The Embodiment of Meaning and the Meaning of Embodiment

Theoretical and Methodological Concerns in the Study of Postural Practice

  • Joseph Alter University of Pittsburgh


Drawing on the example of kuśtī-pahalvānī (traditional wrestling in India) to engage with arguments presented in each of the chapters that have come before, this “Afterword” engages with the problem of how meaning is assigned to physical practices and to the body engaged in various forms of self-development and self-discipline. An analytical perspective based on semiotic theory is used to examine the problem of embodied meaning as well as methodological questions about how to compare various forms of physical practice. Emphasis is placed on the contingency of meaning and on the social construction of knowledge, as the social construction of knowledge provides a framework for understanding the intellectual significance of both transcendental consciousness and physical fitness.

Author Biography

Joseph Alter, University of Pittsburgh

Joseph S. Alter is the Director of the Asian Studies Center and Professor of Anthropology at the University of Pittsburgh. He is also the editor of The Journal of Asian Studies (2021–2025). His research is on the on environmental health, the globalization of Asian medical knowledge and the cultural history of yoga’s development within the institutionalized structure of Nature Cure in contemporary India. Having published on yoga in relation to sexuality, athleticism and Ayurvedic medicine, he is currently studying the way in which yoga and Nature Cure establish an “ecology of the body” within the rubric of Public Health. His recent publications include, Yoga in Modern India (Princeton 2004), Moral Materialism (Penguin 2011), and Capturing the Ineffable: An Anthropology of Wisdom (Toronto 2020, with Dr. Philip Kao).

How to Cite
ALTER, Joseph. The Embodiment of Meaning and the Meaning of Embodiment. Journal of Yoga Studies, [S.l.], v. 4, p. 491 – 513, apr. 2023. ISSN 2664-1739. Available at: <>. Date accessed: 15 june 2024.