In-depth explorations into the traditions of Yoga, Sanskrit, Indian Philosophy, and South Asian Religions. Featuring candid conversations and interviews with scholars and practitioners. Hosted by Seth Powell.
43. Christopher Jain Miller | Embodying Transnational Yoga
In this episode we speak with Christopher Miller about his recent monograph, Embodying Transnational Yoga: Eating, Singing, and Breathing in Transformation (Routledge 2023) and his upcoming online course at Yogic Studies. We begin by discussing his academic background and how he first got into critical Yoga and later Jain Studies, his experiences as a practitioner of yoga in Santa Monica, California, and how he developed his dissertation project that would eventually become the book. We discuss the importance of shifting Modern Yoga Studies beyond the study of postural yoga, exploring his three book chapters which analyze the practices of eating (yogic diet), singing (kīrtan), and breathing (prāṇāyāma). We discuss the origins and history of the harmonium, how yoga intersects with food and pollution studies, and question what it means to practice prāṇāyāma in a heavily polluted Indian city. We conclude the conversation by previewing Miller's upcoming online course, YS 127 | Embodying Transnational Yoga.
Dr. Christopher Jain Miller is the co-founder, Vice President of Academic Affairs, and Professor of Jain and Yoga Studies at Arihanta Institute. Miller completed his PhD in the study of Religion at the University of California, Davis. He is a Visiting Researcher at the University of Zürich’s Asien-Orient-Institut and Visiting Professor at Claremont School of Theology where he co-developed and co-runs a remotely available Masters Degree Program focusing on Engaged Jain Studies. His current research focuses on Modern Yoga and Engaged Jainism. Christopher is the author of a number of articles and book chapters concerned with Jainism and the practice of modern yoga. He is the author of Embodying Transnational Yoga: Eating, Singing, and Breathing in Transformation (Routledge 2023) as well as co-editor of the volumes Engaged Jainism: Critical and Constructive Approaches to the Study of Jain Social Engagement (SUNY Forthcoming) and Beacons of Dharma: Spiritual Exemplars for the Modern Age (Lexington 2020).
YS 127 | Embodying Transnational YogaArihanta Institutehttps://uzh.academia.edu/ChristopherMillerEmbodying Transnational Yoga: Eating, Singing, and Breathing in Transformation (Routledge, 2023) -- use code ESA32 before Dec 31, 2023 to receive a 20% discount.
42. Samuel M. Grimes | Newar Buddhism, Nepal, and Yoga
In this episode we speak with Samuel Grimes about his research and experience with the tradition of Newar Buddhism in Nepal. We discuss the unique history of Buddhism in Nepal, the decline of Buddhism in India, and what it means to be the only living "Sanskritic Buddhist" tradition in South Asia. We then discuss the meaning and role of yoga within Buddhist traditions, previewing Grimes' upcoming online course, BS 112 | Yoga in Buddhism.
Dr. Samuel M. Grimes is the Shinjo Ito Postdoctoral Fellow in Buddhist Studies, at the University of California, Berkeley. He is a scholar of South Asian Buddhism and Hinduism in the medieval and modern periods, with a specialization in the tantric traditions of Nepal, and with broader interest in historiography and ritual studies. Nepal is host to the only place in Asia with unbroken traditions of Buddhism and Hinduism existing side-by-side, and as a result the two religions there exhibit a high degree of exchange. A scholar must be expert in both to study either. Grimes works with the primary texts of these traditions directly, reading in Sanskrit, Newar, and Tibetan, frequently consulting sources that are only preserved in handwritten manuscripts.
Dr. Grimes’ research into yoga primarily involves an investigation of Vajrayāna, tantric Buddhism. This research ranges from purely textual studies of premodern texts to on-the-ground ritual training in Nepal. He is especially interested in the dynamic interactions between the visualized objects and somatic activity in ritual practice. He has conducted extensive ethnographic fieldwork with the Newar Buddhists of Kathmandu, who practice the only living Buddhist tradition that still conducts all ritual and preserves all liturgy in Sanskrit.
BS 112 | Yoga in Buddhismhttps://virginia.academia.edu/SamuelGrimes "Amṛtasiddhi A Posteriori: An Exploratory Study on the Possible Impact of the Amṛtasiddhi on the Subsequent Sanskritic Vajrayāna Tradition" (2020).
41. Keith Edward Cantú | The History of Theosophy and Yoga
In this episode we welcome back Keith Cantú for a wide ranging conversation on the history of the Theosophical Society and in particular its unique relationship with the modern history of yoga. We discuss the influence of figures like Helena Blavatsky and Henry Steel Olcott, as well as lesser-known South Asian Theosophists and Theosophy-adjacent authors and scholars. We discuss the impact of Theosophical publications on the global dissemination of yoga in English-print books and journals, a legacy still felt today in modern yoga circles. We conclude the conversation by previewing Keith's upcoming online course, YS 126 | Theosophy and Yoga.
Dr. Keith Edward Cantú is a historian of religions whose interdisciplinary research especially focuses on South Asian yoga, tantra, and the interface between Sanskrit and Indic vernacular languages like Bengali, Tamil, and Hindi, and on modern occult movements in Europe and North America such as Thelema and the Theosophical Society. He is currently both Research Affiliate at the Center for the Study of World Religions at Harvard Divinity School, where he will begin a full-time postdoctoral fellowship in Asian Religious Traditions next June as part of the Transcendence and Transformation Initiative, and Visiting Assistant Professor in Religious Studies at St. Lawrence University. He previously was a research fellow at FAU Erlangen-Nürnberg in the “Center for Advanced Studies in the Humanities and Social Sciences: Esoteric Practices and Alternative Rationalities from a Global Perspective” and Assistant Professor (postdoc) at the Jagiellonian University in Kraków, Poland in the project “Cultures of Patronage: India 1674–1890,” and received his doctoral degree in Religious Studies (South Asian religions) in 2021 from the University of California, Santa Barbara. Keith’s first monograph, Like a Tree Universally Spread: Sri Sabhapati Swami and Śivarājayoga, has been published this year by Oxford University Press (Oxford Studies in Western Esotericism series), and he is actively engaged in reprinting and translating several previously unknown or largely forgotten Tamil and Hindi works of Sri Sabhapati Swami and of his gurus. In addition to work on the swami, he is the author of numerous chapters and articles as varied as an ethnography of Tantric songs and sādhana or “practice” in Bengali, Indological research on south Indian mantra and yoga practices at tumuli and temples and on the Sanskrit alchemical mythology of Srisailam, modern yoga and discourses of Orientalism and cultural authenticity, haṭhayoga as “black magic” in Theosophy, and Islamic esotericism in the songs of the Bāuls and Fakirs of Bengal.
A scholar-musician, Keith regularly sings and performs the Bāul songs of the nineteenth-century Bengali humanist poet Lalon Fakir (Lālan Phakir, d. 1890) as well as Śyāmāsaṅgīt or “music for the dark Goddess,” which he learned directly from sadhus and sadhikas during immersive stays in Bangladesh and West Bengal, India over the past twelve years, and regularly co-teaches a course on Tantric meditation and its connection with this music at the Esalen Institute near Big Sur, California. English versions of many of Lalon’s songs as translated by the late Carol Salomon can be found in City of Mirrors: Songs of Lālan Sā̃i, published in 2017 with Oxford's South Asia Research series, which Keith co-edited together with Dr. Saymon Zakaria.
YS 126 | Theosophy and Yogahttps://ucsb.academia.edu/KeithCantu YSP Ep 28 | Esotericism, Bauls, and Sabhapati Swami
40. Caley Smith | The World of Vedic Sanskrit
In this episode we speak with Caley Smith about the ancient and fascinating world of Vedic Sanskrit. We discuss some theories and debates about the origins of Sanskrit, its relationship with other Indo-European languages, the nature and scope of the Vedas, Vedic notions of authorship, comparisons between Classical Sanskrit and Vedic, the importance of orality, and much more. We conclude the conversation with a preview of Smith's upcoming online course, SKT 303 | Vedic Sanskrit.
Dr. Caley Smith is a scholar of early South Asian religious history and political imagination. His work focuses primarily on the conceptual continuities and disruptions between the Vedas and emergent ascetic and householder traditions. He is taking a new position this August as the S&R Palvia Endowed Veetraag Vigyaan Professor in Jain Studies at Georgia College and State University in Milledgeville, Georgia. His current book project, The Invisible Mask, explores the ritual impersonation of the god Indra its influence on the impersonation-recitation traditions of early Jainism, Buddhism, and Hinduism.
SKT 303 | Vedic Sanskrithttps://harvard.academia.edu/CaleyCharlesSmith
39. Lubomír Ondračka | Yogic and Tantric Bodies
In this episode we speak with Lubomír Ondračka about his research on conceptions of the body within yogic and tantric traditions. We first discuss his background in chemical engineering and studying Indology in the Czech Republic, and how his interest in alchemy led him to India and the study of the Nāth yogis. We discuss the various scholarly categories of the 'yogic body', 'tantric body', and the so-called 'subtle body' and weigh in on their usefulness, as well as their components such as the cakras, ādhāras, granthis, kuṇḍalaṇī, and more. We conclude the conversation with a preview of Ondračka's upcoming online course, YS 124 | The Yogic Body.
Dr. Lubomír Ondračka is a publisher, independent researcher and external lecturer at the Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies, Charles University in Prague. He studied mathematical modeling, nuclear physics, religious studies and Indology. Although basically trained as a philologist (using material in Sanskrit and both medieval and modern Bengali and Hindi), his research is enriched by an anthropological perspective based on his long stays in India (a total of seven years between 1996–2019). His research interests include the history of yoga (especially haṭhayoga), tantrism, death and dying rituals in Indian religions, and the culture and religion of Bengal.
His recent publications related to yoga include an encyclopedic survey of haṭhayoga, an analysis of a Middle Bengali text on tantric yoga entitled “The Garland of Bones”, a comprehensive annotated bibliography of haṭhayoga for the Oxford Bibliographies project, and a forthcoming overview of medieval yoga literature written for the Oxford Handbook of Hindu Literature. Also relevant to this course is his study “Transformation of the Body through the Mastery of the Elements in Tantric Sources”, soon to appear online first in the Oxford Handbook of Tantric Studies.
YS 124 | The Yogic Bodyhttps://cuni.academia.edu/LubomirOndracka
38. Carl Ernst | The History of Sufism and Yoga
In this episode we speak with Carl Ernst about his career of scholarship on Sufism—which he describes as the tradition of ethics and spirituality associated with Islam. In particular we discuss the unique history of Sufism's engagement with Hindu forms of yoga in northern India, which has been the subject of numerous important publications by Ernst. We discuss the nature of Sufism, the fluid boundaries of religious identity, and the fascinating history of translation and adaptation of yoga within the Sufi orders, including the unique transmission of the "Ocean of Life" (Baḥr al-ḥayāt), compiled by Muḥammad Ghawth in 1550. We conclude with a preview of Ernst's upcoming online course, YS 123 | Sufism and Yoga.
Dr. Carl W. Ernst is the William R. Kenan, Jr. Distinguished Professor of Religious Studies Emeritus, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He is an academic specialist in Islamic studies, with a focus on West and South Asia. Ernst has received research fellowships from the Fulbright program, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation, and he has been elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. His research, based on the study of Arabic, Persian, and Urdu, has been mainly devoted to the study of three areas: general and critical issues of Islamic studies, premodern and contemporary Sufism, and Indo-Muslim culture.
He studied comparative religion at Stanford University (A.B. 1973) and Harvard University (Ph.D. 1981). He has done extended research tours in India (1978-79, 1981), Pakistan (1986, 2000, 2005), and Turkey (1991), and has been a regular visitor to the Gulf, Turkey, Iran, and Southeast Asia for lectures and conferences. His next publications, coming out in August 2023, are I Cannot Write My Life: Islam, Arabic, and Slavery in Omar ibn Said’s America, co-authored with Mbaye Lo (UNC Press, 2023), and Breathtaking Revelations: The Science of Breath, from the Fifty Kamarupa Verses to Hazrat Inayat Khan, co-authored with Patrick d’Silva (Suluk Press, 2023).
YS 123 | Sufism and Yogahttps://carlwernst.web.unc.edu/
Illuminating (and a little addictive)
Well-conceived and skillfully conducted interviews with leading scholars contributing to the growth of yoga studies as a field of scholarly inquiry. While all who are interested in yoga will likely benefit from listening, non-scholar yoga practitioners may find that the material presented enhances understanding of the historical contexts from which modern yoga emerged.
Great Subjects, Interviewer Less So
I have almost entirely positive things to say about this podcast: there is a wealth of inspiring and enthralling information coming from nearly all the interview subjects here, each a strong academic voice from a different access point across the yogas. For me, a yoga practitioner of 20+ years, this series of offerings is especially valuable for its serious academic rigor and depth applied to yogic topics where it’s common to hear a glossier, more faith-based approach, adding wonderful dimension to the journey. It’s also guided by a thoroughly respectful tone which sits right with a devotee like myself. Quality of chosen subjects and their topics is strong across the board.
I also find the interviewer a distracting presence for his (rather male-gendered) tendency to bluntly interrupt a subject in the middle of their interesting thought, and it’s doubly distracting to me that it’s *so* much more with female subjects than with the male ones. I noticed it right away and I never fail to find it cringy, clearly the interview subjects do too, and it feels particularly ill-placed on a yogic podcast. The sense is that he’s really excited and just can’t help himself. The interruptions also come attended by “mmm’s” and “uhu’s” which feel like strangulated little suppressions of the urge to burst-in with whatever thought has just arisen irrespective of what is being said at the time, an equally unfortunate unconscious conversational tendency which appears to hound the ladies exponentially more, in a way that seems to warrant further personal examination. I also honor everyone’s unique timeline healing from the ancient toxic masculine element in ours and almost all other cultures and I take no pleasure in any call-out element inherent to the public review process. It was just really prominent and kind of comical and definitely impossible to ignore for me and I suspect I won’t be alone. May all be free from suffering.
Gem of a podcast
This is one of the most knowledgable, thorough, indepth, and interesting podcast on this subject. While Iam from India, I know little about much of this history, and this was wonderful. What is amazing about this is the range and variety of speakers, points of view, and approaches....which is hard to come by. Truly multifaceted....and very thoughtful.