YS 201: Classical Yoga

The History, Philosophy, and Practice of the Yogasūtra

An 22-Hour Online Course Featuring the Latest Research in Yoga Studies

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Distance Learning

Study the history and philosophy of yoga, at your own pace, from the comfort of your own home. 

Svādhyāya

Engage in the traditional practice of "Self-Study," using the latest in modern online learning technologies.

Online Community

Join a thriving online community of yoga teachers, practitioners, and students from around the world. 

Open Enrollment

Sign up anytime and receive immediate access to all seven course modules!

Looking to deepen your understanding of yoga beyond āsana? Curious about Classical Yoga philosophy? What is the Yogasūtra, and who was its author Patañjali? Why is the Yogasūtra often hailed as the “Bible” of yoga? Where does Aṣṭāṅgayoga come from? And how does the Yogasūtra relate (or not) to contemporary postural yoga practice?

Join Seth Powell, PhD Candidate at Harvard University, for an exciting 22-hour online course that will provide you with an in-depth immersion into the history, philosophy, and practice of the Yogasūtra. Through video lectures, Q&A sessions, slides, PDF handouts, quizzes, and optional readings, together we will immerse into a close and thorough study of one of yoga’s most ancient, important, and mis-understood scriptures.

The Yogasūtra of Patañjali, written some 1,500 years ago, is the earliest extant systematization of Yoga philosophy and practice. Rendered into 195 short, dense, Sanskrit aphorisms or “sūtras,” the YS is the root text for the Yoga philosophical tradition (darśana). It is a profound treatise on the nature of the human condition—the mechanics and layers of the mind-body, the cause of human suffering, and an outline or map of psychophysical practices that can be cultivated in order to obtain complete freedom.

Today the YS has reached a height and importance it had perhaps never known in premodern India, as it has beome the scriptural authority and source text for modern postural yoga. Regularly assigned in Yoga Teacher Training programs around the globe, translated into dozens of languages, it is often hailed as the “Bible” of yoga, and the definitive guide for yoga practice. But as we will learn in this course, the YS says very little about āsana or postural yoga. Rather than a treatise on physical or postural yoga, the YS is a philosophically rich exposition on meditation and deepened states of concentration. It speaks of the the ability for the aspiring yogi to cultivate discriminative discernment (viveka)—to distinguish between the real and the unreal—ultimately, to perceive reality clearly, and to know and rest in one’s true nature (svarūpa) completely.

In this new online course, Seth will offer in a personable and truly accessible manner an opportunity to explore the YS deeply within its own historical context—drawing upon the latest advances in critical yoga studies.

"An accessible, Harvard-quality course in Yoga Studies"

What Students Are Saying

"Seth Powell has created courses for Yogic Studies that engage the yoga practitioner in an honest, insightful and inspiring dialogue, bringing ancient practices into modern conversations. By illuminating the historical, cultural and social context of yoga, we come to see and understand the emergence and popularity of modern postural yoga as an ever evolving expression of the seeker’s journey toward self-development and ultimately self realization."

Nikki Costello
Founder of The Practice, CIYT, C-IAYT

"I cannot recommend Seth's courses highly enough. His presentation of the material is deep and nuanced while remaining clear and accessible. I eagerly awaited the release of each week's material and plan to return to them periodically for years to come."

Zander Winther
MA Philosophy, Yoga Teacher, Vancouver, BC

"Understanding that many modern yoga schools are based on the Yogasutras, this course should be mandatory to all yoga teachers. Seth Powell explains in a generous way and putting into context when the Yogasutras were written, in order to understand them deeply. Seth's YS translations and Bhasya explanations, are a wonderful material to study and consult any time."

Macarena González Carmona
Iyengar Yoga Teacher, Chile

"What a treat to discover this course series. I am a Religious Studies graduate and Yoga Teacher and love that I have found affordable access to an extremely knowledgeable teacher who presents the material in a nuanced fashion that is accessible to both scholars and modern yoga practitioners alike. I will be back for further courses. Keep up the great work Seth!"

Carey Sims
E-RYT Charlotte, NC

"Seth presented the YS material in a calm clear manner of voice which was very pleasant to listen to. His experiences in life and his academic studies of Sanskrit display his ongoing journey and wisdom he has gathered, and therefore his ability to teach so mindfully. The online course was professionally presented and even though I am sitting in my study in South Africa feel that I could have been present in the lecture room. Seth is both engaging and compassionate in his projection and teaching. I look forward to engaging in further studies with him. Thank you Seth for your hours hard work and strong concentration abilities enabling the student to stay interested and look forward to the weekly sessions."

Nanette Krige
South Africa

Topics covered in this course include:

  • The yogic antecedents of the Yogasūtra
  • Who was Patañjali? Historical figure? Semi-divine serpent?
  • The historical context. Who was the Yogasūtra written for?
  • Recent debates over the authorship of the Yogasūtra
  • The importance of the Bhāṣya (commentary)
  • The relationship between Yoga and Sāṅkhya philosophy
  • The YS’s relation to Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism
  • The nature and role of God (Īśvara) in Classical Yoga
  • The importance and function of the mantra OṂ
  • Philosophical dualism vs non-dualism
  • The nature and psychology of the human mind
  • Yoga’s theory of Karma and Saṃskāra
  • The three Guṇa theory
  • The nature and cause of human suffering
  • How the mental and physical practices of yoga relate to its philosophy
  • Kriyāyoga, the “Yoga of Action”
  • Aṣṭāṅgayoga, the “The Eight Auxiliaries of Yoga”
  • The traditional function and context of Yoga ethics: the Yamas and Niyamas
  • The role of Āsana or Posture within Classical Yoga
  • The function of Prāṇāyāma
  • The centrality of meditation and concentration practice
  • The various levels of Samādhi
  • What is Kaivalya? Exploring the final goal of Yoga
  • How does the YS relate to modern yoga practice?

Students enrolled in this course will receive:

  • 7 video + audio lectures 
  • 7 Q&A session videos (pre-recorded)
  • 22 Hours of CE credit
  • Seth’s Original Sanskrit-English Translation of the Yogasūtra (PDF)
  • Course Syllabus with Recommended Readings (PDF)
  • 3 Additional Handouts (PDF)
  • Yogic Studies Certificate upon completion (PDF)
  • Access to the private Facebook Yogic Studies Online Community
  • BONUS Bibliography and Recommendations for Further Study (PDF)
  • BONUS Course Conclusion video + audio

A Fresh Translation

 

All enrolled students will immediately receive a digital copy (PDF) of Seth Powell's new Sanskrit-English translation of the Yogasūtra of Patañjali. This will be the primary text we will use for the course, and it is yours upon signup. 

This translation aims to capture the simplicity and rigor of the original Sanskrit, yet rendered into accessible and readable English. By paying very close attention to the historical and philosophical context, and with a close eye to the earliest layer of commentary (bhāṣya), this translation provides readers with a reliable and accessible translation of the foundational treatise on Yoga philosophy.

This course is eligible for 22 hours of Continued Education (CE) credits with Yoga Alliance

Course Structure

Module 1 — An Introduction to the Yogasūtra: History, Context, and Approach

Module 2 —Stilling the Turnings of the Mind (YS 1.1-1.22)

Module 3 — Techniques for Calming the Mind (YS 1.23-1.51)

Module 4 — The Yoga of Action and the Cause of Suffering (YS 2.1-27)

Module 5 — Aṣṭāṅgayoga Part 1: Yamas and Niyamas (YS 2.28-45)

Module 6 — Aṣṭāṅgayoga Part 2: Āsana, Prāṇāyāma, Pratyāhāra, Dhāraṇā, Dhyāna, Samādhi (YS 2.46-3.8)

Module 7 — Yogic Powers and the Isolation of Pure Consciousness (YS 3.9-4.34)

Historical & Philosophical Context

A unique aspect of this course is that we will be giving close attention to the Bhāṣya, the earliest layer of Sanskrit commentary (in English translation, don’t worry!). This will allow the rich philosophical context and meaning of the YS to be illumined more fully, especially where the Sūtras say so little.

Once we have a more solid understanding of the YS within its own historical time and place, we will be in a much better position as modern practitioners, teachers, and human beings living in the 21st century to ask what the YS means for us today, and what we might gain through its deep and careful study.

 

Your Instructor

Seth Powell is a longtime practitioner of yoga and a scholar of Indian religions, Sanskrit, and yoga traditions, and is the founder of Yogic Studies. He is currently a PhD Candidate in South Asian Religions at Harvard University, where he is writing his dissertation on the history, theory, and practice of medieval and early modern yoga traditions. Seth also holds degrees in the study of religion from the University of Washington (MA) and Humboldt State University (BA). He has taught and lectured for numerous university courses on the religions and literature of India, Hinduism, Buddhism, and yoga traditions, and presents his research regularly at international conferences.

As a scholar-practitioner, Seth is gifted in his ability to present the ancient teachings of yoga clearly in an accessible, light-hearted, and inspiring manner—while maintaining a rigor and sensitivity to traditional Indian knowledge systems. Seth conducts workshops and lectures regularly on the history and philosophy of yoga at studios, teacher trainings, and universities around the country. 

Frequently Asked Questions

The course was originally recorded for a 7-week program. But now upon enrollment you will have immediate access to ALL seven modules, and can take the course entirely at your own pace. All together the materials comprise around 22 hours of lecture and discussion.

The seven modules include the pre-recorded video lecture and Q&A session, quiz, and any PDF materials for that week.

Each video lecture is comprised of Seth teaching directly to the camera, alongside keynote slides and other short web clips. They are visually rich, clearly organized, and engaging.

The first module provides the historical and philosophical context. The remaining six consist of close and detailed readings of the Sūtras. 

You will also receive a bonus audio recording of each lecture for those who prefer to listen rather than watch. 

You will have continued access to these materials. There is no time limit to complete the course. 

All students will receive a digital copy (PDF) of Seth's original Sanskrit-English translation of the Yogasūtra upon enrollment, and can begin studying immediately. Recommendations will be made, however, regarding other versions of the YS to consult for comparison. Stacking different versions side-by-side is an incredibly useful endeavor.

Like any university course, there might be some reading involved, but only if you want to!

In addition to the YS translation, there are supplemental texts, commentaries, and articles recommended on the syllables for further study. These readings are entirely optional, and will enable students to go deeper into materials covered in the course lectures and discussion sections. Each module will provide recommended chapters and articles from the list to guide your study for the upcoming week.

You will also receive a BONUS extended Bibliography for further study at the end of the course. 

 

Yes! Upon completion of the course, you will be eligible for an official Yogic Studies certificate of completion. 

This is a bonus feature for those who are Registered Yoga Teachers (RYT) with Yoga Alliance. Once you've completed the course you can login to your YA account, search for the course in their registry, and add the course and your hours. Once Yogic Studies has received a confirmation request, we can confirm your CE hours. 

If for some reason you are unsatisfied with the course, contact us in the first 30 days and we will issue you a full refund! See, you have nothing to lose. So what are you waiting for? : )

Please direct all questions and inquiries to [email protected]

What Students Are Saying

"Seth introduced students to the original meaning of the Yoga Sutras and accompanying commentary with his succinct translation of the text and clear explanations. I gained an appreciation for Sanskrit as Seth showed how the same words could have slightly varied translations to give somewhat different meanings to the text. During the course I looked forward to receiving the next week's session online and now I have a really strong foundation with which to continue my studies."

Patrice Priya Wagner
MA, RYT500, C-IAYT

"When I first encountered the Yogasūtra of Patanjali, it felt as if I knew the text already. It felt familiar and a good ideological and philosophical fit. After seven lectures, the Q&A sessions, the detailed supporting materials and the quizzes to consolidate the learning, my head/brain/mind is buzzing with the quantity and quality of the information I have received. This course has fed my hunger for knowledge, deepened my understanding, opened up new possibilities and potential pathways, and has enriched my teaching exponentially. That I can lay claim now to more passion for the Yogasūtra than when I started is a testament to my teacher, Seth Powell, who has veritably shone a light and clarified this marvelous, deep and sometimes obscure text. Grateful beyond measure for the experience I am looking forward now to taking another Yogic Studies course."

Sasha Aleston
Yoga Teacher, RYT500 @8foldyoga (UK based school of Hatha Yoga)

"Seth is a knowledgeable lecturer who is not only passionate about his area of study but also posses a rare ability to discuss complex matters in a succinct and clear manner. His course on Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras is a must for every yoga teacher and serious yoga students."

Marek Łaskawiec
Yoga Teacher, Yoga Republic, Poland, editor of Magazyn Joga

"As a yoga teacher I have always wanted to deepen my knowledge of the philosophy and history of yoga. I found it a bit difficult for yoga teachers to fulfill this desire outside the academic field. Seth's teachings undoubtedly cover this shortcoming, by offering high quality teachings, with a rigorous and academic standard, providing extensive information on yoga research as well as an up to date bibliography. The lectures, although challenging, are structured in a pleasurable way. The live sessions allow for participation and an enriching exchange of ideas with people all over the world, helping to build a bond in a common search. Seth is not only an excellent academic but one can also feel that he is a yoga practitioner and a sincere seeker, as well as a committed teacher, which adds a significant perspective to the course."

Carmen León
Yoga Teacher, Spain

"I came to Seth after completing YTT 500 in India. I felt I needed to understand the texts better. I could not have been more blessed than with Seth's class. It is clear, very well done and efficient. I have appreciated to be able to move on at my own rhythm. Seth also took time to reply to my questions when I had them. I'm happy to highly recommend this course! And I just enrolled in the another one..."

Recent YS 201 Student

"Seth's courses are a must for any serious practitioner or student of yoga philosophy. Not only does he have a vast knowledge of the material, he clearly has a deep personal relationship to the subject. As a practitioner, his courses offer so much more than the average online academic course, as he has a deeper, more personal understanding than many other academicians and scholars of eastern religions. Highly recommended to anyone who wants to deepen their intellectual understanding of yoga, but also for anyone who wants to dive deeper into their spiritual practice. Forever grateful Seth! Look forward to continued studies with you!"

Recent YS 201 Student

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