What is philosophy?

Many of us have varied interpretations of the term “yoga”. For some it’s only physical exercise – a way to get stronger, healthier, and more flexible; for others – it’s daily meditation and it can entail reciting mantras or worshipping a deity.

But if there’s one thing we can be certain of, it’s that yoga—whose name means “unity”—offers us a way of living that has the potential to be much more transformative.

The Yoga Sutra of Patanjali describes the yoga philosophy as a stepping stone to achieving Moksha (salvation; liberation from rebirth or saṃsāra). Guru Patanjali outlined the eight limbs or stages one must go through to achieve moksha – 

  1. Yama (abstinences) – Yamas are the ethical rules that can be thought of as moral imperatives or the “don’ts”.
  2. Niyama (observances) – Niyama includes virtuous habits and observances or the “dos”.
  3. Asana (yoga postures) – An asana is a stance that one can hold and maintain for a while remaining calm, stable, at ease, and motionless.
  4. Pranayama (breath control) – Pranayama is the conscious regulation of breath. It is the practice of consciously regulating the breathing cycle – 

  • Inhalation
  • Full Pause
  • Exhalation
  • Empty Pause

    5. Pratyahara (withdrawal of the senses) – Drawing one’s awareness inward is known as pratyahara. Consciously retracting the sensory experience from the outside world and deliberate closing one’s thought processes to the sensory world.

    6. Dharana (concentration) – Dharana, as the sixth limb of yoga, is holding one’s mind onto a particular inner state, subject or topic of one’s mind. Fixing the mind means one-pointed focus, without drifting of mind, and without jumping from one topic to another

    7. Dhyana (meditation) – Dhyana means reflection and contemplation. Dhyana is an unbroken stream of consciousness, current of thoughts, and flow of awareness. If a certain thought or concept were the emphasis, Dhyana would be thinking about it from every angle, manifestation, and result. 

If dharna is the state of mind, dhyana is the process of mind.

8. Samadhi (absorption) – Samadhi means meditating on an object. During meditation, only the awareness of the object is present and the consciousness that one is meditating vanishes.

What is the Philosophy of Yoga?

The philosophy of yoga doesn’t sound like how yoga is seen conventionally. What we commonly understand about yoga is a result of the movement to look at yoga as a form of physical fitness, or health and well-being. While the philosophy of yoga is broad and necessitates constant study, practice and research, it is far simpler to teach and promote yoga as a medium to achieve fitness goals. As a result, yoga is frequently portrayed as:

  • the physical exercises of postural flow and perfecting those postures
  • the practice of breathing
  • the mental exercises for cleansing and concentrating the mind 
  • the way to experience and explore awareness within

In the real sense, all of the approaches mentioned above are the ancillary practices to support yoga. In Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra, what yoga actually means is –

  1. Taking responsibility for your mental life, which is basically philosophy (YS I.2-3)
  2. Three practical ideals that structure philosophical practice (YS II.1):

  • Devotion to Lordliness (Īśvara praṇidhāna)
  • Radicalism, pushing one’s boundaries (Tapas)
  • Self-governance, self-control (Svādhyāya)

Yoga is a dualistic philosophy that deals with the concepts of Purusha, which means “absolute consciousness,” and Prakriti, which means “matter.” Every living thing is a union of the body and the mind, and every living thing is a type of connection between these two realities. Yoga’s Yamas and Niyamas, which serve as moral guidelines, should lead to moksha at the end (spiritual liberation).

If we look at yoga as a philosophical concept, our bodies and brains are elements of the natural world that we as individuals must take care of so that they reflect our interests as humans. The Lord, or Isvara, who is both unconservative (not restricted by conventional choices) and self-governing (not superficially obstructed), personifies our interests as individuals.

The Essential Philosophical Teachings of Yoga

Yoga’s core philosophical principles revolve around the development of mental discernment, spiritual wisdom, detachment and self-awareness.

The foundation of yoga philosophy is the Law of Karma. We are connected to the wheel of samsara by our karma that eternizes our suffering and the illusion of Maya. The “illusion or ignorance” known as Maya is what separates our ego from our unitive awareness of the cosmos.

The ideas of the subtle body and the passage of prana and kundalini spiritual energies through the nadis and chakras are also incorporated into yoga philosophy. The theories underlying this energy anatomy are particularly ingrained in Hatha Yoga.

Unlike Western philosophies, which treat reason and emotion differently yoga locates thoughts and feelings in a part of our conscious called Manas alongwith teaching us how to combine these inherent human experiences. Manas is commonly translated as “mind,” but it often means “heart”: the house of true feelings, the place where thoughts and feelings are truly present.

If we prioritise feelings over thoughts or vice versa, it limits us to only half of our full potential. However, yoga philosophies teach that we will naturally desire to delve more deeply into our intellectual and logical faculties when we nurture our emotional and physical experience, as we do in asana practice.


Yoga transcends all limitations outside of our ego and thinking. It is all about entering a state of divine consciousness, and with time and practice, this has an impact on the physical body as well.

We can achieve the balance between our mental, physical and emotional well-being with the guidance of yoga philosophy. Yoga philosophy establishes that every person is a link between his Prakriti and Purush. The ethical rules of Yama and Niyama, according to the Patanjali Yoga Sutra, lead to Samadhi.

The inherent happiness that transforms into enduring contentment, good health that keeps our body and mind robust, and a tranquilly that not only relaxes your soul but also spreads across your universe are all outlined in the yoga philosophy.

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