Basics of Yoga Philosophy
following is based on information from B.K.S. Iyengar. Compiled by Carol Fridolph
Yoga is one of the six orthodox systems of Indian philosophy. It
was collated, coordinated and systematized by Patanjali (the father of yoga) in his classical work, the Yoga Sutras.
In Indian thought, everything is permeated by the Supreme Universal Spirit of which the individual human spirit is
a part. The system of yoga is so called because it teaches the means by which the individual can be united
to, or be in communion with the Supreme Universal Spirit, and so secure liberation. Yoga has also been
described as wisdom in work or skillful living amongst activities, harmony and moderation. ‘...yoga
is not for him who gorges too much, nor for him who starves himself. It is not for him who sleeps too much,
nor for him who stays awake. By moderation in eating and in resting, by regulation in working and by concordance
in sleeping and waking, Yoga destroys all pain and sorrow.’ Astanga Yoga (not to be confused with
the yoga style) is the Eight Limbs of Yoga. The right means are just as important as the end in view.
This is what Mr. Iyengar refers to as the process of yoga. In yoga, the means are through the eight
limbs, or stages, of yoga.
The eight stages of yoga are: yama, niyama, asana, prnayama, pratyahara, dharana,
dhyana, and samadhi.
Yama is ethical disciplines; how we behave in society. They
Ahimsa; nonviolence: ‘a’
means not and himsa means killing or violence. It is more than a negative command not to kill; its true
meaning is love. Violence arises out of fear, weakness, ignorance or restlessness. To
curb it what is most needed is freedom from fear. To gain this freedom, one must change their outlook and
reorient their mind. “Violence is bound to decline when men learn to base their faith upon reality
and investigation rather than upon ignorance and supposition.” A yogi must begin to observe if himsa
is present within them while practicing yoga asanas.
This yama is the highest rule of conduct or morality. With satya, the mind thinks thoughts of truth,
the tongue speaks words of truth, and one’s life is based upon truth. Reality in its fundamental
nature is love and truth and expresses itself through these two aspects. Satya presupposes perfect truthfulness
in thought, work and deed. Untruthfulness in any form puts the yogi out of harmony with the fundamental
law of truth.
The desire to possess and enjoy what another has, drives a person to do evil deeds. From this desire
spring the urge to steal and the urge to covet. Freedom from craving enables one to ward off great temptations.
Craving muddies the stream of tranquility.
Brahmacharya; life of celibacy and self-restraint: One who sees divinity in all is a brahmachari. Brahmacharya
has little to do with whether one is single or married; without experiencing human love and happiness, it is not possible
to know divine love. Brahmacharya develops vitality, energy, a courageous mind and a strong intellect so
that one can fight any type of injustice.
Aparigraha; non-hoarding: Just as one should not take things one does not really need, so one should not hoard or collect
things one does not require immediately. By the observance of aparigraha, the yogi makes life as simple
as possible and trains the mind not to feel the loss or the lack of anything. Then everything you really
needs will come to you by itself at the proper time.
Niyamas are the rules of
conduct that apply to individual, while yamas are universal in their application. They are:
Purity of body is essential for well-being. With saucha purity is more. It is
the cleansing of the mind of its disturbing emotions like hatred, passion, anger, list, greed, delusion and pride.
Still more important is the cleansing of the intellect of impure thoughts. The impurities of the
intellect or reason are burned off in the fire of self-study. This internal cleansing gives radiance and
joy. Besides purity of body, thought, and word, pure food is also necessary. Pure food,
how it is procured, how it is prepared, and how it is eaten.
Santosa; contentment. Santosa has to be cultivated. A mind that is not content
cannot concentrate. The yogi feels the lack of nothing and so is naturally content. Contentment
and tranquility are states of mind. “Differences arise among men because of race, creed, wealth and learning.
Differences create discord and there arise conscious or unconscious conflicts which distract and perplex one.
Then the mind cannot become one-pointed and is robbed of its peace. There is contentment and tranquility
when the flame of the spirit does not waver in the wind of desire.”
Tapas; a burning effort to achieve a definite goal in life. Tapas involves purification, self-discipline and austerity.
Tapas removes impurities in the body and mind and leads to mastery over the senses.
Svadhyaya; self-study. Sva means self and adhyaya means study or education. Svadhyaya is the education
of the self whereby one removes ignorance and brings out the best in oneself. It teaches oneself to appreciate
one’s own faith.
Isvara Pranidhana; dedication to the Lord of one’s actions and will. One who has faith in God does not despair. In
yoga, it is believed that complete faith in the Ultimate Being clears the soul’s way to divinity.Yamas and Niyamas are the base of yoga practice. As one continues through the
eight limbs of yoga, one’s Yamas and Niyamas continue to grow and become clearer. Yamas are outward
behavior between each person and society. Niyamas are inward behaviors between the self and the Self.
Through the practice of Asand and Pranayama the Yamas and Niyamas are better understood. Without
Yamas and Niyamas a yoga practice has no meaning, no control. Yoga is a union between one’s oul and
the Universal Spirit. Through the practice of Yamas one can see the Universal Spirit in everyone and thing.
Through the practice of Niyamas one can see one’s soul. Practicing yoga is an art that works
towards joining the two.
Asana are physical postures
one does in their yoga practice or when they attend a yoga class. The work “asana” typically
ends most yoga posture names: i.e. trikonasana (triangle pose). Asana keeps a yogi’s body healthy
by generating strength, flexibility and poise with practice.
Pranayama is controlled
breathing. This can be quite awkward to learn and is recommended that person spend at least one year in
a regular asana class before attempting pranayama. When one begins to feel comfortable with pranayama,
one also begins to feel the benefits of its practice.
Pratyahara is controlling
one’s senses. Organs of perception: eyes, ears, nose, mouth, and skin (touch),
if left unchecked, will distract the brain. By learning to control the senses, one is closer to mastering
meditation. Pranayama and pratyahara keep a yogi’s mind and emotions healthy.
Dharana is concentration.
Mr. Iyengar describes this best: “When the body has been tempered by asanas, when the mind
has been refined by the fire of pranayama and when the senses have been brought under control by pratyahara, the sadhaka (yogi)
reaches the sixth stage called dharana. Here he is concentrated wholly on a single point or on a task in
which he is completely engrossed. The mind has to be stilled in order to achieve this state of complete
Dhyana is meditation. This stage
is described by Iyengar…”The yogi’s body, breath, senses, mind, reason and ego are all integrated in the
object of his contemplation—The Universal Spirit.” We often refer to this as “bliss”
in our society.
Samadhi is the last stage. Samadhi
is when the yogi is at complete peace with all. There is no sense of “I” or “mine”…all
the yogi experiences is consciousness, truth and joy. Dharana, dhyana and samadhi take the yogi into the
innermost recesses of his soul, thus they keep the yogi’s spirit healthy.
Yoga truly is a process that connects the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual
of an individual.