Intro to the History of Yoga online course


From self-study
arises union with the desired deity.

(Patañjali, Yoga-Sūtra 2.44, tr. Chapple)

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

with dr. Sean Feit Oakes

A university-level introduction to Yoga history from an engaging scholar-practitioner, designed for serious students of yoga and meditation.

History of Yoga Course

Dive into the ocean of ideas, practices, and culture that evolved into modern yoga, looking at over 2500 years of South Asian cultural and spiritual innovation, including profound philosophical inquiry into the nature of the human experience, and the disciplines of meditation, mantra, ritual, and breath that are the heart of Yoga as a spiritual path.

Integrating history & practice

The course explores Yoga from two perspectives: history & practice.

  1. Through the lens of history, ideas are explored by looking at the cultural conditions that surrounded them, the dynamic social and political contexts in which Yoga developed.
  2. Through the lens of practice, we engage with the teachings of yoga as spiritual practitioners, concerned with the result of dedicated practice in our lives and relationships now.

The creation of this course was born out of Dr. Oakes’ passion for supporting and strengthening modern Yoga education and his extensive research of the material to create a robust and thorough curriculum for Yoga teacher training programs. After years of presenting this course in both 200 and 500 hour YTT programs, Dr. Oakes is making this course widely available so that more practitioners can have access to, and benefit from engaging with, this material.

A deeper relationship with your practice awaits. One with a stronger understanding and reverence for the culture from which these transformative practices arose. 

This course lays the foundation for a lifetime of study and growth.
registration is currently closed.  Please sign up to be notified of 2020 dates.

Meet your guide, Dr. Sean Feit Oakes

Buddhism & Hatha Yoga

Sean Feit Oakes, PhD, E-RYT, SEP, teaches Buddhism and Haṭha Yoga with a focus on the integration of meditation, trauma resolution, and social justice. He studied in Theravāda, Zen, and Vajrāyāna Buddhist lineages, including training as a monk in Burma, and was authorized to teach Insight Meditation by Jack Kornfield.

After beginning in Ashtanga practice, Dr. Oakes studied yoga with Alice Joanou, Rachel Shaw, Amanda Moran, and David Moreno, and taught mindfulness-based vinyasa for 10+ years. He now focuses his yoga teaching on individualized āsana and prāṇāyāma for experienced students, and a somatic approach to inquiry, ethics, and meditation as the heart of the path.

Continue reading Dr. Oakes’ full bio and statement of positionality…

Course Details

This course does so much more than outline a timeline of how and when Yoga developed. Dr. Oakes is a skilled storyteller, bringing complex, nuanced material to life and inviting all participants to engage personally with the lessons. The content of the course is delivered in a thoughtful progression, building depth of understanding and including time for personal inquiry and reflection.

If you have yet to explore the world of online learning, you are in for a treat. This course gives you the best of both worlds, allowing you to watch the pre-recorded video lessons and do the practices when it works for your schedule. You will also be supported by Dr. Oakes in live Q&A sessions and engage with the whole community in a private forum. 


  • 16 hours of engaging, high quality video lecture, recorded live in Berkeley, CA in 2017.
  • Hundreds of beautiful slides with classical imagery & text excerpts.
  • Comprehensive downloadable manual (over 70 pages!), including text excerpts & suggestions for further study.
  • Guided meditations for personal practice.
  • Inquiry questions to support you on your path.
  • Two live Q&A sessions with Dr. Oakes via Zoom.
  • Access to engage with Dr. Oakes and the full community, at any time, via a private discussion forum.


  • All course materials are delivered through a user-friendly, distraction-free learning environment, hosted right here on our website.
  • You simply log-in and flow through the progression of video lessons and practices.
  • Access the course from anywhere, anytime, including mobile devices.
  • Go at your own pace: pause, repeat and replay content as much as desired.

Course Schedule

The full course experience will unfold over 8 weeks, with a focus on 1 topic per week. Each topic is comprised of multiple, short video lessons, inquiry questions and practices, as well as suggestions for further study.

After the close of the 8 weeks, continue to enjoy lifetime access to the course, allowing you to return to the content as much as desired.

1.1 Intro: What is Yoga?
1.2 The Indus Valley Civilization
1.3 Two Vedic Hymns
1.4 Yoga in the Upaniṣads
1.5 Death as Guru: The Kaṭha Upaniṣad
1.6 Q & A, 25 Tattva (elements)
1.7 Practice: 5 Great Elements & 5 Senses
1.8 Q & A
Class 1 Inquiry: Renunciation & discomfort

2.1 Śramana review & stories of Young Gotama
2.2 Gotama studies Yoga
2.3 Gotama’s ascetic practice & childhood insight
2.4 Q & A: formless concentration & ancient yoga practice
2.5 Early Buddhist philosophy & practice
2.6 Two Early Buddhist practices
Class 2 Inquiry: The Buddha & his community

3.1 Opening Practice: Sense Experience & Awareness
3.2 Core Doctrines of Classical Yoga
3.3 The Philosophical Schools of Yoga & Sāṃkhya
3.4 The Philosophy of the Yoga-Sūtra, part 1
3.5 Patañjali Q & A: Yama
3.6 The Philosophy of the Yoga-Sūtra, part 2: 8 Limbs
3.7 Meditation based on the Yoga-Sūtra of Patañjali
Class 3 Inquiry: Flow, stillness, ethics

4.1 The Great Indian Epic: Mahābhārata, part 1
4.2 The Great Indian Epic: Mahābhārata, part 2
4.3 Teachings of the Bhagavad Gītā, part 1: karma
4.4 Teachings of the Bhagavad Gītā, part 2: yoga; colonialism
4.5 Teachings of the Bhagavad Gītā, part 3: bhakti
4.6 Bhakti Practices: mantra, chanting, kirtan
Class 4 Inquiry: Karma & Devotion

5.1 Intro to Second Half of Course & Review
5.2 Two Classical Yoga Practices: Meditation & Mantra; Q & A
5.3 So many Gods & Goddesses
5.4 Myth: Churning the Ocean of Milk
5.5 Vaiṣṇava Bhakti: Stories of Viṣṇu in the form of Kṛṣṇa
5.6 Śaiva Goddess Worship: Stories of Devī in the Forms of Durgā & Kālī
Class 5 Inquiry: Deities & mythology

6.1 Review & Intro to Tantric Philosophy: Dualism & Non-dualism
6.2 Tantra in Indian History: Philosophy & Practice
6.3 Tantra in Practice: The Guru Principle, Q & A
6.4 Principles of Tantra: Definitions, Texts, Doctrines
Class 6 Inquiry: social norms & gender in Tantra

7.1 The Tantric Roots of Haṭha Yoga
7.2 Practices of Early Haṭha Yoga
7.3 The Haṭha Yoga Pradīpikā: Practices
7.4 The Haṭha Yoga Pradīpikā: kuṇḍalinī, lāya, Q & A
Class 7 Inquiry: Health, power, & sex in Haṭha Yoga

8.1 Meditation: Sensation, embodiment, gratitude
8.2 Yoga comes West: Emerson, Vivekananda, Colonialism
8.3 “Modern Yoga”: Northern & Southern Lineages
8.4 Issues: cultural appropriation, spiritual materialism, race, diversity & inclusion, feminism, body image
Class 8 Inquiry: Modernity & all its issues

Live calls & community engagement

Dr. Oakes will host three live video calls via Zoom during the course to inspire group engagement and answer questions about the content: A welcome call with a group meditation, a mid point check-in and Q&A, and a final Q&A. All calls will be recorded and shared. 

A private group forum will provide a space to engage and ask questions throughout the course.

Sample a Lesson

Enjoy a sample video from the course on one of the most widely covered topics in Yoga philosophy: Patañjali’s Yoga-Sūtra.

Did you know there isn’t just one theory about the origin of the Yoga-Sūtra? That in fact there are at least four proposals for who Patañjali was and what exactly he wrote?

Play Video

Pricing: The radical practice of Gift Economy

If you are familiar with Dr. Oakes’ work, you know that widespread access and affordability are integral to his offering and he is committed to using the Gift Economy model to transmit his teachings. The term “Gift Economy” is borrowed from academic analyses of some pre-industrial societies, and refers to a culture or community that sees the movement of resources between people as a means to deepen connection, not as competition or commerce. We encourage you to read more about the philosophy and practice of Gift Economy here.

In keeping true to the fundamental belief that all interested practitioners are welcome to receive the teachings, regardless of material wealth, enrollment is set up on a sliding scale, with additional scholarship options. 


The sliding scale is based on self-assessment of your ability to offer your resources in a way that supports others with lesser resources to attend. Please support us to offer this radical anti-Capitalist pricing structure by offering the highest amount you can afford, and by giving above the suggested price if you can, which directly gifts scholarship support to those who need it. Thank you for your generosity!

$200: base / “non-profit” level price
$250: suggested price / keeps us sustainable
$300+: supports scholarships & future offerings


Scholarships are offered as widely as possible and based on request. Our goal is to not turn anyone away for lack of resources, both for this course and future offerings.

Please complete the application to request a scholarship. 


To arrange a payment plan, please reserve your space with a $100 deposit and leave us a note on the checkout page. We’ll be in touch to arrange the details.

Are you a studio owner or YTT instructor?

This course is available for your YTT program! Our robust coverage of the history & philosophy of Yoga can plug right into your curriculum, and is available at an affordable group rate. 

Course FAQs

Our course is structured as a virtual 8-week series, with an official start date. On the first day of the course, you will receive access to the online learning platform and can begin the course. You simply log-in.

We’ll work through one topic per week. Each topic is comprised of multiple, pre-recorded video lessons, inquiry questions and practices, as well as suggestions for further study.

Course prompts will be emailed weekly, offering added discussion points for the class that just concluded as well as preparation for the next class. The course has 8 classes, so you will receive 8 of these emails, over 8 weeks time.

You can go more slowly or move ahead, if that works best for you. You will have access to the full course from day 1, allowing total flexibility.

We’ll have three live Q&A sessions so that you can have an interactive discussion with Dr. Oakes. They are placed at the beginning, mid-way point of the course, and at the end.  The calls are held via Zoom, and you will receive a log-in link (no account required). No worries if you miss a session, the recordings of the sessions will be shared. 

You can ask questions anytime in the private group forum, where both Dr. Oakes and the full community are engaged. You may also be interested in joining Dr. Oakes’ dynamic Facebook group to continue engaging with a global community of practitioners devoted to study and discourse.

Learn anywhere, anytime. Let’s face it, everyone is busy these days and not everyone has time to time to spend in personal study. This course is delivered on a digital learning platform that can be accessed from your home computer or on-the-go from any mobile device. 

Stop, start, repeat. Online learning allows you to take a break when needed without missing anything. You can repeat those words that didn’t quite sink in a few more times, rewatch a whole video, or even the whole course as many times as you’d like!

Improved information retention. Studies have shown that the ability to cater the online experience to your own needs and return to the material as much as needed can vastly improve retention. This can be especially valuable when working with dense material such as history and philosophy.

Ultimately, you control the pace. Course prompts will be emailed weekly, over the span of 8 weeks, but you will have access to the full course from day 1, allowing total flexibility to move through the material as slowly or quickly as desired.

You can expect to spend about 2-4 hours per week, if you follow our 8-week course flow. Watching the video lectures accounts for roughly 2 hours per week, and the remaining time fluctuates depending on your personal desire to engage with the practices, inquiries and group discussion board.

We provide lifetime access to our course, so that you may take your time completing the course and return and refresh your knowledge long after the 8 weeks is over. 

Yes! You will receive a PDF certificate after completing this course. 

Yes! This course is registered for 20 hours of CEUs with Yoga Alliance. We’ve made this process super easy for you, our course is listed under the Continuing Education tab on YA’s website, so you can simply upload your PDF certificate to verify your hours.

Of course we hope that you love the course experience and find value in being able to keep access to the content indefinitely. And if that’s not the case, just reach out. We’re human and prefer not to have formal policies but to meet all unique situations with understanding and a unique solution. 

Is this course right for me?

This course is the result of years of experience teaching the history and philosophy of Yoga to Teacher Training courses, and we put the full force of our care and effort into crafting the most engaging, culturally-appropriate, and professional online presentation possible. We’re super proud of the finished product but know there are many factors for you to consider while making this choice. 

We think this course is a great fit for you, if any of the following resonate for you:

You enjoy practicing Yoga and feel called to learn more about the origin of the traditions and context of how these practices were developed. 

You are looking to immerse yourself in a depth of information and inspiration, and you would like an option other than taking a full teacher training program. 

You have taken a Yoga teacher training but felt there was not an adequate amount of time spent on the history and philosophy component.

You are a Yoga teacher and wish to refresh your knowledge, perhaps learn a few new concepts, or just hear the information from a fresh perspective.

You know Yoga is more than postures but find the majority of opportunities to engage with Yoga are only scratching the surface of how impactful the practices can be in your life.

You enjoy history and storytelling and would like to learn about another culture and it’s traditions, whether or not you have any previous experience.

Sign up here to be notified of 2020 dates as soon as they are announced.

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