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Sarah M. Hillewaert

Abstract

This article contemplates the construction of sharedness that underlies the success of alternative lifestyle communities in Eastern Africa. In Kenya, a new tourism niche market that focuses on yoga, mindfulness, and alternative medicine is flourishing. Tourists travel to East Africa to practice yoga, but also to introduce local communities to ‘alternative lifestyles’. By considering Western and Kenyan practitioners’ discourses about the benefits of alternative healing, mindfulness, and yoga, I explore the significance of sharedness to the emergence of communities that are structured around not just physical practice, but also an envisioned joint purpose. I argue that discursively constructing shared purpose, in the face of seemingly evident differences, is central to Western expats’ validation and commercialization of these initiatives. I also demonstrate that local participants equally, although along different lines, feel compelled to construct a particular kind of sharedness to justify their yoga practice to themselves and their own communities.