College student’s religious studies includes researching Ashtanga in Mysore

I mentioned on Tuesday that there seems to be a ton of news related to Ashtanga. There is. Two more after this to go. It’s all about finding the time…

But this one is unusual enough to pass along now: A student at Oberlin College has recently returned from Mysore after studying at KPJAYI. Not unusual, you say? Fine. What’s unusual is he went, under a college grant, and is researching Ashtanga as part of his “research for his Religion capstone.”

Yes, somewhere soon there will be an undergrad thesis on all things Ashtanga. He’s presenting some thoughts on the experience at the college next week. Here’s from its description:

Ali Bianchi received a Shansi In-Asia Undergraduate Grant for Winter Term 2013 to travel to Mysore, India. He conducted fieldwork on Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga at the K. Pattabhi Jois Ashtanga Yoga Institute.  Ali researched the pedagogy of the practice, notions of tradition in the Ashtanga lineage, and the embodied experience of the practice. He focused on such things as the practice environment, the teacher-student relationship, Mysore’s development as a site of pilgrimage for Ashtanga practitioners, and the results yielded by a daily Ashtanga practice. He practiced at the shala for the month, took daily field notes, and did recorded interviews and conversations with other Ashtanga practitioners. The project is initial research for his Religion capstone. Additionally, he has been practicing Ashtanga Vinyasa regularly for two and a half years.

Here is a bit about the program, Oberlin Shansi, he’s in:

In 1881 Oberlin Graduate School of Theology students formed “The Oberlin Band” and began mission work in Shanxi Province under the auspices of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (ABCFM) of the Congregational Church. In 1900 the members of the mission and many Chinese Christians were killed in the Boxer Rebellion.  The Memorial Arch in Tappan Square was erected in 1903 by the ABCFM. In the fall of 1907 Oberlin graduate H. H. Kung (’06) returned to his native Taigu in Shanxi Province and consolidated the remnants of earlier mission educational efforts, creating Ming Hsien (for boys) and Beilu (for girls), the “Oberlin-in-China.”

In January 1908 the Oberlin Shansi Memorial Association was founded as an independent non-profit organization to support this educational enterprise.  In 1918 Oberlin students and graduates, selected by elected members of the Oberlin student body, began teaching English and participating in extra-curricular activities at the schools, thus starting the Shansi Rep (now Fellow) tradition.

It goes on to note that with the Korean War, the connection to China was cut for a while (and the program expanded in Asia), and in the early 1970s the program became secular.

So who wishes they’d managed to spend a month practicing Ashtanga under a college grant? There’s nothing at the site about whether he’ll be making anything public, but I assume there was interest among those he interviewed in Mysore. So we’ll see.

Posted by Steve