Yoga, A Practical Philosophy for Life

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What is it about Yoga that has captured my heart and soul inspires me daily, 25 years later? I have always been drawn to the Big Questions in life, the nature of reality, existence and the human experience. The wisdom of Yoga, and its extraordinary understanding of the human experience, provides me with the theoretical context to reflect upon life, and the practical means to create the experiences that bring me joy and peace.

It is questioning itself that is at the very root of human evolution, and growing our own lives. This act of questioning and reflecting is one that I ask all of my students to consider. Questioning helps each of us integrate our conscious intention in practice, and in life.

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Furthering my discussion on the importance of understanding some of Yoga’s basic principles, as discussed in my previous blog post here, I thought I would progress in blog 2 by clarifying some basic philosophical concepts and India’s philosophical history.

Firstly, what is Philosophy? The word ‘philosophy’ literally means the ‘love of wisdom. Wikipedia describes Philosophy as the study of general fundamental problems concerning matters such as existence, knowledge, values, reason, mind and language.’ Philosophy gives no definitive answers. These questions touch our very being. The study of Philosophy is the essential human pursuit of, and search for meaning, and understanding in life.

There is a specific method of asking questions used in philosophical discussions known as the Socratic practice of question-and-answer. By definition a philosophical discourse is a form of conceptual analysis. Some questions may not have answers, yet to question is our only method of gaining understanding. Questioning prevents our being imprisoned by DOGMA.

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The first written account of human’s quest for understanding can be found in the Ancient Indian Upanisad’s, which are the roots of the yogic teachings. Those who were inspired to reflect in solitude and question the meaning of life, sought teachers who could guide them on their quest. These teachers could be found outside of everyday society, they were known to live in the forest. The Upanisads are the notes of the students of the forest sitters, the Aranyakas.

Aranyakas taught the philosophical portions of the Vedas. The root word of Vedas is vid, which means to know. Aranya means forest, aranyka means forest writings. Upa means below, ni, near and shat, sit. Upanishads are the written account of the teachings given by the ancient Sages. Reflecting on the teachings leads to inner knowledge. Knowledge comes by sitting near a learned teacher. By being in the presence of the teacher there is more than simple “information” being transmitted. Discourse, methodic questioning, reflection and more is being shared.

Prior to the Upanisads the Veda’s, for thousands of years, had been   taught by the great sages orally. The Veda’s are the first known system of human understanding. The Vedic period is dated 2500bc – 600bc, the Vedic wisdom is known to us through the Upanisad’s.

There are many Upanisad’s that vary in length and focus. We would do well to keep in mind that these were written thousands of years ago before paper and pen existed, never mind the printing press.

The Vedic teachings lead to the next period in the development of human wisdom in India known as the epic period. The Epic period is 600bc – 200ad. In this period we can find the massive voluminous works such as The Ramayana of the Valmiki and The Mahabharata of Vyasa. These poetical philosophical treatises were massive volumes marked by their great “story telling” capacity. The Mahabrata of Vyasa is about 800 chapters, of which the Bhagavadgita (The Gita) is one small chapter. A great teacher, Shankara, is responsible for extricating this portion of the Gita and discovering its profound wisdom and usefulness in teaching. This defines the Epic period.

The Sutra period, 200 – 600ad followed the Epic period. Sutras are written in the Sanskrit language, which is an ancient, highly structured phonetic language. Sutras are written in a succinct manner and follow precise rules of grammar, which play a HUGE role in the interpretation of these teachings. The Sutras outline the 6 main systems of Indian philosophy.

These six systems are:

Nyaya = logical, Naisesika = realistic, Samkhya = evolutionary

*Purva & Uttara Mimasa, *Vedanta, (* synthesis of the Vedic system)

Yoga = disciplined meditation to sharpen the power of reflection. Yoga is concerned with the human mind.

This is a brief historical overview on the evolution of Indian Philosophy. One of the key components of understanding Yogic philosophy and other Indian philosophical pursuits, is the emphasis on the Human experience and the Human Mind.

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These are the books that helped inform this blog post.

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