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The Hatha Yoga Project: Mapping Indian and Transnational Traditions of Physical Yoga through Philology and Ethnography

Periodic Reporting for period 3 - HYP (The Hatha Yoga Project: Mapping Indian and Transnational Traditions of Physical Yoga through Philology and Ethnography)

Reporting period: 2018-10-01 to 2020-03-31

The Hatha Yoga Project seeks to chart the history of traditional physical yoga practice in India from its origins in India through to the 19th century when it first came into sustained contact with the West and on to its practice by ascetics today. Yoga has become a hugely popular pastime all around the world, but its history is little studied and until recently was based on unreliable oral traditions which claimed it is 5000 years old and three texts, which, though important for understanding yoga's history, were studied in isolation and without regard to their historical context.

The HYP’s central method is textual: we are editing ten texts on physical yoga dating from the 11th to 18th centuries. In addition we are carrying out fieldwork among traditional yogis in India. Through these methods we will analyse yoga's development in India and identify what constituted yoga practice in India on the eve of colonialism. One of the team's researchers, Mark Singleton, showed in his earlier work how much of modern yoga practice is the result of the interplay between various physical disciplines during the 20th century. His insightful analysis was necessarily tentative as it was not clear what actually constituted yoga in India before this time. We are in the process of identifying yoga in India in the 19th century. This is important in itself, but is also important for society today as it enables those who are promoting, studying and practising yoga to know what is traditional and what is a modern innovation. Scientists attempting to measure the efficacy of yoga's techniques, for example, will have a more reliable body of practices to test.

The project is running smoothly and successfully with sustained accumulation of data and groundbreaking discoveries already achieved to date. There have been no significant changes to our scientific strategy itself, except that, on the advice of our advisory panel we have decided to hold text-reading workshops focused on reading our texts with scholars specialising in their fields instead of broader conferences.
The project team, in particular Jason Birch, have acquired scans of several hundred Sanskrit manuscripts on yoga from libraries in India. All the manuscripts of eight of the ten texts to be edited have been collated and working editions of those texts have been produced. Only the Yogabīja and Vivekamārtaṇḍa remain. The editions of the Haṭhābhyāsapaddhati, Yogacintāmaṇi, Yogatārāvalī, Gorakṣaśataka, Dattātreyayogaśāstra and Amaraughaprabodha have been read with scholars in two dedicated workshops and are nearing finalisation. (The remaining four editions will be read at workshops in September this year and September 2019.)
Vishwanath Gupta, our research assistant in Pondicherry, has transcribed approximately 30 manuscripts written in south Indian scripts with which the rest of the project team are not acquainted and these readings have been collated.
Ramya Rajagopal, our assistant in Pondicherry, has transcribed several thousand verses of Sanskrit texts relevant to our work. WIth those and other transcriptions made by the project team we have made a searchable e-text database to assist us in our research. This database will be made public.

A workshop was held at SOAS in September 2016 in which difficult parts of texts were read with a group of 20 international scholars and the project strategy was discussed. Our approaches to editing the texts and our scholarly strategy were refined during the workshop.

In fieldwork trips, the team has visited several historical sites of yoga practice and photographed important art historical material, some of which was previously unidentified.

Daniela Bevilacqua has undertaken three six-month fieldwork trips during which she has interviewed more than 100 traditional practitioners of physical yoga.

The project team members have written several articles for journals and edited volumes.

The project team has made a film based on one of the texts to be edited, the Haṭhābhyāsapaddhati, which teaches 110 different yoga postures, using as models advanced practitioners based in the UK and India.
Key findings beyond the state of the art:

1. The Amṛtasiddhi, the earliest text to teach physical yoga, was written by Buddhists, not Hindus as previously thought. This has led to Mallinson working closely on the historical transition from Buddhist to Hindu yoga practice.
2. Certain aspects of yoga practice, specifically balancing postures, complex breathing techniques and dynamic postures, were innovations of the haṭha corpus and show that yoga had taken a bodily turn in India before any external influence.
3. The Haṭhābhyāsapaddhati may teach sequences of postures, foreshadowing their 20th-century development in India.
4. The project team discovered statues of yoga practice on an early 13th-century archway in Gujarat, the earliest known such depictions by 300 years.
5. For living ascetics in India, haṭhayoga means extreme self-mortification, not the more wholesome yoga propagated in haṭhayoga texts.

We have accumulated a huge amount of data. The remainder of the project will be dedicated to processing that data and filling any gaps, where necessary. The processing will result in critical editions of the ten texts, several further articles, and four monographs. Collectively, these will chart the history of physical yoga.