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The Yogic Studies Podcast

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In-depth explorations into the traditions of Yoga, Sanskrit, Indian Philosophy, and South Asian Religions. Featuring candid conversations and interviews with scholars and practitioners. Hosted by Seth Powell.
15 Episodes
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In this episode, we speak with Dr. Amanda Lucia about her new book, White Utopias: The Religious Exoticism of Transformational Festivals (2020, UC Press). We discuss transformational festivals in California, the nature of religious exoticism, white possessivism, and cultural appropriation in North American yoga and bhakti communities.Speaker BioAmanda Lucia is Associate Professor of Religious Studies at the University of California-Riverside. Her research engages the global exportation, appropriation, and circulation of Hinduism. She is author of White Utopias: The Religious Exoticism of Transformational Festivals (October 2020), which investigates the intersections of whiteness and religious exoticism among the “spiritual, but not religious” at transformational festivals, such as Bhakti Fest, Wanderlust, Lightning in a Bottle, and Burning Man, with a particular focus on yoga practice. Her previous publications include Reflections of Amma: Devotees in a Global Embrace (2014) and numerous articles. She is currently crafting a body of research on sexual abuse in guru-led religious communities.Linkshttps://www.ucpress.edu/book/9780520376953/white-utopiashttps://www.amandajeanlucia.comhttps://ucriverside.academia.edu/AmandaLucia
In this episode, we speak with Dr. Raj Balkaran about his early days of spiritual seeking in Toronto, discovering religious studies, the power of myth and narrative in Hindu traditions, his work on the Purāṇas, the Devī Māhātmya and Sūrya Māhātmya of the Mārkeṇḍeya Purāṇa, as well as a preview of his upcoming online course, YS 112 | Yoga and Hindu Mythology. Speaker BioRaj Balkaran is a scholar of Hindu mythology and author of The Goddess and the King in Indian Myth (2018) and The Goddess and the Sun in Indian Myth (2020), both published as part of Routledge’s Hindu Studies Series. He holds advanced degrees in Hinduism from the University of Toronto and University of Calgary.Alongside his academic training, Dr. Balkaran apprenticed with an Indian master for twelve years as part of a living oral tradition dedicated to the preservation and application of Hindu philosophy. He therefore brings hundreds of hours of traditional transmissions of yoga philosophy to the table, which he dovetails with academic rigor and captivating storytelling.A seasoned online educator, Dr. Balkaran also teaches online courses privately and at the Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies. Beyond teaching and research, he enjoys a thriving life consulting practice and hosts the New Books in Hindu Studies Podcast.Linkshttps://rajbalkaran.com/https://ochs.academia.edu/RajBalkaranYS 112 | Yoga and Hindu Mythology
In this episode, we speak with Ruth Westoby (PhD Candidate, SOAS) about her background in Ashtanga, her doctoral research on women and gender in the history of yoga, female practitioners of Haṭha yoga and asceticism, frameworks for understanding the yogic body, rajas and bindu, as well as a preview of her upcoming online course, YS 111 | Women and Yoga: A History of Female Practitioners.Speaker BioRuth Westoby is a doctoral candidate at SOAS, University of London, researching for a doctoral thesis on the yogic body in premodern Sanskrit texts on haṭhayoga, under the supervision of Dr. James Mallinson. As well as offering workshops and lectures at studios and conferences, Ruth teaches on some of the principal teacher training programmes in the UK and beyond. She facilitates Yogacampus’ online History of Yoga course and serves on the steering committee for the SOAS Centre of Yoga Studies.Ruth is also a longtime Ashtanga practitioner. She 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. In 2016-17 Ruth collaborated with the Haṭha Yoga Project’s ‘embodied philology’, interpreting postures from the 18th-century Haṭhābhyāsapaddhati, an important textual precursor of modern yoga. The film has been showed as part of the Haṭha Yoga Project’s Embodied Liberation exhibition in 2020.Linkshttps://soas.academia.edu/RuthWestoby http://www.enigmatic.yogaYS 111 | Women and Yoga: A History of Female Practitioners
In this episode, we speak with Dr. Philipp Maas about his pioneering textual research on the Yogaśāstra of Patañjali and its commentarial tradition, the authorship and dating of the Yogasūtra and its commentary the Bhāṣya, the surviving Sanskrit manuscripts of the PYŚ, the relationship between Sāṅkhya and Yoga, the nature of Īśvara for Patañjali, Maas' critical edition on the PYŚ, and more.  Speaker BioPhilipp Maas is a research associate at the Institute for Indology and Central Asian Studies, University of Leipzig in Germany, where he is currently working on a digital critical edition of the Nyāyabhāṣya, a Sanskrit work on spiritual liberation through proper reasoning. Previously he had served as an assistant professor and postdoc researcher at the Department of South Asian, Tibetan and Buddhist Studies at the University of Vienna, the Austrian Academy of Sciences, and the University of Bonn Germany. He received his M.A. (1997) and Dr. phil. (2004) degrees from the University of Bonn, where he had completed studies in Indology, Comparative Religious Studies, Tibetology and Philosophy. His first book (originally his PhD thesis) is the first critical edition of the first chapter (Samādhipāda) of the Pātañjala Yogaśāstra, i.e. the Yoga Sūtra of Patañjali together with the commentary called Yoga Bhāṣya. He has published extensively on classical Yoga philosophy and meditation, Yoga and Āyurveda, the relationship of Pātañjalayoga to Buddhism as well as on the textual tradition of the Pātañjalayogaśāstra. He is a member of the “Historical Sourcebooks on Classical Indian Thought” project, convened by Prof. Sheldon Pollock, to which he contributes with a monograph on the development of Yoga-related ideas in pre-modern South Asian intellectual history.  Linkshttps://uni-leipzig.academia.edu/PhilippMaas "Pātañjalayogaśāstra" (Brill Encyclopedia Entry, 2020)"A Concise Historiography of Classical Yoga Philosophy" (2013)
In this episode, we speak with Dr. Ian Baker about his many journeys into Tibet and Tantric Buddhism, the power of hidden lands (beyul), isolated mountain retreats, Tibetan physical yogas (trulkhor), receiving guidance from H.H. the Dalai Lama, the nature of secrecy and esoteric teachings, and a preview of the upcoming online course, YS 110 | Tibetan Yoga. Speaker BioIan Baker is the author of several books on Himalayan and Tibetan religion and culture, including Tibetan Yoga: Principles and Practices, The Dalai Lamas Secret Temple: Tantric Wall Paintings from Tibet, and The Heart of the World: A Journey to Tibet’s Lost Paradise.He received a Masters degree in English Literature from the University of Oxford, pursued further graduate studies in Buddhism and Medical Anthropology at Columbia University and University College London, and recently completed his doctorate in Medical Humanities at the University of Strathclyde, Scotland. He was lead curator for the 2015-16 London exhibition, ‘Tibet’s Secret Temple: Body, Mind and Meditation in Tantric Buddhism’ and was recognized by National Geographic Society as one of seven ‘Explorers for the Millennium’ for his fieldwork illuminating the Tibetan tradition of ‘hidden lands’ (beyul), idealized sites of yogic practice. His current research focuses on the contemporary interface of Indo-Tibetan yoga with art and science.LinksYS 110 | Tibetan Yoga: Histories, Practices, TransformationsTibetan Yoga: Principles and Practices (2019, Inner Traditions)https://independent.academia.edu/BakerIanhttps://ianbakerjourneys.wordpress.com/about/Note: We apologize for the lesser audio quality of this episode. We experienced some technical audio difficulties while recording. 
In this episode, we speak with Dr. Jason Birch (SOAS, University of London) about his early training in yoga and Indology, the early 2000s yoga scene in Rishikesh, Sanskrit manuscript hunting in India, his Oxford thesis on the Amanaska, Rāja Yoga traditions, the history of āsana, the significance of the Haṭhābhyāsapaddhati, Krishnamacharya and the legendary "Yoga Koruṇṭa", embodied philology, and more. Speaker BioJason Birch is a post-doctoral researcher fellow at SOAS, University of London. After completing a first class honours degree in Sanskrit and Hindi at the University of Sydney under Dr. Peter Oldmeadow, Jason was awarded a Clarendon scholarship to undertake a DPhil in Oriental Studies, University of Oxford, under the supervision of Prof. Alexis Sanderson. His dissertation (submitted 2013) focused on the earliest known Rājayoga text called the Amanaska and included a critical edition and annotated translation of this Sanskrit work along with a monographic introduction.He is currently a post-doctoral research fellow at SOAS working on the Haṭha Yoga Project, a 5-year ERC funded project which is now in the final year of completion. His particular area of research for the project is the history of physical yoga on the eve of colonialism. Jason is currently editing and translating six principle texts on Haṭha and Rājayoga, which will soon be available for publication. He also collaborates with Jacqueline Hargreaves on The Luminescent, an online hub for sharing yoga research. LinksThe Proliferation of Āsana-s in Late-Mediaeval Yoga Texts (Birch 2018)The Yoga of the Haṭhābhyāsapaddhati: Haṭhayoga on the Cusp of Modernity (Birch & Singleton 2019)http://hyp.soas.ac.uk/https://soas.academia.edu/jasonbirchhttps://www.theluminescent.org
In this episode, we speak with Dr. Sravana Borkataky-Varma about her experience growing up in India, receiving initiation into a Śākta tantra lineage at Kāmākhya, discovering Religious Studies and the academic path, her doctoral research, the role of female practitioners, tantric sexual rites, being censored by Facebook, online pūjā services, and much more.  Speaker BioSravana Borkataky-Varma is a historian, educator, and social entrepreneur—who holds a PhD in Religions from Rice University. As a historian, she studies Indian religions focusing on esoteric rituals and gender, particularly in Hinduism (Śākta Tantra). As an educator, she is currently working as a Lecturer at Harvard University and at University of North Carolina-Wilmington, where she teaches introductory courses on World Religions and higher-level courses on Hinduism, Buddhism, Religion and Film, and the History of Yoga.In the past she has taught at the University of Houston, University of Montana, Rice University and DaLian Neusoft University, China. In a previous non-academic avatar, Sravana worked in customer service, in the financial and IT industry. As a social entrepreneur, she is the co-founder of a non-profit called Lumen Tree Portal.  Sravana invests in building communities with individuals from various faith-backgrounds who believe in kindness, compassion, and fulfillment. LinksYS 106 | Śākta Tantra: Yoga and Hindu Goddess Traditionshttps://uh.academia.edu/SravanaBorkatakyVarmahttps://www.lumentree.org
In this episode, we speak with Dr. Karen O’Brien-Kop (University of Roehampton) about her intertextual research on Pātañjala and Buddhist Yoga, rethinking the category of “Classical Yoga,” the yoga of Yogācāra Buddhism, Buddhist definitions of yoga, botanical metaphors for liberation, the mysterious Dharmamegha Samādhi ("the raincloud of Dharma”), her forthcoming co-edited volume, The Routledge Handbook of Yoga and Meditation Studies (2020), her upcoming online course YS 109, more. Speaker BioKaren O’Brien-Kop is Lecturer in Asian Religions and Ethics in the Department of Philosophy, Theology and Religious Studies at the University of Roehampton, London, UK. She received her PhD from SOAS University of London, is a specialist in the historical study of meditation and yoga within Asian religious traditions, and analyses early Hindu and Buddhist meditation manuals in Sanskrit.She has taught on the MA Traditions of Yoga and Meditation at SOAS University of London, and at the University of Roehampton she has designed a new BA module 'Yoga, Meditation and Health'. Since 2018, she has served on the committee for the SOAS Centre of Yoga Studies, an academic research and teaching centre focused on public engagement. In the American Academy of Religion, Karen is a committee member for the Yoga in Theory and Practice Unit and co-chair of the Indian and Chinese Religions Compared Unit. She has published peer-reviewed articles in Religions of South Asia and Journal of Indian Philosophy and is co-editor of The Routledge Handbook of Yoga and Meditation Studies (2020), an interdisciplinary volume of 34 chapters from global contributors. Karen is currently working on a book project on rethinking classical yoga in relation to Buddhism.LinksYS 109 | Classical Yoga and Buddhism "Classical Discourses of Liberation: Shared Botanical Metaphors in Sarvāstivāda Buddhism and the Yoga of Patañjali" (2017)"Dharmamegha in Yoga and Yogācāra: The Revision of a Superlative Metaphor" (2020)https://roehampton-online.academia.edu/KarenOBrienKop
In this episode, we speak with Dr. Ben Williams (Naropa University) about his story of growing up in spiritual community, the scholar-practitioner, the scriptures and world of non-dual Śaiva Tantra, the Kashmiri exegete Abhinavagupta and his concept of the guru, the view of Aṣṭāṅgayoga within tantra, the new MA program in Yoga Studies at Naropa University, and more. Speaker BioBen Williams is an intellectual historian focused on Indian religions and the history of Śaiva tantra. He has received extensive training in Indian philosophy, literature, and aesthetics in Sanskrit sources. Ben received a BA in Religious Studies from the University of Vermont, a Masters in Theological Studies from Harvard Divinity School, and completed his PhD in the Department of South Asian Studies at Harvard University. He currently serves as an Assistant Professor of Hinduism at Naropa University, where he has recently co-created a low-residency MA program in Yoga Studies that will launch in fall 2020. Ben also serves on the academic advisory council of the Muktabodha Indological Research Institute, which is dedicated to the preservation of scriptural and philosophical texts of classical India.  Ben’s doctoral thesis is on revelation and the figure of the tantric guru in the writings of Abhinavagupta, an eminent intellectual figure of medieval Kashmir. Building upon this study, one of his current research projects is charting the transmission of tantric traditions to South India that are indebted to non-dual Śaiva teachings and lineages that originally flourished in Kashmir.LinksYS 107 | Yoga and Śaiva Tantra: An Uncharted History"Abhinavagupta's Portrait of a Guru: Revelation and Religious Authority in Kashmir" (Williams 2017)Yoga Studies Master of Arts Program, Naropa Universityhttps://www.patreon.com/closereadings
In this episode, we speak with Dr. James Mallinson (SOAS, University of London) about his travels through India, meeting his guru, his journey to becoming an Indologist, his pioneering research on the history of yoga and yogīs, key findings from the Haṭha Yoga Project, and more. Speaker BioDr. James Mallinson is Reader in Indology and Yoga Studies at SOAS University of London. His research focuses on the history and current traditional practice of yoga through the methods philology, ethnography and art history. He is currently in the final year of the Haṭha Yoga Project, a five-year six-person research project on the history of physical yoga funded by the European Research Council. The project’s core outputs will be ten critical editions of Sanskrit texts on physical yoga and four monographs on its history and current practice. In addition to numerous articles and chapters, Dr. Mallinson’s publications include Roots of Yoga (Penguin Classics, 2017, co-authored with Mark Singleton) and The Khecarīvidyā of Ādinātha, a Critical Edition and Annotated Translation of an Early Text on Haṭhayoga (Routledge, 2007). The latter is a revision of his doctoral thesis, which was supervised by Professor Alexis Sanderson at the University of Oxford, where Dr. Mallinson also read Sanskrit as an undergraduate. Dr. Mallinson has spent more than ten years living in India with traditional ascetics and practitioners of yoga, and at the 2013 Kumbh Mela was awarded the title of Mahant by the Rāmānandī Saṃpradāya, which was documented in a BBC film entitled West Meets East, featuring his childhood friend and actor Dominic West. LinksYS 108 | Roots of Haṭha YogaThe Haṭha Yoga Projecthttps://soas.academia.edu/JamesMallinson West Meets East BBC Documentary
In this episode, we speak with Philip Deslippe (UC Santa Barbara) about his research on the modern history and construction of Kundalini Yoga, the controversies surrounding the late guru Yogi Bhajan, as well as the role and positionality of the scholar and historian of yoga. Speaker BioPhilip Deslippe is a historian of American religion with a background in American Studies and literature. He is currently a doctoral candidate in the Department of Religious Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara where he is writing a dissertation on the early history of yoga in the United States from the mid-nineteenth to mid-twentieth century. Philip has published articles on the history of modern yoga in academic journals such as the Journal of Yoga Studies, Amerasia, and Sikh Formations, and in popular venues including Yoga Journal, Air and Space Smithsonian, and the Indian news site Scroll.LinksYS 102 | Modern Yoga in the WestPremka: White Bird in a Golden Cage (Dyson 2020)"From Maharaj to Mahan Tantric: The Construction of Yogi Bhajan's Kundalini Yoga" (Deslippe 2012)www.philipdeslippe.comhttps://ucsb.academia.edu/PhilipDeslippe
In this episode, we speak with Dr. Antonia Ruppel (LMU, Munich) about her study and teaching of the Sanskrit language, from elite universities to the St. James Senior Boys' School, the richness and diversity of Sanskrit literature, her recent Sanskrit textbook, and her upcoming series of online Sanskrit courses. Speaker BioAntonia Ruppel is a Classicist by training who came to Sanskrit through a series of fortunate accidents. She learnt the language as an autodidact, and one of her reasons for writing her textbook, The Cambridge Introduction to Sanskrit (2017), was to make the experience of studying Sanskrit easier and more pleasant for others.  She has been teaching Sanskrit for 15 years at universities such as Cornell, Oxford and now the LMU in Munich, Germany, as well as offering courses in variety of formats online.Language pedagogy is at the heart of her life, and she is currently working on an Intermediate Sanskrit Reader. It is designed to help students gain reading fluency in an enjoyable and straightforward way, and will come out in late 2021.LinksSKT 101 | Elementary Sanskrit I (June 1 - Aug 21, 2020)The Cambridge Introduction to Sanskrit (2017)https://oxford.academia.edu/AntoniaRuppel 
In this episode, we speak with Dr. Daniela Bevilacqua (Post-Doc Research Fellow, SOAS) about her background in History and Anthropology, her doctoral work on the Rāmānandī Sampradāya, her ethnographic fieldwork for the Haṭha Yoga Project, and the role of yoga among sādhus today in contemporary India. Speaker BioDaniela Bevilacqua is a South-Asianist who received her PhD in Civilizations of Africa and Asia from Sapienza University of Rome and in Anthropology from the University of Paris Nanterre. Her PhD research was published by Routledge under the title, Modern Hindu Traditionalism in Contemporary India: The Śrī Maṭh and the Jagadguru Rāmānandācārya in the Evolution of the Rāmānandī Sampradāya. She is now a Post-Doc Research Fellow at SOAS, working for the ERC-funded Hatha Yoga Project (2015-2020).Through her groundbreaking fieldwork in India, Daniela looks at the present practices of Haṭha Yoga among sādhus belonging to “traditional” samprādayas connected with the physical practice of yoga and austerities. The purpose of this research is to confront ethnographic material with textual and historical evidences to reconstruct the development of these practices.LinksYS 103 | Yoga and Hindu Asceticsm, Past and Present"Let the Sādhus Talk. Ascetic understanding of Haṭha Yoga and yogāsanas"Modern Hindu Traditionalism in Contemporary India (Routledge, 2019)Yogasana | Embodied Liberation II | Brunei Gallery | SOAS University of London (YouTube video)https://www.instagram.com/dhanya_83
In this first-ever Yogic Studies Podcast episode, we speak with Dr. Finnian Gerety (Brown University) about his background as a musician, his journey to Indology and Sanskrit studies at Harvard University, his fieldwork among Nambudiri Brahmins in the south-Indian state of Kerala, the Sāma Veda performative tradition, his short film "Mantras 2 the Max", the origins of sacred sound and the syllable OṂ, the practice of OṂ at the time of death, OṂ in the Yogasūtras of Patañjali, and the practice of "Embodied Philology."Speaker BioDr. Finnian M.M. Gerety is a historian of Indian religions focusing on sound and mantra. After earning a PhD. in South Asian Studies from Harvard University, he was a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Yale University Institute of Sacred Music. Finn is currently Visiting Assistant Professor of Religious Studies, the Contemplative Studies Program, and the Center for Contemporary South Asia at Brown University, where he teaches courses on mantra, yoga, ritual, and the senses.Integrating the study of premodern texts with insights from fieldwork in contemporary south India, Finn’s research explores how sound has shaped religious doctrines and practices on the subcontinent from the late Bronze Age up through today. His current book project for Oxford University Press, This Whole World is OM: A History of the Sacred Syllable in India, is the first-ever monograph on OM, the preeminent mantra and ubiquitous sacred syllable of Indian religions.LinksYS 104 | The Story of OṂ: Sacred Sound and the Vedic Roots of Yoga "Mantras 2 the Max" https://brown.academia.edu/FinnianGeretyhttps://www.instagram.com/thiswholeworld_is_om
In this brief introduction, Seth introduces listeners to the Yogic Studies Podcast. He shares his story of how yoga led him to academia, to the PhD at Harvard University, the study of Sanskrit, the world of yoga research, and the birth of Yogic Studies. BioSeth Powell is a longtime practitioner of yoga and a scholar of Indian religions, Sanskrit, and yoga traditions. He is currently a PhD Candidate in South Asian Religions at Harvard University. His research focuses on the history, theory, and practice of medieval and early modern Sanskrit yoga texts and traditions, as well as their intersections with the culture and practice of modern transnational yoga. Seth also holds degrees in the study of religion from the University of Washington (MA) and Humboldt State University (BA).His doctoral dissertation at Harvard consists of a critical edition and study of a 15th-century Sanskrit yoga text from south India, known as the Śivayogapradīpikā (Lamp on Śiva's Yoga). Seth founded Yogic Studies in 2018 to provide continued educational services for the broader yoga community. Yogic Studies aims to bridge the gap between the yoga studio and the academy—seeking to make accessible the highest quality and most cutting-edge research on yoga for teachers and students. We offer a comprehensive online curriculum in yoga history, philosophy, and Sanskrit studies.Linkshttps://www.yogicstudies.comhttps://harvard.academia.edu/SethPowell
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