It was a student who first suggested merging yoga and philosophy to Michael Harrington, an associate professor at Duquesne University.
He was teaching a class on a philosophy practice that involves the body, as much as the mind — think philosophy as a way of life — when the student told him yoga would fit in. Harrington didn’t know much about yoga, but after he started doing it, he realized the student was “really onto something.”
He’s since trained to be a yoga instructor at South Hills Power Yoga, and in the spring, Harrington launched a new course, “Yoga, Philosophy and Practice.” Students in any major could also enroll in the undergraduate course this fall.
Most of the time, philosophy work at universities means focusing on the mind, not the body, he said. But ancient Eastern and Western philosophy was all about both. So, Harrington said, adding yoga to philosophy is a great way to incorporate ancient traditions into modern study.
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Harrington’s yoga and philosophy course at Duquesne meets twice a week this fall. On Tuesdays, students are in the classroom studying yoga concepts and philosophy. On Thursday, they’re practicing yoga and reflecting on the concepts they learn through journal entries. The Incline chatted with Harrington to learn more.
Harrington completed 200 hours of training to become an instructor of power yoga, he said, adding that he chose the practice for class because it’s easier for students to focus when they are moving from pose to pose instead of sitting or meditating for long periods of time.
Ancient yoga was largely a meditation practice with a whole set of philosophy concepts, he said, adding that it wasn’t until about the 19th century that yoga existed in its current iteration. Modern yogis have combined ancient concepts with modern practice, he said.
Asking students to journal about putting concepts into practice helps them focus and learn how their strengths and weaknesses in yoga transfer to the rest of their lives, he said.
From the yoga mat to daily life
Yoga can also help with habit change, Harrington said, adding that students typically latch onto concepts that connect to a physical experience without too much thought.
For example, stability and ego: If students are standing on one leg in tree pose, they are focusing on trying to stay balanced. That’s where ego comes in.
“We understand ourselves as other people see us,” Harrington said, adding that if you want others to see you as balanced and if you want to be balanced, it’s a lot of work to stay that way in tree pose and can be embarrassing to fall.
But yoga concepts teach to work toward balance without caring about the process and to eliminate the stress that comes with worrying what others think.
“Students, well, everybody experiences a lot of anxiety. Yoga can at least help you understand the sources of anxiety and how to deal with it,” Harrington said.
Want to know more? Here are Harrington’s suggestions:
- “The Yoga Sūtra of Patañjali: A New Translation with Commentary”
- “The Absent Body”
- “Thinking Through the Body: Yoga, Philosophy, and Physical Education”
- “Body Practice and Meditation as Philosophy: Teaching Qigong, Taijiquan, and Yoga in College Courses”
Here’s a look at the one-page syllabus for the class, too: