This ontological question is further divided into three sub-questions to find the answer stepby- step. They are: (1) How yoga practice influences practitioners' health and wellbeing; (2) How yoga practice influences the management of life crises; (3) How yoga practice influences the ‘sense of self’. Modern yoga in the West has been expanding rapidly after the Second World War, and the last 15 years in particular show an exponential growth. Although the numbers are hard to estimate, there were reportedly over 2.5 million practitioners in Britain alone in 2004 (Singleton, 2008). Similar numbers of yoga practitioners were reported in other countries (Strauss, 2004). However, the modern form of yoga practiced in Britain is not the same as the Indian traditional form of yoga. In Britain, the British Wheel of Yoga (BWY) officially represents the majority of the yoga population. This study has used hermeneutic phenomenology, chiefly that of Heidegger and of Merleau-Ponty, as a research methodology, because it enabled the researcher to understand the subjective lived experiences of modern yoga practitioners. For data collection, 15 in-depth interviews of BWY members, selected using the snowballing and theoretical methods, were carried out. Through analysis, six major themes emerged. They were: ‘Health and Well being’; ‘Management of Life Crises’; ‘Sense of Self and Yoga Development’; ‘CAMs & GPs’; ‘Relationships’; ‘Spirituality’. Following the analysis of the main themes, I explored the meaning of ‘the self’, and discussed it from two points of view: the inner-self arisen from embodied practice of yoga through relaxation and bodily proprioception, and the outer self situated in-theworld in relation with other people, which was captured as social self, and considered from various dimensions such as language and ideology, BWY lineage, globalization and commercialism. In a nutshell, this study found that ‘the self’ for the BWY practitioners was embodied, health orientated and secular. ‘The self’ of yoga was further compared and contrasted with four self development models: Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra; Maslow’s Hierarchy of Human Needs; Dreyfus/Merleau-Ponty’s Skill Acquisition model and The Ten Oxherding Pictures of Zen Buddhism. Lastly, the value of yoga for public health was explored using the anthropological idea of dis-ease. This study found that yoga’s therapeutic usefulness mainly came from ‘empowerment’, providing practitioners with yoga skills to take control of their own body and health.





Research Institute