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Philosophy of practicing Yoga

Ultimately, the philosophy of yoga points toward living with greater mindfulness, compassion, and purpose.

Yoga is far more than just a physical practice of postures and breathing exercises. At its core, yoga is a profound philosophy and way of living that has been passed down through the ages. As such, a comprehensive yoga teacher training program must place a strong emphasis on the philosophical foundations of this ancient tradition. Understanding the roots and principles of yoga philosophy is essential for anyone aspiring to become a skilled and authentic yoga teacher.
The earliest ideas and concepts that form the bedrock of yoga philosophy can be traced back thousands of years to the Vedas, the ancient Hindu scriptures. The Upanishads, considered one of the core foundations of Hindu philosophy, contain many of the key principles found in yoga. Concepts like the interconnectedness of all life, the cyclical nature of existence, and the idea that true happiness comes from turning inward and transcending the material world are woven throughout these texts.
One of the most influential sources for yoga philosophy is the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, compiled around 400 CE. This concise work outlines the “eight limbs” of yoga, encompassing ethical principles, physical postures, breath control, sense withdrawal, concentration, meditation, and ultimately self-realization or enlightenment. The Yoga Sutras provide a comprehensive framework for living a purposeful and disciplined life according to the yogic path.
At the heart of yoga philosophy is the goal of stilling the fluctuations of the mind to achieve a state of pure awareness and connection with the Divine. This inner peace and clarity is sought by following the yamas (moral restraints) and niyamas (positive observances) that make up the first two limbs. Practicing non-violence, truthfulness, non-stealing, celibacy, and non-possessiveness, along with cultivating purity, contentment, austerity, self-study, and surrender to a higher power are seen as the foundations for progressing on the spiritual journey.
The philosophical underpinnings of yoga also encompass the concepts of karma (the law of cause and effect), the wheel of samsara (the cycle of birth, death, and rebirth), and the removal of the klesha (afflicted states of mind like ignorance, egoism, attachment, aversion, and clinging to life). By purifying the mind and body through right living and dedicated practice, the yogi strives to break free from suffering and limitation.
Another key philosophical principle is the manifestation of Brahman, the Divine source or Universal Consciousness, as both the transcendent, unmanifest Absolute and the immanent force present within all beings. Yoga teaches that this Divinity dwells within each person, and the goal is to realize one’s essential, eternal nature as pure spirit or Atman.
The philosophy of yoga is also deeply interconnected with the physical and psychological dimensions of being. Yoga views the body as a vessel for spiritual evolution, with practices like asana (postures), pranayama (breath control), and meditation as means to harmonize the layers of one’s existence—the physical, energetic, mental/emotional, wisdom/intuitive, and spiritual levels. Achieving union and alignment of these aspects is seen as the pathway to wholeness and illumination.
Understanding these nuanced and profound philosophical concepts is crucial for yoga teachers. It provides the context for the practice, imbuing it with deeper significance beyond the physiological benefits. Studying yoga’s philosophical roots also equips teachers to share this wisdom with students, allowing them to experience yoga TTC as a holistic system for self-realization and personal transformation, not just physical exercise.
Ultimately, the philosophy of yoga points toward living with greater mindfulness, compassion, and purpose. It encourages us to look beyond the surface and material world, quieting the endless cycles of desire and aversion that breed suffering. With patience, discipline, and commitment to the inward journey, the yoga practitioner can uncover their innate divine nature and experience the profound peace and fulfillment that is the heart of yoga. Integrating these timeless teachings is therefore an indispensable part of any authentic yoga teacher training curriculum. Y

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