Intro into Yoga Philosophy

Intro into Yoga Philosophy

Yoga– Its philosophies and practices date back over 5000 years. It is amazing that yoga’s principles while being so old are still relevant today.  The evidence of this relevance is that yoga’s popularity is growing at an extraordinary rate.

What many people practice today is just a small part of what yoga is. When people think of yoga they often equate that to the practice of postures (Asana) , but  this is just one limb of Patanjali’s Ashtanga Yoga system- (Ashta=eight Anga=Limbs)


8 Limbs of Yoga

The 8 Limbs of Yoga are laid out in a text called The Yoga Sutra’s; a collection of verses written in Sanskrit, formalising a yoga system and attributed to Patanjali, a Sage living in the 3rd Century  BCE  (around same time as Buddha and Confucius.) Sutra means ‘Thread’, a thread of verses or guidelines for which you add your own beads of experience too. What makes yoga accessible is that these are not doctrines or rules, but observations of human nature and the way the mind works. They are practices and tools to help us use and understand our own nature. These verses are an important text for anyone looking to study yoga deeper, and are the basis for everything we see in gyms around the world today, whether we know it or not.

People come to yoga for many reasons. Those who come to condition their bodies through Asana find they need to do more inner meditative practices to progress. Conversely, if someone comes for the meditation or relaxation, they may find that they need to work on their physical condition to release tension from the body. Whatever your entry point it doesn’t matter, all the limbs of yoga are equally as important and intertwined.

The names of the 8 limbs are

Yamas (Guidelines to how you live in this world), Niyamas (How you treat yourself), Asana (The postures), Pranyama (Regulation of the breath), Pratyahara (withdrawal of the senses), Dharana (concentration, fixing the mind to an object, Dhyana (meditation) and Samadhi (Consciousness)

The eight limbs aren’t necessarily linear but are an organic process of personal development. You may find that you start with meditation then take up Asana practice while changing your attitude to yourself and your life (Yamas  and Niyamas).

Over the next few articles, I will go through some of these branches to give a background to the classical yoga practiced today.  There are varied interpretations of each of the limbs which I will discuss. We start with the first two limbs, Yamas and Niyamas, each of which are broken into five parts.

Yamas are guidelines for social harmony and how you live in the world. They are learnt from a young age, from our family and community.

  • Ahimsa- Non-Violence– This means compassion to all living things, bringing tenderness kindness and respect to ourselves and others. Not being forceful or imposing your views. Non-harming.
  • Sayta- Commitment to Truth. Honest communication and actions are the foundations of any healthy relationship, community and government. Being truthful with ourselves as well as others. Not deceiving or gossiping and taking to time to think before we speak.
  • Asteya- Non-Stealing. This means not taking what is not yours or what you have not earned. Not taking things for granted, not stealing, not taking from nature without giving gratitude. This can also translate as being generous without expecting anything in return.
  • Brahmacharya- Self control. Bringing balance to your life for self and social harmony, not using others for selfish desires.  Harnessing the power of our senses without being overcome with desire.
  • Aparigraha- Freedom from Greed. Not taking more than you need. If we let go of the idea of what we think need, this can start a process of not wanting more.

‘Be kind, be true, be generous, be self-awareness and let go’

Niyama are inward observances for personal harmony and how you treat yourself.

  • Saucha –Purity.   Not just cleanliness; but not filling our bodies and minds with toxic food and negative things. Watch for our negative thoughts. Choice words carefully, let positive purer attitude become part of your nature.
  • Santosha- Contentment.  Acceptance of who we are, what we are, and what we have. It is more than being happy with what we have, it is being content with the present moment even if that is difficult. Santosha is not blaming outside things that go wrong. Saucha and Santosha work together towards a good attitude to life.


  • Tapasya- Self discipline. Discipline to stay focused on our personal development and practices, your asana and pranayama.
  • Swadhyaya- reflection and self study.  This can involve meditation, self inquiry, reading yoga texts, time for reflective self awareness.  Use of Mantras. Learn from your experiences, question your behaviour and your attitude, practice mindfulness.
  • Ishwara-Pranidhana- Awareness of a power beyond. Knowing that that there is an abundance of energy and love. Witnessing a beautiful sunset not to analyse why, but just to be present and surrender to its beauty and wonder. Find a deeper connection to nature with humility and gratitude.

‘Clean up, find acceptance, focus, reflect and Surrender’

The aim of these Sutras is to guide us through life. When we practice yoga we look for the small signs of our personal development. Ask yourself some questions; am I showing kindness, patience, or tolerance toward others? Am I able to remain calm and focused when others are unkind or angry? How do I speak? Am I truthful or sincere? When we start to notice deeper experiences, we can really start to put effort in to finding things of true value.

Next edition –Asana & Pranyama

*Donna Farhi-‘Bringing Yoga to Life’,  Sri Swami Satchidananda- ‘Yoga Sutras of Patanjali ‘

Uma Dinsmore Tuli- ‘Mother’s Breath’, Paul Dallaghan- (from his own teachings) 

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