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 Haṭhayoga 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 Fire
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 Yogīs
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 and Transformations in Yoga Traditions
with Suzanne Newcombe(a discussion 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.