Philosophies Of Yoga

Philosophies of Yoga

Yoga philosophy is a mammoth topic that cannot be covered in one blog post. To fully grasp the rich and mind-bending spiritual history and science behind this ancient practice... Well, do you have a lifetime? 

Yoga is, after all, a lifelong practice - something to be experienced and honed throughout our lives (and not just on the mat).  

Connecting mind, body and soul through Yoga

With the risk of overgeneralising, the philosophical foundation of Yoga is that each person is a living spirit. In other words, we’re so much more than our bodies and roles that we play in our lives. There’s something much deeper, an inner essence, if you like, that can connect us with the Divine.  

The various Southeast Asian philosophies provide their own teachings toward self-realisation or enlightenment. The one binding and recurring concept, though, is the need to connect mind, body, and soul soul, body. 

Finding a connection between these three elements is crucial to achieving a sense of fulfilment. Not the kind of fulfilment you get when you win the lottery, but great contentment and peace within our lives regardless of our achievements or where we find ourselves. 

With the above in mind, maybe wholeness is a better word. The philosophies of Yoga help us to find a sense of completeness. 

There are loads of different yogic systems and pathways to explore. For today, here are some of the most widely known philosophies of Yoga.

Patanjali's Yoga Sutras

Patanjali's Yoga Sutras date back centuries - scholars remain divided about the true origin. Some believe that there was not a single Patanjali but rather a collection of sages (wise people) passing down and sharing sutras (Buddhist scriptures containing moral guidance). 

Patanjali's Yoga Sutras are not a philosophy in and of themselves but provide transformational philosophical teachings. His (or their) sutras underline the Eight Limbs of Yoga - also known as Ashtanga, which you may be familiar with.  

To summarise, these are:

  1. Yamas: Your own ethics, sense of integrity, and behaviour towards others.
  2. Niyamas: Your duty towards yourself.
  3. Asana: Physical postures (used to prepare the body for meditation).
  4. Pranayama: The practice of breath regulation (to regulate our internal systems). 
  5. Pratyahara: Withdrawal of sense or sensory inputs. Goodbye phones.
  6. Dharana: Concentration or focusing of the mind.
  7. Dhyana: The uninterrupted flow of concentration.
  8. Samadhi: A state of bliss or enlightenment. Goals. 

These eight limbs act as guidelines on leading a more spiritual, peaceful, and purposeful life. The eight limbs are still as applicable now as when they were first discovered and can be used to calm and overcome the stresses of modern-day living. 

Hatha Yoga

One of the most popular forms of Yoga today is Hatha Yoga, which uses the third limb, Asana, to promote physical, emotional, and spiritual health. 

‘Ha’ and ‘Tha’ stand for Sun and Moon. It is said that the Hatha practice balances the two energies in our body (and subtle bodies - the layers that form who we are, but beyond our physical form). 

Hatha is one of the most common ways to practise Yoga in the West - at least when you’re on a Yoga mat

Controlled breathing (Pranayama) and posture (Asana) play a huge part in the Hatha Yoga practice. Yogis utilise hundreds of poses, including the downward-facing dog, bridge pose, and tree pose! 

These poses are not practised to achieve any ultimate end goal. If anything, you approach these postures to move, breathe and be fully in them. 

This teaches us to let go of worldly attachments (particularly our physical form and material things) to harness the light, goodness, and wisdom hidden within us. 

Raja Yoga 

Raja translates as King or Master. In this sense, Raja Yoga is possessing full reign over the senses and mind. This mastery is usually achieved by meditation and is often equated with the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. 

Karma Yoga

Another yogic pathway is Karma Yoga. This is the path to self-realisation through action or servitude. It is about learning to be kind, live selflessly, and develop compassion without expectations. 

In a sense, Karma Yoga teaches us to disconnect from our egos to act with pure and loving intention. We do what we do without anticipating something in return. 

Practising Karma Yoga can involve altering your everyday behaviours to address the duties and roles in your life - including the art of giving back. 

Jnana Yoga

Jnana yoga is the path of knowledge and wisdom. The pathway explores how to analyse and evaluate the experience in a way that penetrates its essence. It hones in on the potential to unleash yourself to uncover the power of your mind. 

Some consider this to be one of the more difficult philosophies of Yoga, as it requires such an open mind! As you can imagine, this is difficult during an age where our brains are pulled in so many directions and stimulated by a hundred and one devices. 

Tantra Yoga

Tantra Yoga is a system for spiritual growth through rituals and methods that seek to transform body fluids into Amrita, or nectar. 

Tantra means 'to weave' in Sanskrit and helps us achieve spiritual enlightenment through connecting with our energy. This has a lot to do with seeking pleasure within ourselves rather than from possessions or non-spiritual experiences. 

Tantric Yoga is often associated with sex. However, it covers all forms of pleasure that can be enjoyed in the body and mind. Tantric principles state that all things in life should give you pleasure. And by mastering your mind - and therefore your needs and desires - you can control your reality.  


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Fun fact: did you know that Hatha Yoga originated from tantra?

What is the main Philosophy of Yoga? 

There’s quite a lot to unpack here. This article barely skims the surface of Yoga philosophy. So, try not to be overwhelmed. If you’re at the start of your yoga journey, just remember to breathe and try to let go of any expectations. Keep practising, and your path will become clear in good time.

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