Join renowned author and scholar Dr. Ian Baker, and a global cohort of students, for this unique opportunity to study the history, theory, and practice of Tibetan Yoga.
Yoga in Tibetan Buddhism refers to a diversity of methods and techniques that are transmitted orally, based on practices encoded in tantric Buddhist texts originating, in written form, from the sixth century. Although Tibet’s pre-Buddhist tradition of Bon also transmits yogic practices based on breath and movement, this course focuses on methods and techniques of yoga taught within diverse lineages of Tibetan Buddhism, beginning with the Guhyasamāja Tantra, in which the word haṭha refers to a physical technique for inducing visionary appearances so as to enter into deeper states of meditative equipoise.
The course investigates the diverse cultural and religious influences which contributed to the development of Tibetan yoga, and in particular to the practice of trulkhor, sequenced movements which entrain body, breath, and mind towards dynamic synchrony in support of self-transcendent gnosis, or bodhi. Connections will be explored with ritual dance forms within Vajrayāna Buddhism as well as Trulkhor’s foundational role in the ‘Six Yogas of Naropā’, which awaken the tantric yogic body (gyülu) through embodied practices of fierce heat (tummo and karmamudrā) and radiant light (ösel, milam, and bardo yoga).
In exploring the history and function of physical practices within both monastic and non-monastic forms of Tibetan Buddhism, this course will illuminate the progressive approaches of Mahāyoga, Anuyoga, and Atiyoga and their correlation with Generation, Completion, and Great Perfection (Dzogchen) stages of yogic realization. Lastly, the course will explore the ways in which practices of Tibetan yoga have been investigated scientifically towards a deeper appreciation of voluntary control of the autonomic nervous system and contemplative interventions that extend the range of human connection and compassion, beyond the disempowering illusion of separateness and other habits of discontent.
This introductory lecture traces the history and development of yogic practices in Tibet through a series of seventeenth-century murals in what was formerly the private meditation chamber of Tibet’s Sixth Dalai Lama. The inscriptions that accompany the wall paintings derive from a ‘treasure text’ attributed to Padmasambhava, an eighth-century tantric Buddhist master who categorized Vajrayāna Buddhism’s innermost practices as Mahā Yoga (‘Great Yoga’), Anu Yoga (‘Subsequent Yoga‘), and resultant Ati Yoga (‘Supreme Yoga’), through which mind and body awaken to their indwelling Buddha Nature. This module explores the reputed origins of tantric Buddhist yoga in the legendary Silk Road kingdom of Uḍḍīyana, its subsequent transmission through realized male and female adepts called Mahāsiddhas, parallels in tantric Śaivism in Kashmir and Bengal, and procedural adaptations within Tibetan monasticism.
This lecture addresses the fundamental practices of Mahā Yoga, Anu Yoga, and Ati Yoga in the context of four tantric empowerments that overturn habitual conceptions of body, breath, and mind. While Mahā Yoga activates the creative imagination through existential visualization techniques, Anu Yoga cultivates subtle energy as a basis for awakening to the infinite expanse of pure awareness, or Ati Yoga. Physical yoga (Tsalung Trulkhor) in Tibetan Buddhism is primarily practiced in the context ‘Fierce Heat’ (Caṇḍālī; Tummo) and Consort Practice (Karmamudrā) which, in turn, facilitate accomplishment in Clear Light (Ösel), Dream Yoga (Milam), Projection of Consciousness at the time of death (Powa), and post-mortem unification with the Natural State (Bardo Yoga). Based on an esoteric model of human embodiment, these so-called Six Yogas expand awareness of energy and matter towards their experiential coalescence as Sahajānanda, or innate rapture, often associated with the flow of psychophysical ambrosia (Amṛta) and realization of Mahamudrā and Ati Yoga, known in Tibetan as Dzogchen, or ‘Great Perfection’.
Ati Yoga transcends all effort, and foundational Dzogchen texts recast physical yoga as spontaneous, unprescribed movement, as opposed to the regimented, breath-led sequences of Trulkhor, sometimes known as ‘Yantra Yoga’. Specific postures are nonetheless indicated in the Dzogchen practice of Kordé Rushen, ‘Distinguishing Samsara and Nirvana’, and Thögal, ‘leaping over the skull’ into a luminous dimension beyond birth and death. This lecture elucidates the role of somatic (body and breath) practices in Dzogchen (Ati Yoga) in facilitating nondual experience and physiological familiarity with Buddha Nature, which Vajrayāna refers to as Sugatagarbha, or incubational ‘womb of bliss’.
This concluding lecture explores ethnographic and scientific engagement with Vajrayāna Buddhist yoga and meditation, as well as contemporary transformations in the ways in which Tibetan yoga is presented and practiced in medically informed global contexts. Reference is made to psychoendoneuroimmunology and current research in experiential neuroscience of the role of introceptive attention, vagal tone, interstitial integrity, piezoelectricity, and neuroplasticity in mediating human experience. Vajrayāna Buddhism’s foregrounding of wisdom and compassion is viewed in the context of Tibetan yoga’s radical methodologies for disrupting habitual perceptions of self and other towards a poetics and politics of self- transcendence, characterized as the dynamic union of Saṁsāra and Nirvāṇa, or, in contemporary terms, realization of endogenous human potential.
In addition to other PDFs which will be provided for enrollees, students will be assigned chapter readings from Dr. Ian Baker's latest book. While not required for participation in the course, students are encouraged to purchase a copy in advance of the course.Purchase
Dr. Ian Baker is the author of several books on Himalayan and Tibetan religion and culture, including Tibetan Yoga: Principles and Practices, The Dalai Lama's 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.
Listen to the Yogic Studies Podcast interview with Dr. Ian Baker here.
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"YS 110 offers a thought provoking and beautifully documented introduction to Yogic systems from Tibet. Dr. Baker masterfully guides the student through up-until-recently-secret teachings from murals on in the Lukhang Temple in Tibet. You've heard of Inner Fire or Tummo practice - now come explore the cultural and historical context of that practice and how it connects to Dzogchen. Highly recommended! "
"Dr. Ian A. Baker offered a fantastic clear, in-depth overview of the history, philosophy, and methods of Tibetan Buddhist forms of embodied spiritual practice. In finding ways to translate the concepts, methods, and values of this ancient system of yoga to the West, without losing depth and subtlety, Dr. Baker shows his expertise. We need Western teachers that undertake the Tibetan journey and Tibetan teachers that undertake the Western journey. Dr. Ian A. Baker, belonging to the first, is a bright and helpful light in this meticulous and sensitive task. He is not afraid to say what needs to be said, without losing consideration and precision."
"This course really challenges the assumption of Yoga being a uniquely Indian tradition. It shifts the discussion around yoga towards what are efficient and beneficial practices for our times: this has always been the concern of the Tantric traditions which have flourished in Tibet up until the present time. Here we encounter a living tradition taught by an excellent scholar-practitioner who clearly walks the talk! "
"Dr. Baker presents complex Tibetan yogic traditions in an understandable, comprehensive fashion with a scholar's wisdom. He packed a semester of graduate study into 4 weeks. Wow! Many thanks! "