Philosophy of Yoga

Yogic Arts

The harmony of the whole

Godess The great seers believed there was a rhythm to life and the cosmos; a rhythm and a way of being that included life’s imbalances but transformed them into the higher good. In doing Yoga they sought to come into harmony with the rhythm and beauty of the cosmic whole.
The great idea in Yoga, as in all the mystical traditions, is that if you realise you are a fragment of the whole, a part of the creative energy of the cosmos, then through understanding the part you can come to know the whole. Perhaps you could think of the way a single cell contains all the information of the entire body, or the way in which one part of a hologram is made in the image of the whole.
Yoga is essentially an art and science of self-discovery. The old masters taught that every individual must have self-knowledge for without it you cannot relate to other people, or the world around you in an authentic way. It is only through our own experience that we can grow in wisdom and perception. Yoga is a word derived from the Sanskrit “Yuj” meaning union and speaks of the unity within oneself and between all living beings. Hatha-Yoga has evolved over thousands of years and is a living art that continues to change and adapt to the environment and culture of the times. It is total in the sense of seeking to unify the potentials of the mind and body simultaneously as an expression of personal freedom and in harmony with the whole of nature. Why limit yourself to the lone star shuffle when you can join in the cosmic dance?

Origins of a mystery

Although the ideas in yoga are often viewed as originating in India the ancient myths seem to suggest that they were once part of a global wisdom. In India it seems the teachings were uniquely preserved and evolved. The old seers believed the teachings were part of an oral tradition passed on over millennia from a time when the Earth was thought to have been a treasure-garden of flowering abundance and spiritual potential.
Historically we know Yoga dates back at least 4500 years with archaeological evidence of Yoga-style ideas and practices being found in the Indus-Sarasvati civilisation. Yoga notions abound in the oldest written works of India, the Vedas and Upanishads, which are part of the Hindu scriptures. Around the third century BC a book called the Bhagavad Gita appeared integrating the most popular teachings of the time. Beautiful and poetic it personifies the divine in the form of Lord Krishna. The inspirations of the great masters may have found a place in religion, but Yoga itself is not a religion. The Yogis explored and experimented freely in their quest to gain the highest wisdom. In the second century AD the remarkable Yogi Patanjali passed on his discoveries in a text called “The Yoga Sutrus” which, in many contemporary Yoga schools, is still regarded as the heart of Yoga. Books such as the Siddha-Siddhanta-Paddhati (tenth century AD) and the Hatha-Yoga Pradipik (fourteenth century AD) and Gheranda Samhita (seventeenth century AD) are the first to detail a few of the physical postures, although numerous other books are said to have been lost or destroyed and many are yet to be translated.
Yoga crossed over to the West in 1893 when Swami Vivekananda, a disciple of the renowned master Rama Krishna, arrived at the World Fair in Chicago to present a talk on philosophy. A flood of Gurus, Swamis and teachers followed and from the twentieth century onwards it has been a very mixed bag! Some, like Paramahansa YogaNanda, who authored the famous “Autobiography of a Yogi” appeared very noble and enlightening, while others seemed to play out all the comedies and farces of pop western culture; Yogis on T-shirts and bikinis sipping pepsi-cola!

The Bird Perhaps the most influential of the modern Yogis was T.Krishnamacharya who combined Hatha Yoga with western gymnastics and harmonial movement exercises amongst other things. His four most famous pupils played a crucial role in taking Yoga to the world-stage; Pattabhi Jois, with his dynamic and aerobic Vinyasa style, B.K.S Iyengar of the refined and precise asana approach, Indra Devi whose gentle forms were the first to attract the Hollywood stars and T.K’s son Dasikachar whose work perhaps most closely reflects the subtle and therapeutic aspects of his father’s teachings. Another style to popularise Yoga in the West and not directly linked to T.K.’s tradition is Sivananda-Yoga. Swami Sivananda’s method places as much importance on positive thinking and meditation as it does on the physical postures. There have always been endless ways to practice and teach Yoga.

In our era of infinite possibilities Yoga pops up in all manner of new permutations. Strange hybrids abound; Aqua, Disco and Boxing Yoga et cetera et cetera. Yet all the authentic styles are really branches of the same tree and rooted in the collective experience of countless adventurers who were brave enough to dive deep within themselves and the world of nature and share their discoveries as part of the Yoga-wisdom.

Hatha Yoga - sun and moon union

The masters taught that all phenomena arise in the world through the interplay of two expressions of energy they named Ha and Tha, pronounced Ha-Ta, which were symbolised respectively by the sun and the moon. The sun stands for the “masculine” dynamic and stimulating force; heat, light and sound etc. The moon stands for the “feminine” receptive force, which receives the stimulus and reacts to it; coldness, darkness and silence etc. 
In Yoga the sun energy is the persevering, disciplining part of our practice that can push us on past our limitations and develop intensity and strength. The moon-energy relates to the harmonious flow of the breath and body in movement and the way in which we can intuit when to yield, let go and relax in a pose. It is the part of our practice that develops sensitivity and serenity. It is our aim in Yoga to recognise and reconcile the ever-changing dance of sol and luna within ourselves.

Philosophy of Yoga

Yoga, like music, can fuel and fly you to the moon but make no mistake, it can be a long and at times arduous trip, beset by lapses, through our limitations. Yet isn’t the ultimate challenge of Yoga also the worthiest of human aspirations; to own and transcend ourselves and know the fullness and bliss of being alive? In the yogic–view deep down we are divine and abounding in treasures beyond description . Yoga philosophy, boiled down to the essentials, can bring a lot to the party! Here is a bit below.

Sacrifice

Without sacrifice nothing can be attained. Sacrifice can refer to many things. On one level it means not to give way to desires we don’t believe in and to maintain our commitment to the things we are convinced make sense. We are advised to find a way to resolve our desires, or feel totally justified in having them. Giving up a low ideal for a higher one is also an act of sacrifice. It would seem each phase of our development has its price. On another level sacrifice means to surrender entirely to the present moment, and to what we sense is required without expecting situations or people to change for us. In this way we are free to act without being acted upon, or adapt and inwardly use what is happening for our own transformation. In Yoga it is well known that outer conditions often reflect our inner state and therefore as we alter inwardly things change outwardly.

Play-work

According to the teachings human beings are winged with promise to be the all–perceiving and all–admiring co–creators of the universe. ‘Play–work’ means to enter wholeheartedly into any task for which you have taken responsibility without identifying with the outcome, or even the work itself. The challenge is to remain inwardly free while engaged in any activity. The Yogis called it ‘Kama–Yoga’ and dedicated their efforts in service to the whole without worrying too much about wealth or status. Not exactly a piece of cake but when we can do more and think less about it we can take the work and ourselves quite lightly. We can have fun with it and the roles we play in the process. Obviously work must be well chosen and correspond to who we are. Ultimately the energy to act and to work comes from the Spirit.

Nowness

image showing 2 overlapping circles creating a ring, with crosses within the ring
The figure to the right represents a concept of time. Past time curves to the left below the circle of present time and future time curves above and to the right. Crosses within the time lines signify past memories and future anticipations that swirl around the present time. The mystic–now exists within the free–space of present time, which is the emptiness, or the fullness – however you perceive it – within the circle. It is the realm of tiny children, enlightened masters and all things in the flow of the ever–fresh, unfolding, spontaneous moment. It is the eternal–now.
When we are caught on the crosses, overly identifying with and worrying about problems, aims and achievements or otherwise from our past or our imagined future we are often cut off from our inner resources. Becoming more aware and centred within the now–moment and with the mind free from distractions, we can develop inner–strength and become more self–reliant. We can intuit the right time in life to stir things up, or calm things down. The teachings inform us that ultimately it is only in the here and now that we can know the sheer joy of existence. Yoga is there to orient you towards the centre of the circle.

Witnessing

The root cause of all suffering, according to the sages, is that we are in ignorance of our true nature, our spiritual identity. We have given our hearts away to the material world and the mind’s illusions. The sages taught that if we can cultivate a new awareness of the spirit we may regain our natural state of balance, of grace.
The yogis called awareness of spirit the ‘witness–consciousness’ (in Sanskrit Drastr, or the seer) without which we can feel overwhelmed by the world and over–identified with our thoughts, feelings and sensations. As we evolve the presence of ‘the seer’ (which is the ability to witness the mind without identifying with what is seen) we begin to intuit things as they really are, and we become less influenced by externals and the ever shifting play of our emotions and thoughts. We can choose to act, rather than react to situations and allow new possibilities to arise. It is essentially the meditative state which allows our true nature, beyond the mind and body, to shine joyful and free like an unclouded sun. You could think of it as seeing the whole picture by stepping out of the frame.