We always hear that yoga is much more than a physical practice. It is not just a ‘workout’ but a ‘work-in’ too. The various yoga practices come together to holistically work on the mind, body and soul, leading one towards self-realization and liberation. Yoga philosophy teaches us different ways to live peacefully within society, to learn the ropes of self-discipline, overcoming obstacles and withdrawing from the material world and going inward. We learn to differentiate between materialistic desires and necessities, and to develop a detachment to external sensory pleasures.
Philosophies in yoga
There are various schools of thought and philosophies in yoga that one can study and learn. There is a dualist school of thought, Samkhya yoga, which talks of Purusha (consciousness) and Prakriti (nature). There is the Eight Limbs of Yoga philosophy which details the path and steps to take to reach liberation in a meaningful and adaptable manner. There is the Bhagavad Gita, which provides lessons in overcoming obstacles, letting go of expectations and detaching from results. The 196 Patanjali Yoga Sutras have beautiful meanings that can be adapted as life lessons, like ‘Sthiram Sukam Asanam’, which originally means to be steady and comfortable in any posture. But when adapted wholly it can be understood to stay stable and balanced no matter the circumstance.
The more you study, the deeper you go into the various philosophies. You will learn to understand how yoga is a journey to the self. Each practice and each philosophy is a journey to merge individual consciousness with universal consciousness. Yoga philosophy teaches us to know and peel back the different layers of our being, to nourish and care for these layers, through physical practices.
Why does yoga philosophy matter
In a simple sense, yoga philosophy reminds us of what truly matters. It acts as a guidebook to live life with compassion and kindness and to be grateful. It teaches us about the importance of mindfulness. It gives us the motivation and inspiration we need to return to the mat everyday. Most importantly, it helps us realize our true potential and connect with our deeper and truer self.
By learning the pearls of wisdom offered by the ancient yoga texts and scriptures, one learns how the teachings of our ancestors are relevant even today. The stories hidden in the philosophy, when understood correctly, provide lessons that we can apply to overcome obstacles even today. For example, in the Bhagavad Gita, Lord Krishna tells Arjuna that he should not think about the results or the fruits of his actions. What he can control is the work and effort he puts in. Focus on the action or the effort and surrender the results to the higher power. Take the Niyamas, of Yoga sutra, for example. They are guidelines for self-discipline. When followed wholly, they help us develop a compassionate, kind and joyful outlook towards everything we do.
Now you don’t have to apply all these learnings immediately. Understand them, spend time studying them, and continue with your physical practices. Develop the habit of mindfulness and then every time you face a situation or are looking at changing your daily routine, see what you can take from yoga’s philosophies and apply where relevant. Slowly, you’ll find that these philosophies have seamlessly become a part of your life.
A holistic practice
Yoga goes beyond the mat, beyond asanas, pranayama and meditation. It’s adaption to everyday life brings comfort, inspiration, joy, motivation and meaning to life for many. Combining physical practices with yoga philosophy expands the consciousness in magnificent ways. By combining the theory and practical concepts and learnings, one gains a blueprint to live a happy, healthy and wholesome life. Yoga philosophy provides numerous nuggets of advice and guidance on the right diet, lifestyle and routine for a healthy and balanced lifestyle - it is not just practicing asanas or breathwork which leads you to a healthy lifestyle. Yoga philosophy completes the missing piece to a truly holistic approach that brings physical, mental and emotional peace and harmony.
A path to liberation
Yoga leads us to self-realization and liberation. Complete, holistic yoga. Take the Sutras, for example. They offer a roadmap to Samadhi (liberation), that begins with Yamas and Niyamas. Learning and applying simple concepts such as Ahimsa (non-violence) and Aprarigraha (non-possession) aids one's progression through the different limbs of yoga. Spending time in Swadhyaya (self-study) and Ishvara Pranidhana (surrendering to the higher power) are also equally important. It is by understanding and applying the different philosophies laid out that one can become a better individual, live a stress free life, be more peaceful and calm, and be the best version of oneself physically, mentally and emotionally. This, when combined with practices such as asana, pranayama, pratyahara, dharana and dhyana, one can reach closer to liberation.
Yoga is a lifestyle. It’s practices can be adapted to live a better life, with love and compassion towards yourself and others. It teaches you to be more patient, empathetic, kind and honest, to remain steady and calm, centered and balanced. Yoga allows you to develop a meaningful connection with yourself and others. Take the time to learn and study yoga philosophy as it will only change your life for the better. There are also many live online classes by experienced yoga teachers which you can join to learn a specific philosophy or subject.