The main philosophy of yoga is simple: mind, body, and spirit are all one and cannot be clearly separated. Yet, there is a multitude of philosophical ideas that are helpful to explore the deeper dimensions of the body, mind, and spirit. Studying and understanding these ideas are essential to shift our view as ourselves as separate, to realizing the unitive state.
Yoga philosophy, similar to Buddhism, believes that spiritual ignorance creates suffering and binds us to the wheel of samsara (cycle of rebirth). The removal of our ignorance can take many different paths and techniques in yoga. Still, the central philosophical teachings of yoga revolve around the practice of mental discernment, detachment, spiritual knowledge, and self-awareness.
The different paths of yoga utilize various aspects of Sankhya dualism and Upanishadic non-dualism. Some paths like Tantra and Bhakti, utilize the forms of Hinduism’s gods and goddesses. In addition, Patanjali’s yoga sutras incorporate the concept of Ishvara—a personal god. Thus, a yogi should understand both the relationships between atman and brahman, prakriti and purusha, and the trinity of Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva.
The law of karma is central to the philosophy of yoga. Karma is the glue that attaches us to the wheel of samsara, which perpetuates our suffering and the delusion of maya. Maya is the “illusion or ignorance” that creates the veil between our ego and our unitive experience of the universe.
These foundational world views can be confusing to Westerners but are helpful to reorientate our minds to be able to see and experience the interconnection of all things.
Yoga philosophy also incorporates the concepts of the subtle body and the spiritual energies of prana and kundalini moving through the nadis and chakras. Hatha yoga is especially steeped in the concepts of this energy anatomy.
The ultimate goal of Yoga is a sustained state of pure awareness called Moksha or Samadhi. Yoga is the transcendence of the mind to realize the “true self” or “highest self.” This experience of pure consciousness is our true nature. In this state of liberation, all mental and philosophical constructs fall away. In essence, yogic philosophy is a necessary means to deepen one’s yoga practice and to reach enlightenment.