The Sanskrit word for philosophy is darsan, which means vision, and yoga philosophy offers us a vision or view of life that’s full of inspiration, yet very straightforward, practical and applicable to daily life. Although most people are aware of yoga in terms of its popular physical practices (hatha yoga), it’s not yet widely known that the yogic path is primarily spiritual and philosophical in nature.
Yoga was originally intertwined with the Hindu religion, which since ancient times has been characterised by rituals, worship and prayers. However when it was discovered that the divine existed within humans, the upward gaze towards the gods shifted inwards to a path within the human soul.
Several centuries BC the first small yoga circles emerged, gathered around a master, to study meditation and breathing exercises. Yoga was seen as a pathway to the experience of inner union with the divine Brahman. Later, from around the 2nd century BC, the philosophical yoga principles outlined by Patanjali in his Yoga Sutras became influential. Providing a sort of compendium on the practice of yoga meditation that remains influential today, the Sutras contain a great deal of simple philosophical wisdom that can be used for personal development and expansion of inner consciousness.
It was only later, around the 10th and 11th centuries AD, that the usefulness of integrating the body into yoga practice was discovered – and so the physical exercises of hatha yoga came into being.
For several centuries hatha yoga experienced its heyday and although its practice was somewhat submerged during India’s colonisation by the British, in the 20th century the cultural heritage of yoga was reawakened by great yogis such as Sri Aurobindo, Vivekananda and Ramana Maharshi. Gradually the wisdom of these yogis was made available to the West and eventually other yoga masters who specialised in hatha yoga, such as B. K. S. Iyengar, made an even greater impact in Western countries. However these yoga masters, and most contemporary yoga teacher trainings, also draw heavily upon the philosophical and spiritual aspects of yoga found in ancient texts such as the Sutras.
The wisdom of these sacred texts has great potential to enhance the physical practice of hatha yoga. It also offers huge benefits to the non-practitioner, providing philosophies that can be applied to daily life. Through focussing on unifying and harmonising principles, self-discipline and non-attachment to outcomes, yoga philosophy uplifts the human spirit and allows you to remain centred and calm in the midst of turbulence or challenges of any kind.
Yoga philosophy actually provides an inspiring alternative to psychotherapy, giving us a way to dissolve suffering from within ourselves. It gives us a structured yet enriching path to follow. Showing great respect for the wisdom of the past, yoga philosophy has a synthesising tendency that is in great contrast to the divisive approach of modern life.
This is why our troubled world needs yoga philosophy. If you'd like to find out more, please stay in touch for future blogs on yoga philosophy and how it can change your life!