Dynamic Techniques

Much of modern yoga revolves around the practice of sequenced postures. But where did they come from and what were they for? The earliest texts that describe haṭha yoga have subtler priorities – contorting the body into shapes is primarily a warm-up.

Join Daniel Simpson for a comprehensive guide to the Haṭha Pradīpikā, the best-known text about physical practice. Reading it together, we'll explore the different systems from which it emerged, and see how it relates to contemporary methods.

The latest research suggests something changed about 1,000 ago, with the appearance of non-seated postures and new forms of breath-control. However, there's no indication that postures were connected into sequences until a lot more recently.

Instead, the aim of the Haṭha Pradīpikā – and the texts that inspired it, which we'll also consult – is to channel vital energy to steady the mind. That results in an embodied form of freedom, which sounds closer to modern objectives than earlier asceticism.

The course makes this history accessible, combining scholarly and practical knowledge with humour and insight. By the end, you'll have a deeper understanding of traditional haṭha, as well as how it differs from postural yoga.

Course Modules


1.1 – Tapas and Tantra

Early yogis mostly sat still, or put their bodies through gruelling austerities. This started to change with the influence of Tantra, which aimed to transform the body instead of transcending it.

1.2 – Non-seated postures

One major development is the emergence of complex āsanas. The Haṭha Pradīpikā describes ways of balancing, twisting and bending, as well as lying down. Many postures are said to cure ailments.

1.3 – Internal priorities

Despite the new focus on postures, the most important are ways to sit still. The rest are preparation for subtler techniques, which work with the body to get absorbed in meditation.


2.1 – Purifying preludes

The first objective is to clear the subtle channels through which prāṇa flows. This process starts with alternate-nostril breathing, and is sometimes accompanied by other forms of cleansing.

2.2 – Extensive retentions

As in earlier traditions, holding the breath is the main technique. However, haṭha adds new ways to inhale and exhale that have physical benefits, along with clearing the central channel.

2.3 – Raising awareness

The overall goal is a state beyond thought. This can be attained by suspending the breath in spontaneous retention, or by making it rise along with other vital forces to silence the mind.


3.1 – Magic mudrās

The biggest innovations of physical yoga are techniques that move substances upwards. First described in a text by tantric Buddhists, they were widely adopted for their liberating power.

3.2 – Immortal inversions

Old age and death are explained as a leakage of life-giving fluid. This is stored in the head, so inverting the body solves the problem. Another method turns back the tongue to plug the skull.

3.3 – Sexual restraint

Traditionally, yogis were celibate, but ways to prevent ejaculation are said to grant powers to the sexually active. It's unclear how many yogis were – as is the number of female practitioners.


4.1 – King of yogas

The outcome of practice is rāja yoga – absorption in samādhi. In contrast to Patañjali's goal in the Yoga Sūtra, this is oneness with everything. Physical methods make union accessible.

4.2 – Sounds of silence

Techniques of laya dissolve the mind. The most effective is a focus on nāda – internal sound. This subtle jukebox leads a yogi towards liberation, promoting detachment from sensory stimuli.

4.3 – Embodied freedom?

The liberated yogi looks dead to the world, as in ancient texts. However, haṭha explicitly mentions jīvanmukti – being free whilst alive. What might this mean in practice? It depends...

Introductory Video

Course Tutor

Daniel Simpson is the author of The Truth of Yoga: A Comprehensive Guide to Yoga's History, Texts, Philosophy, and Practices, which was published in 2021 by North Point Press (an imprint of Farrar, Straus and Giroux).

He teaches courses on yoga history and philosophy at the Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies and SOAS, University of London. He also contributes to yoga teacher trainings, and offers online talks and international workshops.

Daniel is a graduate of Cambridge University and earned his M.A. in Traditions of Yoga and Meditation from SOAS. In a previous career, he was a foreign correspondent, working for Reuters and the New York Times


Reading Materials

A translation is provided, along with supplementary articles.

To get the most from the course, it would be helpful to have your own copy of the text. Brian Akers's edition is recommended – it's accessibly written and comes with the Sanskrit.

The publisher's website has a free sample and more details.



How does the course work?

All four modules are available at once, so you can study the materials at your own pace. Each module has three videos, a recorded discussion with Q&A, and suggested reading.

Are there any interactive elements?

Absolutely! There's an online community, where you can discuss ideas with others and ask Daniel questions at any time. Plus there's an option to add one-to-one sessions.

How long will I have access to materials?

For three months. This provides an incentive to get to the end. You can also download audio recordings of all sessions, or upgrade to unlimited access at the checkout.

What level of knowledge is required?

The course is designed for yoga practitioners. It's accessible to anyone, while providing insightful details that will interest those who are already familiar with the text.

Do I need to read the text in advance?

Not necessarily. It's also fine to read along as you go. Course materials quote a range of translations, as well as the nineteenth-century commentary by Brahmānanda.

Does the course include assignments?

Each module has an optional quiz to test your understanding. No one sees your results.

Do yoga teachers get accreditation?

Everyone who finishes the course will receive a certificate for 16 hours of study. Teachers registered with Yoga Alliance can log these as continuing education with a YACEP.


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Payment Plan

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