Yoga – From Ancient to Modern: Oxford Day School, 24 November 2018


Dr Nicholas Sutton
Anuradha Dooney
Gitte Poulsen


24 November 2018




Corpus Christi College, Merton St, Oxford OX1 4JF

Yoga has gained great popularity in the modern world, but the history and meaning of yoga remain a mystery. In this Day School we examine the development of yoga through ancient texts and modern practice. History and text tell us a lot about where yoga comes from and attempts to use it to achieve liberation, immortality, union with God, and even health.

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Session One: Patañjali’s Yoga-sūtras

Anuradha Dooney
The Yoga-sūtras of Patañjali is the go-to yoga text in modern times. With fewer than 200 verses, and only four verbs, it has been translated into over forty languages. Among other things, it has been interpreted as a foundational text for yoga practice, a basis for psychoanalytic theory,and a treatise on morality. In this session we locate the text within Indian philosophical thought. We map its structure, contents, and its big ideas. To do this, we will analyse selected verses and explore them through reflective exercises.

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Session Two: Origins of Yoga

Dr Nicholas Sutton
We open with a look at the texts that speak of the origins of yoga; texts older than the Yogasūtras. We consider yoga in the major Upaniṣads, in the Bhagavadgītā, and Mahābhārata. These ancient texts help us understand the development of yoga practice and philosophy.

The Mahābhārata gives us important insights into the beginnings of yoga. In this text we can see the type of material that Patañjali might have used for the composition of the Yogasūtras. In Bhagavadgītā we encounter yoga as a religious practice. Yoga in the Gītā goes well beyond the emphasis on meditation (dhyāna) found in other material from the same period.

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Session Three: Medieval Yoga in India

Gitte Poulsen
We now examine how yoga developed after Patañjali. We take a look at tantra and early and classical haṭha-yoga as seen in the Haṭhapradīpikā, a fifteenth century text. The Haṭhapradīpikā combines many competing systems, all labelled as haṭha. It offers a view on practices including āsana, prāṇāyāma, mudrā, and notions of the yogic body where the chakra system and the awakening of kuṇḍalinī are central elements.

To deepen our understanding, we will also look at developments in ascetic yoga traditions.

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Session Four: Modern Yoga

Gitte Poulsen
Yoga has become a popular practice in the modern world – both for health and spirituality. Modern yoga is a product of India and the West, and it is undergoing crucial changes in its meeting with modernity. To understand this better, we look at developments since Swami Vivekananda brought yoga to the West.

Vivekananda is not the only influential force in the innovation of Modern Postural Yoga. The revival of āsana in the growing focus on physical culture and modern yoga gurus such as T. Krishnamacharya and his students K. Pattabhi Jois and B.K.S Iyengar have been influential in shaping modern yoga.

Last, but certainly not least, we discuss the question of authenticity in modern yoga.

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When and where

Saturday 24 November

Corpus Christi College
Merton St, Oxford OX1 4JF
Registration: 9.45am
Session one: 10–11.20am
Teas and coffees: 11.20–11.40am
Session two: 11.40am–1pm
Lunch break 1–2.30pm
Session 3: 2.30–3.50pm
Teas and coffees: 3.50–4.10pm
Session 4: 4.10–5.30pm

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