Thursday, 17 December 2015

Did Ayurveda Influence Medieval Yoga Traditions?

Sanskrit Beta 1469Wellcome Library, London.
This Sanskrit manuscript is thought to be dated 1469 from the genre of Karmavipaka, meaning “the ripening of karma”.
It begins with a salutation to the sage Dhanvantari, the traditional author of the original works on Ayurveda, one of the world’s oldest medical systems.

Did Ayurveda Influence Medieval Yoga Traditions?
Preliminary Remarks on their Shared Terminology, Theory and Praxis.


Abstract of a forthcoming article by Jason Birch.


Published by AyurYoga, a 5-year ERC-funded project. 


The combining of yoga and ayurveda (Indian medicine) is unexceptional in the current global market for wellness. More than a married couple, yoga and ayurveda are deemed by many to be sisters, born of the same scriptural family, the Vedas. The current interplay between yoga and ayurveda raises two questions: how old might their relationship be and was it as intimate in pre-modern times as it seems today? The first question is relatively easy to answer because textual evidence from the classical period of India’s history indicates that their relationship dates back to the beginning of the first millennium, but probably not to the Vedic period. Published articles by Dominik Wujastyk (2012) and Philipp Mass (2008) shed some light on this. The second question is the focus of this study, which will assess the influence of ayurveda on medieval yoga texts, in terms of terminology, theory and praxis.

Apart from the integration of yoga and ayurveda in modern times, the premise of the question that prompted this article rests upon the fact that the goals of these two disciplines are complementary, despite their differences. The classical ayurvedic source Carakasaṃhitā (1.11.3 – 4, 33) advises that one should cultivate desire for longevity, wealth and the other world (paraloka); the first is achieved by healthy people pursuing healthy activities and by the sick taking care to cure their diseases. One might infer that longevity provides more time for one to strive for the third aim, which Caraka says is attained by various pursuits including absorption of the mind (manaḥsamādhi). All medieval yoga traditions aim at liberation from transmigration and disease is regarded as an obstacle to this end.

A distinguishing feature of both ayurveda and yoga is that they are practical disciplines, which transmit specialized knowledge. Their orientation certainly appears to be different in the sense that ayurveda is a more worldly concern practised by doctors who help other people, whereas yoga aims to transcend the world and its practitioners pursue their own salvation. However, it is not unreasonable to suppose that yogins borrowed ayurvedic theory and praxis to cure their own illnesses and, if this were the case, to assume that their texts would contain evidence for this. Ultimately, I shall try to answer whether medieval yogins resorted to the specialized theory and praxis of ayurveda or whether they relied on a more general knowledge of healing and disease, which is found in earlier Tantras and brahmanical texts.

This article will focus on the names of diseases, the humoral theory (tridoṣa) of the body, the notion of increasing digestive fire, the body’s vital points (marman), herbs and the six therapeutic practices (ṣaṭkarma) in medieval yoga texts. It will examine references to an unidentified group of fourteenth-century yogins who supposedly practised a technique which was first taught by the divine physicians, the Aśvins, as well as a seventeenth-century digest (nibandha) on yoga that quotes and borrows extensively from the classical ayurvedic compendium, the Suśrutasaṃhitā, and a short eighteenth-century treatise on therapeutic interventions for yogins who injure themselves in the practice of postures (āsana), breathing exercises (prāṇāyāma), internal locks (bandha) and seals (mudrā).

In addition to the contents of medieval yoga texts, I shall refer to available biographic information of yogins as well as other sources that report of yogins as doctors. However, there is certainly scope for more research in this regard, in particular, on Persian works like the fourteenth-century Majmū-e Ḍiyā’ī, which is reported to contain a chapter on the “Medicine of Nāgārjuna and other yogis of India” (Mazars 2006: 14).


Bibliography

Maas, Philipp 2008:
Wiener Zeitschrift für die Kunde Südasiens, 51, pp. 125-162.

Mazars, Guy 2006: 
Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers.

Wujastyk, Dominik 2012:
Yoga in Practice, Ed. David Gordon White. Princeton: Princeton University Press


Friday, 11 December 2015

Extending the Breath to Defeat Death

Śivaliṅga (17th century), Rajasthan
Paint on Paper

A Freedive into Tantric Prāṇāyāma

By JASON BIRCH and JACQUELINE HARGREAVES

While in Pondicherry, we have had the privilege of attending reading sessions at the École Française d'Extrême-Orient, where a team of scholars led by Professor Dominic Goodall are editing medieval tantric Śaiva ritual manuals called Paddhatis.

We were lucky enough to read one of the yoga sections of these Paddhatis, which is based on the Saptāṅgayoga (i.e. Yoga with Seven Auxiliaries) of an earlier Tantra called the Mṛgendratantra (pre-10th century). This Tantra contains a very concise description of prāṇāyāma and it's one of the few sources that defines prāṇāyāma as extending the breath, rather than stopping it:
Breath (prāṇa) is the vital wind (vāyu) already defined. Its extension is the strenuous exercise of that wind by expelling it, drawing it in and holding it. Its effect is to remove any defects in the faculties.
Mṛgendratantra, Yogapāda 4. Trans. Alexis Sanderson 1999:5

Therefore, one prāṇāyāma is a single breath, which consists of an inhalation, a retention and an exhalation.

The Mṛgendratantra states that there are three grades of prāṇāyāma: inferior, intermediate and superior. The grade depends on the length, which is measured in units of Tāla. A Tāla is defined as twelve circumambulations of the knee:
The span of time termed a Tāla is what it takes to move [the palm of] one’s hand round the circumference of one’s knee-cap twelve times.
Mṛgendratantra, Yogapāda 28ab. Trans. Alexis Sanderson 1999:5

The commentary of Nārāyaṇakaṇtha and later Paddhatis make it clear that the three grades of prāṇāyāma have the following lengths:
Inferior          = 12 Tāla    = 144 circumambulations
Intermediate = 24 Tāla    = 288 circumambulations
Superior        = 48 Tāla    = 576 circumambulations
That's quite a lot of handwork in a single breath! Let's assume conservatively that it takes one second to circumambulate the knee-cap with the hand. This means the tantric sādhaka is extending the breath to 2 minutes 24 seconds, 4 minutes 48 seconds and 9 minutes 36 seconds, respectively.
Inferior           = 12 Tāla    = 2 minutes 24 seconds
Intermediate  = 24 Tāla    = 4 minutes 48 seconds
Superior         = 48 Tāla    = 9 minutes 36 seconds
Is it possible to extend one’s breath to 9 minutes 36 seconds?

Well, it seems that some of the best freedivers can do it. In 2001, the world record for holding one's breath (Static Apneawas 8 minutes 6 seconds (by Martin Štěpánek, 3 July 2001) and it has been slowly increasing since then to the current record set in 2014:
The new Guinness World Record for Static Apnea is 11 minutes 54 seconds set by Branko Petrovic on October 7 [2014], under the supervision of the Guinness adjudicators.

Nonetheless, the tantric yogis of the 10th century were ahead of their time. It makes one wonder whether they were able to move their hands extremely quickly, thus reducing the time of a Tāla, or whether the superior grade of prāṇāyāma was an exaggerated claim.


What was the aim of this Tantric Prāṇāyāma?

Kālī (17th century), Rajasthan
Paint on Paper

It restores health (puṣṭi) and defeats death (mṛtyujaya). And should one be so inclined, it can enable one to burn things without fire, cause trees to wither, destroy seeds, paralyse creatures, cause insanity and intensify the effects of poison in others. Its soteriological purpose was to accomplish tantric Śaiva visualization practices, worship, repetition of Mantras and yogic suicide (i.e. deliberately leaving the body at the end of one's life). It was also prescribed for initiation rites and the installation of deities (Mṛgendratantra, Yogapāda 25 – 27ab). 

The desired results depend on nasal dominance at the time of practice; that is, whether the breath is moving predominantly in the left nostril, the right nostril or both equally (i.e. the central channel). 

The prāṇāyāma of the Mṛgendratantra is quite distinct from that of the prāṇāyāma in Haṭhayoga texts, which began to emerge several centuries later. Not only is the Mṛgendratantra's definition of prāṇāyāma as extension of the breath different from that of yoga traditions which aim at extinguishing the breath, it doesn't incorporate the internal locks called bandhas nor any of the various techniques for manipulating the breath, such as alternating the nostrils.

We hope to discuss more about these distinctions in a follow up post.


Bibliography


Alexis Sanderson, 1999: 
Yoga in Śaivism: The Yoga Section of the Mṛgendratantra, An Annotated translation with the Commentary of Bhaṭṭa Nārāyāṇakaṇṭha 
(Available on academia.edu)

Franck André Jamme, André Padoux, Lawrence Rinder, 2011:
Tantra Song: Tantric Painting from Rajasthan 
(Available on Amazon)

Monday, 30 November 2015

The earliest known 'Cat' Pose

By JACQUELINE HARGREAVES





The earliest known description of 'Cat' pose (to date) is called Mārjārottānāsana (Upturned Cat Pose), which is described in the yoga text called the Haṭhābhyāsapaddhati (17th - 18th century). The image seen here is an artistic representation from the 19th-century royal digest named the Śrītattvanidhi.

Unlike the version of 'Cat' pose commonly practised in Modern Postural Yoga (i.e. flexing the spine while in a kneeling position), this particular āsana is practised in the supine position and requires quite a bit of muscular effort in the abdomen to achieve the movement of knees to ears. When practised repetitively, it becomes an abdominal oblique strengthening posture.

The description of this āsana immediately follows that of Śvottānāsana - 'Upturned Dog Pose'.


Mārjārottānāsana

"Having positioned [himself] like an up-turned dog, [the yogin] should touch both knees with his ears in turn. [This is] the up-turned cat [pose]."

Translation by Jason Birch (2015)

As the text links one āsana to the next, the Haṭhābhyāsapaddhati is the only pre-modern yoga text known today to provide what appears to be a sequenced practice as well as āsana that involve repetitive movement rather than just the static seated postures described in earlier Haṭhayoga texts.


Wednesday, 9 September 2015

AIMING TO SEE MIRACLES

Paścimatānāsana from the Jogapradīpyakā (18th century)


By JACQUELINE HARGREAVES and JASON BIRCH


Photo: Jacqueline Hargreaves, Mahāmandir (late 18th - 19th century) in Jodhpur 


Attend a yoga class in almost any city in the world today and one is likely to encounter a posture called Paścimottānāsana (also known as Paścimatānāsana in the Haṭhapradīpikā): a seated forward bend in which both legs are outstretched and the head is taken towards the knees. Typical instructions from a teacher may include guidance on how to avoid discomfort in the lower back or the hamstrings, with a suggestion to hold the position for 5 or 10 breaths while emphasising the length and subtle quality of each exhalation. For many people, this proves challenging enough! 

Now imagine you are in 18th century India. There is the sweet smell of cow dung on the walls of your secluded yoga hut. The guru has told you that the aim of your practice is to progressively build up to performing this posture for 84 consecutive days for 24 hours a day while undertaking a breathing exercise. When feeling tired, there is the option to take a rest and sip a bowl of lightly spiced broth to keep up your stamina.

This is the practice of Paścimatānāsana as described in the text, the Jogapradīpyakā (18th century). 

The historical significance of the description of Paścimatānāsana in this text is that it demonstrates how the practice of āsana became progressively more sophisticated in the centuries following the Haṭhapradīpikā (15th century). Paścimatānāsana forms the basis of a complete practice (sādhana) for a set period of time. Holding one posture for such long intervals is redolent of ascetic practices (tapas) in ancient India.

The Jogapradīpyakā contains descriptions of 84 āsanas, many of which are very challenging physical positions. Certain techniques of meditation and breath retentions (prāṇāyāma) are advised for some āsana. Most of the descriptions specify gazing points and indicate therapeutic benefits. 

The full translation of Paścimatānāsana from the Jogapradīpyakā (70 - 78) is given below.  

Here is a concise summary of the practice of Paścimatānāsana:

Stage 1
1. Sit (facing North) with legs outstretched and the gaze between the eyebrows (trikuṭī). 
2. Breathe in for 12 counts (assume through both nostrils).
3. Hold the breath for 12 counts (kumbhaka). 
4. Breathe out through the right nostril (piṅgalā nārī) for 12 counts. Hold the right foot with right hand and perform prāṇāyāma with the left hand. 
Repeat everyday for 12 days.
Stage 2
Once stage 1 is mastered, perform Paścimatānāsana with prāṇāyāma according to your capacity for intervals of 3 hours, once or twice a day, for 72 days. 
Stage 3
After preparing and drinking slowly a simple broth made from rice, dal and ginger, one immediately repeats the above practice of Paścimatānāsana with prāṇāyāma, taking rest and sipping the broth when needed. This cycle is practised continuously for 84 days, 24 hours a day.
Interestingly, the recipe for the broth is provided:
  • Soak about 120 grams of Sāṭhī rice1
  • Separately soak about 72 grams of mung dal
  • Grind both separately and make a broth by putting them together in water without salt
  • Mix in about 22.5 grams of green ginger
In total, the Paścimatānāsana sādhana takes a 168 days to complete. It is an ambitious endeavour. The rewards for undertaking such an intense sādhana do not disappoint. The Jogapradīpyakā claims that it will bestow several enticing benefits:
It destroys all diseases including tuberculosis. One can hear and see for thousands of miles. [When] one succeeds in it, 
one then sees miracles.

It is worth noting that the photo above of a late 18th - early 19th century wall painting from the Mahāmandir at Jodhpur offers a close, but not exact, representation of the practice of Paścimatānāsana as described in the Jogapradīpyakā. The latter specifies that the right foot is held with the right hand and the left hand is used to manipulate the nostrils.



NOTE:

1 Sāṭhī rice is a particular variety of rice that is harvested within 60 days (sāṭhī literally means '60'). It is sometimes referred to as 'red rice', but in India still has the name Sāṭhī. In recent years, Sāṭhī production has been discouraged due to the high water consumption required to cultivate it.



Jogapradīpyakā 70-78

Translation by JASON BIRCH **
"Now, [the instructions for] Paścimatānāsana:  
One should sit facing north and extend both outstretched legs. Then, one should perform prāṇāyāma and fill the Suṣumnā channel with prāṇa. (70) 
One should breathe in for twelve counts, hold the kumbhaka for twelve again and breathe out for twelve through the right nostril (piṅgalā nārī). Place the meditative gaze on the trikuṭī (i.e., the space between the eyebrows). (71) 
One should undertake [prāṇāyāma] with the left hand and hold the right foot with the right hand. Practise this method for twelve days.  Having mastered [it, then] follow the next [practice]. (72)  
Bring the breath under control according to one's capacity, and undertake the practice for three hours, once or twice [a day], for seventy-two days. Very gradually, one overcomes all obstacles. (73) 
Then, one should take [the following] gruel. One who does so, perfects this āsana. Soak Sāṭhī rice, taking no more than twenty-seven taṅkas (i,e., about 120 grams). (74) 
Then, one should acquire and soak sixteen taṅkas (i.e, 72 grams) of mung dal. Keep it separate [from the Sāṭhī rice]. Grind both separately and make a broth by putting [them together] in water. (75) 
One should make it without salt and add green ginger. Mix five taṅkas (i.e., 22.5 grams) [of ginger] into it. One should drink it very slowly and immediately perform this āsana. (76) 
At first, one should perform †it once†, take rest and practise again. In this manner, one should learn [how to do it] constantly, and undertake it for twenty-four hours, for eighty-four days. It destroys all diseases including tuberculosis. One can hear and see for thousands of miles. [When] one succeeds in it, one then sees miracles. This is Pachimatāṇa āsana. It is [also] called  Ārambha āsana. (77-78)

atha pachimatāṇa āsana |
uttara sanamukha baiṭhaka dhārai | dou caraṇa lāṃbā jū pasārai ||
bahorau prāṇāyāma jū karai | suṣamana māraga vāī bharai ||70||
dvādasa mātrā pūraka karai | dvādasa hī puni kuṃbhaka dharai ||
recai dvādasa piṃgalā nārī | rākhai trikuṭī driṣṭi vicārī ||71||
vāmahasta soṃ āraṃbha karai | dachana kara dachana paga dharai ||
dvādasa dina aaise vidha karaī | bahura sādhi āgai anusaraī ||72||
jathā sakti vāya vasi ānai | prahara eka doya āraṃbha ṭhānai ||
divasa bahattara aise karai | sanai sanai vighna saba ṭarai ||73||
bahuri ogarau aiso gahai | jā kari yo āsana sidha lahai ||
sāṭhī cāvala ko puni bhevai | ṭaṅkaṃ satāisa adhika na levai ||74||
solaha ṭaṃka mūṅga puni ānai | bhevai tāhi bhinna hī ṭhānai ||
bhinnabhinna kara bāṇṭe doū | karai palevau jala meṃ soū ||75||
karai alūṇau adraka lyāvai | ṭaṃka paṃca tā madhihi milāvai ||
sanai sanai so pībai aaise | turatahī yo āsana kara baise ||76||
†bāra yeka pathi† pahale sādhai | kari visarāma bahuri ārādhe ||
aisī bhāṃti dinarāta ju jānai | āṭha pahara ko āraṃbha ṭhānai ||77||
dina caurāsī āraṃbha karaī | rājaroga ādika saba haraī ||
sahasra kosa kī sunairu dekheṃ | lahai sidhi aciraja puni pekhe ||78||
iti pachimatāṇa āsana | yāhī ko āraṃbha āsana kahiye ||

** Thank you to James Mallinson for his comments on this translation.

Tuesday, 25 August 2015

International Day of Yoga: INTERVIEWS (Part 2)

By JACQUELINE HARGREAVES





Following on from Part 1 of Interviews with Indologists and Scholars of Yoga, I have asked the same questions of two of the world's leading scholars of Modern Yoga, namely Dr. Elizabeth De Michelis and Dr. Mark Singleton. Their expertise in modern Indic religions provides a different perspective on the recent International Day of Yoga (IDY).


The UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon has stated that:
By proclaiming 21 June as the International Day of Yoga, the General Assembly has recognised the holistic benefits of this timeless practice and its inherent compatibility with the principles and values of the United Nations.  
Yoga offers a simple, accessible and inclusive means to promote physical and spiritual health and well-being. It promotes respect for one’s fellow human beings and for the planet we share. And yoga does not discriminate; to varying degrees, all people can practice, regardless of their relative strength, age or ability.

           ELIZABETH DE MICHELIS            
Independant Scholar; Senior Manager, ModernYogaResearch.org

1. What is the significance of the UN proclaiming an International Day of Yoga to you as an academic?

[Elizabeth] It has given me food for thought. The fact that the proclamation has been supported so quickly and so easily by so many countries is an obvious acknowledgement of the worldwide popularity of (modern forms of) yoga. I also could not help noticing that the date chosen – the summer solistice - was the same as that of the ‘yoga days’ which have become popular over the last few years in the USA and beyond: I believe it was the Times Square Alliance in New York that started the trend in 2003, though I have not systematically researched this. 

And in relation to this, looking at the photos of these now internationally popular ‘yoga days’ over the last few years I acknowledge that what I had started off calling the (modern) ‘classroom format’ of yoga practice in my 1990s research work, while still very much alive and well, has by now spawned the (perhaps post-modern) ‘mass gathering format’. 

Some further reflection could perhaps be made by comparing and contrasting these events with other mass gathering or big group practice manifestation such as:
  • another periodic ‘yogic’ mass manifestation event, the Kumbha Mela. Or should that not be considered a ‘yogic event’? 
  • big gymastic nationalistic gathering or ‘social shows’ seen in recent and contemporary history at different locations.
  • public group practice such as is common in China for Tai Chi.
  • group ‘meditation-oriented’ practices such as those organised by MedMob in the USA and elsewhere, or the visually striking (and obviously carefully visually coreographed) ones organised in Thailand by the Dhammakaya movement.
Such topics could be stimulating for classroom discussion.

2. Do you think the idea of using Yoga as an "accessible and inclusive means to promote physical and spiritual health and well-being" is valid?

[Elizabeth] Potentially, yes; in practice however it all depends how one goes about it!

3. Is the claim that Yoga "promotes respect for one’s fellow human beings and for the planet we share" reasonable? If so, why?

[ElizabethPotentially, yes; in practice however it all depends how one goes about it!

4. Have either of these claims been reflected in history or have they only developed within the modern transnational Yoga movement?

[Elizabeth] As Mallinson and Birch have already stated, it may be argued that the first claim has a historical basis. The second is the result of modern ecological concerns and preoccupations, which are often assimilated into modern yoga representatives’ ideological elaborations.

5. The UN has also declared that its aim is to:
"Underscor[e] the fact that global health is a long-term development objective that requires closer international cooperation through the exchange of best practices aimed at building better individual lifestyles devoid of excesses of all kinds”
Do you think modern transnational Yoga may play a useful role toward achieving such an aim? If so, how?

[ElizabethPotentially, yes; in practice however it all depends how one goes about it!



           MARK SINGLETON            
Reseacher, SOAS, University of London 

1. What is the significance of the UN proclaiming an International Day of Yoga to you as an academic?

[Mark] For someone who has studied modern manifestations of yoga, this is significant in that it signals a new acceptance of yoga on a global scale. The discourses and concepts associated with yoga in Ban Ki-moon's address are also important in revealing a shared, and now truly international, vocabulary of yoga today.

2. Do you think the idea of using Yoga as an "accessible and inclusive means to promote physical and spiritual health and well-being" is valid?

[Mark] If there is general agreement about what these concepts mean, if the yoga that is being taught does in fact represent an accessible and inclusive means to attain them (i.e. the practice is open to all and does in fact produce the results as one understands them), and if one therefore considers that this is something worth striving for and promoting (an ideal), then one's idea about how yoga is to be used is, de facto, valid. However, the same might not be true of a yoga form that is, say, exclusive and inaccessible for most—perhaps requiring long, arduous training, or difficult initiations—or involves  practices in which one's physical body is neglected or harmed.

Problems also arise when one has different ideas about the meaning of these concepts (e.g. the far from transparent term 'spiritual health'), and the characterisation of yoga as a means to attain them. Clearly, you will get different answers about validity according to the person doing the validating (or invalidating). Philologists and yoga historians might seek to answer this question by providing evidence for accessibility and inclusiveness in yoga texts, which may be seen to have a validating function with regard to the larger yoga tradition. But there are problems and limitations here. For example, such evidence might be beside the point for those for whom yoga traditions are irrelevant, or perhaps even pernicious, with regard to their personal or faith community's understanding of 'spiritual health'. For such people, being included in yoga might well be far from a 'valid idea'. Indeed, inclusion might even be experienced as wilful, unwelcome indoctrination, and thus as a kind of violence against one's own practices and beliefs, as has been the case in certain schools, for example. 

3. Is the claim that Yoga "promotes respect for one’s fellow human beings and for the planet we share" reasonable? If so, why?

[MarkThe ethical rules of yoga (yamas and niyamas) enjoin particular ways of acting towards others—don't be violent, speak and act truthfully, don't steal etc.—and in this sense they could be seen as promoting respect for one's fellow humans, as well as animals. However, this does not necessarily mean that all yogis respect their fellow human beings. Also, the notion of respect for the planet we share strikes me as a characteristically contemporary concern reflected in the environmental movement, humanist philosophy and a fairly recent widespread consciousness of global belonging. This is not the same as saying that yoga does not 'promote respect for the planet we share', although I'd be surprised to find such a formulation, framed in the same way, in a premodern yoga text. 

Perhaps I am missing the point here, though: the question asks whether and how this claim is reasonable. But reasonable in what sense? My answer so far implies that a statement about yoga is reasonable to the extent that the claim can be shown to have strong precedents in yoga's (textual) tradition. However, statements like this are a priori true if, in the yoga one is promoting, it is axiomatic that these are the kind of things that yoga does. That seems to be the case here, and therefore these claims can be seen to be reasonable, both in the sense of internally satisfying the definition of yoga being offered, and in the sense that these qualities of respect for others and the planet are commonly perceived to constitute 'reasonable' values—irrespective of textual evidence or its absence. The statement is, in other words, declarative of a particular version of yoga espoused and approved by the UN that promotes respect for humans and the shared planet. With regard to statements like this, conceivably contradictory statements from yoga historians (something like, say, 'through most of its history, yoga has not promoted respect for the planet we share') might be, once again, beside the point, if the point is what yoga can and should do, from the perspective of the shared values enshrined in the United Nations. 

Lastly, one might also wish to question in what sense we actually 'share' the planet, in an age of wildly unequal resource and wealth distribution, and the systemic exploitation of people for the profit of powerful elites. 

4. Have either of these claims been reflected in history or have they only developed within the modern transnational Yoga movement?

[MarkYes, these claims are reflected in history (with qualifications, such as those mentioned above). Yes, these are qualities that have also developed within some of yoga's recent, transnational history (with some spectacular exceptions). It's rarely a matter of either/or when comparing ancient and recent pasts, especially when the present draws on the past to construct its meaning and identity to the extent that yoga does.

It strikes me that Ban Ki-moon's emphasis on yoga as a timeless practice with inherent qualities puts his discourse on a different footing to one that would assume diachronic historical development within yoga. Also, it seems to me that, unlike the UN, modern transnational yoga isn't really a 'Yoga movement' at all in the sense of having a shared, declared charter or mission. Its history is far more varied, decentralised and tangled.

5. The UN has also declared that its aim is to:
"Underscor[e] the fact that global health is a long-term development objective that requires closer international cooperation through the exchange of best practices aimed at building better individual lifestyles devoid of excesses of all kinds”
Do you think modern transnational Yoga may play a useful role toward achieving such an aim? If so, how?

[MarkI imagine that many of the people who practice and study yoga in various ways today could contribute significantly to an international dialogue on best health practices: there is an increasing amount of scientific evidence for the health benefits of certain yoga practices, after all. However, that 'health' is achieved by avoiding 'excesses of all kinds' and that one's 'individual lifestyle' is better as a result is a complex proposition that requires further examination. I imagine William Blake would have something to say about such 'best practices', for example, especially perhaps with reference to Ban Ki-moon's notion of 'spiritual health'! One also wonders which parts of yoga would have to be excised or ignored under such a regime: presumably those which are judged not to contribute to yoga's 'holistic benefits'.


Edited 28 August, 2015: Mark Singleton's comments for questions 2 and 3.

          FURTHER INFORMATION          

The Luminescent:

International Day of Yoga: INTERVIEWS (Part 1)

UN International Day of Yoga:

Monday, 20 July 2015

The earliest known 'Dog' Pose

By JACQUELINE HARGREAVES



The earliest known description (to date) of 'Dog' Pose is called Śvottānāsana (Up-turned Dog Pose) in the text called the Haṭhābhyāsapaddhati

Śvottānāsana

Having placed the body like a corpse, joining the knees together and bringing [them] onto the navel, clasping the neck with the hands, [the yogin] should rotate [the legs. This is] the up-turned dog [pose].

Translation by Jason Birch (2015)

The image seen here in an artistic representation from the later digest named the Śrītattvanidhi.

During extensive periods of manuscript fieldwork in Indian and Nepalese libraries in 2003, 2009 and 2013, we visited over 24 libraries in 12 cities. We were pleased to consult many interesting works, including an unpublished manuscript of a 17th - early 18th century Haṭhayoga text known as the Haṭhābhyāsapaddhati (mentioned in publications of M. L. Gharote of the Lonavla Yoga Institute). 

The Haṭhābhyāsapaddhati is an exciting find for many reasons. One such reason is that it offers descriptions of 112 āsanas, many of which are quite unique. It is important textual evidence for the practice of many āsanas in Haṭhayoga prior to the arrival of the British in India.

However, this version of 'Dog' Pose does not resemble the version practised today in Modern Postural Yoga. 

We will discuss this evidence and other interesting insights during our short online course on the evolution of āsana. 

Date to be announced shortly.

The historical significance of the Haṭhābhyāsapaddhati will be presented in detail in the forthcoming publication:

'The Proliferation of Asana in Late Mediaeval Yoga Traditions'
Yoga in Transformation: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives on a Global Phenomenon, Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht Unipress 

You can also read more about our past manuscript adventures here.

Sunday, 21 June 2015

International Day of Yoga : INTERVIEWS

By JACQUELINE HARGREAVES




The UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon has stated that:
By proclaiming 21 June as the International Day of Yoga, the General Assembly has recognised the holistic benefits of this timeless practice and its inherent compatibility with the principles and values of the United Nations.  
Yoga offers a simple, accessible and inclusive means to promote physical and spiritual health and well-being. It promotes respect for one’s fellow human beings and for the planet we share. And yoga does not discriminate; to varying degrees, all people can practice, regardless of their relative strength, age or ability.
I have asked a couple of the world's leading scholars of Yoga; Indologists who specialise in medieval (sanskritic) yoga traditions, to answer a few questions about the significance of this statement and their thoughts on the aims of this International Day of Yoga (IDY).


          JIM MALLINSON          
Lecturer in Sanskrit and Classical and Indian Studies at SOAS, University of London


1. What is the significance of the UN proclaiming an International Day of Yoga to you as an academic?

[Jim] As an academic who works on the history of yoga and its current practice amongst traditional ascetic communities rather than yoga’s modern manifestations, International Day of Yoga is not directly relevant to my work (I doubt many of my ascetics yogi friends in India will be paying it much attention) but it does underline the huge global popularity of yoga today and my work sheds light on the origins of some of modern globalised practices, so it confirms the relevance of my work.

2. Do you think the idea of using Yoga as an "accessible and inclusive means to promote physical and spiritual health and well-being" is valid?

[Jim] Yes.

3. Is the claim that Yoga "promotes respect for one’s fellow human beings and for the planet we share" reasonable? If so, why?

[Jim] Difficult one. It depends on how one understands yoga. If one takes it to include the ethical requirements deemed part of it in most texts on the subject and in most of the traditions which practise it, then the claim is reasonable, but I imagine it is quite possible for someone to practise certain aspects of yoga and not respect others or the planet.

4. Have either of these claims been reflected in history or have they only developed within the modern transnational Yoga movement?

[Jim] With regard to the history: respect for one’s fellow human beings (and animals), yes (as part of the ethical requirements of yoga practice); respect for the planet as a whole, no (environmental concerns are a modern phenomenon), although texts teach us that the yogi should practise in a clean natural environment.

5. The UN has also declared that its aim is to:

"Underscor[e] the fact that global health is a long-term development objective that requires closer international cooperation through the exchange of best practices aimed at building better individual lifestyles devoid of excesses of all kinds”
Do you think modern transnational Yoga may play a useful role toward achieving such an aim? If so, how?

[Jim] Yes: the avoidance of excesses is part of a yogic lifestyle, and yoga practice is fairly uniform across the world so it can work well as a medium for the exchange of ideas concerning health.


          JASON BIRCH          
Post-doctoral Research Fellow, Oriental Studies (Yoga and Ayurveda), University of Vienna

1. What is the significance of the UN proclaiming an International Day of Yoga to you as an academic?

[Jason] Academics are often asked (particularly by funding institutions) to justify the importance of their work in a broader social context. The UN's support of the holistic benefits of yoga in the community is helpful for academics because it acknowledges the growing importance of yoga in UN countries and the role it might play in future UN policies (in particular, those concerning preventive medicine). Much of the yoga taught globally is based on traditional knowledge (some of it quite modern) from India. Scholarship can help preserve that knowledge and assist other academics (in particular, scientists who want to test the efficacy of yoga techniques) and the broader community in understanding that knowledge and its complex history.

2. Do you think the idea of using Yoga as an "accessible and inclusive means to promote physical and spiritual health and well-being" is valid?

[Jason] Yes. However, there are major issues such as the regulation of the yoga market, training programs for teachers, the integration of yoga with mainstream medicine in a formal way and so on, which are yet to be adequately addressed by any country, as far as I know. Also, as I suggest in my answer to the previous question, further research in conjunction with the knowledge and efforts of those yoga teachers who are succeeding in adapting yoga to help a wide range of people, will further our collective knowledge on how best yoga can be used therapeutically and how it has been used in the past.

3. Is the claim that Yoga "promotes respect for one’s fellow human beings and for the planet we share" reasonable? If so, why?

[Jason] It is a reasonable claim and might seem obvious to many, but it is more complicated than it seems. Yoga techniques can develop capacities in people and these capacities can be used for the greater good or the very opposite. In other words, one might practice yoga to more effectively pursue immoral aims. This is more of an explicit issue for martial arts which trains people in dangerous fighting methods. I can't think of a yoga technique that might injure another person in the same way as a punch or kick, but I strongly suspect that some physical yoga techniques were incorporated into the training regimes of warrior ascetics in the late medieval period.

The ethical problems which arise in yoga communities do not seem to result from the practice of yoga but from the power a teacher gains over students. We have seen yoga gurus exploit students and it is often more insidious than, say, the misuse of martial arts, because it can be cloaked in spiritual deception. An example that comes to mind are the sexual rituals which involve gurus molesting or having sex with their students who agree to subject themselves to it because they believe the ritual is supposed to be for their spiritual advancement. Some of these gurus appear to have even convinced themselves that such "rituals" benefit their students, but they need to be judged according to social norms on these matters and not according to their own spiritual conventions which can easily become amoral, particularly if they propound non-dual philosophical teachings. In other words, the spiritual teachings of some yoga gurus can undermine good ethical standards. The more pressing ethical issue in modern postural yoga is inappropriate postural adjustments in which a yoga teacher touches a student in a sexual way.

There have been medieval traditions of yoga which did not stipulate social and personal moral codes (i.e., yama and niyama), probably because they offered their teachings to a broad spectrum of people (i.e., Brahmins, ascetics, Jains, Buddhists, Kāpālikas, etc.) who had different beliefs. In this case, one must assume that, for example, a Brahmin practising Haṭhayoga would follow the Brahmanical ethical code. Also, it is conceivable (though I know of no evidence for this) that a Kāpālika (i.e., a Śaiva cremation ground ascetic) might ritually perform human sacrifice, eat some of the flesh and practice Haṭhayoga to improve his digestion. These yoga traditions seem more morally neutral in the sense that they rely on the ethics of other traditions.

Nonetheless, there is a late medieval yoga text, the Haṭhābhyāsapaddhati, which contains quite a lengthy discussion of the yama and niyama and says its teachings are even for those who commit egregious acts. The text doesn't state that its aim was to reform miscreants, but perhaps, the author knew that the practice of yoga combined with an ethical code could help in this regard by promoting non-violence, honesty, etc. which is comparable with 'respect for one's fellow human beings'.

Recent efforts to teach yoga in prisons have yielded some good results, but I know of one instance in which the result was not so good. So, the way yoga is taught in such circumstances is very important. The incorrect or inappropriate teaching of yoga techniques can harm people and make matters worse. This is why teachers need to be well-educated and experienced in the practice before they start teaching. Also, cultures of conformity can lead to unhealthy habits in the practice of yoga even in schools which aim to improve the wellbeing of their students. Matthew Remski is looking closely at this and I look forward to reading the results of his research.

As for caring for the planet, I know of no historical precedent in medieval India, but am aware of the 'green yoga movement', etc. in the States and India, which appears to be an extension of ahimsā (non-harming) and, perhaps, a modern reinterpretation of purification (śauca).

4. Have either of these claims been reflected in history or have they only developed within the modern transnational Yoga movement?

[Jason] Respect for one's fellow humans is reflected in medieval teachings on ahimsā, which derive from a moral view of karma (the law of action). Respect for the planet is a modern development in regard to yoga.

5. The UN has also declared that its aim is to:
"Underscor[e] the fact that global health is a long-term development objective that requires closer international cooperation through the exchange of best practices aimed at building better individual lifestyles devoid of excesses of all kinds”
Do you think modern transnational Yoga may play a useful role toward achieving such an aim? If so, how?

[Jason] Yes, generally speaking, modern postural yoga was largely founded on the desire for better physical and mental health. Indian gurus such as Kṛṣṇamācārya and Swāmī Kuvalayānanda used yoga to make young people fit and healthy and to cure the illnesses of older people. At this time there was at least one Mahārāja (i.e., the Rāj of Aundh) who saw the benefit for his community in introducing yoga at schools.

The curative effects of yoga are prominent in medieval sources, as well as specific interventions which were used when a yoga practitioner was ill. The medieval thinking behind this was that illness was an obstacle to the practice of yoga and thus, the attainment of its soteriological goal (i.e., liberation from the worldly life and the suffering it entailed). There were also teachings on the type of diet (in particular, moderate eating) which was required for one who had adopted a rigorous āsana and prāṇāyāma practice. In fact, the serious practice of Haṭhayogic mudrās (which include headstand and muscular locks) and the breathing exercises (prāṇāyāma) at the prescribed times of the day and night would certainly have imposed a strict regime on the practitioner.

In 20th-century India, physical yoga became integral to some efforts to develop indigenous healing modalities that could compete with European ones. It also became part of the nationalist movement to create strong and healthy Indians fit for independence, so to speak. Modern transnational yoga has inherited much of the āsana practice developed in India in the early 20th century for greater strength and fitness and it has also been inspired by the texts of past traditions of yoga.