Many people are unaware of the philosophy behind Yoga, despite millions practicing it worldwide. This trend developed because Yoga encompasses everything, from meditation to chanting and worship ceremonies, to studying Scripture and breath techniques. In our fast-paced, modern lives, combining all these elements into one practice isn’t easy.
The philosophy of Yoga and its many practices have a long-lasting nature because they teach people to live in harmony with nature, which leads to better health, happiness, and wisdom. Yoga traditions can also be adapted to changing times. This has allowed them to influence society in general. The statistics about how many people in the United States practice Yoga and how profitable it has become are a testament to this.
Yoga needs to be understood in specific sectors, despite its popularity in society. Some call it “superstitious” or “religious,” but this misinterprets the practice. Others see it as being purely spiritual and not physical. Both miss the point.
Yoga is not one single, unified philosophy or religion. It has always included many philosophical paths, schools, and interpretations. And historically, having different views was seen as an improvement of vihara (critical thinking).
However, yoga philosophy has a consistent message: ‘ yoga means ‘union with the supreme.
This message has been consistent for the past century. However, modern Western Yoga has evolved so much in the last few decades that it no longer respects or honors its original wisdom. To maintain integrity in our yoga practices, we must remain grounded in tradition, even as we innovate.
There are many differences in yoga philosophy worldwide, even though all yoga schools agree that Yoga is a “union.” Three traditional philosophical systems have influenced modern practice: Classical Yoga (or Vedanta), Tantra, and Tantra. There is no one foundational philosophy for all Hatha Yoga practices. Instead, Hatha synthesizes the threads from each of these schools.
A CLOSE LOOK
Between 100 BCE to 500 CE, Patanjali’s writings developed into the Classical perspective. In his Yoga Sutra, he described Yoga as a state where Purusha (spirit) was separated from its entangled identity with Prakriti (matter). The goal is Kaivalya, the liberation from the energy field surrounding the mind-body of spiritual consciousness. According to Classical Philosophy, the goal is to experience and understand that purusha, or our true nature, is not bound to Prakriti. This is a dualistic approach that shares similarities with Samkhya’s Philosophy.
Second, the Vedantic philosophy, a second philosophical school, defines Yoga as the path to awakening, when the yogi neutralizes Maya – an illusion-producing force that hides consciousness. Vedanta teaches that consciousness is always present in the material world. When the yogi defeats maya, his consciousness reveals the grand unity of all beings. Then, when he remembers that he is one with everything, a direct yoga experience occurs. This philosophical view equates “being” with ananda – the highest bliss and happiness imaginable. In Vedanta, Yoga is a realization of one’s pure blissful nature.
Tantric philosophy defines Yoga as a union with the essence of Shiva Shakti or supreme consciousness, and its creative powers. It is the level of absolute reality, where everything vibrates infinitely with bliss, self-luminous consciousness, freedom and fullness. Tantra, unlike Classical Yoga, sees purusha as being the same essence as Shiva-Shakti. Since everything is supreme consciousness, there’s no need for separation or isolation. Tantra, unlike Vedanta, sees maya as a differentiating force of consciousness, not an illusion.
Tantra yoga practices include a variety of energy-controlling techniques, including the chanting and use of yantras, breathing exercises, yantras, mandalas, and diagrams that guide meditation. Tantric Yoga uses sophisticated techniques to influence subtle energy in the mind/body. Tantric schools aim for creative power or delight as their highest goal in sadhana.
In Tantra, knowledge is power and bliss. Therefore, expanding education and awareness is essential. Tantric techniques have different goals, ranging from life extension and increasing worldly power to experiencing blissful freedom while embodied. Hatha yoga is a lot like Tantric philosophy. In Tantric philosophy, the body and the mind are seen as different frequencies of one divine energy which animates the entire universe.
Putting Knowledge into Practice
Although knowledge can be gained by studying texts that analyze the philosophy behind Yoga, one can also gain knowledge through a direct experience of that philosophy.
In today’s society, it is essential to understand that there are many different paths of practice. The direct knowledge that comes from applying philosophy to daily life, rather than simply thinking about it or talking about is more powerful. Yoga is something we can explore both with our minds and our bodies. Exploring or deepening yoga philosophy will help us to expand our practice into a new realm.