There is no fetter like illusion, no force greater than Yoga,
no friend greater than knowledge, and no enemy greater than ego.

(Gheraṇḍa Saṁhitā 1.4, tr. Mallinson)

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

with Dr. Sean Oakes

A 20-hour university-level introduction to Yoga history designed for dedicated students of Yoga and meditation. Lecture, practices, and reflection to support culturally literate contemporary practice.

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.

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.

Course Details

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, we are making this course widely available so that more practitioners can have access to, and benefit from engaging with, this material.

Integrating history & practice

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

  • 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.
  • 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.

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.

  • 16 hours of engaging, high quality video lecture, organized into 8 topics, or “classes.”
  • 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. 
  • Access the material in a user-friendly learning environment, hosted right here on our website. Simply log-in.
  • Flow through the progression of video lessons and practices at your own pace.
  • Pause, repeat and replay content as much as desired. 
  • Engage with Dr. Oakes and other students in the comments section of the classes and in his Facebook group.
  • Enjoy lifetime access to the course!

Course Content

Our course is broken into 8 main topics, each including pre-recorded video lessons, inquiry questions and practices, as well as suggestions for further study.

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

Registration & Cost

Sliding scale: $200 – $300, with scholarships available

Our course is available on a wide sliding scale, based on self-assessment of your income and ability to offer your resources in a way that supports others with lesser resources to attend. Please support us in using the Gift Economy model by engaging sincerely with the process and offering the highest level you can on the sliding scale (or beyond it). Your generosity directly gifts scholarship support to those who need it, and allows us to share these teachings with everyone who might benefit from them, regardless of access to wealth. Thank you!

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

Here you can register with a 3 month payment plan. You will be charged 3 times total, once monthly, with the first charge taking place at check-out.


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.

Registration is temporarily paused.
Please email us here if you are interested in taking the course. Thank you!


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

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

You can register and begin the course at any time. You can choose to follow the weekly prompts or work at your own pace. 

Course prompts will be emailed for each class on a weekly basis, offering added discussion points for the class that just concluded as well as preparation for the next class. 

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, and it will never expire, allowing total flexibility.

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.

You can ask questions anytime in the course comments, where Dr. Oakes will engage in dialogue. 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. 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.

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. 

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