It is impossible in an hour long asana class to do more than acknowledge the presence of yoga philosophy. Even this blog is just an introduction for those who are interested in reading more.
However, we are all practising yoga through our breath and our movement in each yoga class or at home so, in a sense it doesn’t really matter. Sri K. Pattabhi Jois (father of the Ashtanga Vinyasa system) said, “Yoga is 99% practise, 1% theory”. You may now click ”delete” 🙏🏽 or, if you are curious, read on.
The tree of yoga
The history of yoga dates back thousands of years and is built on a number of texts, starting with the ancient Vedas. There is not one definitive instruction manual but a continually developing tradition, expressed in numerous writing by generations of yogis.
A good place to begin, if you are looking for yoga philosophy, is a translation, of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, with commentary (try that by Sri Swami Satchidananda). It is a dense but rewarding read;
What is yoga?
Chitta Vritti Nirodha
“The restriction of the modifications of the mind stuff is yoga” – Sutra 1:2, Patanjali
If we can bring the body and mind to stillness, we have the possibility to realise the “true self”. The body changes with time, we age. The mind changes from moment to moment and the “vritti”, the constant modifications, rumination, commentary on thoughts and judgments, is what makes us unhappy or unsatisfied.
Key concepts of yoga philosophy
The true self.
What is it? What is it not? It is not the body, not the mind, not thoughts, emotions, belonging or anything that we can become attached to. It is this true self we seek to discover through yoga practice.
Universal Consciousness. Absolute truth. The basis of everything. It is not a physical, rather an energetic concept. Brahman exists in everything, including in us as Atman. Brahman and Atman are the same thing.
The tree is still growing, with each generation bringing new ideas to nourish its growth. Notably, the growing body of writing on the neuroscience of yoga and mindfulness.
The neuroscience of mindfulness
If (like me I admit) you seek evidence and sometimes struggle with the more challenging aspects of yoga philosophy, it is worth spending time with the science of yoga. Scientists are discovering the HOW behind “Chitta Vritti Nirodha”. How we can train the mind to let go of rumination and self judgment and become less anxious, less depressed, happier.
Some texts I have found helpful:
The Science of Yoga by William J. Broad. An honest discussion of some of the commonly help misconceptions about yoga and the industry.
Sane New World, A Mindfulness Guide to the Frazzled and anything else written by Ruby Wax on the topic of neuroscience and mindfulness. Her books are funny and accessible but also give a detailed analysis of what goes on physically and chemically in the brain when you meditate.
The amazing thing is, the ancient yogis may not have been able to measure scientifically the effects of mindful movement, breath and meditation on the brain yet……. in a nutshell they are telling us what we can now prove to be true!
This really is just a teeny tiny introduction to the enormous volumes of writing on yoga. I invite you to be curious and deepen your knowledge by reading and opening your ears and heart to it and you will be more fulfilled on and off the mat.
Or “The Atman in me recognises the Brahman in you”