Guided Yoga Studies
With Daniel Simpson
It can feel daunting to study alone. We often have books that we’d like to explore, but don’t find time to sit and read. And even if we do, they might spark questions we struggle to answer.
It helps to discuss ideas with someone else who offers structure and support. Whatever your priorities — from reading a text to a broader inquiry on how modern practice relates to tradition — we’ll focus together on your goals, devising a plan that helps achieve them.
I work online, over email and video, or in person (location permitting). Both of these options accommodate groups as well as one-to-one study.
Drawing on my experience as a scholar and author, I also offer guidance on academic writing and research.
Roots of Yoga (2017), by James Mallinson and Mark Singleton, is a fascinating guide to 2,500 years of yoga history. Translating passages from more than 100 traditional texts, it shows how practices vary in different contexts as they develop, while also noting common themes.
Although it is aimed at a general audience, the style and approach are academic. Dense essays at the start of each chapter summarise the contents, with additional material in footnotes. Many of the extracts come from sources rarely encountered by non-specialists, in part because they aren’t available in English. The book also draws on the work of other scholars; the bibliography alone runs to 30 pages.
It can therefore be helpful to have a knowledgable guide to this material. I offer two options: twelve sessions that look at each chapter individually, or a shorter alternative with four to six sessions.
Depending on your interests, sessions can be scheduled once a week, or with longer intervals between them to allow for wider reading and written assignments, which help to process what you learn.
The book is arranged thematically. Each of its chapters can be studied separately. They also easily divide into groups of two or three:
Introduction and Historical Overview
Yoga as a Practice and as the Goal
Preliminaries, Ethics and Purifications
Posture: from Sitting to Sequences
Breath-Control: the Defining Practice
The Yogic Body: Nadis, Chakras, Etc.
Yogic Seals: Manipulating Energies
Mantra, Tantra and Sacred Sound
Withdrawal, Fixation and Meditation
Samadhi: States Beyond the Mind
Yogic Powers and Attaining Mastery
Liberation while Living, and from Rebirth
We can focus on an individual text — or group of texts — that interests you. The following topics provide some suggestions. All texts would be read in translation, with reference to Sanskrit originals where appropriate.
Inspiration from the Upanishads.
Early yoga in the Mahabharata.
The Bhagavad Gita’s innovations.
Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra and commentaries.
The philosophies of Samkhya and Vedanta.
The Hatha Pradipika and other texts on hatha yoga.
A more thematic approach could consider the roots of modern yoga, from influential figures of the 19th and 20th centuries to earlier traditions on which they draw. This might include reading works such as:
Yoga in Transformation, ed. Karl Baier, Philipp Maas, Karin Preisendanz
Yoga in the Modern World, ed. Mark Singleton and Jean Byrne
Yoga: the Indian Tradition, ed. David Carpenter and Ian Whicher
A History of Modern Yoga, by Elizabeth De Michelis
Yoga in Practice, ed. David Gordon White
Yoga Body, by Mark Singleton
The Path of Modern Yoga, by Elliott Goldberg
Gurus of Modern Yoga, ed. Mark Singleton and Ellen Goldberg
Biography And FICTION
Memoirs and books about teachers are alternative windows on yoga history and philosophy. We can also read novels with yogic themes, e.g.:
Siddhartha, by Hermann Hesse
Island, by Aldous Huxley
The Razor’s Edge, by Somerset Maugham
Maya, by C.W. Huntington.
There are many different ways to engage with the yoga tradition and its modern variations. I look forward to exploring whichever suits you.