By Shahid Mishra
What are the basics of Yogic philosophy? Since its beginnings nearly 5,000 years ago, Yoga, and the philosophy behind it, has undergone many transformations. Several key topics, however, stand out. Interns wonder what the philosophical basics should be in Yoga teacher training. Although there are many books about Yoga the following four topics make up a good structural foundation of Yogic philosophy.
1. Dharma. Dharma is the idea that you have a life purpose, or duty. To be happy, it is important to actively seek understanding of your dharma, and do your life’s work. It is more important that you do your own job poorly, rather excel at doing something that is not your dharma. Part of understanding your dharma is understanding who you are.
2. Yoga Citta Vritti Nirodha. Yoga teaches us that much of our suffering is the result of our overactive minds. We jump to conclusions, we make up stories about things we don’t understand, and we ruminate over the past. The second sutra of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras states “yoga is the cessation of the churnings of the mind.” If we can learn to control our thoughts, we will experience more peace and happiness.
3. Purusa and Prakriti. Yoga distinguishes between that which is real, or permanent, and that which is unreal, or impermanent. Everything that we can see, hear, touch, feel, smell, or think is called “prakriti.” Prakriti includes things such as your physical body, your happiness, your thoughts, the trees, all animals, your house, and the stars. Prakriti is basically everything, and everything is in a state of constant change: for example, your body ages, the trees change with the season, your happiness turns to sadness, and your house gets a new facelift. Our tendency, however, is to believe that prakriti is permanent, and this causes us pain and suffering.
We cling to our emotions, our job titles, and our belongings, without fully understanding that these things are will eventually change. “Purusa” is that which is permanent and never changing. Other traditions may call this “god” or “spirit.” Purusa is that part of each of us that always stays the same, no matter what is happening in our lives. It’s who we really are. When we realize this, Prakriti no longer distracts us. We are then free to deepen our self-understanding and realize our potential for joy.
4. The Eight Limbs of Yoga. There is a clearly defined path toward realizing your true self. Outlined by Maharishi Patanjali, the path includes ethical guidelines, yoga postures, breathing techniques, control of the senses, concentration and inner awareness, devotion, meditation, and Samadhi.
Obviously, there is much more to Yogic philosophy than the above-mentioned subjects, but this is a start to a lifelong path of study. For anyone who decides to become a Yoga teacher, I leave you with a thought: Yoga is an infinite path with much to learn, practice and enjoy, along the way.
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