Yoga Philosophy

Yoga is so many things. These days, all of a sudden it seems yoga is a popular mode for exercise, a hot trend of physical postures (often performed by glamorous celebrities) that promise to lead us to greater fitness and ravishing beauty. But be assured, however, that there is a lot more to yoga than some passing fad.

The History of Yoga

The roots of yoga can be traced back over 5,000 years. Early writings of yoga were transcribed on palm leaves, but due to their fragile nature, little evidence of the beginnings of yoga remain.

The beginnings of yoga were developed by the Indus-Sarasvati civilization in Northern India. Yoga was mentioned in the Vedas, one of the oldest sacred texts. Over the years, Vedic priests refined and documented their practices of yoga in texts such as the Bhagavad-Gita, but it wasn’t until Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras that yoga was systematically presented.

Centuries after Patanjali, various yoga masters created a system of practices to rejuvenate the body and prolong life. They rejected the older teachings of the Vedas and promoted the physical-spiritual connections. These beliefs and practices led to the creation of Hatha yoga.

In the late 1800s, yoga masters began traveling to the West, but it wasn’t until 1947, when Indra Devi opened a yoga studio in Hollywood, that the teachings and philosophies of yoga finally began to gain popularity.

The Philosophy of Yoga

What exactly IS yoga? The answer isn’t simple. Yoga is part metaphysics and part philosophy, with a strong physical base. Yoga is about seeking the universal truth through simple practices, body rituals and techniques that tie in to its fundamental theme of yoking (connecting) the body with the infinite spirit of the universe. Indeed, the word “yoga” itself comes from the Sanskrit “yuj,” which means to yoke or to join.

According to BKS Iyengar, proponent of a popular yoga form that bears his name, yoga is “the method by which the restless mind is calmed and the energy directed into constructive channels.” Indeed, the Indian sage Patanjali, who is revered as the Father of Yoga by all practitioners, defines purpose of the eight limbs of yoga as “yogas citta vritti nirodhah.” This Sanskrit phrase translates as “Yoga begins when thinking stops.”

The Eight Limbs of Yoga

  1. Yama: Self-control or restraint from violence, lying, excessiveness, stealing, and coveting
  2. Niyama: Stresses things one should do-purity, contentment, austerity, study of the sacred texts, living with awareness of the divine
  3. Asana: Physical exercises, postures
  4. Pranayama: Breathing exercises
  5. Pratyahara: Drawing inward
  6. Dharana: Concentration
  7. Dhyana: Meditation
  8. Samadhi: Realization

The philosophy of yoga is to help one achieve a certain poise of equanimity, to look at all aspects of life-pleasure as well as pain-with acceptance and serenity. And although yoga’s roots lie deep in the Hindu world of gods and goddesses, yoga itself is NOT a religion. Religion, one can argue, is often about teaching you what to do. Yoga teaches you how to be. The fact is, yoga is universal and practitioners are always welcome to use their own concept of God to help guide them toward higher levels of yogic performance. Besides, tenets of yoga are found in many of the world’s major religions. For instance, Christendom’s St. Francis of Assisi was an avowed yogi. And Judaism’s Kabbalah draws heavily on aspects of the yogic science of breath.

All About Re-Connecting with Your True Inner Self

What then is the core philosophy of yoga? Perhaps it is this: Despite our own true nature, people usually become far too distracted with their own mind and body and material objects. They lose sight of this fundamental truth. This false identification makes us feel imperfect, limited, sorrowful and at loss. Yoga seeks to provide people with a way to cast off this ignorance and become aware of their true divine self. The goal is to free a person from those imperfections and to unite him or her with their supreme universal self.

Yoga, then, is the union of the individual with absolute reality-and the yogi or yogini’s journey is all about finding peace, harmony and the greatest truth of all.