An Ancient Philosophy

Part two of our Introduction to Yoga

A wealth of information and knowledge is available in books, from teachers, and on the web for anyone seeking to find out more about this deep subject. This brief overview is intended only as a general introduction.

Historically, four primary yogic texts are of significance to the study of yoga philosophy. Many, many books have followed...

The Upanishads

8th Century BCE

This holy text written in Sanskrit is revered as the original holy text, and many branches of religion emerged from this doctrine, including Hinduism and Buddhism.

The Bhagavad-Gita

Circa 400–100 BCE

Also known as “The Divine Song”, is a set of verses from a traditional Vedic Epic, the Mahabharata. It details four paths of yoga, including Karma Yoga (actions and reactions), Jnana Yoga (intellectual knowledge), Bhakti Yoga (devotion to deities) and Raja Yoga (meditation practices).

Yoga Sutras of Patanjali

Circa 200 BCE

One of the most important and revered texts of yoga philosophy. This set of 195 verses or philosophical “threads” outlines a method including the concept of the eight limbs of practice, which are commonly referred to in the practice of yoga.

A brief outline of the eight limbs follows here:

  1. 1 The Yamas

    The Yamas are a set of attitudes that concern our interactions with others and the environment. Originally “yama” meant bridle or rein, and these concepts were meant as guides to direct our progress.

    Non-harming of oneself and others; acting kindly and with love toward all living creatures in thought, word or deed.
    Speaking and acting in truth to ourselves and others
    Non-stealing, feeling abundance with what we have
    Divine acceptance, divine action, finding the divine beauty in ourselves and others
    Non-grasping, not coveting what is not ours, not trying to be anything or anyone but being what we are already
  2. 2 The Niyamas

    The Niyamas are attitudes concerning the realization and reflection on the self.

    Being and behaving in a way that is clear, clean, and pure, both in body and spirit
    Finding contentment and acceptance of where you are today without judgment or comparison; modesty
    Working, effort, sweat, discipline, or heat — to purify
    Self study; self-awareness, self-inquiry and curiosity
    Ishvara Pranidhana
    Faith; watching through meditation; observing life; literally “surrendering to god” — being supported by that which is bigger than yourself
  3. 3 Asana Practice

    The most recognized aspect of yoga today, includes working the muscles and tissues of the body. “Asana” literally translates as “your seat”, a place of focus and comfort.

  4. 4 Pranayama

    The practice of cultivating and directing energy through the control and regulation of the breath.

  5. 5 Pratyahara

    The inward journey away from the external senses into the discovery of the self and its relationship to the conscious world.

  6. 6 Dharana

    The concentration of the mind through meditation and the ability for the mind to focus on only one thing at a time.

  7. 7 Dhyana

    Deep meditation where the self and the object become one. A smooth flow of concentration softens the whole body into space with full awareness.

  8. 8 Samadhi

    Bliss or oneness with the Divine, the highest stage of spiritual development. The state of self-realization and pure awareness.

Hatha Yoga Pradipika

15th Century CE

The most recent historical text on yoga. This book lists in great detail all the main asana (postures), pranayama (breathing techniques), mudra (symbolic hand gestures), and bandha (subtle energy locks) that we practice today. “Pradipika” translates as a lantern, “shedding light” on the subject of Hatha yoga.

Slimness of body, luster on the face, clarity of voice, brightness of eyes, freedom from disease, control over sex, stimulation of gastric fire, and purification of the Nadis’s (meridian lines) are the characteristics of success in Hatha Yoga.

Hatha Yoga Pradipika