Study the history and philosophy of yoga, at your own pace, from the comfort of your own home.
Engage in the traditional practice of "Self-Study," using the latest in modern online learning technologies.
Join a thriving online community of yoga teachers, practitioners, and students from around the world.
Join renowned yoga scholar, Dr. Daniela Bevilacqua, Post-Doc Research Fellow at SOAS, Haṭha Yoga Project, and a global cohort of students, for this exciting and rare opportunity to study and explore the fascinating world of yogic asceticism in India—past and present.
This online course explores the age-old connection between yoga and asceticism in India, through the world of the sādhus. We will look at the development of Hindu asceticism from both a historical and ethnographic point of view. Special attention will be given to the practice and the understanding of yoga and Haṭha Yoga by sādhus belonging to the main traditional Hindu ascetic groups present in India.
Through a comparison of past and present evidence, the course provides students with an overview of the different understandings and approaches that sādhus had, and have, towards physical yogic practice, and yoga as a religious discipline. It will also explore contemporary developments in the ascetic world which have more recently been influenced by the spread of transnational yoga.
This first module will provide a historical introduction to Indian Asceticism considering Brahmanical textual sources, but demonstrating that Hindu renunciation was and still is very complex. To do so, we will confront these textual evidences with the present reality of few main orthodox ascetic religious orders—mainly Nāth, Daśnāmī, Udāsīn, and Rāmānandī sampradāyas. We will examine the importance of the concept of sampradāya and paramparā in the Indian context, followed by a brief introduction to these major orders—especially as they are traditionally connected to the practice of Haṭha Yoga, and yoga sādhanā in general. In this first session we will also briefly deal with the issue of female asceticism.
In the past the yogi was the tapasvin (the practitioner of austerities), then he was also the individual with superhuman powers. In general, today among sādhus the yogi is the one who has accomplished the yoga sādhanā. In this module, we will focus our attention on the figure of the “yogi” from a historical point of view, and then we will analyze the various “yogis” present in the ascetic world. In order to do so, we will consider the meaning of Haṭhayoga. We will briefly take into consideration the definition we find in the Haṭhapradīpikā, then we will analyze the various meanings that the label Haṭha Yoga recalls among sādhus and we will look for them in textual sources. This emic understanding will allow us to make a distinction between the terms haṭha yogi, yogi raj, and yogi. Eventually, we will deal with the broader understanding of Yoga as a sādhanā for sādhus.
In this module we will enter the ascetic world through its practices. We will stress the role and importance of the guru in deciding the sādhanā for his/her disciple. We will examine the practice and the aims of tapasyā to describe then the steps of the yoga sādhanā. We will give particular attention to the practice of kriyā, āsana and their use or exhibition. We will investigate the way sādhus learn the different practices, stressing the importance of pilgrimages and religious festivals and taking into consideration the relationship of such practices to traditional scriptures.
Transnational yoga has now spread all over the world. In this final module we will evaluate its consequences in the sādhus’ world. We will deal with sādhus who learn about yoga in modern centers, and also take degrees or even PhDs in Yoga, as well as sādhus who simply attend “western yoga class” to be able to teach it abroad, but distinguish this yoga from the yog taught by their guru. Likewise, we will discuss the influence some religious orders have today and how more and more foreigners look for “traditional” gurus for their practice and also take initiation as renouncer. We will see how social media and the Internet are influencing the practice and the way some sādhus talk about yoga. Attention will also be given to some controversial yogic figures such as Baba Ramdev and Yogi Adityanath, and how they are received by the broader ascetic community in India today.
Dr. Daniela 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 doctoral 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 currently a Post-Doc Research Fellow at SOAS, working for the ERC funded Haṭha Yoga Project (2015-2020).
Through years of diligent fieldwork in India, she looks at the present practices of Haṭha Yoga among sādhus belonging to “traditional” sampradāyas. The purpose of this research is to confront ethnographic material with textual and historical evidences to reconstruct the development of these practices.
Her recent article, "Let the Sādhus Talk. Ascetic understanding of Haṭha Yoga and yogāsanas" will be a primary reading for this course.
"Yoga and Hindu Asceticism taught by Dr. Daniela Bevilacqua was the best online class I have ever taken. Daniela is passionate about her work with ascetics and presents such a comprehensive lesson, you will want to watch the lessons over and over again."
"Daniela's knowledge regarding Hindu Asceticism is just out of this world. You can feel in every single word that she said all her passion. She has a very objective point of view. Definitely a very amazing and enjoyable course that I recommend to everyone interested in understanding the roots of the modern Yoga world. Grazie mille Daniela, you are an incredible inspiration! "
"Very clear and well structured. Gives all the important information in a systematic way. Daniela's experience in the field and love for the people and subjects is fundamental and very inspiring."
"This was my first course at Yogic Studies so I want to thank Seth for creating this platform so we can learn deep perspectives about yoga traditions, and especially thank you Daniela for sharing your effort, experience, and knowledge. Usually when we talk about yoga traditions everything can be very overwhelming or confusing, but you taught the course in a very easy and understandable way."
"I found Daniela created a very honest, raw and insightful way of teaching. She shared her personal experience of observing asceticism. I am grateful for the footage she shared from her fieldwork. I think it is inspiring to bring these ancient practices into our conversations on practice. I recommend taking her course as I think it is a wonderful gift that she has presented for continued study."
"Very informative, enlightening, and easy to assimilate courseI Loved Daniella and her lectures. Engaging and well researched. Thank you. "
"I really appreciated the generosity of Daniela in sharing all her work based on years of studies in the field. Her dedication and her passion in the lectures kept all the classes very alive. Thanks to Yogic Studies to provide such quality in its courses. See you soon for the next one!"
"This is a course to show that not everything is written in texts! It has opened my perspectives related to yoga and tradition, as well as contributed to the constant question about what is and what is not modern yoga. Daniela, in a very gentle way, taught us and shared with us her years of research in the ascetic Hindu world; her work shows her humility, persistence and dedication. She masterfully summarizes extensive and complex subjects with joy and Italian charisma. Thank you very much Daniela and Seth!"