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The International Yoga Day 2021 was celebrated based on the theme “Yoga Education and Research”. Several lectures were organized in this regard and eminent academicians were invited to offer lectures on the topic. The lecture series was organized in association with Indian Council of Philosophical Research (ICPR), New Delhi, which funded the events. Due to the pandemic constraints all the lectures were conducted on various online platforms.
The lecture series commenced on 21 June 2021 with a session offered by Sri. Akshay Nagarajan, Cognitive Science Researcher, University of California San Diego. He spoke on the topic “Yoga Education: Bridging Culture, Media and Technology in Contemporary India”. Sri Akshay’s lecture can be summarized as below:
1. Science and yoga: how does science perceive yoga and its various implication?
2. Vagal tone: why is the health of vagal tone so important and how to create it? What are the implications of vagal tone in the context of yoga?
3. Yoga in schools: how is yoga taken to schools by developing a curriculum?
4. Yoga and technology: how is technology introduced to teach yogic postures?
Akshay’s research is basically focused on how every child differs with regard to learning. Mindfulness and yoga have helped improve differences in the learning ability of children. He discussed various issues that science has with yoga and this posits certain incompatibility issue too. But there are results obtained from experiments to substantiate that there is scientific foundation for whatever is propounded by yoga. There are evidenced results regarding yoga as helpful in self-regulation and resilience, and are supported by PolyVagal Theory. Akshay’s team introduced robots to improve the vagal tone of school students. Robots detected the stress levels of students and suggested practices to overcome stress issues. Various other techniques used were breathing, half smile, heart opener, relaxing of the belly, meditation and guided meditation like yoga-nidrā. Akshay’s team spoke to students, teachers and parents of school children about how yoga brought about four chief aspects known as “4 Cs”, viz. Composure – how to react when under stress, Character – how to respond to situations, Closure – how to find peace within oneself, and Connectedness – how to connect within and without. Akshay’s team put effort on how yoga conversation can be brought about with school students and how to make them do yoga. They also spoke to school students about yoga and executive functions such as planning and self control, quietening and strengthening of the mind, awareness development, and flexibility and rerseverance. They employed a novel technique to teach school students yogic postures. Their published work was “Yogic Circuits: Making Tangible Learning Environments with Soft Circuits and Yoga”. Body was used to build electronic circuits to teach yogic postures. They asked students to create electronic circuits by sample drawings on a chart. Various yogic postures were introduced by explaining the fact that all the yogic postures have connection with nature. They created interactive yoga charts to inform students about the benefits of various yogic postures. This was taken to a step further in which electronic circuits were connected to the body and students were asked to perform yogic postures. A perfect yogic posture would result in the completion of yogic circuit and the lamp would be lighted when the circuit was complete. The session was concluded by discussing on how yoga can be imparted through such kinds of novel techniques. Even science and technology can be used to impart yoga which would result in a holistic learning.
The second session was conducted on 24 July 2021. The lecture was offered by Dr. M Jayaraman, Head of Textual Research, Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram, Chennai. Dr. Jayaraman spoke about the concern that everyone had regarding health during COVID period. Yoga is a system that offers healing. Yoga is a preventive and indigenous system of health and it also promotes health. In this scenario, Dr Jayaraman discussed the importance of textual study and research in yoga. Textual study in yoga is important with regard to the svādhyāya (studying) which is in fact a philosophical basis. The Yogasūtras mention the importance of svādhyāya in the first sūtra of the second chapter, “tapah svādhyāya īśvarapraṇidhānāni kriyāyogah” and svādhyāya is mentioned as “praṇvādi mantrajapah, mokṣaśāstrādhyayanam vā”. Therefore, svādhyāya refers to the studying of texts. According to sage Vyāsa, by studying texts yoga becomes transformative and by practice study becomes insightful. A question in the current textual research arena was then raised: How is yoga textual research defined? To answer the question, we could receive insight from the Central Council for Research in Yoga and Naturopathy (CCRYN) which discusses on various aspects of yoga research:
1. Procurement, compilation, editing, translation and publication of critical editions of old works on yoga from manuscripts and published sources
2. Preparation of catalogues of yoga related manuscripts, concordances and encyclopedias, and digitization of yoga works
3. Critical analysis of concepts in (available) yoga literature
Dr. Jayaraman focused on what research could be done on the already published texts. The Yogasūtras were taken as a sample to show the vastness of available literature. He displayed the richness of the commentary tradition of the Yogasūtras. Dr. Jayaraman also elaborated the current situation in the yoga research arena and the desideratum:
1. Textual studies are not seriously pursued in Master’s degree programs. Some universities that offer yoga degrees do not have the study of the Yogasūtras in their curriculums.
2. There are not many certificate programs, workshops or special study groups exist in yoga universities on exploring the textual aspects of yoga. Sanskrit is not a part of many training programs of yoga teachers. This can affect the way of how instructors understand yoga texts.
3. Textual research in yoga is a very weak point in India. We have a very few institutions that focus on this field.
Dr. Jayaraman concluded his talk by pointing out how yoga could become “Uttama Yoga” by proposing the path as the study of āgama (literature), anumāna (inferring of the path) and through abhyāsarasa (yoga practice).
Dr. Balaganapathi Devarakonda, Professor, Department of Philosophy, University of Delhi offered the third lecture titled “Reflections on Contemporary Yoga Education” on 06 August 2021. Dr. Balaganapathi commenced his lecture by pondering over the questions: Does contemporary yoga differ from classical yoga? How is it different from classical yoga, and how shall one understand this topic? Currently the popularity of yoga has increased and events like International Yoga Day celebration has helped in popularizing yoga worldwide. Today, we witness various kinds of yoga practices and the diversity in yoga traditions all over the world. These traditions have influenced human life a lot. It is also seen that various traditions and practices of yoga have risen by transcending textual systems and adapting various geographical locations. Many people follow yoga believing that it is for lifestyle’s improvement and is adaptable across various stages of one’s life due to the diversity in conceptualizing. We believe that yoga can do everything: it can regulate the body clock, increase body strength, enhance well-being and help improve one’s concentration. Therefore, it is understood that there is a solution in yoga for everything. But by spreading the generalization of specific aspects of yoga, are we scientizing or rationalizing yoga? This thought is with regard to the Western epistemological and ontological categories. Yoga is not just one but diverse, and this diversity is based on epistemology and metaphysics while sage Patañjali provided a single system for the holistic development of individuals. Dr. Balaganapathi also discussed the goal of one’s life according to yoga. Yoga proposed peace and freedom as one’s goal of life. In the language of philosophy, they are well known as Śānti and liberation. Here the idea of peace means co-existence. Peace begins with oneself which can be explained as existence, and when this spreads to one’s neighbour it becomes co-existence and further leads to peaceful co-existence. The same idea is conveyed while we chant three Śānti-s at the end of every mantra. It means peace with regard to oneself, the universe and any other subtle entities. Therefore, it can be observed that the universal and the particular are given importance.
How does Yoga help in maintaining the peace within? Dr Balaganapathi explained various definitions of yoga to point out its cleansing ability. According to sage Patañjali, yoga is defined as “citta-vṛtti-nirodhaḥ”. It refers to the practices that regulate or stop mental activities of an individual. So by involving in yoga, one regulates mental activities by which the mind gets free from stress and unwanted emotions. According to the Bhagavad Gītā, yoga means “karmasu kauśalam” which can be understood as dexterity in action. Yoga helps one in performing activities with ease and with skill. The Bhagavad Gītā also says that yoga leads to the state of equanimity (“samatvaṁ yoga ucyate”) and finally to the goal of a human being of transcending emotions and mental modifications. This is stated by the phrase, “yoga manapraśamana upāyah”. Dr. Balaganapathi concluded that one requires knowledge which is obtained through studying the scriptures. Tremendous practice is necessary along with vicāra or manana which means the analysis to fix the ideas in one’s mind.
The final session was offered by Dr. Girishkumar TS, Member, Indian Council of Philosophical Research, New Delhi on 14 August 2021. His lecture topic was “Yoga as the Beginning of Bhāratīya Knowledge Tradition”. Dr. Girishkumar started his lecture by bringing up the difference in the perspective of perception between the western and Indian traditions. In Indian philosophy, the concept of experience is different from perception. We have two knowledge traditions, viz. the European knowledge tradition and the Bhāratīya knowledge tradition (BKT) known as the Vedopaniṣadic knowledge tradition. The European knowledge tradition begins with the Greeks. We have three important powerful minds of that period, viz. Socrates, Plato and Aristotle. There are also pre-Socratic philosophers like Anaximenes and Anaximander. Dr. Girishkumar commented that the depth of Greek Philosophy is very much connected with the Bhāratīya knowledge tradition. How did the mantra-s of Veda-s originate? They were the trans-sensory experiences of ṛṣika-s and ṛṣi-s. All of these are connected to the Veda-s and yogic perception existed and hence we can understand the experiences of ṛṣika-s and ṛṣi-s through various Veda-s. Dr. Girishkumar concluded that the yogic perception pre-existed the Veda-s and because of such perception, the Vedic mantra-s came into existence.
The lecture sessions concluded with Q&A sessions. They received the active participation by the staff and faculty members of Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham, as well as outside philosophers and academicians.