Sunday, 29 December 2019

Jumping over the Threshold


 Journal of Yoga Studies | Volume 2 • 2019

The Journal of Yoga Studies has published its second volume. It features an editorial by Elizabeth De Michelis and myself, an important historical paper on "The Yoga of the Haṭhābhyāsapaddhati" by Jason Birch and Mark Singleton, and a book review of Suzanne Newcombe's book Yoga in Britain by Matylda Ciołkosz.




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Tuesday, 17 December 2019



We've been busy. 

We approach the end of 2019 having completed three years of fieldwork in India, where we visited over thirty-five libraries, government institutions and private collections. Our most recent scholarly efforts have focussed on collating critical editions of unedited Sanskrit works, writing (six!) academic articles, producing a film that reconstructs Yoga through philological means, maintaining an open-access, peer-reviewed journal, collaborating with the AyurYog Project to develop an interactive historical timeline and exhibition on the history of Ayurveda and Yoga, prepping for University summer schools, delivering workshops and trainings based on our original research to Yoga professionals, and curating a forthcoming exhibition in London. Perhaps a little too ambitious? We feel completely overwhelmed with many deadlines looming. Nonetheless, we do hope our efforts will be worth the toil as we prepare to open our much anticipated exhibition in the new year. 

Please do pop in!

The Textual, Ethnographic and Historical Research of the Hatha Yoga Project.
Brunei Gallery | 16th January - 21st March 2020 

In the gloriously petite Foyle Room of the Brunei Gallery at SOAS University of London, the exhibition, Embodied Liberation, will highlight the most recent research discoveries in the field of Yoga Studies as identified by the Hatha Yoga Project, SOAS.

The exhibition will lead the audience through different chronological periods of Yoga’s history using a variety of visual and interactive mediums which derive from the diverse methodological approaches used by the research team. Handwritten Sanskrit manuscripts, which are fascinating samples of the principal textual discoveries of the project, will be on display. A vivid Mughal painting of pre-modern asceticism will be contrasted with photographs and video material sourced during extensive ethnographic fieldwork of present-day ascetic practitioners in India, including very rare examples of female practitioners.

Two of the highlights of the exhibition will be photographs of the oldest known sculptures of complex Yoga postures (i.e., the twelfth-century Mehudī Gate of Gujarat, India) and a multimedia video installation of 'embodied philology' - the reconstruction of the āsanas (along with Sanskrit recitation and English translation) of the Haṭhābhyāsapaddhati, an eighteenth-century Sanskrit manual on the practice of haṭhayoga, which is one of the ten critical editions to be published by the project.

Find out more about the Hatha Yoga Project.

Thursday, 31 October 2019

The Arabic Pātañjalayogaśāstra

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(Left) First page of the Kitāb Pātanğal written in the margin of the manuscript.
Credit: Köprülü Library, Istanbul.

At the dawn of the first millennium CE, the Muslim intellectual al-Bīrūnī (973-ca. 1050), a native from Khwarezm in today’s Uzbekistan, interpreted Patañjali’s treatise on yoga (ca. 350-450) into Arabic. Al-Bīrūnī’s book, titled Kitāb Pātanğal and literally meaning the Book of Patañjali, is the first known translation of the Pātañjalayogaśāstra into a non-Indic language.1

At the time, the north-western sub-continent, including parts of modern Afghanistan and Pakistan, was experiencing the second wave of Muslim incursions into its territory under the Ghaznavid dynasty. Amid these territorial disputes, al-Bīrūnī traveled with the court of the sultan Maḥmūd of Ghazna chiefly to north-western Panjab, gathered Sanskrit books and interacted with Indian thinkers.

Among these Sanskrit texts, he found a copy of the Pātañjalayogaśāstra and, more than five hundred years after its original compilation, made an interpretation of this Yoga text. He also translated a work related to Sāṅkhya. The yoga work rendered into Arabic is extant today in the form of a single text written on the margins of a manuscript (Ritter 1956: 165), while the Sāṅkhya work did not survive the test of time and only portions of it are found in another of al-Bīrūnī’s writing. These two works are the only translations he made of so-called orthodox Indian philosophical literature. The reasons why he chose to translate these works in particular remain obscure. Was he especially interested in the viewpoints elaborated by these two systems of thought? Or did he only meet Indian philosophers of Yoga-Sāṅkhya? Both speculations may be true to some extent, because there is evidence that Sāṅkhya was well-known in the regions he visited, and al-Bīrūnī was certainly sympathetic to the Yoga path, as will be discussed below.

He writes about these two texts:
I had translated two books into Arabic: the first of them on the principles (المبادئ) and a description of the existents (وصفة الموجودات),  named Sānk (سانك); the second on the liberation of the soul from the fetters of the body (تخليص النفس من رباط البدن), known as Pātanğal (پاتنجل). These two [books] contain most of the fundamentals (الاصل) around which their (i.e., the Indians) faith revolves, without the subdivision of their religious laws (دون فروع شرائعهم) (Taḥqīq 1958: 6.1-4).2
This description thus testifies to the popularity of the two texts among the Indians whom al-Bīrūnī encountered, and at the same time indicates the focus of each of the philosophies. His understanding of Sāṅkhya as ‘a description of the existents’ concurs with our knowledge of the doctrine elaborated in the Sāṅkhyakārikā, which sets out and defines the ontological principles of existence. His explanation of the Book of Patañjali as dealing with the ‘liberation of the soul from the fetters of the body’ is a reformulation of the idea of liberating the self (puruṣa) from materiality by the different practices described at length in the Pātañjalayogaśāstra.

In addition, al-Bīrūnī provides us with a valuable account regarding the history of transmission of the Pātañjalayogaśāstra as a text. Some commentators regard Patañjali as the author of the aphorisms (sūtra) and Vyāsa of the commentary (bhāṣya). More recently, however, scholars have questioned this view. It is likely that the dissociation between the aphorisms and commentary is a relatively late convention, and that one author in fact compiled the whole work under the Sanskrit term śāstra, i.e., treatise. (Bronkhorst 1985: 203; 2013: 57-68). Al-Bīrūnī translated the whole treatise, intermingling the aphorisms and the commentary in a dialogue, and attributed the totality of the work to a person named Patañjali (Maas 2013: 59-60).

However, al-Bīrūnī’s yoga text is not a literal translation of the Pātañjalayogaśāstra and, as a matter of fact, differs from it in many respects. Due to the technical character of the Sanskrit original, al-Bīrūnī had to modify it to fit his conceptual framework. In a sense, he faced similar difficulties to those of today’s translators of philosophical Indian texts (Maas and Verdon 2018: 321-328).3

Two examples of how al-Bīrūnī handled these problems are given below. First, however, two facts about his interpretation should be mentioned. He never translated the aphorisms as such. Instead, he created a dialogue including questions and answers which intermingles the two layers of the original text and reshapes its content (Maas and Verdon 2018: 317-320).

In this manner, the content of Pātañjalayogaśāstra 1.1-2 is summarised and paraphrased in the two first questions of al-Bīrūnī’s work. The widely known sūtra 1.2 can be translated as:
Yoga is the suppression of the activities of mind.
yogaś cittavṛttinirodhaḥ
Al-Bīrūnī conveys the meaning of this sūtra in the following way:
[The true knowledge is] to compress what is spread outward from you, in such a way that you are only engaged with yourself, and to prevent the faculties of soul from clinging to what is different from you (Ritter 1956: 170.2-3).4
قبض المبتثّ عنك نحو الخارجات اليك لئلا تشتغل الا بك و قمع قوى النفس عن التشبّت بغيرك 

Al-Bīrūnī translates the ‘self’ (puruṣa) and the ‘mind’ (citta) interchangeably with the term nafs (نفس). In Arabic, this word is polysemic and means ‘soul’, ‘spirit’, ‘mind’ or ‘human being’. So, he interprets cittavṛtti (i.e., the activities of the mind) by the expression ‘the faculties of the soul’ (قوى النفس). 

In his Book of Patañjali, al-Bīrūnī never uses the term yoga. In other words, he did not transliterate it into the Arabic script, nor did he directly translate the concept, as seen in sūtra 1.2 above. Nonetheless, question 5 of his dialogue includes the content of sūtras 1.5 to 1.11, and describes the five faculties in a way that is consistent with the definitions of the five yogic mental activities in the Pātañjalayogaśāstra; which confirms his translations of vṛtti (activities) by the term faculties in Arabic.

Al-Bīrūnī’s translation of samādhi is equally interesting. In the Sanskrit text, samādhi is mentioned in numerous instances, while in its Arabic version, only one passage appears to explicitly refer to this concept. This passage corresponds to Pātañjalayogaśāstra 1.17-18. Al-Bīrūnī’s translation states that there are two types of contemplation: one is perceptible with matter, which corresponds to saṃprajñāta-samādhi, and the other is contemplation of the intelligible, free from matter, which is asaṃprajñāta-samādhi. In both instances, al-Bīrūnī’s rendering differs from the original Sanskrit text, as he used terminology indebted to his Islamic intellectual background. However, in both cases, he conveyed the message rather faithfully. As shown by his interpretation of samādhi, al-Bīrūnī appears to have simplified technical concepts and partly omitted the complex discussions on the meditative states in the Pātañjalayogaśāstra.

There are two main reasons underlying such adaptations. First, as mentioned above, al-Bīrūnī, as any translator, depended on his cultural, linguistic and intellectual framework when he rendered technical concepts of yoga into Arabic. Secondly, the mental processes and the methods taught in the Pātañjalayogaśāstra to achieve a transcendent state of liberation from materiality resonated with al-Bīrūnī, as he was acquainted with theories of healing and elevating the soul, which were developed by Islamic thinkers. Therefore, he appears to have been keen to facilitate the transmission of these Indian ideas to his Muslim readership. While most of the message of the original text is preserved in al-Bīrūnī’s Arabic Book of Pātanğal, his work most certainly constitutes an interpretation, rather than a translation.


1 This post is based on my PhD research (Verdon 2015), which can be downloaded on the following link: Therefore, I do not refer to it, but only to other relevant studies in this communication.

2 See also Sachau 1910: I: 8.

3 The reader interested in the complete Kitāb Pātanğal can refer to the English translations by Pines and Gelblum (1966, 1977, 1983, 1989). 

4 See also Pines & Gelblum 1966: 313-314.


Bronkhorst, Johannes. 1985. Patañjali and the Yoga Sūtras. Studien zur Indologie und Iranistik, 10, 191-212.

Maas, Philipp A. 2013. “A Concise Historiography of Classical Yoga Philosophy.” In E. Franco (Ed.), Historiography and Periodization of Indian Philosophy (pp. 53-90). Vienna: De Nobili Series.

Maas, Philipp A. and Verdon, Noémie. 2018. “On al-Bīrūnī’s Kitāb Pātanğal and the Pātañjalayogaśāstra.” In Karl Baier, Philipp A. Maas and Karin Preisendanz (Eds.), Yoga in Transformation: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives. Vienna: Vienna University Press, (Vienna Forum for Theology and the Study of Religions 16), p. 283–334.

Pines, Shlomo and Gelblum, Tuvia. 1966. Al-Bīrūnī’s Arabic Version of Patañjali’s Yogasūtra. Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, 29(2), 302-325.

Id. 1977. Al-Bīrūni’s Arabic Version of Patañjali’s Yogasūtra: A Translation of the Second Chapter and a Comparison with Related Texts. Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, 40(3), 522-549. Hyderabad: Da’irat al-Ma’arif il-Osmania Publications.

Id. 1983. Al-Bīrūnī’s Arabic Version of Patañjali’s Yogasūtra: A Translation of the Third Chapter and a Comparison with Related Texts. Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, 46(2), 258-304.

Id. 1989. Al-Bīrūnī’s Arabic Version of Patañjali’s Yogasūtra: A Translation of the Fourth Chapter and a Comparison with Related Texts. Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, 52(2), 265-305.

Ritter, Hellmut. 1956. Al-Bīrūnī’s Übersetzung des Yoga-Sūtra des Patañjali. Oriens, 9(2), 165-200.

Sachau, Carl Edward. 1910. Alberuni’s India. An Account of the Religion, Philosophy, Literature, Geography, Chronology, Astronomy, Customs, Laws and Astrology of India about AD 1030. London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trübner & Co.

Taḥqīq. 1958. Al-Bīrūnī’s Kitāb fī taḥqīq mā li-l-Hind min maqūla maqbūla fī l-ʿaql aw marḏūla. Hyderabad: Da’irat al-Ma’arif il-Osmania Publications.

Verdon, Noémie. Forthcoming, 2020. Al-Bīrūnī’s Kitāb Sānk and Kitāb Pātanğal: A Historical and Textual Study. Vienna: De Nobili Research Library.


Noémie Verdon is a post-doctoral researcher at the Institute for Research in Humanities of Kyoto University under a Swiss National Science Foundation scholarship. Her PhD examined al-Bīrūnī's life and his interpretation of Saṅkhya and Yoga Sanskrit texts into Arabic. Her current project explores Pre-Islamic and early Islamic Kāpiśī and Gandhāra focusing on the interactions between political and and religious agents of the region mainly based on textual sources, Arabic and Sanskrit. Her research interests generally focus on the history of transmission of ideas and knowledge between cultures in early medieval South Asia.

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Verdon, Noémie. 2019. “The Arabic Pātañjalayogaśāstra.” In The Luminescent, 30 October, 2019. Retrieved from:



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Rethinking classical yoga: the 'other' yogaśāstra

The Yamas and Niyamas: Patanjali’s View

Thursday, 12 September 2019

Post-Lineage Yoga & Dandelions

What dandelions have to teach us about 'post-lineage yoga'.

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Figure 1: A dandelion (Taraxacum species): flowering plant growing with young ferns.
Watercolour. Credit: Wellcome Collection. CC BY

In the course of researching my PhD into alternative yoga subcultures in Britain, I needed to create a new term to describe the community relationships I was seeing in my fieldwork. That term, post-lineage yoga, has much wider usefulness for talking about the ways in which yoga practices have been shared through time and across the world. As a result, the label ‘post-lineage yoga’ is used more and more in contemporary yoga media, but there’s been a great deal of confusion about what exactly it means.

The problem with describing a previously-unresearched phenomenon like post-lineage yoga is that, to begin with, it’s very complicated. It takes months to hone the picture that fieldwork is showing into a clear and accessible concept that others can understand. Now that I’ve published my PhD thesis (Wildcroft 2018), I’m working hard on a book or two, and getting out and about, talking to yoga communities, describing my research and what it might mean. These recent efforts at disseminating my research are making it easier to describe post-lineage yoga in ways yoga teachers and practitioners can understand. So I’m grateful to The Luminescent for letting me share with you a simplified version of ‘post-lineage yoga in a (betel) nutshell’.1

Hopefully this post will clarify the term for those of you that have been hearing it a lot, and for others, it might tempt you to read the whole thesis, which you can find on an open access server at this link:

One of the first academics to describe what is modern about modern yoga, Elizabeth De Michelis (2007), gave us a term to describe the yoga that is most visible in mainstream culture: modern postural yoga. Whilst terms such as this one are useful, they of course don’t fit all cases. Any new categorisation is also a generalisation. And when one describes a cultural shift, it does not mean necessarily that one approves of it. Almost all evolutions in cultural practice will have positives and negatives. De Michelis wasn’t saying that all yoga fits her typology neatly, nor that any kind of yoga is ‘better’ than another. But we’re still using the term ‘modern postural yoga’ because understanding when contemporary practice does and does not fit this definition still leads to us understanding more about what unites and divides practitioners of yoga.

Academics often say that typologies are ‘good to think with’. Post-lineage yoga has been good for me to think with for the past few years, and increasingly, other scholars and yoga teachers are finding it good to think with also. You might decide that post-lineage yoga isn’t a way of working that you approve of. But it’s probably still helpful to think about and recognise what its key features are. In fact, when most yoga teachers listen to the real definition, they recognise themselves at least a little in what they hear.
Post-lineage, as its name suggests, is a change not in the content of yoga, but in how it is shared. What it does not mean is anti-lineage, or non-lineage, and it certainly doesn’t mean anti-tradition.  Briefly put, post-lineage yoga is a description of the authority processes that govern the teaching of yoga—how you decide what you’re sharing with others is authentic and safe, and how it relates to the teaching of yoga in the past, and the teaching of yoga around the world.
Post-lineage yoga describes a shift that many yoga teachers and practitioners go through—they might start out only learning from one teacher, and never questioning their authority. But at some point, many look beyond the lineage teachings to expand their understanding of how yoga works in practice. They might or might not maintain a strong respect for their original teachers, but they might read books from other lineages, or be fascinated by the latest neuroscience research, or share a practice with peers or go to workshops with other teachers.

So why is thinking about the term post-lineage yoga important? Partly it’s a way of recognising the contribution of saṅghas (communities), as well as guru-śiṣya (teacher-student) relationships, to the sharing of yoga. But the last couple of decades have also seen many aspects of authority in yoga communities come under scrutiny. Whether it’s new evidence challenging the health claims in Iyengar’s Light on Yoga (Broad 2012), or the uncovering of abuse by apparently enlightened teachers (Remski 2019), or new historical evidence concerning the development of āsana practice (Birch 2013, Mallinson and Singleton 2017), many yoga practitioners now feel they need more than established yoga hierarchies to justify how they practice and teach.

Post-lineage networks support and correct the vertical hierarchies of yoga knowledge with peer-negotiated knowledge. That’s a complicated sentence, so here’s my favourite way of explaining it.

We often talk about the ‘roots of yoga’, and we commonly visualise the various schools of yoga like branches on a tree, with each practitioner connected in a long line back to the roots. But in order to draw on those roots, each individual depends completely on the integrity and absolute knowledge of every person between them and the ground. If the established structures of authority in yoga start to be questioned for some reason, any of those branches could break. There is not a lot of resilience in the system overall.

A lot of plants have a very different root structure, and happily, there are theories of learning that have already noticed this. A lesser known ‘branch’ of research focuses on ‘rhizomatic’ learning (Howard 2013; Lionel and Le Grange 2011). Dandelions are rhizomes. Each dandelion might not look as impressive as a tree, but together, the roots of dandelions form a web, sharing resources underground. As any gardener will tell you, the awesome and infuriating thing about dandelions is that they can survive being chopped down, because they grow back from even the tiniest bit of root. So individual dandelions might not be impressive, but together, they are very resilient, and adapt to almost any change, and any part of their network being broken.

According to learning theory this means that when knowledge is embodied by a whole group of people, and when the knowledge needs to adapt to circumstance and be resilient to change, it tends to form networks that look more like a horizontal web than a vertical tree. In this metaphor, each practitioner, each teacher shares as much as possible with others, across boundaries of lineage and school, nationality and intention. That way, even though an individual teacher or a particular practice might be ethically compromised, or just ill-adapted to new cultural conditions, each practitioner can draw from many sources, and calibrate their practice as it evolves with everyone else. As such, Yoga as a flow of cultural practice through time, survives in the network as a whole.

To do this most effectively, the network must also be as democratic as possible, and each person in the network should be encouraged to play an active part in the sharing and production of knowledge about the human condition. It works less well when students cannot question or adapt the teachings that they learn. That is why post-lineage communities are often found in trauma-sensitive and accessible yoga, because these are types of yoga that encourage resilience and self-reliance in each student, and also because they celebrate the benefits of diversity, in practice and in humanity.

Hopefully some of you have already realised that this is a very simplified picture. There is much more to my thesis. In particular, like previous traditions, post-lineage yoga is marked by power and oppression, and differences of access. However, in a post-lineage network, the depth of each person’s practice might not correlate completely to how long they spend in a single school. My research suggests that many post-lineage practitioners have a deep and abiding attachment to the practice and aims of yoga. Their roots may be as deep as they are wide. For many, it was this commitment that got them through a crisis of faith in a particular teaching or teacher, and allowed them to find new ways to practice. For others, new knowledge from outside their lineage allows them to keep updating the practices they love, and to share their own teacher’s wisdom with a wider audience.

Post-lineage yoga seems to be at its most resilient when it recognises the value in both horizontal and vertical knowledge, that is, a yoga culture that honours both precedent and, what Etienne Wenger called, ‘communities of practice’ (Wenger 1999). Post-lineage yoga is incompatible with any doctrinal view that claims that only one way of practicing can ever be valid and that methods should not be mixed between schools. These ways of teaching form mini-networks that remain isolated from others—perhaps like a series of trees in pots rather than trees in a forest. Such views aren’t necessarily wrong, they just might not be sufficiently resilient to weather a crisis.

Returning to the natural metaphors then, it’s satisfying to note that each tree in a forest is not a self-sufficient island. In fact, a tree is connected by a vast, invisible network of horizontal fibres called mycelium, which carries resources and information from one tree to another (Stamets 2005). The oak might look like the most impressive tree in the wood, but without the friendly fungi that connect it to every birch, beech and hazel, it wouldn’t thrive as well.

If there’s one recommendation that comes out of my research, it is that if we want contemporary yoga practice to continue to thrive, and adapt, and survive the shock-waves of change, we might do well to pay attention to the health of our humble connections between yoga teachers, as well as to the bureaucratic and pedagogical hierarchies that are so much more visible.

Maybe that looks a lot less like more training and more rules, and a lot more like hanging out at conferences, and festivals instead. If you want me to come and hang out and facilitate that conversation, get in touch. More and more post-lineage yoga practitioners are finding it helpful to talk with me not just about trees and dandelions, but starlings and geese, borders and osmosis, consent and contact too. More on that later.


1 Read this: for an explanation of why I’m fascinated by betel nuts.


Birch, J. 2013 (Published 2018). “Proliferation of Āsana-s in Late Mediaeval Yoga Texts” in Baier, K. Maas, P. & Preisendanz, K. (eds.). Yoga in Transformation: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives. Vienna: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht Unipress.

Broad, W. J. 2012. The Science of Yoga: The Risks and the Rewards. Bath: Simon & Schuster.

De Michelis, E. 2007. “A Preliminary  Survey of Modern Yoga Studies” in Asian Medicine, 3: 1-19.

Howard, R. G. 2013. “Vernacular Authority: Critically Engaging ‘Tradition’” in Blank, T. & Howard, R. G. (Eds.), Tradition in the Twenty-First Century: Locating the Role of the Past in the Present. Logan: Utah State University Press.

Lionel, L. & Leonard Le Grange. 2011. “Sustainability and Higher Education: From arborescent to rhizomatic thinking” in Educational Philosophy and Theory, 43: 742-54.

Mallinson, J. & Singleton M. 2017. Roots of Yoga. London: Penguin Books.

Remski, M. 2019. Practice and All is Coming: Abuse, Cult Dynamics, and Healing in Yoga and Beyond. Kentucky, USA: Embodied Wisdom Publishing.

Stamets, P. 2005. Mycelium Running: how mushrooms can help save the world. Berkley, Calif: Ten Speed Airlift.

Wenger, E. 1999. “Community” in Wenger, E. (Ed.), Communities of Practice: Learning, Meaning, and Identity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Wildcroft, T. 2018. Patterns of Authority and Practice Relationships in ‘Post-lineage Yoga.’ UK: Open University. Retrieved from:

About the Author

Theodora Wildcroft PhD is a researcher investigating the democratization and evolution of physical practice as it moves beyond yoga lineages. Her first peer-reviewed article was the co-written ‘Sacrifices at the altar of self-transformation’ with Alison Robertson, and she has a chapter in the forthcoming Routledge Guide to Performance Philosophy. She is the Managing Editor of the peer-reviewed journal Body and Religion and an active member of the British Association for the Study of Religions. Her monograph Post-lineage Yoga: from guru to #metoo is currently in production. A yoga teacher herself with over a decade of experience, she also blogs, appears on podcasts, on panels and conferences and writes numerous other articles on yoga, on social justice, on hope, and on untold stories. Theo consults with a number of major yoga organisations, and she teaches workshops across Europe and North America.

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Wildcroft, Theodora. 2019. “Post-lineage Yoga & Dandelions: What dandelions have to teach us about ‘post-lineage yoga’.” in The Luminescent, 12 September, 2019. Retrieved from:



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Typology of Modern Yoga

Saturday, 24 August 2019

118 Asanas of the mid-17th century

An extract from:
Birch, J. (Submitted 2013, 2018). "The Proliferation of Āsana-s in Late Mediaeval Yoga Texts." In Yoga in Transformation: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives. Karl Baier, Philipp A. Maas & Karin Preisendanz (eds.). Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht Unipress.

Detail from the Krishna Vishvarupa (ca. 1740)
which includes various Gods & a Nāth yogī seated in an āsana with ankles crossed.
Bilaspur School. Himachal Pradesh, India.
Opaque watercolour and gold on paper. H x W (Image): 19.8 × 11.7 cm (7 13/16 × 4 5/8 in).
Catherine and Ralph Benkaim Collection.

Birch writes:
Two centuries after the Hathapradīpikā, several large yoga compilations which integrated teachings of Haṭha and Rāja Yoga with those of Pātañjalayoga and Brahmanical texts were written. One such work is the early seventeenth-century Yogacintāmaṇi of Śivānandasarasvati, an Advaitavedāntin who probably resided in Vārāṇsī during the reigns of the Moghul rulers Shāh Jahān and his sons. The latter half of this work is structured according to the standard eight auxiliaries of yoga. In the section on āsana, there are descriptions of thirty-four āsana-s from a wide selection of sources [...]. 
Among the five manuscripts and one printed edition of the Yogacintāmaṇi that have been consulted for this chapter, one manuscript contains considerably more āsana-s than the others. The manuscript in question, which I refer to as the “Ujjain manuscript” [dated vikramasamvat 1717, Thursday, 5 June 1659 CE], is held at the Scindia Oriental Research Library in Ujjain. [...] The names of āsana-s in the Ujjain manuscript have been reproduced in [the table], below. 
The Ujjain Manuscript of the Yogacintāmaṇi, folio 62v.
Photograph: Jacqueline Hargreaves (2009).
The Ujjain manuscript extends our knowledge of āsana-s practised in the seventeenth century by providing lists 1b, 2 and 3. List 1b consists of the twenty-eight āsana-s that have been added to list 1a. List 2 adds thirty-nine āsana-s to lists 1a and 1b. List 3 adds another seventeen, which yields a total of one hundred and eighteen āsana-s in the Ujjain manuscript. Therefore, the Ujjain manuscript contains an additional eighty-four āsana-s to the thirty-four in other manuscripts of the Yogacintāmaṇi (i.e., list 1a). Eight of these have been taken from Vācaspatimiśra’s Tattvavaiśāradī. However, I am yet to find the names of the other seventy-six additional āsana-s in any yoga text dated before the sixteenth century.

Table: Names of āsana-s listed in the Ujjain manuscript of the Yogacintāmaṇi

The Yogacintāmaṇi (Ujjain ms.) contains descriptions for sixty-two (62) of the 118  āsana-s listed. Apart from those few which are based on Vācaspatimiśra’s Tattvavaiśāradī, I am yet to find the majority of these descriptions in another text or manuscript. 
Generally speaking, most of the seated, forward, backward, twisting and arm-balancing poses in modern yoga have been anticipated by these seventeenth and eighteenth-century sources. This may not be so apparent in comparing the names of āsana-s from one tradition to another, because similar āsana-s can have different names. This is true for both medieval and modern yoga. Such differences may reflect regional influences and attempts by gurus to distinguish their own repertoire of techniques. The main exceptions to this are the names of āsana-s in the well-known, principal texts such as the Pātañjalayogaśāstra and the Hathapradīpikā. Since these texts have been invoked to establish the traditional credentials, so to speak, of more recent lineages, the names of their āsana-s have endured. 

Yogin seated in a squat
with ankles crossed, holding a mālā.

Wellcome Library (MS Hindi 371, folio 62r).

About the Author

Jason Birch is a Post-doctoral Research Fellow on the Hatha Yoga Project, SOAS University of London. His current area of research is the history of physical yoga on the eve of colonialism. He is editing and translating six key Sanskrit texts on Haṭha and Rājayoga, which are outputs of the project. He holds a DPhil in Oriental Studies (2013) from the University of Oxford and is a founding member of the Journal of Yoga Studies

Birch, J. (Submitted 2013, 2018). "The Proliferation of Āsana-s in Late Mediaeval Yoga Texts."
Yoga in Transformation: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives. Karl Baier, Philipp A. Maas & Karin Preisendanz (eds.). Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht Unipress.



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How to succeed at Āsana: A seventeenth-century Marginal Note