An Introduction to Yoga Philosophy

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Fifty years ago, there was only yoga. Nowadays, there is yoga of bewildering kinds - hot yoga, power yoga, goat yoga, ganja yoga and naked yoga. Needless to say, most of these have very little to do with yoga. One might naturally ask, what then is yoga ? For this one has to look at the yoga philosophy as defined in various yogic texts two of the most popular of which are the Bhagavad Gita and the Yoga Sutras.

For the layperson, who associates yoga only with asanas, several questions instantaneously will come up. Is there any benefit in reading about yoga philosophy or is it just academic knowledge without practical use that is read by people who practice asana systems like the Iyengar and Ashtanga yoga systems to seemingly show off their intellectual acumen, after having exhausted showing off their physical prowess through advanced asanas ?

The answer is, yoga philosophy presents the big picture view across lifetimes. When one is presented with only a few options in life, one will feel constricted and therefore stressed. Imagine a situation where your entire life and career is decided by one examination in high school. This is in fact the case in many countries. Imagine the butterflies in your stomach before the exam. On the contrary think of a situation where you were shown the big picture and therefore had several avenues for choosing your career. Think of how settled your mind will be and the ease with which you would now go about choosing your career and plan your life. Yoga philosophy offers this big picture perspective on life that lets us live life with ease. It is said that yoga philosophy is like an anchor that holds a boat in place in a stormy sea.

In this presentation, we will look into the Bhagavad Gita and the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali to understand the core concept of yoga philosophy. The Yoga Sutras are like a scientific treatise for yoga and just like any other scientific treatise is difficult to understand. The Bhagavad Gita, on the other hand, is Bhagawan Krishna's poem on the basis of yoga philosophy amongst other things, delivered to a lay person, Arjuna, and is therefore easy to understand. Hence these two are used in conjunction to explain the "why" of yoga.