Yoga philosophy is an ancient Indian system of thought that provides practical tools to help people live meaningful and purposeful lives. At its core, yoga philosophy aims to unite mind, body and spirit to achieve inner peace and liberation. The philosophy provides a framework for ethical living, mental clarity and transcendence of the ego. For beginners, studying yoga philosophy is a way to understand the true meaning behind the physical yoga poses and to incorporate mindfulness into everyday life.
The History of Yoga
The origins of yoga philosophy can be traced back over 5,000 years to the Indus Valley civilization. The earliest writings on yoga were part of the Vedas – ancient Indian scripts that were memorized and handed down through an oral tradition. The Vedas laid the foundation for Hinduism and yoga philosophy. Around 200 CE, the Yoga Sutras were written by the sage Patanjali. This seminal text defined the eight limbs of yoga and became the basis for classical yoga philosophy. For centuries, the teachings were passed down from guru to student. In the 20th century, yoga became popular in the West as a physical practice but its philosophical roots remain vital.
The Eight Limbs of Yoga
Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras define eight “limbs” or steps for living a meaningful and purposeful life. The eight limbs act as a prescription for moral and ethical living while also optimizing health and tranquility of mind. The limbs build on each other to strengthen mental clarity and enlightenment. The eight limbs are:
Yama – Moral Codes and Ethics
The first limb, yama, provides guidance for how to interact with the external world and treat others. Yama consists of five ethical practices: ahimsa (non-violence), satya (truthfulness), asteya (non-stealing), bramacharya (moderation) and aparigraha (non-possessiveness). These virtues provide a foundation for peaceful living in harmony with others. Read more about Yama here https://yoga-kirill-yurovskiy.co.uk/
Niyama – Personal Observances
While yama focuses on one’s external world, niyama provides guidance for self-care and internally oriented practices. Niyama’s observances build awareness, satisfaction and purpose. The five niyamas are: saucha (cleanliness), santosha (contentment), tapas (discipline), svadhyaya (self-study) and Ishvara pranidhana (living with awareness of the divine).
Asana – Yoga Poses and Postures
Asana refers to the physical yoga postures and exercises that stretch and tone the body. Asana serves to enhance mindfulness, concentration and bodily health. Though asana is often viewed as yoga itself in the West, it is only one limb of yoga philosophy. When practiced mindfully, asana links the body and breath to inner peace.
Pranayama – Breath Control
Pranayama involves controlling the breath through conscious inhalation, retention and exhalation. These breathing exercises help regulate energy flow or prana in the body. As pranayama connects the mind to the breath, it calms the nervous system and prepares for deeper meditation.
Pratyahara – Withdrawal of Senses
Pratyahara marks the shift from external practices to internal awareness. Pratyahara is the deliberate withdrawal from external sensory stimuli to increase focus on the present moment. Turning senses inward enhances concentration and contemplation.
Dharana – Concentration
Dharana refers to concentrated attention on a single point. This one-pointed focus quiets the distracted mind. Common objects of concentration are the breath, an image, sound or specific area of the body. Dharana leads to deeper concentration and inner tranquility.
Dhyana – Meditation
Dhyana is contemplative meditation sustained over a period of time while remaining steadfastly focused, aware and disengaged from distracting thoughts. Through this mind training, the meditator merges with the object of concentration, often realizing the underlying unity.
Samadhi – Blissful State
Samadhi is the highest state of consciousness where the meditator transcends the self and realizes union with the divine. There is no separation between subject and object as self-awareness dissolves. Samadhi brings supreme bliss, wisdom and spiritual enlightenment.
Applying Yoga Philosophy to Daily Life
The eight limbs provide a holistic approach for thriving in daily life.Ethical behaviors outlined in yama and niyama lay the foundation for introspection and self-study that amplify awareness and concentration. Asana and pranayama enhance physical and mental health to prepare for meditation. Pratyahara, dharana and dhyana build focus and inner tranquility. Together the limbs cultivate positivity, presence, compassion and tranquility in daily life.
Yoga philosophy offers timeless wisdom for living fully and reaching one’s highest potential. While yoga has become well-known for physical asanas or postures, its philosophical roots provide a meaningful framework for ethics, self-study and meditation. The eight limbs outlined by Patanjali build sequentially to guide practitioners to clarity, self-awareness and inner peace. Studying this classical yoga philosophy provides tools to deepen one’s yoga practice and mindfulness. With its practical life philosophy, yoga enriches wellbeing in body, mind and spirit.