I was drawn to anthropology because of something I read in my year 11 psychology textbook. There was a section on Schizophrenia and one of the main symptoms was imaginary voices. A side note in this section immediately caught my eye – it described a village in Africa where 45-50% of girls aged 15 experience symptoms consistent with schizophrenia, but they wouldn’t be labelled as ‘schizophrenic.’ In fact, it’s seen as a blessing to hear these voices because they are the girls’ ancestors speaking to them. I was so shocked. I couldn’t understand why the same symptoms were celebrated in one society and stigmatised in another. I felt like the textbook should’ve been dedicated to why we understand schizophrenia the way we do. All of these unanswered questions sat in the back of my mind until… I took my first anthropology subject – studying human diversity.
I also tried a few creative writing and philosophy subjects in my undergrad, but became disillusioned with the constant “you won’t make a career out of this” talk in creative writing and unrealistic scenarios we discussed for weeks on end in philosophy. I feel that anthropology draws from these two disciplines in a way that stays grounded in the lives of everyday people. Another reason I was drawn to anthropology is because it allowed me to put my constant uncertainty about the world and overthinking mind to good use. I also love that we constantly question what it means to be ‘normal’. I never really felt ‘normal’ growing up – I’m an only child, my parents aren’t married, I was given my mum’s maiden name for my last name and the biggest abnormality of all – I wasn’t raised to worship AFL! Anthropology has made me question why I am the way I am and realize that being ‘normal’ is specific to a certain context, place and time.
I distinctly remember seeing the honours students’ blog when I was in first year and thinking I hope that’ll be me one day (so lame I know, but yay I made it!). In my first ever anthropology assignment I wrote about a yoga class I went to which felt more like a religious/spiritual experience as opposed to physical exercise. Three years later I am writing about the same topic for my honours thesis. After my first year of uni I was absolutely sick of writing essays and decided I wanted to become a yoga teacher instead. However, I didn’t want to leave my degree unfinished so I found a way to merge yoga with anthropology and consequently am writing my BIGGEST essay ever. My thesis aims to explore other yoga teachers’ personal experiences and how they go about making ‘yoga’ digestible and appealing to their students. You might have seen ads pop up on your Facebook for beer yoga, goat yoga, hip-hop yoga, boxing yoga, yoga on Uni Melb South Lawn and my latest favourite – yoga in the Revs band room. Yoga’s popularity is undeniable and so I want to take a few snapshots of how Melbourne teacher’s understand yoga, the market, what the future of yoga might entail and what it means to ‘discover’ oneself. Another key aspect of my thesis is to find out how teachers navigate the murky waters of cultural appropriation. After teaching a class one day a participant came up to me and said “that wasn’t ‘real’ yoga”, but said he understood why I did it that way because I needed to cater to people’s expectations. My thesis is taking me on a relentless search for what ‘real’ yoga might be, or at least how we come to understand something as ‘real’ and ‘authentic.’