Spring 2011

Yoga extends historian’s reach



Yoga extends historian’s reach
JONATHAN COHEN
Elisa Camiscioli, associate professor of history, is both a student and teacher of yoga.

Elisa Camiscioli knows that sometimes the best way to understand something is to flip it around and look at it from a different point of view.

As an associate professor of history, she looks at the past within the framework of race, gender, sexuality and migration. Currently she’s exploring the trafficking of women in the early 20th century from Europe to the brothels of Buenos Aires. “Was it coercion, or was it just a better job?” she wonders. “People want to believe the women were coerced because it’s more palatable.”

Camiscioli understands the power of perception. Outside of academia, she is a yoga instructor — a passion she kept hidden when she first came to Binghamton in 2001.

She discovered yoga as a grad student at the University of Chicago. “I had just come back from two years in Paris for my dissertation, and I randomly went to a yoga class and my life changed,” she says. “Yoga is a spiritual practice, it isn’t just handstands. It helped me understand that while the dissertation mattered, it didn’t matter that much in the grand scheme of what we’re seeking in life.”

Camiscioli taught yoga for four years in Chicago. But when she came to Binghamton, she chose to teach yoga in Ithaca. “I was conflicted about having two identities. I was young; I was untenured. I thought it would look flaky.”

Then word got out, and a group of faculty asked her to teach them. For years, professors of sociology, history, English and psychology met in living rooms for classes.

In 2009, Camiscioli went public, joining Binghamton Yoga, a studio owned by alumni Kimberly Gruber ’02 and Jason Shaw ’95. She teaches two classes a week and is working on becoming certified in Anusara yoga, a rigorous process she compares to earning a second PhD.

Four of her original students are still with her, including a professor of sociology and a Cornell law professor.

“Anusara yoga emphasizes a concept called kula, which in Sanskrit means ‘a community of the like-minded, or a family of one’s own choosing,’” Camiscioli says. “I’ve learned a lot more about Binghamton and the interesting people who are here. I have a real kula now.”

Know a faculty or staff member with an interesting “other side”? E-mail us at magazine@binghamton.edu.