Over the past 2,500 years, yoga has evolved from a way of transcending the world to a multi-billion-dollar industry. But where did it come from and what was it for? A Brief History of Yoga is a four-week course that puts practice in context, presenting an overview of how it developed. Accessible and fun, combined with academic depth, it explores common themes in traditional teachings, considering what makes them yogic, and whether they are relevant to modern practitioners.
It was an honour to be part of this discussion with two of the foremost scholars on yoga, James Mallinson and Mark Singleton, reflecting on the work behind their book Roots of Yoga, which was published this year. The conversation took place in the members' room at the New York Society Library, and was filmed. An audio recording is available for download.
I'm teaching online courses on yoga philosophy for the Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies. The next one starts on 22 April, and runs for two months. It includes a weekly video lecture and readings from yoga texts, plus an optional essay (due for submission a few weeks after the course). There's also a forum for online discussions and Q&A, in which I draw on recent studies with researchers at the SOAS Hatha Yoga Project. The cost, including all materials, is £95.
Alan Wallace has reacted to my essay on Buddhist meditation and cognitive sciences. We exchanged a few emails, archived here. As the essay noted: "To Wallace’s frustration, science dismisses 'nonphysical influences in organic evolution or in human affairs,' despite having 'no technology that can detect the presence or absence of any kind of consciousness, for scientists do not even know what exactly is to be measured.' His critique is sound but he makes few suggestions (apart from endorsing meditation)..."
In October, I'll be teaching yoga history and philosophy on a teacher training course in London. There'll be 15 hours of classes over two days (22 / 23 October), exploring what we know about the evolution of practice from the distant past to the present day. This essay gives a brief introduction to what to expect. The photo shows Jim Mallinson, with whom I've been studying at SOAS as part of my MA in Traditions of Yoga and Meditation.
I make a few huffing-and-puffing contributions to this week's Something Understood, discussing yoga and demonstrating pranayama breathing. The programme, entitled "Breath, You Invisible Poem", was broadcast this morning on Radio 4. It features readings from Rilke, Haruki Murakami and Maurice Merleau-Ponty, among others. There's also music from Maria Callas and Nick Cave, plus a haka by New Zealand's All Blacks - and sketchy Sanskrit read by me. It can be heard online for 30 days.
Tuesdays, 13:00-14:00, from 30 June (at West London Buddhist Centre). A dynamic one-hour class, with attention to detail and even breathing. This approach combines elements of Iyengar and Ashtanga. The sequences vary each week to look at different techniques. Classes start slowly to focus awareness, and develop more expansive ways of being. With internal composure, the mind gets clearer and the body opens up. All levels of experience are welcome, including beginners.
This four-week course is an introduction to yoga. It would suit anyone who wants a good grounding in the basics. We'll look in detail at the most common poses, and link some together with rhythmic breathing. You don't need to be bendy, just open-minded and attentive. As B.K.S. Iyengar, an Indian master, once advised: "Do not think of yourself as a small, compressed, suffering thing. Think of yourself as graceful and expanding, no matter how unlikely it may seem at the time." Saturdays, 16:30 - 17:45, from 11 April, 2015 (Down To Earth, Tufnell Park)
Coming soon at West London Buddhist Centre, two yoga courses aimed at beginners, and anyone who wants a firm grounding in the basics. Over six weekly sessions, we'll explore the fundamentals of Ashtanga and Iyengar, the two approaches to yoga on which many other styles are based. We’ll look in detail at the most common postures, and link some of them together with rhythmic breathing in a flow. Regular classes will continue in the same time slots after the course, so you can build on what you've learned.