Lamar University Press Logo

Dishman talk to explore art, spiritual yoga

Courtesy photo
Courtesy photo

There is an interconnection between the physics of the universe, and physical and spiritual practice of yoga — art.

The latest in the Art History Lecture Series is set for 6 p.m., Wednesday, in the Dishman Art Museum, will explore the relationship that exists in Indian philosophy.

The free lecture will be presented by Stephanie Chadwick, Lamar University assistant professor of art history, and Anjali Kanoija, director of Indian studies at the University of Houston, where the pair led a study abroad class to India in 2015.

“There’s a connection between Hindu cosmology and the temple architecture and the human body, believe it or not,” she said. “It’s really fascinating to me.”

Mantras, repeated words or sounds, and yantras, which are drawings, are used as meditation tools, Chadwick said. In Hindu philosophy, the yantras are maps of the cosmos.

“You could say it’s a microcosmic-macrocosmic relationship that’s being set up between the smallest elements of life and the vastness of the cosmos,” she said.

Kanojia is a political scientist who studies Indian politics and cultural practices, but she also teaches yoga and views yoga as a political exercise, Chadwick said.

“Yoga is the common factor — it is a way to integrate physical and spiritual activities,” Chadwick, who studies depictions of yoga postures in Indian art, especially in temple architecture, said.

Mandalas, which have become popular in adult coloring books, are actually maps of the cosmos in Hindu philosophy, Chadwick said.

“These mandalas are also based on the human body — they’re actually yoga postures that are the basis for the whole temple structure, including the art that’s in it,” she said. “It’s a way to think about this connection between the body, the environment and the cosmos. It’s a lot to tackle — we’re going to find a way to make it interesting.”

The mandalas in adult coloring books are an example of cultural hybridity — the process where one culture blends with another — similar to how yoga was adopted by westerners in the 1910s and ’20s, but became mainstream in the ’60s.

Chadwick said her and Kanojia’s research intersects through yoga.

“There’s a lot of interest today, in Western medicine, about yoga and healing,” Chadwick said. “Meditation and trying to get in tune with your physicality is really good for you emotionally and physically. That’s really being taken seriously. For a couple decades it was not (seen as) scientific, now it’s coming back around.

“Those adult coloring books represent yoga and healing, and art and healing, in the same package.”

While Western philosophy and religion tends to view the body as distinct from spirituality, that is not the case in other schools of thought, Chadwick said.

“There’s not really a separation in Indian art between all of these things,” she said. “There are ideas about sacred space vs. ordinary space, but sacred and profane isn’t thought of in the same way that Western culture tries to do that.”artandyoga copy

Visitors to a Hindu temple are thought to be entering a sacred space indicated by markers, Chadwick said. The idea is to engage the body as it moves into the sacred zone.

“So there is a separation in that sense,” she said.

The spiritual is connected with the sensual in the temple’s erotic sculptures which are tied to tantric practices and sexual healing.

“In Western culture, we tend to focus on the sex part,” Chadwick said. “(Tantra) is bound up in ideas about spiritual growth. It has to do with origin, ideas about spirituality that are bound up in fertility imagery.

“In the interior of the temple, there’s going to be a ‘linga’ and a ‘yoni’ — so that’s phallic symbol right there. The yoni is the creative matrix, which is gendered female.”

The lecture will focus on temples dedicated to shakti, the concept of female creative energy.

“Even though there are gender iniquities in India, there’s a history and things need to be resolved, when it comes to these ideas — the creative matrix is a really powerful element,” Chadwick said.

“There’s a lot of different theories and nobody really knows the answers to these questions. But we do know that there’s this real connection between the human body and the physicality of existence, and a spirituality that’s thought of as linked with the entire cosmos.”

Physicists are revisiting Hindu cosmology because of the expanding universe theory, Chadwick said.

“The cosmos is conceived — if you go back into certain ancient Hindu belief, the whole cosmos is like a body that breathes. In Hindu belief, it expands and contracts because it’s like breathing. There’s a cyclical view about creation, destruction and rebirth.”

For more information, visit

Story by Eleanor Skelton, UP contributor

Category: News