A Comprehensive History of Yoga: Research and Scholarship

In this unique eight week interactive course, leading scholars in the fast developing world of yoga studies share their ground-breaking knowledge, through short lectures, images, and both online and live discussions. The course covers the whole historical span of yoga, from its earliest conceptions in ancient India to the contemporary yoga of the 21st century, and includes elements from so far unpublished research material. It provides a unique historical insight into the breadth and depth of the yoga traditions, taught in an accessible and interactive way.


Course Description

We are excited to present this ground breaking eight week online course – A Comprehensive History of Yoga: Research and Scholarship. The study of yoga’s history is one of the fastest growing areas within academia, and Yogacampus is honoured that many of the scholars at the forefront of this field have agreed to participate in this course. Through detailed study of textual sources, as well as extensive fieldwork, fascinating new discoveries are being made on a regular basis. These discoveries often challenge some of the more traditionally accepted theories of yoga’s history and origins, and provide great new insights into that history – we are delighted to be able to share some of them in this course.

In this course, leading figures in the world of yoga studies share their knowledge over eight weeks, through lectures, images and interactive elements. The course covers the whole historical span of yoga, from its earliest conceptions in ancient India to the contemporary yoga of the 21st century, and includes elements from so far unpublished research material. It provides a unique historical insight into the breadth and depth of the yoga traditions, taught in an accessible and interactive way. Amongst many other things, you will discover possibly the earliest known depiction of a headstand, explore some esoteric tantric practices, learn how contemporary Indian ascetics view yoga practice, and discuss the possible relationships between the yoga of Patañjali’s Yoga Sūtras and contemporaneous Buddhist teachings.

Course Structure

The course is linear and structured in its approach, allowing you to explore your own journey of learning on a week by week basis. Each week, you will be given access to between two and four 20 to 30 minute video lectures, supported by slides and images to consider and textual extracts to read – some of which have not previously been widely available in English translation. You can study at a level and depth suitable to you – each week, preliminary and additional reading material is supplied.

You will receive links to each week’s video lectures and supporting materials each Tuesday, and can watch those lectures whenever and as often as you wish. To help assimilate and reflect on the information learned each week, there will be short quizzes and a weekly reflection topic, as well as an active discussion forum moderated by Amelia Wood, a yoga teacher and academic. Twice during the course, you will also have the chance to participate in a live online discussion with Amelia and/or one or more of the course teachers. For those wishing to receive a certificate of completion, the course will conclude with a final online assessment which will enable you to demonstrate your understanding of the course teachings.

You have one week to complete the requirements for each module before being able to move on to the next module. This is to ensure that the whole group begins and ends the course at the same time. However, once you have completed the course, you will have access to the content for a further six months.

What Will I Learn?

Over the 8 weeks of the course you will study:

  • What is yoga? How has the meaning of the term developed through the ages?
  • The historical background to the rise of yoga
  • Yogic ideas and references to yoga in the Upaniṣads and the Mahābhārata
  • An introduction to the yoga system of Patañjali
  • Recent innovative scholarship on the yoga of Patañjali
  • The yoga practices of the early tantrics
  • Origins and hallmarks of early haṭha yoga
  • Rāja yoga and its relationship with haṭha yoga
  • The rise of āsana, and the growth of modern postural yoga
  • The interaction of yoga with fitness, religion and politics

Who is the Course for?

The course is open to all with an interest in the history of yoga, whether a practitioner or not. Some basic familiarity with the practices of yoga will be helpful, but is not essential.

How long will I have access to course material?

Included in the course is six months' extra access to course materials after the course end date.

Hours and Certification

You will receive a Yogacampus certificate of completion on finishing the course, stating the course duration of study as 8 weeks.


Meet the Teachers

The course is delivered by top yoga academics, scholars and practitioners who between them represent the cutting edge of knowledge in the field of yoga history. They are:

  • Dr. Mark Singleton: Dr. Singleton is a Senior Research Fellow at SOAS, University of London, and Senior Researcher on the Haṭha Yoga Project. He is an expert on yoga in the pre-colonial and modern world (in which field he obtained a PhD from Cambridge University), and has published several books and articles on yoga. He co-edited the recent widely acclaimed book Roots of Yoga, and his earlier book Yoga Body: the Origins of Modern Posture Practice has become a classic in the study of yoga history.
  • Dr. James Mallinson: Reader in Indology and Yoga Studies at SOAS, and Principal Investigator for the Haṭha Yoga Project, Dr. Mallinson is probably the world’s leading expert on the tradition of haṭha yoga. He holds a doctorate from Oxford University, and has published several books and articles, including co-editing Roots of Yoga with Mark Singleton.
  • Dr. Jason Birch: Dr. Birch is a Sanskrit scholar and post-doctoral researcher on the Haṭha Yoga Project. His specialisations include the tradition of rāja yoga (in which he obtained his PhD from Oxford University) and the study of the early proliferation of yoga postures, on both of which he has published a number of articles in peer reviewed journals.
  • Dr. Somdev Vasudeva: Dr. Vasudeva received his PhD from Oxford University in 2000 for his work on tantric yoga, and is considered one of the world’s leading scholars of yoga in the tantric traditions. He is currently Associate Professor of Indian Philosophy and Transcultural Studies at Kyoto University in Japan.
  • Dr. Graham Burns: Graham Burns is a former Senior Teaching Fellow at SOAS, from where he holds an MA in Religions, and a PhD on the philosophical teachings of the Upaniṣads. A yoga teacher since 2001, Graham also teaches the yoga history components of the Yogacampus Yoga Teacher Training Diploma courses.
  • Dr Karen O’Brien-Kop: previously a Senior Teaching Fellow at SOAS and now Lecturer in Asian Religions and Ethics at the University of Roehampton, Karen holds an MA from SOAS in Traditions of Yoga and Meditation, and a PhD from SOAS on the yoga of Patañjali in relation to Buddhist textual accounts of yoga in the first millennium CE.

We are also delighted to include contributions by other leading academics and teachers.

The course moderator, Amelia Wood, is a PhD candidate at SOAS, University of London, researching modern transnational yoga movements. She completed her MA in Traditions of Yoga and Meditation at SOAS in 2015. Amelia has been teaching yoga and working in the yoga world for over ten years. Her teaching focuses on the therapeutic application of yoga following the Krishnamacharya tradition.

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