A 13-PART LECTURE SERIES

Yoga Reconsidered

EXPLORING MODERN YOGA RESEARCH

Learn from 13 Celebrated Scholars & Teachers in 13 Workshops as they explore the latest research into the origins of hatha yoga and the implications for contemporary practice.

A movement is afoot within the yoga and scholarly communities to clarify the historical backdrop of yogic practice.

For the duration of yoga’s contemporary popularity, ambiguous and oftentimes mythological narratives have occluded a clear and coherent understanding of yoga’s history, due in part to a lack of access to many of yoga’s root texts and scriptures.

Initiatives like the University of London’s “Hatha Yoga Project” and the websites like “Modern Yoga Research” are contributing to a radical sea change in what we know and how we understand the historical foundations of hatha yoga. In what centuries do we first see the emergence of yogic postures? For what objectives were these postures originally intended? What other yogic practices existed alongside hatha yoga posture that have since been widely forgotten?

This online conference seeks to highlight contemporary yoga research in an effort to clarify and demystify the historical underpinnings of modern yoga. More than simply giving an account of what we now know and still don’t know, this conference seeks to ask the question: so what?

What does a more sophisticated historical perspective do to contemporary yoga practice, if anything at all? In what ways is our experience as yoga and meditation scholar-practitioners augmented by this deeper knowledge? What epistemological questions arise when the historical narrative that aligns with a particular school or lineage stream conflicts with objectivist accounts of the academy?

This conference seeks to educate all those who are interested in yoga by challenging our given mythologies about what yoga is and where it comes from. This conference doesn’t seek to simply dismantle mythologies but to reimagine them — to dissolve the lenses of illusion in the service of a more expansive understanding of what yoga is here to teach us.

Speakers Include

Debashish Banerji

Jason Birch

Christopher Key Chapple

Veen Howard

Jacqueline Hargreaves

Philipp Maas

James Mallinson

Ruth Westoby

Suzanne Newcombe

Seth Powell

David Gordon White

Mark Singleton

Dagmar Wujastyk

You'll Learn About

MODERN YOGA RESEARCH
PHILOLOGY
YOGA PHILOSOPHY
HISTORY OF HATHA YOGA
SANSKRIT
THE ORIGINS OF POSTURAL YOGA

Talks Include

Yoga on the Eve of Colonialism

with Jason Birch

Jason will discuss the research he is currently doing on Yoga, which involves visiting libraries in various countries to view manuscripts of Yoga texts. He’ll discuss some of the important Haṭha- and Rājayoga texts he’s working on, in particular, their content, who wrote them and their audience. He will focus mainly on the aspects of these premodern Yogas which might interest practitioners of modern Yoga and how an understanding of the history can change one’s perspective on what Yoga can be.

Yoga History: Taking the Long View

with Christopher Key Chapple

Glimpses of what evolves into Yoga can be gleaned from early sources: the loving attention paid to animals and the seated seemingly meditative figures in the seals of the Indus Valley (ca. 3000 B.C.E.) as well as the invocation of tapas (purifying heat) in the Vedas (ca. 1500 B.C.E.). The naming of Yoga as spiritual practice arises in the later Upanisads (Katha, Maitri, Svetasvatara), which describe Yoga as meditation (taraka) and a way to connect with one's greater self (Atman). These Brahmanical texts, combined with the Sramanical practices (ethical and meditative) of Jainism and Buddhism, contribute key aspects to the Yoga Sutra of Patanjali, which emerges by the early centuries of the common era. Yoga adapts Samkhya as its conceptual frame, honoring a worldview that seeks to understand the relationship between the consciousness witness (purusa), the world held in potential (avyakta prakriti), and the world as fully manifest (vyakta prakriti). At a later time, the Jains commit to writing down various modes used to embody states of Yoga, including asana and pranayama in the Yogashastra (11th century), expounded more fully in Hatha Yoga texts such as the Dattareyayogashastra (13th century) and the Hathapradipika (18th century), signaling the birth of what today is called modern Yoga.

A Maturing Wisdom: The Women of Modern Globalised Yoga

with Jacqueline Hargreaves

This is not a lecture about individual women and their isolated successes. Rather this talk aims to acknowledge the collective wisdom rising from a (mostly) female-driven phenomenon, which I will refer to as Modern Globalised Yoga, a term coined by Dr Elizabeth de Michelis.

Historical research tells us that Yoga has never been one thing, one practice nor one path. Yoga as both practice (i.e., a structured system) and a soteriological goal has been malleable. Indeed, to fully understand the meaning of Yoga at any given time, the most important consideration is that of context, context, context! Over the centuries, the continued success of Yoga has been in its ability to be different things to different people. Yet, the common feature that has given the concept of Yoga endurance has been the structures which offer an individual a set of practices that aim at an extraordinary psychosomatic experience (an altered outlook and/or experience of reality), which then transforms one’s relationship with both the sense of self and suffering. No wonder it is so appealing.

In the last 100 years, Yoga has taken a transnational leap from a guru-lineage pedagogy to a teaching profession. In doing so, individuals have had to re-assess the foundations of ethics, scope of practice, income-sources and the social positionality of its custodians. Although the forefathers of pre-modern Yoga were most certainly male, often ascetics and located in what is today called south-Asia, the qualities and demographics of Modern Globalised Yoga are a near exact dichotomy: 21st-century (mainly) female householders that are flourishing in a contemporary globalised meeting place of post-consumerism, feminism and new-age spiritualism.

This talk will touch on some of the cultural and social levers effecting yoga teachers and practitioners, and it will highlight some of the historical and contextual issues that are shaping the structures of Modern Globalised Yoga. One aim will be to identify future archetypes: the artisan, the ascetic, the lineage-holder, the neo-health professional, the academic and the archived artefact.

Questions Touched Upon:

• Are we conflating the oversupply of yoga teachers and commodification of yoga (i.e., a saturated market place) with the devaluation of a female-dominant spiritual pursuit and/or profession?

• Can a ‘foreigner’ be a custodian of a wisdom practice that sits outside their culture without facing accusations of ‘appropriation’ or dismissal by indigenous custodians as ‘unauthentic’?

• Can science really test the efficacy of Yoga techniques? Or if we separate the pseudo, the spiritual and the science: will there be anything left?

• What map can be drawn to predict the future trajectory of Yoga as a phenomena?

• How will the global society honour the richly diverse, valuable, wisdom-driven individuals offering enthusiasm, service and devotion to the concept of Yoga as it exists today?

• Do senior yoga teachers/practitioners deserve “long service leave and a gold watch”, an “honorific title and social recognition”, or will “health and well-being” be enough?

• Is it time to ask ‘what part do I play?’ and ‘is this what I expected?’

Early Records of Āsana Practice

with Philipp Maas

The presentation deals with yogic postures (āsanas) in Pātañjala Yoga. Starting with a brief introduction to the main sources of the chapter, i. e., to the Pātañjalayogaśāstra (PYŚ), it initially contextualises posture practice within the yogic path to liberation. This outline provides the backdrop for a detailed analysis of PYŚ 2.46–2.48, the most pertinent source of knowledge about yogic postures and their performance in classical Yoga. This passage is presented for the first time in a translation of the critically edited text. The translation provides the basis for an in-depth analysis. By reading the two sūtra-s 2.46 and 2.47 according to Patañjali’s authorial intention, namely as a single sentence, the chapter shows that being steady and comfortable (sthirasukha) is not, as previous scholars have suggested, a general characteristic of yogic postures right from the start and by themselves, but the result either of the meditative practices of merging meditatively into infinity or of a slackening of effort in practice that lead to a steady and comfortable posture performance. The common aim of posture performance in Yoga, which cannot be reduced to the bare performance of a certain bodily configuration but has to be regarded as a complex of psycho-physiological practices, is to enable the yogi to undertake long sessions of breath control and meditations by immunizing him against unpleasant sensations like that of heat and cold, or hunger and thirst. The final part of the presentation addresses the question of which historical models Patañjali may have used when he composed his account of āsana practice, in which āsanas are bodily static, i. e., seated, supine or kneeling postures that are assumed for meditation. By drawing upon early accounts of Buddhist meditation in Pāli and in Sanskrit, the presentation concludes that it were probably Buddhist sources that exercised a considerable influence on Patañjali.

The Esoteric Feminine in Hathayoga Sources

with Ruth Westoby

In this talk, Ruth will map the esoteric feminine aspect of the subtle body by drawing on Haṭhayoga sources. Taking a textual, historical and anecdotal approach, she explores how the subtle body is presented in gendered terms, probes the substances or concepts that are to be influenced, and traces the metaphorical maps for manipulating the subtle body.

Haṭhayoga texts are written by men, for men, about men. They are generally both misogynist towards women and tend to dissect and objectify the female form. There are some references to female
practitioners and practices for women, and the use of women in ritual contexts. Despite the scant evidence of women practitioners there is a strong theme of accessing and manipulating female
energy for soteriological – spiritually transformative – ends. The subtle body is conceived as concepts or substances which are male and female such as bindu and rajas, śiva and śakti. The metaphors
developed to describe and map how these constructs can be manipulated include the female serpent energy, Kuṇḍalinī.

An inquiry into the gendering of the subtle body foregrounds an ambivalence towards desire and reflects on ideals of soteriology and realities of social status in Medieval India.

Wells of Nectar, Pools of Life

with David Gordon White

The yogic world of medieval India was dominated by the Nath Yogis, whose poetic and mythological traditions were remarkable for their rich and varied imagery.  One such image represented the head and torso of the yogic body as a set of wells, the one turned downward and the other upward.  Here, the abdominal lower well was the place of fire, the heat of askesis, while the cranial vault was imagined as a well brimming with the cool nectar of immortality. This configuration reproduced that of the two-chambered reaction vessels of medieval Indian alchemy, in which mercury, embedded in the mineral ores heated in the lower chamber was made to sublimate and recondense on the inner surface of the downturned upper chamber.

It was here, in India’s medieval alchemical traditions, that this image of mystic wells of quicksilver became a prominent feature of the medieval imagination. Mercury, which was considered to be both a chemical reagent and a living supernatural being, “lived” at the bottom of a set of wells scattered across India’s religious landscape. In order to draw it out of its secret habitats and up to the surface of the earth, alchemists had to resort to various strategies. The most colorful of these involved sending a menstruating maiden on horseback past the mouth of the well, which would invariably cause the mercury to erupt out of its mouth and pursue her across hill and dale.

What I have discovered in my ongoing research on “daimon-ology east and west” is that this strategy was not unique to medieval India. It is also attested in Syriac- and Chinese-language works from as early as the sixth century.  More importantly, this strategy is in fact an alchemical variation on a far more ancient body of myth, dating from as far back as 2000 BCE and attested from ancient India to medieval Ireland, of a living god of fire who erupted out of his subterranean well or pool, to chase after humans who violated his sacred sanctuary.

Healthcare and Longevity Practices in Yoga, Ayurveda, and Rasaśāstra

with Dagmar Wujastyk

The practice of yoga is today widely associated with the improvement of mental and physical health and a general increase in well-being. In India, yoga is considered an indigenous form of health practice: The Ministry of AYUSHsupports education and research in yoga medicine, and has established first steps in the regulation of practice with a voluntary certification scheme through the Quality Council of India. Now often predominantly associated with physical practices (postural and breathing exercises), the health-related aspects of yoga practice have been promoted globally since the middle of the twentieth century. However, in its historic origins, the attainment of yoga was understood as a soteriological undertaking, and its auxiliary practices were directed at the attainment of spiritual aims.

When did yoga become medicine? And how are medical claims within yoga traditions connected to the dominant Indian medical traditions of the past? Can ideas about healing and well-being arising in historic yoga traditions be linked to the scholarly medical tradition of Ayurveda, or to the heterodox medicine of rasaśāstra (Indian alchemy and iatrochemistry)? How do these traditions compare with each other in their medical goals, concepts and practices?

These are some of the questions the AyurYog project, a major research project funded by the European Research Commission, seeks to answer. The project examines the histories of yoga, ayurveda and rasaśāstra from the ninth century to the present. The goals of the project are to reveal the entanglements of these historical traditions, and to trace the trajectories of their evolution as components of today's global healthcare and personal development industries. Currently, the project’s researchers are focusing on health, juvenescence and longevity practices calledrasāyana as potential key areas of exchange between the disciplines of yoga, ayurveda and rasaśāstra.

In my lecture, I will talk about AyurYog’s research and introduce you to the history of longevity and juvenescence practices developed in yogic, ayurvedic and rasaśāstra contexts.

Visual and Material Evidence of Medieval Yoga and Yogis

with Seth Powell

Though much of the evidence for constructing the history of yoga traditions in precolonial India is to be found in Sanskrit manuscripts and texts, extensive and valuable information may be gathered from non-textual historical materials (e.g. through paintings, sculpture, temples, and epigraphy). In this talk, Seth will discuss how the textual record can be informed and complimented by the visual and material evidence in order to illumine a more detailed understanding of yoga’s past. In particular, Seth will focus on his recent fieldwork and research at Hampi in the south Indian state of Karnataka, where he has documented numerous sculpted depictions of yogīs performing highly complex non-seated āsanas from the early 1500s CE, carved across the incredible Hindu temple complexes of the medieval capital of the Vijayanagara empire. The āsanas depicted include: standing postures, inversions, twists, unique “pretzel-shaped” balancing postures, and even the use of props. Moreover, several of these sculpted images bear a marked similarity to several non-seated āsanas featured in modern postural yoga systems, and might represent some of the earliest evidence of their existence—visual, textual, or otherwise. Together, we will “read” these incredible images alongside contemporaneous paintings, travel writings, and Sanskrit texts in order to illuminate our understanding of the sort of yoga practices and yogī traditions on the ground in late-medieval south India. 

Authenticity & Transformations in Yoga Traditions

with Suzanne Newcombe (A Conversation with Jacob Kyle)

In this discussion, Suzanne Newcombe considers some of the key points of transformation in modern yoga traditions based on her academic study. Her historical and sociological research has focused on the entanglement of yoga, medical and physical rejuvenation practices in the modern period. This conversation draws out interesting comparative context on what makes for an authentic tradition as well as highlighting the constant dynamic between continuity and adaptation in yoga. 

Yoga Disciplines and Vows: Gandhi's Embodied Practices for Personal Empowerment and Social Change

with Veena Howard

This presentation explores Gandhi’s unique interpretation of yogic disciplines as expounded in the Yoga Sutra, including truth, nonviolence, celibacy, and non-possession, to transform his personal life and instigate social change.

Traditionally, these yogic disciplines are observed to purify the mind and prepare the practitioner for attaining higher states of spiritual awareness and freedom. The Yoga Sutra also ascribes powers

(siddhis) to each of these yogic disciplines. Gandhi experimented with them to attain personal inner strength and to create a program to secure political justice and social harmony for people of India. I will analyze how Gandhi interpreted these yogic disciplines as methods of nonviolence (ahimsa) and truth (satyagraha) to be wielded as weapons against the forces of colonialism, racism, and all forms of social and economic violence. Gandhi’s embodied practices of self-restraint enabled him to bring about ground-shaking social, economic, and political change. 

Sri Aurobindo and the Indian Yoga Tradition

with Debashish Banerji

Yoga's increasing popularity in America today is due to its promises of health, fitness, longevity and stress reduction, as introduced by a variety of Indian yoga gurus in the 20th c. In India, the land of its birth, the goals of yoga have been more radical forms of "embodied philosophy" including liberation from suffering/rebirth (moksha), liberation in life (jivanmukti), ecstatic relationship with the Divine (bhakti) or divine enjoyment (bhukti). Sri Aurobindo (1872-1960) was a modern yogi who believed that the insights and practices of yoga should be used experimentally to find existential solutions to problems of our times. Towards this end, he formulated a goal of integrating the fragmented nature of human psychology, social life and the cosmic condition and lived and taught pathways to it achievement. In this talk, we will see the formulation of Sri Aurobindo's goals and how he interprets, uses and furthers the yoga tradition to arrive at their fulfillment.  

What You'll Receive

13 VIDEOS
13 MP3S
13 PDF TRANSCRIPTS
15 YOGA ALLIANCE CONTINUING EDUCATION CREDITS
15 EMBODIED PHILOSOPHY CREDITS

About the Speakers

Debashish Banerji

Debashish Banerji, PhD is Haridas Chaudhuri Professor of Indian Philosophy and Culture and Doshi Professor of Asian Art at the California Institute of Integral Studies. He is also the program chair in the department of East-West Psychology.

Professor Banerji obtained his PhD in Art History from the University of California, Los Angeles. Later, he served as Professor of Indian Studies and Dean of Academics at the University of Philosophical Research in Los Angeles. He has taught as adjunct faculty in Art History at the Pasadena City College, University of California, Los Angeles and University of California, Irvine. From 2005-2009, he was the Director of the International Center for Integral Studies in New Delhi, India, which he took through accreditation under the Indira Gandhi National Open University system. From 1992-2006, Banerji served as the president of the East-West Cultural Center, Los Angeles, an institution dedicated to academic research and presentation of Indian philosophy and culture in the US. He is presently the Executive Director of Nalanda International based in Los Angeles. Banerji has curated a number of exhibitions of Indian and Japanese art. Banerji's interests are in yoga psychology, contemplative studies, postcolonialism and posthumanism. He has edited several books, including one on the Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore, and is the author of two books: The Alternate Nation of Abanindranath Tagore (Sage, 2010) and Seven Quartets of Becoming: A Transformational Yoga Psychology Based on the Diaries of Sri Aurobindo (DK Printworld and Nalanda International, 2012).

Jason Birch

After completing a DPhil in Oriental Studies at Balliol College, University of Oxford, Jason was a research fellow at the Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies and a visiting associate professor at Loyola Marymount University, Los Angeles. In 2015 he was invited to research the histories of Yoga, Ayurveda and Rasashastra as a visiting post-doctoral fellow on a project called AyurYog at the University of Vienna. He is currently a post-doctoral research fellow at SOAS University of London on the Haṭha Yoga Project, which has been funded for five years by the ERC. His area of research is the history of physical yoga on the eve of colonialism. He is editing and translating six texts on Haṭha and Rājayoga, which are outputs of the project, and supervising the work of two research assistants at the Ecole française d’ Extrême-Orient, Pondicherry.


At SOAS Jason has taught two courses for the MA in Traditions of Yoga and Meditation and a Sanskrit reading course for fourth-year undergraduates. He has given seminars on the history of yoga for MA programs at the Università Ca’ Foscari in Venice, Italy and Won Kwang University in Iksan, South Korea. He also collaborates with Jacqueline Hargreaves on The Luminescent.

Christopher Key Chapple

Dr. Christopher Key Chapple is the Doshi Professor of Indic and Comparative Theology and Director of the Master of Arts in Yoga Studies at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles. His research interests focus on the renouncer religious traditions of India: Yoga, Jainism, and Buddhism. He has published several books on these topics with SUNY Press, including Karma and Creativity (1986), Nonviolence to Animals, Earth, and Self in Asian Traditions (1993), Reconciling Yogas (2003), and Yoga and the Luminous: Patanjali’s Spiritual Path to Freedom (2008).

He has also edited and co-authored several books on religion and ecology, including Ecological Prospects: Religious, Scientific, and Aesthetic Perspectives, Hinduism and Ecology, Jainism and Ecology, Yoga and Ecology, and In Praise of Mother Earth: The Prthivi Sukta of the Atharva Veda. His most recent books are Poet of Eternal Return and Sacred Thread. 

Chris serves as academic advisor for the International Summer School of Jain Studies and on the advisory boards for the Forum on Religion and Ecology (Yale), the Ahimsa Center (Pomona), and the Jaina Studies Centre (SOAS, University of London). In 2002 he established the first of several certificate programs in the study of Yoga at LMU’s Center for Religion and Spirituality and founded LMU’s Master of Arts in Yoga Studies in the fall of 2013.

Jacqueline Hargreaves

Jacqueline Hargreaves, BE (Hons), E-RYT, has a special interest in Indian Yoga traditions and Japanese Zen. Jacqueline researches the contemporary meeting place between historical practices and their application in a modern therapeutic environment. She has travelled throughout India for fieldwork and studied meditation intensively for a year in a remote part of Japan. Her teaching combines the physical practices of haṭhayoga with the therapeutic application of mindfulness-based meditation (MBCT and MBSR). Jacqueline enjoys working specifically to assist those with chronic health issues, stress, anxiety and depression.

Jacqueline holds a Bachelor of Engineering (with Honours) from the University of NSW and worked for 8 years as a research consultant for cutting-edge IT/AI projects in Australia, Canada, USA, China and India. She has been dedicated to the practice and teaching of Yoga and Meditation since 1998. She offers specialist workshops in Singapore, United Kingdom, USA and Japan, and most recently facilitated a ‘Foundations for Longevity in Teaching and Practice’ Teacher Training programme in Bali.

She is a founding member of the Journal of Yoga Studies, an open-access academic journal and The Luminescent, an independent, high-quality, evidence-based research hub for the history and practice of Yoga. Jacqueline regularly publishes her research and writings on The Luminescent, which aims to offer an excellent standard of research on the rich history and diverse practice of Yoga to the broader community in the form of open-access articles, essays and visual material.

Veena Howard

Veena Howard, Ph.D. is Assistant Professor of Philosophy and Coordinator of Peace and Conflict Studies, California State University at Fresno. She is a versatile and accomplished scholar and an authority on the philosophy of Mahatma Gandhi. In addition to nonviolence and peacemaking, her interests include environmental ethics, interfaith interactions among Hindus and Muslims, gender issues in Indian philosophy and the Sant spiritual tradition of northern India, to which she belongs. She has been extensively involved in interfaith activities including the Interfaith Community Dialogue Group and monthly Interfaith Prayer Service in her former home of Eugene, Oregon and organized a panel on “Interreligious Perspectives on the Death Penalty” in a conference sponsored by the UNESCO Center for Intercultural Dialogue, where she was a Board member. More generally she seeks to foster cross-cultural understanding of the practice of nonviolence. Veena is broadly connected in the Hindu world both in India and the West, with astute practical judgment and understanding of complex and politicized religious and interreligious issues of India’s religions.. She attended the Salt Lake City Parliament where she organized a panel on Mahatma Gandhi and spoke in several other programs.

Philipp Maas

Philipp André Maas is currently a research associate at the Institute for Indology and Central Asian Studies, University of Leipzig and was previously an assistant professor at the Department of South Asian, Tibetan and Buddhist Studies at the University of Vienna, Austria. He received his M.A. (1997) and Dr. phil. (2004) degrees from the University of Bonn, Germany, where he studied Indology, Comparative Religious Studies, Tibetology and Philosophy. His first book (originally his PhD thesis) is the first critical edition of the first chapter (Samādhipāda) of the Pātañjala Yogaśāstra, i.e. the Yoga Sūtra of Patañjalitogether with the commentary called Yoga Bhāṣya. He published, inter alia, on classical Yoga philosophy and meditation as well as on the textual tradition of the Pātañjala Yogaśāstra. For the last couple of years, he worked in several research projects directed by Prof. Karin Preisendanz (at the Austrian Academy of Sciences and at the University of Vienna, Austria) that aim at a critical edition of the third book (entitled Vimānasthāna) of the oldest classical text corpus of Āyurveda, the Carakasaṃhitā. Since 2009 he is a member of the “Historical Sourcebooks on Classical Indian Thought” project, convened by Prof. Sheldon Pollock, to which he contributes with a monograph on the development of Yoga-related ideas in pre-modern South Asian intellectual history.

James Mallinson

James Mallinson’s interest in yoga grew out of a fascination for India and Indian asceticism – he spent several years living with Indian ascetics and yogis, in particular Rāmānandī Tyāgīs. His MA thesis, part of a major in ethnography, was on Indian asceticism. He became frustrated, however, with (to quote Sheldon Pollock) the “hypertrophy of method” that afflicts much of the humanities, and anthropology in particular, so sought to ground his future research in philology. The one aspect of ascetic practice that is well represented in Sanskrit texts is yoga, so for his doctoral thesis he chose to edit an early text on haṭhayoga, the Khecarīvidyā, which teaches in detail khecarīmudrā, one of traditional haṭhayoga’s most important practices, and he used fieldwork among traditional yogis in India to shed light on the text’s teachings.

As he worked on his thesis he became more and more unsure that the received wisdom on the origins of haṭhayoga (whose practices form the basis of much of modern yoga) was correct, in particular its blanket attribution to the Nāth sect, based as that wisdom was on a very small selection of the available texts and modern oral history (which is rarely a reliable source in India). But it was clear that to put his work in the broader context was going to be impossible while working on his thesis. When he was revising it for publication a few years after completing it, he was asked to contribute to a volume on the Nāths and their literature. He agreed and decided to concentrate on the corpus of texts of haṭhayoga. It soon became apparent that this was going to be too big a task for a single chapter of a book and he apologised to the volume’s editor but continued with his research. Four years on he has identified a corpus of eight works that teach early haṭhayoga and about a dozen more that contribute to its classical formulation in the Haṭhapradīpikā. With this philological basis established it has been possible at last to put all of haṭhayoga’s aspects into context, which is what he is doing in the monograph on which he is currently working, Yoga and Yogis: The Texts, Techniques and Practitioners of Early Haṭhayoga. Many of the conclusions that can be drawn from the corpus and the other sources he uses (from Mughal miniatures to his fieldwork amongst traditional yogis) overturn what was previously thought about yoga’s formative period. Although he has decided to present the bulk of the findings in a single monograph (because its parts are all so interdependent), in the course of working on it he has written various spin-off articles and reviews on specific aspects of haṭhayoga.

In September 2015, Mallinson became the Principle Investigator of The Haṭha Yoga Project (HYP), a five-year research project funded by the European Research Council and based at SOAS, University of London which aims to chart the history of physical yoga practice by means of philology, i.e. the study of texts on yoga, and ethnography, i.e. fieldwork among practitioners of yoga. The project team consists of four researchers based at SOAS, one at the École française d’Extrême Orient, Pondicherry and one at the Maharaja Man Singh Pustak Prakash, Jodhpur. More information can be found on the project’s website.

Suzanne Newcombe

Suzanne Newcombe researches yoga and ayurveda from a sociological and social historical perspective. She is a Lecturer in Religious Studies at the Open University and a Research Fellow at Inform, based at the London School of Economics. Her current research is on the overlaps between yoga, ayurveda and rasaśāstra in the modern period as part of the European Research Council funded AYURYOG project (www.ayuryog.org). She has previously researched the popularization of yoga and ayurveda in Britain and has a forthcoming book on the history of yoga in Britain under contract with Equinox. She has published journal articles and chapters in several edited books on this subject, as well as articles in the Journal of Contemporary ReligionReligion Compass and Asian Medicine; she has made several appearances on BBC radio and television discussing aspects of contemporary yoga practice and other minority religious beliefs and practices. 

Seth Powell

Seth Powell is a scholar of Indian religions, Sanskrit, and yoga traditions, and currently a PhD Candidate in South Asian Religions at Harvard University. He specializes in the history, theory, and practice of medieval and early modern Sanskrit yoga texts and traditions, as well as their intersections with the culture and practice of modern transnational yoga. Seth also holds degrees in the study of religion from the University of Washington (MA) and Humboldt State University (BA). He has taught and lectured for numerous university courses at Harvard and elsewhere on the religions and literature of India, Hinduism, Buddhism, and yoga traditions, and presents his research regularly at international conferences.

Seth’s doctoral dissertation at Harvard focuses on the relationship between Śaiva ritual, bhakti, and yoga traditions in medieval south India, and will include a critical edition and annotated translation of a lesser-known Sanskrit yoga text, the Śivayogapradīpikā, or “Lamp on Śiva’s Yoga” (c. 15th century). His work finds itself at the intersections of the disciplines of Indology, religious studies, and art history. In a forthcoming article, “Yogīs Etched in Stone,” soon to be published in the inaugural issue of the Journal of Yoga Studies, Seth re-assesses the history of yogic postures in precolonial India, bringing to light new visual and material evidence from the early sixteenth century of complex non-seated yogic āsanas, sculpted onto the temple pillars at Hampi, the capital of the great Vijayanagara Empire. 

Seth is also a longtime practitioner of yoga, and is the founder of Yogic Studies, dedicated to bridging the scholarly and practitioner yoga communities. He conducts workshops and lectures regularly on the history and philosophy of yoga at studios, teacher trainings, and universities around the United States.

Mark Singleton

Mark Singleton gained his Ph.D in Divinity from the University of Cambridge. He has published extensively on the history of yoga, including the books Yoga in the Modern World, Contemporary Perspectives (ed., 2008); Yoga Body, the Origins of Modern Posture Practice (2010); and Gurus of Modern Yoga (ed., 2014), as well as many book chapters and articles. Most recent is the book Roots of Yoga (2017, with James Mallinson), a unique compendium of yoga practice texts translated from Sanskrit and several other languages. He taught for six years at St John’s College (Santa Fe, New Mexico), and was a Senior Long-Term Research Scholar at the American Institute of Indian Studies, based in Jodhpur (Rajasthan, India). He was a consultant and catalogue author for the Smithsonian exhibition ‘Yoga the Art of Transformation’ in 2013. He is currently Senior Research Fellow at SOAS, University of London, where he works on the European Research Council-funded Hatha Yoga Project (hyp.soas.ac.uk), which seeks to map the history of haṭha yoga from its origins to modern times. He is also a practitioner of yoga and holds several teaching qualifications. 

Ruth Westoby

Ruth Westoby is a doctoral researcher in yoga and is authorised level two in the Ashtanga lineage.

Ruth is fascinated by yoga both in academia and practice. She began exploring yoga practices over twenty years ago and has taught posture-based classes for over ten. She has been teaching history and philosophy workshops and teacher training modules for the last five years.

She was awarded an MA in Indian Religions from SOAS in 2010 with Distinction. Since then she has been studying Sanskrit and caring for her young family. In 2015 she was authorized by Sharat Jois to teach the Aṣṭāṅga method, level 2. Ruth’s main teachers are Hamish Hendry whom she assists, Richard Freeman, Sharat Jois, and the late Śrī K Pattabhis Jois.

Ruth collaborated in 2016 and 2017 with SOAS’s Haṭha Yoga Project interpreting postures from the Sanskrit text the Haṭhābhyāsapaddhati shortly to be released as an educational documentary. She is currently working on doctoral research into gendered constructions in Sanskrit texts on yoga at SOAS under the supervision of James Mallinson. She is engaged as moderator on Yogacampus’s online course A History of Yoga: The Latest Research. Ruth also helps run the Sanskrit Reading Room at SOAS. Her website www.enigmatic.yoga hosts some of her writings and film.

David Gordon White

David Gordon White received his Ph.D. (with Honors) from the Divinity School at the University of Chicago in 1988. He also studied Hinduism at the École Pratique des Hautes Études in Paris, France, between 1977-1980 and 1985-1986. A specialist of South Asian religions, he is the J. F. Rowny Professor of Comparative Religions at the University of California, Santa Barbara, where he has been teaching since 1996. Prior to coming to Santa Barbara, he taught at the University of Virginia between 1986 and 1996. There, he founded the University of Virginia Study Abroad Program in Jodhpur, India in 1994. White is the sole foreign scholar to have ever been admitted to the Centre d’Études de l’Inde et de l’Asie du Sud in Paris, France, where he has been an active Research Fellow since 1992.

He is the author of five monographs, four published by the University of Chicago Press: Myths of the Dog-Man (1991); The Alchemical Body: Siddha Traditions in Medieval India (1996); Kiss of the Yoginī: “Tantric Sex” in its South Asian Contexts (2003) and Sinister Yogis (2009). He also edited Tantra in Practice (Princeton University Press, 2000): his introduction to that volume is considered to be the most comprehensive definition of the multi-faceted tradition known as Tantra published to date. Myths of the Dog-Man was listed as one of the “Books of the Year” in the 1991 Times Literary Supplement’s end-of-year edition; Kiss of the Yoginī was on the cover of the same journal’s May 20, 2004 edition. Sinister Yogis received an honorable mention at the 2009 PROSE awards and was listed as a book of note by CHOICE in 2011. A Japanese edition of Myths of the Dog-Man was brought out by Kousakusha in 2001; Italian (Edizioni Mediteranee) and Indian (Munshiram Manoharlal) editions of The Alchemical Body appeared in 2004. His two most recent books are published with Princeton University Press: Yoga in Practice (November 2011) and The Yoga Sutras of Patañjali: A Biography (2013).

Dagmar Wujastyk

Dagmar Wujastyk is an indologist specialized in the history and literature of classical Indian medicine (Ayurveda), iatrochemistry (rasaśāstra), and yoga and South Asian history. Her publications include Modern and Global Ayurveda - Pluralism and Paradigms (SUNY Press) and Well-mannered medicine. Medical Ethics and Etiquette in the Sanskrit Medical Classics (OUP NY). She is the editor of a special volume of Asiatische Studien/ Études Asiatiques, entitled "Histories of Mercury in Medicine across Asia and beyond" (Vol. 69, 4, 2015) and Associate Editor of Asian Medicine.

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