Beth Berila, Ph.D., Director, Women's Studies Program
My current work focuses on integrating feminism, yoga, and embodied learning. This work happens on several fronts. First, I teach a weekly Yoga for Balance class at St. Cloud State University that is free and open to students, faculty, staff, and community members (E-mail me for more information about that class). Second, I integrate various forms of mindfulness into my Women's Studies classes, so that students can develop more intentional embodied ways of learning. Third, I am a founding board member of the Yoga and Body Image Coalition, a group of yogis, teachers, and activists dedicated to making yoga accessible to EVERYbody. We address the ways that systems of oppression (sexism, racism, heterosexism, classism, ageism, and so on) are present in the Western yoga culture. Finally, I write about the rich intersections of this work, including my forthcoming book on integrating mindfulness into Anti-Oppression Pedagogy. My website features y webinar: Toward an Embodied Social Justice, sponsored by The Center for Contemplative Mind in Society.
I am nearing completion of my 340-hour yoga teacher training and Ayurveda Yoga Specialist certification with Devanadi School of Yoga and Wellness in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Prior to that, I completed my 200-Hour Teacher Training Certification with Senior Anusara Yoga Practitioners, Jordan and Martin Kirk. As I examine my role as a feminist scholar, a feminist teacher, a yoga practitioner and teacher, I am discovering new ways of thinking about and implementing the role of embodied learning. By weaving feminist pedagogy with my yogic experience and my teacher training, I am forging significant ways of enhancing the learning process and of disrupting the Western mind/body split. This work will provide an important contribution in the field of feminist teaching and theory, as I become a participant in the process, not merely an observer.
Numerous conversations in multiple fields are poised to expand the boundaries of that box. First, growing research is being done that examines the physiological and psychological effects of yoga. The National Institute of Health premiered its first annual “Yoga-Week” earlier this year, while the Mayo Clinic promotes yoga as a form of healthy living. Similar research is being done on the effects of regular meditation on the brain. Researchers at prestigious universities including the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, and the University of Massachusetts Medical Center have documented meditation’s notable effects on the brain. Still other work addresses the role that emotions might have on illness (Esther Sternberg). These discussions, which are happening in a variety of fields, are converging in provocative ways to create a momentum around the import of yoga and meditation for healthy living. This is, then, a pivotal moment for academic researchers to help shape the discussion. Women’s Studies is uniquely poised to do so, because of its interdisciplinary nature and because of its holistic conceptualization of individuals and social structures.
Indeed, the body is already a prominent area of research within feminist theory. Canonical feminist work on the body examines the ways that cultural practices infuse our experiences of our bodies, how they are gendered, and how we relate to one another along axes of race, class, physical ability, sexual identity, and national identity. Yoga, as a tradition that has deep cultural and spiritual roots in India, has been increasingly infusing Western cultures, sometimes in valuable ways and sometimes in culturally appropriative ways. My work examines these contradictions. Besides the analysis of the cultural implications of yoga’s popularity in the West, my work also examines the actual experience of yoga itself. Embodiment usually refers to the physical manifestation of cultural and sociopolitical norms, but it can also refer to the ways we make meaning of ourselves and the world around us. Feminist work on the body usually addresses issues such as reproductive rights, violence against women, performative gender roles and the ways that we learn how to perform masculinity and femininity, and how bodies are disciplined and regulated, as in the work of Michel Foucault and Susan Bordo. My research builds on this foundation, but focuses more on practices of embodiment. Specifically, I am exploring how yoga teaches participants to cultivate self-awareness about their own senses of embodiment.