If you’re interested in yoga philosophy, a good place to start learning about its ancient origins is a text known as the Yoga Sutras, written more than 2000 years ago by the sage Patanjali.
The Sutras give you an insightful understanding of human consciousness and our relationship with the cosmos, combined with techniques for gaining control over your consciousness (largely through meditation). In this way the Sutras combine psychology, philosophy and practical techniques that help to reduce human suffering and improve quality of life. Today this ancient text remains an important summary of yoga principles, and it’s often included in yoga teacher training courses.
One of the most interesting facets of the Sutras is its inclusion of a devotional element in yoga and meditation practice – a spiritual factor that allows the practitioner to shift from an ego-based mindset to a loving awareness of the higher power that shapes our lives. (In the Sutras this higher power is referred as Ishvara.)
The devotional element doesn’t need to be focused on a god, goddess or other figurehead (although it provides a wonderful opportunity for this if you have religious beliefs). If you ever feel a sense of awe and reverence for the vast cosmic power that underlies the workings of the universe, you can simply bring this feeling to mind during your yoga/meditation practice. Both practitioners and non-practitioners can even dedicate their daily activities to this higher power.
Seen in this context yoga involves far more than just mental and physical discipline. Ideally it brings mind, body, spirit and feelings together in a holistic, uplifting form of consciousness. And yoga philosophy, by encouraging this multi-faceted awareness, involves so many more levels than other philosophies of the world, which are largely focussed on the mental plane of ideas and concepts.
The devotional approach to yoga can be followed as a path in life, known as Bhakti Yoga. Patanjali says this path can provide the most direct route to samadhi, the blissful state of inner unity often considered to be the goal of yoga practices such as meditation.
However you don’t have to be a bhakta, a follower of this path, to bring the devotional element into your yoga practice or your life. It can simply be a way of doing things in a respectful, gentle spirit – a loving appreciation of the great web of life, and a sense of surrender to its vast and powerful energies.