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SOAS Scholars Visit Phiroz Mehta Trust Summer School

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By Alice Green

As part of the 2015 Summer School hosted by the Phiroz Mehta Trust, the two recipients of scholarships generously funded by the Trust to study at SOAS, University of London, gave a talk to the participants about their work and experiences.

The Phiroz Mehta Scholarship was established in memory of Phiroz Mehta for students studying the unique Traditions of Meditation and Yoga MA at SOAS, a highly-regarded course which offers in-depth teaching into the cross-cultural and inter-regional perspectives of yogic and meditational practices in Asia.

The first scholarship was awarded in 2013–14 to Karen O’Brien-Kop, who has gone on to study for a PhD at SOAS, and the second in 2014–15 to Amelia Wood, who will be continuing with her career as a yoga teacher.

Karen began the talk with insights into what motivated her to take the MA course at SOAS, based on her personal experiences with meditation and yoga. She then discussed her Master's dissertation on the evolution of the syllable OM in the Upaniṣads, and her PhD research on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali.

Karen is researching the presence of inter-religious elements in the Yoga Sutras across Hindu, Buddhist and Jain traditions. Karen noted that her study of the porousness of intellectual boundaries in early Indic religion resonates with Phiroz Mehta’s approach of emphasising the commonality in religious traditions.

Finally, Karen took the group through a basic meditative chant on OM and left us with the thought that meditation is something which should always be able to provide an anchor of calm in today’s hectic and constantly changing world.

Karen O'Brien-Kop and Amelia Wood
Karen O’Brien-Kop and Amelia Wood

For Amelia, the second recipient of the SOAS Phiroz Mehta Scholarship, the Traditions of Meditation of Yoga programme has been an opportunity for her to explore the historical and theoretical development of yoga, as a way of understanding the practice as it is today.

Amelia took the group at the Summer School through her thoughts and reflections on the practice of yoga, highlighting how the knowledge she has gained at SOAS, enabled by the Phiroz Mehta Scholarship, will benefit her career as a yoga teacher.

Amelia considers yoga to be much more than as it is often perceived these days as simply a form of exercise, but as a practice for physical and mental well-being. She has been influenced by the teachings of Krishnamacharya and his philosophies on the power of yoga to heal, focussing on the importance of combining breathing with movement.

Amelia’s approach to teaching is to aim for something which works with the body, rather than contorting into uncomfortable positions which go against natural movement.

By being able to study the historical and sociological developments of yoga in the East through the MA programme at SOAS, Amelia has gained a greater knowledge and appreciation of how this has been transmuted in the West.

This will allow her to go deeper than just the physical practice with her students and has given her an academic foundation which will enable her to be part of preserving ancient traditions in modern day practice.

Both Karen and Amelia, accompanied by Alice Green from SOAS, were delighted to be able to take part in the Phiroz Mehta Summer School, sharing in the peaceful and meditative surroundings of the retreat and meeting the participants.

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