Last updated on September 26th, 2023.
For thousands of years, yoga has calmed the minds, relaxed the souls, and improved the general well-being of those who have practiced this ancient art. But yoga is more than a collection of mental and physical exercises. It is a belief system with core principles that sheds light on how people’s lives are intertwined with each and the world in which they live. In other words, yoga is a philosophy.
The philosophical premise of yoga is achieving mental, spiritual, and physical enlightenment through yogic practices like meditation and postures. Yogic philosophy also lays out how followers should conduct themselves and treat others around them. Putting it all together will result in pure bliss.
Millions of people around the globe look to yoga for their mental and physical well-being. And while its value as a self-help platform cannot be overstated, there is more to yoga than meditation and postures. By adhering to a yogic lifestyle as laid out by the fundamental philosophical principles of yoga, boundless joy and fulfillment await. Here’s how it works.
Why is Yoga a Philosophy?
When one thinks of the word philosophy, famous thinkers like Plato, Socrates, and Confucius come to mind, but philosophy has been around for as long as people have pondered their existence. Simply put, philosophy is humankind’s attempt to understand, explain, and rationalize the most fundamental aspects of life:
- The world and all the things in it
- Ourselves and our existence
- How we relate to and co-exist with others
Through this lens it is clear that the ancient art of yoga is not just a platform for exercising the mind and body, it is also a philosophy. Yoga seeks to develop a particular mindset among its followers and practitioners and through acceptance of these principles, those who embrace yogic philosophy can realize untold fulfillment.
One of the primary ways that yoga achieves this is by promoting the yogic way of life. By harmonizing the mental, emotional, and physical aspects of life, not only can yogis strike an internal sense of balance but they can also maintain an even keel when facing life’s challenges. One way to achieve this balance is to learn mudras online to incorporate them in your yoga practice. Ultimately, yoga is about achieving inner peace, experiencing enlightenment and expressing genuine compassion toward others.
What is the Basic Philosophy of Yoga?
At its core, the basic philosophy of yoga can be summarized as the simultaneous introspective pursuit of self-awareness and outward-looking understanding of the world around us through yogic practices. It is through meditation and deep contemplation while performing various asanas, or yoga postures, that practitioners can achieve a higher state of consciousness and understand higher truths.
Volumes can be and have been written about the philosophy of yoga and its many intricacies but the fundamental concepts can be broken down into these 5 elements:
- Asanas – mindful practice of asanas not only ensures the sanctity of the body but of the mind and spirit as well
- Pranayama – recognizing that all living creatures must breathe to survive, the pranayama component of yogic philosophy stresses proper breathing techniques to nurture the mind and body
- Sava sana – just as high-level athletes must allow their bodies to properly recover in order to perform at their best when needed, so too must all yoga practitioners make a conscious effort to rest the mind, body, and soul
- Nutrition – a proper diet ensures that body and mind receive the vital nutrition and fuel that they need to function at high levels
- Positivity – maintaining a positive outlook is one of the pillars of yogic philosophy and it’s what allows yoga practitioners to keep emotions in check, eliminate anxiety, and promote inner peace
Among the teachings of yogic philosophy is the notion that the inner consciousness (purusha) and the outer world (prakriti) are distinct but also interconnected. Bridging these two elements and achieving harmony between them will result in happiness and inner peace.
The philosophy of yoga also teaches that living a life of virtue – built on a foundation of honesty, compassion, and devotion – is an integral part of leading a yogic life.
Are the Koshas a Part of Yogic Philosophy?
An interesting and vital part of yoga religion philosophy is the role played by the five koshas (Sanskrit for “sheath”, also not to be confused with the 5 Kleshas.) A good way to understand how koshas work is to visualize them as the layers of an onion or as Russian nesting dolls with the human body serving as the outermost layer, or sheath. Here is a look at the five koshas and what they encompass, starting from the outermost sheath:
- Annamaya kosha – as the outermost layer, this is the only kosha that exists in a physical form and it comprises the human body which is best maintained through the practice of yoga postures (asanas)
- Pranamaya kosha – this kosha comprises the life force energy lying within and connects our consciousness with the world around us
- Manomaya kosha – the next layer represents the mental and emotional aspects of our existence which largely shape our ethics and behavior
- Vijnanamaya kosha – wisdom and deep, contemplative thought reside in this kosha which is also the source of creativity and inspiration
- Anadamaya kosha – as the innermost kosha, this sheath is the ultimate goal of self-discovery and enlightenment as it embodies pure bliss and boundless joy
Although there are five distinct koshas, each with its own unique attributes, the goal of yoga practice is to create such a synergy among the koshas that they merge together in perfect harmony. To unite the koshas in such a manner would be a transcendent accomplishment in the yoga universe.
Study Yogic Philosophy as a Beginner
If the ideals of yoga as a philosophy resonate with you as a possible lifestyle choice then the first steps you should take involve learning the fundamental principles. It is important to understand that as a philosophy with roots that date back over a thousand years, there is no singular sacred text that is considered to be a definitive source on how lead a yogic life.
Written Works on Yoga Philosophy
However, there are several centuries-old written works that provide good guidance on the philosophical aspects of yoga, such as The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali and The Bhagavad Gita, both of which describe the key elements of yogic thought and the virtues of embracing the yogic lifestyle.
In more modern times, the books of famed yoga guru B.K.S. Iyengar (from whom Iyengar yoga takes its name) are widely viewed as authoritative pieces stressing the virtues of incorporating breathing techniques into asana practice for anxiety attacks while emphasizing the importance of proper alignment. Both Light on Life and Light on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali are considered good sources for studying yogic philosophy.
Studying Yoga Philosophy Online
With the widespread availability of online resources, there may not be a better time than the present to start studying the philosophy of yoga. One of the best Yoga Philosophy courses from Loka Yoga School is an in-depth online program that is the perfect companion for jumpstarting your studies of yoga philosophy. Through this program you can expect to learn:
- The core principles of yoga philosophy
- Sacred prayers and chants, including the Sacred Vedic Shanti and the Sacred Devi
- How to read, write, and speak the ancient Sanskrit language
- The secrets to unlocking the mind and the subconscious
This program is completely self-paced and its 6 courses are taught by a recognized yoga guru. Because this course is certified by Yoga Alliance, completion of this class can earn qualified students continuing education credits as well.
There are yoga enthusiasts for whom this ancient art provides benefits that run far deeper than physical health and mental stability. It is a way of life that has withstood the test of time and even in the modern era, it is a philosophy that offers personal fulfillment of epic proportions for those committed to seeing the journey to its end.