Premodern Yogāsanas and Modern Postural Yoga Practice

Distinct Regional Collections of Āsanas on the Eve of Colonialism

  • Jason Birch SOAS University of London
  • Jacqueline Hargreaves SOAS University of London


In this chapter, we formulate a corpus of premodern praxis manuals on yoga that were composed in the 18th and 19th century in rudimentary Sanskrit and vernacular languages, which were likely documenting collections of yoga postures (āsana) current among practitioners of the time. Much of their detailed, praxis-focused content does not occur in the scholarly Sanskrit yoga treatises that predate them, and yet most of these manuals have received little attention in academic publications. Our analysis and comparative study of this material has identified three distinct collections of complex āsana that can be located to different geographical regions of India on the eve of colonialism. This research provides evidence for premodern āsanas that crossed sectarian and linguistic divides and were adopted by the gurus who popularised yoga in the early 20th century. This latter issue underlies contemporary debates on the continuity of modern postural yoga within the Indian tradition. Until this study, clear lines of transmission from premodern teachings on āsana to modern postural yoga have eluded academic research.

Author Biographies

Jason Birch, SOAS University of London

Jason Birch (DPhil, Oxon) is a Senior Research Fellow of the Light on Haṭha Project hosted by SOAS University of London and the University of Marburg. He is also co-director of the Yogacintāmaṇi Project at the University of Massachusetts, Boston and a visiting researcher of the Suśruta Project at the University of Alberta. Jason has published numerous articles on premodern yoga traditions, critically edited and translated six Sanskrit texts on Haṭhayoga for the Haṭha Yoga Project (2015–2020) and, as a post-doctoral researcher of the AyurYog Project at the University of Vienna (2015), he examined the shared history of premodern yoga traditions and Ayurveda. He is co-founder of SOAS Centre of Yoga Studies and founding member and editor of the Journal of Yoga Studies.

Jacqueline Hargreaves, SOAS University of London

Jacqueline Hargreaves (BE Hons, UNSW and E-RYT) is programme convenor of Yoga Studies Online at SOAS University of London. She is a founding member of the Journal of Yoga Studies and founder of The Luminescent—an independent, evidence-based research hub for yoga studies. She collaborates with researchers to present findings in innovative and accessible ways. Examples of her work include: the AyurYog Project (Vienna University, 2016–2020) construction of a web-based visual and textual timeline of premodern Ayurveda and yoga; and curation of the exhibition “Embodied Liberation” (SOAS University of London, 2019–2020) at the Brunei Gallery, London, which included the production of a documentary film that brought to life through embodied philology the 18th-century yoga of the Haṭhābhyāsapaddhati.

How to Cite
BIRCH, Jason; HARGREAVES, Jacqueline. Premodern Yogāsanas and Modern Postural Yoga Practice. Journal of Yoga Studies, [S.l.], v. 4, p. 31 – 82, apr. 2023. ISSN 2664-1739. Available at: <>. Date accessed: 22 may 2024.