Yoga Philosophy, A Modern Perspective:
Yogic philosophy is a topic as broad as that of all spiritual traditions combined.
Yoga is not a religion, and therefore it’s texts not doctrine, we as a community pull information and influence from all corners to develop our own understanding of how to live a good life.
There are of course fundamental texts that paved the way for our understanding, the Vedas, the Gita, the Sutras and the Hatha Yoga Pradipika as the most glaring examples, while our collective spiritual understanding has the potential to bring in influenced from all traditions and philosophies.
Throughout your study of Yogi and spiritual philosophy keep in mind there is no right or wrong answer to the questions we ask. All interpretations are varied and have things we can learn from. Much like the interpretation of religion we often find what we want to hear to re enforce our world views and that’s ok. Let us have discussion and learn not only from these ancient masters but modern greats and each other.
The Sutras of Patanajali
Our modern understanding of Yoga though really begins at the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. A 2500 Year old text which is the first simplified summery of what Yoga is. It contains the 8 limbs, the Yamas and Niyamas and the Sutras themselves.
In Summery Yoga is both the outcome (Samadhi, enlightenment) and the work, (yoga practice).
Let’s look at the first 2 Yoga Sutras, the fundamentals of our modern understanding of Yoga.
1:1 Atha Yoganusasanam
Fundamentally the crux or heart of the meaning is as simple as follows: Yoga is now. To experience a state of yoga, you must be (or work to be), in the present moment. Having a true experience of the now. We cannot as individuals or a collective be in a state of yoga if the mind is at all in the past or the future.
Therefore at it’s most fundamental, Yoga is presence. And Yoga practice is the work of bringing ourselves back into the present moment.
1:2 Yogah cittavritti nirodhah
Yoga is the cessation of the fluctuations of consciousness
That is that a state of Yoga is the quieting of the mind, the bringing together of the happy and the sad, the movement away from the bipolar or extreme ups and downs and into the flowing joys of a stable mind.
To practice Yoga is to practice balance in all things. This is in thought, in balancing the extremes of excitement and depression, in finding stillness rather than noise. It is to find simply balance and a calm even mind.
The relationship to the first sutra is simple. By stilling the mind, by bringing ourselves out from future or past thinking, we bring ourselves back into the present. That is that the practice or success of the second sutra brings us back to the present moment, and that is back to the key of Yoga, the first sutra.
The Modern Understanding
Many modern new age authors and philosophers have become popularized in the last 50 or so years. Teachers as broad as Alain De Botton, Osho, Rumi and Deepak Chopra as well as these mentioned below come to mind instantly and have all had influence on modern spiritual thinking.
Why have they had such an influence? I believe it’s due to their re packaging of more classical ideas in easily digestible ways. You’ll notice in our quick overview of both Alan Watts and Eckhart Tolle that the basic ideas very much reflect the fundamentals of what we call Yogic philosophy, that is the stilling of the mind, and resting our awareness into the present.
Eckhart Tolle is an unassuming German born writer who is responsible in my opinion for a huge and simplified switch in modern understanding of spirituality. He also made being present a cool and healthy thing that people who cared about their lives but had no interest in classical Yogic philosophy now aspire too.
You’ll remember the simple interpretation of the first sutra; Yoga is Now. In Eckharts breakthrough book, The Power Of Now, Eckhart explains that this moment here and now is all there is and should take 100% of our attention. If we bring our undivided attention to the present moment, we can achieve a state of bliss, a state of Yoga. It’s an incredibly simple idea, as is the first Sutra, but a incredibly important one.
The past is stories, the future perditions, this moment, the NOW is all there is and should have our undivided attention
Everything that has ever and will ever happen, happens in the NOW
Whatever in the present moment contains accept it as if you had chosen it
If you’re in a situation you don’t like accept one of 3 choices – Change it without delay, remove yourself from the situation, or accept it unconditionally. Everything else is madness
Depression comes from living in the past, Anxiety from living in the future, instead choose the present where neither of those emotions can survive.
Your feeling take you closer to who you truly are then your thoughts ever could
British born 20th century philosopher who for many, summarized the most practical summery of Yoga and Zen Buddhism for the western mind.
He’s fundamental teaching is almost exactly the same as Eckhart’s and that is of the present. The language used by Alan, and the title of one of his best selling books is; This Is it. This moment right here and right now, is it, it is what you’re been looking for. To achieve unconditional bliss and the removal of all anxiety and depression all we need to do is bring ourselves back into the now, are you sensing the theme here?
Alan brought a practical western perspective to the fundamentals of Zen, and is one of the most searched philosophers online today. A YouTube search we show thousands of results some views millions of times.
Anecdotally an excerpt from one of his speeches titled ‘what if money was no object,’ is the reason I became a Yoga teacher. He’s relevance to our current lifestyle in mesmerizing and touches very close to home. If you don’t have any more space in your library for his books a quick YouTube search could have you quitting your job and traveling the world in no time.
- This is It
- Be decisive, become a doer not a thinker
- Make work (and life) a joyas dance rather than a painful slog
- Stop trying to get to the next thing, to finish what you’re doing, stop watching the clock. Be in everything you’re doing like the beautiful dance that it is
- Do what you love – don’t think about the money
- Stop worrying, it’s a waist of time
The fundamental understanding of Yoga as shown here is Presence. Everything beyond that is either justification or methodology for how to live in a timeless, flowing way in the present moment.
The more you look, the more you may find that this theme repeats itself over and over in spiritual thinking.
Further examples of ideas and quotes to give you insight and inspiration in your journey
-This is my secret, I don’t mind what happens
-You are the sky, everything else is the weather
-What you are seeking is also seeking you
-Man only suffers because he takes seriously what the gods made fun off
-Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all
-My soul is not contained within the limits of my body > My body is contained within the limitlessness of my soul
Allow your interpretations to sit with your practice and your teaching. It might be completely different to mine, and completely different to the person next to you. That is perfect. Allow it to be true to you and teach from that space.
Remember your personal philosophy can come from anywhere. This could be from your religion, Yogic texts, modern texts, videos, movie quotes even. Anything that positively affects your worldview and maybe helps bring you towards a state of Yoga.
Join us one of are upcoming Yoga teacher training programs in Bali or Goa to establish more presence in your life.