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The Yoga Studies Certificate Course guides students through the ideas, histories, and practices referred to by the broad Sanskrit term “yoga,” explaining its various manifestations. The worldviews and practices of contemporary yoga originated in ancient and pre-colonial India and have attracted a wide range of global practitioners since the mid-twentieth century. According to the 2016 Yoga in America Study, conducted by Yoga Journal and Yoga Alliance, there are about 36.7 million postural yoga (āsana) practitioners who together spend about $16.8 billion annually on yoga-related services and goods in the United States. In India, the country of its origin, interest in modern postural yoga has also skyrocketed, building on a steady stream of schools, traditions, and practitioners that goes back several centuries, if not millennia.
The Yoga Studies Certificate introduces some of the histories, worldviews, practices, and current trends in yoga that will help undergraduate or graduate students become familiar with the foundations of yoga studies. It will also benefit existing practitioners to go deeper in their own understanding and present a balanced scholarly perspective that is sensitive to the traditions of yoga, their adherents, and all varieties of practitioners.
Approach. The approach to the study is largely historiographical, and any relevant philosophical ideas are contextualized in the cultural and historical contexts in which they emerged or developed. Since such a study of yoga is bound to be interdisciplinary in nature, courses in this certificate discuss emic and etic perspectives and provide analyses that are empirically grounded in multiple disciplines. Taking up such a methodological perspective not only ensures academic integrity and rigor but also remains sensitive to the possibility that contemporary students or participants will closely identify with the contents of the course.
This module begins by examining the etymology of yoga and defines the physical, mental, and spiritual practices that developed in Hindu, Buddhist, and Jain dharmic traditions. It also provides a brief overview of the scholarly research on the physical practices of yoga (āsana) and analyzes some of the contemporary scholarly and popular conversations on yoga. The introduction reflects on whether yoga in the West amounts to cultural appropriation and provides an overall understanding of the history, cultural context, and philosophy that will help readers navigate such contentious debates.
This module reviews some of the theories on the origins of yoga in the ancient Indus-Saraswati civilization and the controversies surrounding the interpretation of Indus Valley seals that some early twentieth-century scholars claimed were visual representations of yogic practice. It comments on the use of the word “yoga” in some of the earliest Vedic texts and explains its relationship with Vedic cosmogony and ritual. It then explores the gradual crystallization of the fundamental meanings of yoga in other similar texts. This module also introduces the readers to a set of later Upanishads that focus exclusively on yoga and discusses the various aesthetic and householder traditions that adopted yoga and the allied concept of tantra.
This module centers on the formation of systematic philosophy in ancient India into six orthodox schools (and other heterodox schools) not only gave a structural context to yoga philosophy but also defined some of the contours of yoga. This module looks into the philosophical context of yoga, how its epistemologies differ from those of other schools, and why it is considered complementary to Sankhya. Through a discussion of yoga relative to other schools of Indian philosoPromote current dealsphy, the metaphysical claims of yoga and the practices that it espouses will become clearer for our students.
This module provides an overview of the development of Yoga Sutras of Patanjali and the Bhagavad Gita as classical texts on yoga and discusses the conversations on yoga that appear in other textual sources such as the Upanishads and the Mahabharata. It provides an explanation of why commentaries become important in the study of these classical texts and offer a history of other seminal texts such as Hatha Yoga Pradipika and Gherenda Samhita and their role in the development of the various understandings of yoga after the fourteenth century. Tracing the evolution of the modern forms of postural yoga to some of these texts provides a good background for the next module.
This module focuses on the idea that some of the earliest yoga texts do not concern themselves with the complicated poses that characterize most of the contemporary yoga practices. In fact, the word asana understood to indicate postural yoga, simply means to “sit down” as one of the first steps before meditating. This module looks at 11 basic physical postures that are mentioned in traditional commentaries that have become the core of some modern postural yoga. It also looks at the tenth- to sixteenth-century texts from the previous modules that got interpreted in novel ways to include complex poses often taught around the world today.
This module is a discussion on how the interest in yoga outside of India first came from German Romantics, British Orientalists, American Transcendentalists, and Christian missionaries who reported (often negatively in missionary journals) about their experiences of yogis in India. In the latter half of the nineteenth century, Indian public intellectuals and religious leaders arose who began to represent the traditions of the West, and yoga became a central aspect of their outreach. The most important among such leaders was Swami Vivekananda, who introduced Raja Yoga to Western audiences after his success during Chicago’s World’s Parliament of Religions in 1893. This module explains how the spread of yoga in the West had its roots in these European movements and Indian emissaries of yoga. It also explains the role of Mahatma Gandhi and his understanding of pacifist political movements as “karma yoga,” which has influenced how yoga is conceptualized globally today.
This module is directed to find out the process of the emanation of yoga as a global movement or practice. After Swami Vivekananda’s movements took root in the Western world and Gandhi’s practice of satya (truth) and ahimsa (nonviolence) as yogic principles became well known, other teachers, such as Paramhamsa Yogananda, began to work in western Europe and North America. The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, however, brought a new wave of teachers and gurus who started their movements in the United States and then spread to the other parts of the world. Most notable among such teachers were Swami Satchidananda, who inaugurated the world’s largest rock concert at Woodstock in 1969, and Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, who provided teachings on yoga as a part of his transcendental meditation program. Following the generation, yoga studios began to sprout up across various parts of the world, especially in the United States and the United Kingdom, as a result of the efforts of teachers like BKS Iyengar, Pattabhi Jois, and Bikram Choudhury.
This module is an understanding of how Yoga is accomplished in contemporary times.
Yoga as a physical practice found a wave of fresh interest in the Indian subcontinent in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. With the rise of anti-colonial movements in India, yoga-asana and other forms of physical exercise were seen to be methods of emasculating the largely passive and apathetic Indian masses in preparation for physical aggression against the British. In the late twentieth century, one of the key factors influencing the resurgence of yoga practice was the leadership of gurus like Baba Ramdev, who began appearing on television to teach simplified versions of yogic and breathing techniques. This module concludes with a short discussion of the United Nations declaration of June 21 as International Yoga Day, and of the debates over how yoga is not just “Hinduism’s gift to the world” and the ways in which yoga is helping modern India wield its soft power globally.
The Yoga Studies Certificate is taught by RYT cetrified continuing education providers and is offered over a period of one year, with three modules offered every quarter. Click here to learn more.