Yoga Philosophy Talks Part 4:
Premodern Haṭha Yoga and its Tantric Inheritance
with Ruth Westoby
Saturday 14 Dec 2019
1:00pm – 5:30 pm
Ruth Westoby presents “Premodern Haṭha Yoga and its Tantric Inheritance”. Tantra is a complex array of schools, texts and practices developing from the 6th and 7th centuries CE in both Hindu and Buddhist contexts. It builds on the metaphysics of both Sāṃkhya and Vedānta and develops elaborate embodied ritual practices and paradigms such as Kuṇḍalinī and the yogic body which become the foundation of later haṭhayoga practices. As the scholar Biardeau notes, Tantra is ‘an attempt to place… desire, in every meaning of the word, in the service of liberation… not to sacrifice this world for liberation’s sake, but to reinstate it, in varying ways, within the perspective of salvation.’ This session will outline the general approaches of Tantra and focus specifically on the 10th century CE developments in Kashmir Śaivism associated with the teacher Abhinavagupta.
Haṭhayoga develops from the 11th century drawing on Vajrayāna (Buddhist Tantra) and Hindu Tantra (especially Śaivism). We will explore the emergence of haṭhayoga, its yogic body paradigms, its technologies for manipulating those ritualised structures, and its apparent disregard, or in James Mallinson’s words, its ‘insouciance’, towards metaphysics. Whilst drawing on a number of haṭhayoga sources we will focus in particular on the c. 1450 Haṭhapradīpikā, a watershed text in the history of yoga which gives an account of the theory and practice of yoga as we understand it today. It enriches classical meditative practices and severe physical mortifications with Tantric ideas. It teaches calming the mind through stabilizing the breath or life-force, prāṇa. It details diet, posture, breath work, cleansing techniques, energy locks and visualizations. These transformative technologies generate heat and pressure, purify liquid to distil the nectar of immortality, and trace sound through to the dissolution of the soul.
Individual sessions can be taken as standalone units or the course can be taken as a whole. Whilst each session will build on the material presented in earlier sessions a recap will be given to enable students to attend individual sessions. Some sessions will open with chanting sections of texts relating to the subjects of study. The lecture will be accompanied with rich visual images. Primary sources, key concepts and further reading suggestions will be given. There will be plenty of time for contemplation and discussion. Whilst there will be sitting practices there will be no postural practice. The best text to accompany these sessions is James Mallinson and Mark Singleton’s Roots of Yoga, published by Penguin in 2017.
Ruth Westoby is a doctoral researcher in yoga and an Ashtanga practitioner. Alongside practice and research Ruth runs workshops and teaches on some of the principle teacher training programmes in the UK. Ruth’s current teaching projects include facilitating Yoga Campus’s online course A Comprehensive History of Yoga. Ruth helps coordinate the SOAS Centre of Yoga Studies, has taught on the SOAS Yoga Summer School, helped coordinate the Sanskrit Reading Room and convened a study group on yoga and gender at SOAS to share the work of new and leading researchers in the field. Ruth collaborated in 2016 and 2017 with SOAS’s Hatha Yoga Project interpreting postures from a precursor of modern yoga, the Haṭhābhyāsapaddhati. Ruth began to explore yoga practices in 1996 and started teaching postural yoga in 2004. In 2010 she received an MA in Indian Religions from SOAS with Distinction.
The most influential teachers on Ruth’s practice have been Hamish Hendry, Richard Freeman and Sharat Jois. In 2015 she was authorized by Sharat to teach Ashtanga level 2. Ruth does not practice at studios which display images of Pattabhi Jois on altars in solidarity with those who were sexually abused by him. For resources and dialogue on this please contact Ruth directly.
Ruth is researching part-time for a doctoral thesis on constructions of gender in Sanskrit texts on haṭhayoga at SOAS under the supervision of James Mallinson. To this end she continues to study Sanskrit.For writings, films and workshops please see www.enigmatic.yoga.
For more information about Ruth, visit our Yoga Teacher Training Faculty page.
You can either book just this event using the form below, or you can book parts 1-5 together for the discounted price of £100. Click here to book parts 1-5.