Guest Speaker Jason Birch to Discuss Hatha Yoga, Tapas and Modern Postural Practice



Guest Speaker Jason Birch to Discuss Hatha Yoga, Tapas and Modern Postural Practice


Mon., Apr 12 2021 - 4:00 PM to 6:00 PM



Jason Birch (DPhil, Oxon), a senior research fellow for the Light on Hatha Yoga project, hosted at SOAS University of London and the University of Marburg, joins us to discuss his recent paper, "Hathayoga, Tapas and Modern Postural Practice: Distinct Collections of Complex Āsanas on the Eve of Colonialism." CSC is co-sponsoring this event with UVA's South Asia Center and the Virginia Center for the Study of Religion.

This paper will examine three distinct collections of complex āsanas that were practised by yogins in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Each collection can be located in a specific region of India. Two of the collections were influenced by ascetic traditions and the third most probably by the physical culture and military training of the time. Also, two gurus who were at the forefront of the revival of postural practice in early twentieth-century India and whose systems of yoga were instrumental to the development of transnational yoga, integrated postures from two of these collections into their teachings. The textual and visual sources for these collections will be discussed, as well as the peculiarities of some āsanas. The paper will conclude by assessing the relationship between tapas and Haṭhayoga on the eve of colonialism, and it will reveal the different approaches of modern gurus to integrating premodern material in their efforts to adapt yoga to the changing circumstances of their time.

About the speaker:
Jason Birch (DPhil, Oxon) is a senior research fellow for the ‘Light on Hatha Yoga’ project, hosted at SOAS University of London and the University of Marburg. He is also a visiting researcher on the Suśruta Project at the University of Alberta ( He is well known for his important paper on the meaning of haṭha in early Haṭhayoga, which has reshaped our understanding of the origins of this term by locating it within Buddhist literature. His dissertation focused on a seminal Rājayoga text called the Amanaska. Through extensive fieldwork in India and the reconstruction of primary sources, Birch has identified the earliest text to teach a system of Haṭhayoga and Rājayoga, namely the twelfth-century Amaraugha. His most recent publication has defined a corpus of Sanskrit and vernacular texts that emerged during Haṭhayoga's floruit, the period in which it thrived on the eve of colonialism.
Jason has published articles in academic journals and critically edited and translated six texts on Haṭhayoga for the Hatha Yoga Project 2015–2020 (; taught Masters courses and Sanskrit reading classes at SOAS and given seminars on the history of yoga for MA programs at the Università Ca’ Foscari in Venice, Won Kwang University in South Korea and Loyola Marymount University, Los Angeles. He is a founding member of the Centre of Yoga Studies SOAS and the Journal of Yoga Studies, and combines his practical experience of yoga with academic knowledge of its history to teach online courses with Jacqueline Hargreaves on The Luminescent.