Inside/Outside: Merleau-Ponty/Yoga

Publication Type:

Journal Article


Philosophy East & West, Volume 52, Number 4, p.459–478 (2002)



Mind and body, Yoga


The binary of inside and outside is a consequence of a duality inherent in many philosophical traditions. Any philosophy that critiques and attempts to go beyond this duality of transcendence and immanence has to deal with these notions in a radically different way. It is pertinent to note here that articulating a philosophical concept of a `side' is itself problematical. What I intend to do here is to reflect on the notion of `inside' from a phenomenological standpoint. I believe that this is most clearly manifested in the space where yoga and phenomenology meet. Among the phenomenological traditions in Western philosophy, Maurice Merleau-Ponty's thematization of the body and the world allows for a more complex understanding of inside and outside. But even in his philosophy there is a recurring ambiguity in the use of inside/outside. In the first section of this article, I discuss certain explicit uses of these terms in Merleau-Ponty's writings. While his philosophy appar- ently forecloses the possibility of understanding the `in' and `out' as polar elements, his explicit usage of inside/outside, inner/outer, and other synonymous terms needs to be clarified. Along with this is his repeated reference to dimensionality, thickness, cor- poreality, and depth – terms that seem to rephrase this in/out dichotomy. It is not clear whether these rephrasings add clarity to the fundamental ambiguity of these terms. Although such an ambiguity is seemingly always present, I believe that it is possible to continue to use terms like inside and outside even while working from `within' Merleau-Ponty's philosophy – if a phenomenological reading of yogic practices (essentially asanas and pranayama) is allowed into his discourse. I will ?? ?????? argue for this position by thematizing the notion of `inner body' without the neces- sary consequence of giving in to the transcendent/immanent duality. I will argue that it is the phenomenological experience of dimensionality, a term commonly used by him, that should be identified with the `inside'. This conclusion is further reinforced through a phenomenological understanding of the practice of yoga. Yoga, particu- larly Hatha Yoga, in its emphasis on techniques of body control and breathing, allows for a rich phenomenological interpretation of the inner body. The emphasis on the inner body also leads us to consider the categories of eating and breathing along the trajectory of phenomenological experiences. The possibility of `perceiving' the inner body through these yogic methods suggests an addition to Merleau-Ponty's examples of `reversibility', namely the reversibility of consuming/consumed.


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