Part 2: Yoga, Philosophy and Me

Updated: May 4, 2020

In my previous post, I referred to yoga in the broadest sense because I am not just talking about Yoga Asana, the physical postures, but Yoga as a philosophy and way of life.

Just a nice photo really. :) Taken on a retreat in the Canary Islands.

A brief history of Yoga

Coming from South Asia and India thousands of years ago, one might envision Yoga having an original or authentic form.

Traditionally, the ancient philosophy of Yoga has been studied through a canon of texts including the Bhagavad Gita, Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, the Hathapradikipa and the Yoga Upanishads.

More recently, however, a wider range of ancient Yogic texts have been translated for the first time into English from Sanskrit as well as Tibetan, Arabic, Persian, Bengali, Tamil, Pali, Kashmiri and more.

What these translations and other developments in the realm of yoga academia are showing is the fact that there is not, and has never been, an “original” or "authentic" form of Yoga.

In fact, Yogic practices have developed over thousands of years from many diverse roots.

For the first time ever this book is translating diverse Yogic texts in to English

Interestingly, the physical postures which have become almost synonymous with “yoga” in the West today are only a small portion of “yoga” historically. In the early texts we see only a few physical asanas, generally limited to sitting positions. Compare that with the standing sequences of today: there were no warriors back then!

Other key Yogic techniques include strict principles of adherence, ascetic practises (including painful ones!), processes of physical and mental purification, withdrawal from society and the senses (you can see my previous post on Pratyahara here) and of course meditation.

It was not until the 18th century that the Yogi, Krishnamacharya, extensively and systematically developed yoga as a system of physical postures, laying the foundation for the contemporary Surya-Namaskar inspired practices of today.

Krishnamacharya went on to teach Patanjali Jois, the founder of the Ashtanga Yoga Lineage, and B.K.S. Iyengar, the founder of Iyengar Yoga, two of the most influential modern. He also taught the first Western Woman (against his initial wishes), Indra Devi, who went on to share the practice with Hollywood stars such as Marilyn Monroe.

So why am I telling you this?

The word “yoga” comes from Sanskrit (an ancient Indian language) and roughly translates as “yolk” or “union.”

As we have seen, yoga has changed a lot: in fact, there was never an "original" form of yoga.

But that is the thing.

The Form may change, but the central philosophy remains the same.

It is this central philosophy of yoga as union which can inspire our practices, and our day to day lives.

So, what is this philosophy and what is the union between?

In the broadest sense, yoga is about dualities coming together into oneness.

The dualities which come together can be understood as mind and body, subject and object, or through the Tantric conception of Shiva (pure consciousness) and Shakti (manifested, feminine energy).