Yoga Philosophy 101: Intro to Yoga

Would you like to transform your life with yoga philosophy? Did you ever wish you had more of a solid foundation of yoga philosophy? After all, yoga isn’t only about poses. It’s a vehicle to transform your life.

Even if you’ve gone to a teacher’s training, you probably have only scratched the surface of the vast body of yoga philosophy.

So, let’s embarked on a transformation trip together!

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There is Always A Story.

Like many of you, I’ve been into smoking, parties, drinking and eating as I was coming of age. In fact, most of my routines included a host of unhealthy habits. However, inspired by an urge not to die, I embarked upon a new regime: with determination, I quit smoking, replacing that nicotine fix with exercise that included running and working out in the gym. But, all that drinking, smoking, and physical idleness took its toll on my poor body. In fact, in my attempt to improve my health, I ruined my knees and the discs in my back gave out.  Luckily, I saw one of the best physical therapists in New York. So, he recommended doing yoga. Together with, physical therapy, he said, yoga would help the healing process.

With this in mind, I took my first yoga class in a little yoga studio, named Jivamukti sometime in 2000. Consequently, I’ve completed 700 hours of yoga teacher training.  I was fortunate to study with the world leading teachers like Chase Bossart, Edwin Bryant, and A.G. Mohan in T. Krishnamachary’s tradition. My training included anatomy, body movement, breathing, and meditation. However, the study and application of the yoga philosophy have an enormous impact on my life.

Brief Yoga Origins. 

Yoga is a part of six darśanas (philosophies, world views, teachings): Samkhya, Yoga, Nyaya, Vaisheshika, Mimamsa and Vedanta.

The first occurrence of the word “yoga” is in the Katha Upanishad, where it is revealed to the boy (Nachiketa) by Yama (the deity of death) how to leave behind joy and sorrow and to overcome death itself (third century BCE approx.).

The later Maitri Upanishad describes a six-fold yoga method of yoga:  (1) breath control (pranayama), (2) withdrawing of the senses (pratyahara), (3) meditation (dhyana), (4) sustained concentration (dharana), (5) philosophical inquiry (tarka), and (6) absorption (samadhi).  These elements  (except tarka) are the subject of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra.

The section of the Mahābhārata known as Bhagavad Gita lays out three paths of yoga: Karma Yoga – the path of action, Jnana Yoga – the path of knowledge, Bhakti Yoga – the path of devotion and Dhyana Yoga – the path of meditation, which is also the subject of Yoga Sutras of Patanjali.

The Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali

The Yoga Sūtras (250 CE?) of Patañjali ascribed by Sage Patanjali. It consists of 196 concise aphorisms or sutras, loaded with meaning.  These aphorisms are divided into four chapters outlining methods to attain the goal of yoga. However, this is not your typical philosophy textbook. Traditionally, a qualified teacher is decoding the text for a student who is ready to receive the teachings. The student is required to learn how to recite sutras prescribed by a teacher. Also, a student must practice these concepts in their daily life. In addition, a student is inspired to question the text.  Likewise, a good teacher encourages a student to find answers within.

Yoga is a precious aid for human evolution. It suggests a reflective behavior, a responsible and peaceful way of acting in the world with harmony. 

So, let’s delve a bit further into the Yoga Sutra text.

Chapter I – Overview 

Samadhi Pada (51 sutras): 

The first chapter is for a student with a refined or yogic mind.  This chapter is about the intense concentration (Samadhi) achieved through meditation. Further, Patanjali gives us a definition of Yoga in this chapter.  

Chapter II –

How To Achieve a State of Yoga?

Sadhana Pada  (55 sutras)

The second chapter is for a student with an unsteady and easily distracted mind. In fact, I consider myself in this category. Therefore, I love this part of the text!

So, this chapter is all about yoga practice (Sadhana).  Patañjali gives us a system on how to bring our mind into the state of yoga or the state of equanimity and sustained attention. We will be spending some time here, so let’s elaborate a bit

Firstly, Patañjali tells us that all our actions can be considered yogic in nature.  If these actions have an intensity or focus (tapas), awareness (svadhyaya), and the attitude of acceptance or not focusing on the results (Ishvara Paranidhana).  In contrast, we suffer when our actions are not yogic in nature. The unfocused mind causes suffering.  The text further elaborates on the cause of this suffering and suggests various solutions.

Secondly, the author introduces the eight limbs of Yoga or Astanga Yoga. The first two limbs are social (yama) and personal (niyama) ethics. Followed by practices of the body (asana), breathing (pranayama) disciplines and different stages of meditative practice.

So, we clean up our act, practice body movements, breathing, and meditation to bring the mind to the state of equality or sustained attention. And, this is yoga in a nutshell.

Chapter III – We’ve Got the Power!

You’ve got a Yogic Mind And Here is What You Can Do.

Vibhuti Pada (56 sutras)

This chapter continues the explanation of Ashtanga yoga from the second chapter. Patañjali presents yoga’s internal limbs – a discipline of concentration, meditation, and complete absorption. The systematic repetition of these practices leads to wisdom. Also, it gives a special skills or powers (siddhis) to a student.

However, the attainment of special powers is not the goal of yoga. A yogi is not attached to these abilities. A yogi keeps their mind focused on the clarity of mind or the goal of yoga.

Chapter IV – Delving Deeper

How Yoga Works

Kaivalya Pada (34 sutras)

The fourth chapter is on liberation (Kaivalya). In addition, Patañjali explains differences between Yoga and other Vedic and non-Vedic philosophical systems.  It delves deeper into the “reality” of things.

In other words, this chapter outlines the process of liberation and the reality of the transcendental ego.

This chapter presents a very interesting concept. An “observer” or a “Seer” who is served by the mind, while at the same time showing that this Master is alert and luminous. So, the yogin is released from the obstacles once the wisdom gained.

** References and further reading**
Yoga Body by Mark Singleton
Yoga Sutra of Patanjali by Edwin Brain
Notes from Chase Bossart on-line Yoga Sutra Classes

Thanks for reading and please share your comments!

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