COOL CLASSES: “Yoga: Art, Text, and Practice”

This course in the Department of Religion investigates the range of meanings attributed to the term “yoga” over 2,000 years and across multiple geographical and cultural communities.

Class name: “Yoga: Art, Text, and Practice”

Taught by: Visiting Associate Professor of Religion Pika Ghosh


Here’s what Ghosh had to say about her class:

In this course, we investigate the range of meanings attributed to the term “yoga” by exploring relationships between texts, images, and the practice of yoga in Hindu, Buddhist, and Jain communities, as well as modern manifestations, global cosmopolitanisms, and contemporary politics as part of ongoing transformations. A second component of the course entails more hands-on interactions with practitioners—from a diverse range of backgrounds including dance, music, and healing—to gain greater access to the experiential dimensions of their personal journeys and insights.

Readings introduce primary sources from the Indian visual and literary traditions, together with secondary scholarship on the historical, religious, social, and political contexts in which those traditions arose.  Readings also address the various frames through which yoga has been studied and discussed. Themes include contemplative practices, bodily disciplines, ritual, the role of yoga in tantra, how the experiences of narrative painting and architecture illuminate the conditions of practice in earlier times when much of the practices were not written about.

Yoga is a topic of great interest these days and it brings several of my own interests together. My research includes study of images of ascetics in poses that we associate with yoga, and I am interested to broaden that dimension. I participated in the Smithsonian’s symposium for the Yoga: The Art of Transformation exhibition in 2015. I have also turned to yoga practice in my own life, and find the engagement of mind and body through breath to be very meaningful. I also saw this course as an opportunity to read some of the major early textual explications of yoga in the Indic tradition.

In the course of the semester, we devote three sessions to yoga practice. The first one is a basic-level class to figure out how we work as a group, and to think about the process of seeking equilibrium ourselves and in relation to historical quests such as the images of ascetics we had been looking at. The second is partner yoga to explore a different way of doing things, what we are and are not comfortable with by way of touch, and how we receive and transmit energy in these processes. And the third is a demo by a colleague of the more physically arduous kinds of ashtanga practices today and discussion of what it means to him, why he does it every morning at 6 a.m..



See what other courses the Department of Religion is offering this semester.

Photo by Patrick Montero. 

Cool Classes is a series that highlights interesting, unusual, and unique courses that enrich the Haverford experience.