Intro to the History of Yoga: Philosophy, Practice, Transformation

This summer, come join a small group of experienced yogis for an 8-week course of foundational study of yoga from a historical perspective, including:

  • a timeline of yoga traditions from antiquity to the present
  • philosophy & practices of “Classical Yoga” (text: The Yoga Sūtra of Patañjali)
  • basics of Buddhist philosophy & practice
  • what Tantra is (and is not)
  • devotional religion, mythology, gods & goddesses
  • philosophy & practices of Haṭha Yoga (text: The Gheranda Saṃhita)
  • history & politics of globalized yoga in the post-colonial period

This course is an expansion of material I have taught in Yoga Teacher Training programs for many years, and is the most historically-grounded, in-depth introduction to yoga history that I know of for YTT students and dedicated practitioners. The course is divided into two parts:

Part 1: Classical Yogas

4 Thursdays, 9-11am: July 20, 27, August 3, 10
Hatha Yoga Shala, Berkeley

We begin with the ancient ascetic-meditative traditions described in the wisdom texts known as upaniṣads, which evolved into the teachings of the Buddha, Patañjali (the author of the Yoga-Sūtra), and many schools of contemplative practice, including Jainism, Saṃkhya and Vedānta, the root of Hinduism. We focus on the common elements in these many systems: meditation, ethics, and a deep inquiry into the nature of the Soul, or ātman.

Every class includes lecture, Q & A, personal reflection, small group discussion, and practice. In this first part of the course we practice foundational mindfulness and meditation methods based in the systems we’re studying. Students of either yoga or meditation will gain tools to deepen their practice, including:

  • working with attention: moving from distraction and habit to focus and choice
  • understanding the relationship between sensation, emotion, and thought
  • how meditation can help anxiety and stress (and when it can’t!)
  • why calm and focus are the foundations of the yogic path
  • what Liberation (nirvāṇa, mokṣa, kaivalya) is, and feels like

Though it is not the primary content of this course, my understanding of the nature of stress and resilience is in part based in Organic Intelligence, an elegant contemporary model of trauma, healing, and resilience. We’ll see how the ancient models of stress and freedom beautifully anticipate contemporary knowledge about the nervous system and our self-protective instincts.

Part 2: Tantra, Haṭha, & Modern Yogas

4 Thursdays, 9-11am: September  7-28
Hatha Yoga Shala, Berkeley

The second half of the course opens into the vast array of exercises, ideas, and brilliant explorations of the human condition we now call “yoga.” We trace a winding history of transformational practices: passionate devotion to the gods and goddesses; mantra, visualization, and the profound mysticism of Tantra; the esoteric physicality of early Haṭha Yoga; and the first dramatic century of yoga in the West with its focus on physical skill, guru devotion, and a blending of yoga with Western disciplines like psychology, exercise, and social justice.

Understanding ourselves as active participants in the history of yoga, we also touch on the recent conversation within the yoga community about colonialism and cultural appropriation that challenges many of the ideas we may hold about what yoga is, who has a right to teach it, and what the effects of our devotion to it may be for the cultures that invented it.

For practice, we focus on the tools of early Haṭha Yoga, particularly prānāyāma, mūdra, and bandha. These techniques of breath-energy cultivation awaken the senses, brighten the felt sense of the body, and traditionally were used to awaken a powerful vitality in the body known as kuṇḍalinī. We explore them gently, and discuss the energetic experiences that can come when practice matures. Topics include:

  • visionary anatomy of the subtle body: nāḍi, cakra, granthi, bindu
  • the centrality of sexual energy to early Haṭha Yoga
  • the subtle body as a map of spiritual and psychological growth
  • practice innovations that became central to contemporary yoga
  • basics of working with energetic experiences, strong emotion, and trauma
Required Texts

Mallinson and Singleton, Roots of Yoga (Penguin, NY) 2017.
Hartranft, The Yoga-Sūtra of Patañjali (Shambhala, Boston) 2003.
Mallinson, The Gheranda Samhita (YogaVidya.com, Woodstock) 2004.

This course is intended for yoga teachers in training, experienced teachers wanting a refresher in history and philosophy, and dedicated students of either yoga or meditation who want to understand the roots of their practice. The course offers 16 hours of Continuing Education for yoga teachers registered with Yoga Alliance, and exceeds the required hours for philosophy and history study for 200 hour YTT programs.

Pre-Registration Required
  • Full Series: $150
  • Early Bird (till 7/13): $120
  • Part 1 or 2 only: $80 each
  • Alumna price of $90 if you’ve been my student in any 200h YTT program, or if you’re in any local YTT program currently

To register, fill out this form and hit submit, then click the PayPal button below. You’ll leave this site and go to PayPal, and you can pay there either with a PP balance or a credit card. You don’t need to have/make a PayPal account to do this.

If you need to pay a different way (check, etc), or have questions about payment, fill out the registration form with your question in the last box, and we’ll contact you.

“No One Turned Away for lack of resources” (NOTA)

And if you want to take the course but the cost is prohibitive, click “Scholarship” on the dropdown menu, write a little about your situation in the “Comments” box, and we’ll contact you.

Register Here


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We’ll send you an email to confirm registration, and with more info. If you have questions about the course, please contact us here.

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This is the last time I’m planning on teaching this material live, as the series will be videotaped for an online study course. Participants will always have the option to not be filmed. After the series is complete, participants will have free access to the online course and all materials for later study and reference.