Yogic Philosophy

Yoga philosophy is invariably tied to Hinduism. Well, there is no concrete evidence that links pre-modern yoga to Hunduism as its origin, but relatively early in its creation, it was appropriated by various schools of Hinduism. Though many Western practitioners of Yoga correlate its philosophies with Buddhism, there are pronounced differences. For example, Buddhism asserts that there is no self or soul, while Yogic philosophy is carefully attentive to a person's soul. (1) Claims that the Yoga we practice now is an "ancient" tradition is not actually true:
  1. We don't know what the ancient traditions were.
  2. Those tradition that we do know are not quite similar to those branches of yoga that make the claim of being ancient.
Modern Yoga can philosophically be considered one of the six major orthodox schools of Hinduism. (2)
It is most closely related to the Samkhya school of Hinduism, an enumerationist (rigidly ordering/numbering principles) school regarded as one of the rationalist schools of Indian philosophy. Samkhya is also strongly dualist -- believing the universe consists of two realities, consciousness and matter -- and adheres to three specific proofs as the only reliable means of gaining knowledge: Perception, Inference, and testimony of reliable sources. (3) These aspects of philosophy are shared by Yoga.
Yogic philosophy takes a Realistic Phenomenological point of view toward life. "Jiva" (a living thing), is considered to be a phenomenon of consciousness meeting with matter, expressing itself in various senses, feelings, and activity of mind. When one of these elements overwhelms the others, imbalance is created.
A central concept in Samkhya-Yoga philosophy that ties it to Yogic practice is "Moksha": liberation, or, the end of bondage. The clear delineation between the schools of Yoga and Samkhya are thus: while Samkhya believes that knowledge is a sufficient path to moksha, Yoga additionally incorporates systematic techniques and practice, including of the body, hence the the Yogic practice we all know. (4)
While the origins of the Yoga school of Hinduism are unclear, we know it is possibly very old. Some of its earliest discussions are found in the 1st millenium BCE from Indian texts like the Katha Upanishad, the Shvetashvatara Upanishad, and the Maitri Upanishad. (5) The first mention of "Yoga" as we call it is from a hymn in the Rigveda, one of Hinduism's four canonical sacred texts. It is mentioned in conjunction with a dedication to the rising Sun-god in the morning. Hence, the modern adaptations of sun salutation.
However, this old mention of Yoga is only that: a mention. We do not have any evidence of Yoga philosophy with its current meaning or context until about the 2nd century BCE, when parallels among the Samkhya school, Yoga, and Abhidharma schools of thought emerge. 
The school of Yoga's ideas are largely found in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. As this text circulated in the first half of the first millennium CE, many Indian scholars reviewed and annotated it, propagating the school of philosophy and cementing it into history.
In Yogic philosophy, a living being is the meeting of two realities: pure consciousness devoid of thoughts or qualities, and an empirical, phenomenal, material reality. Present in different proportions in all beings are 3 different Gunas (tendencies or attributes): goodness (sattva), passion (rajas), and darkness (tamas). Yoga asserts that a person's psychological disposition is a result of the proportions of these 3 Gunas, always in flux. 
When sattva guna predominates an individual, the qualities of lucidity, wisdom, constructiveness, harmonious, and peacefulness manifest themselves; when rajas is predominant, attachment, craving, passion-driven activity and restlessness manifest; and when tamas predominates in an individual, ignorance, delusion, destructive behavior, lethargy, and suffering manifests. The guṇas theory underpins the philosophy of mind in Yoga school of Hinduism. (6)
Yoga has most in common with Buddhism the belief that the root of suffering is ignorance, which perpetuates samsara, the cycle of life and death. The Yoga Sutras is a treatise on how to accomplish liberation. Liberation in Yogic philosophy is thought to be eternal, an irreversible state of moksha.
While Shiva or Siddhartha Gautama Buddha may be considered the earliest Yogis (practitioners of yoga), some of the more recent influential teachers are Swami Nigamananda, BKS Iyengar, Swami Sivananda, and Sri Ravi Shankar.
Yoga philosophy allows the concept of God, unlike the non-theistic Samkhya school. God is a personal concept in Yoga philosophy and left quite open to interpretation. Some followers of Yogic philosophy view the Isvara as a sort of god, Isvara being that special self that is unaffected by one's experiences, actions, hardships, etc. (7)


The Yoga Journal - a varied publication on Yoga that includes articles on philosophy.
Yoga Basics - a very simple presentation of Yoga. Varied but short articles on lots of branching concepts. Definitely very western and modern.
Yoga International - a very comprehensive and well-made site covering a range of modern Yoga concepts. They offer philosophy and articles, but also classes and poses.
Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy on Yoga - As it sounds, this is a comprehensive look at yoga philosophy from a valuable online philosophy database.
Yoga-Philosophy.com - a fairly rigid and theistic guide to yoga philosophy. "Move over modern posers. It's a religious practice. Here's what it means."
Yogapedia - another modern yoga blog. Full of articles and various approaches, mostly western adaptation, to yoga.


The quintessential manual for the practice and study of yoga.

A part of the Hindu scriptures, it is the story of a boy of convinces Death to tell him what happens to us after we die.

An essential of Indian philosophy, it speaks at length about the true nature of knowledge.

The main text for the Nyaya school of Hinduism. Full of theories of logic, methodology, and epistemology (philosophy of knowledge).

From the Vedanta school of Hindu philosophy, it expands from and systematizes the Upanishads.

The real author and time of origin unknown, it is structured as a discourse between Rama and a student, on the nature of life.

A book ideal for someone who practices yoga meditation and is interested in knowing more about its roots and philosophy

A comprehensive, textbook-style look at Yoga.

By the man largely responsible for western fascination with yoga: B.K.S. Iyengar

A New York Time's bestseller, this is a modern look at yoga as a life-hack.


The History of Yoga with Debashish Banerji - a well-conducted interview with a leading scholar on Yoga history. 25 min
Yoga Philosophy Beyond the Mat - a lecture in 2 parts by Swami Govindananda as a response to the modern wide practice of Yoga without having much knowledge of the philosophy. 34 min
Lecture on Yoga Philosophy by H.D. Goswami - a comprehensive and detailed lecture from 2015 in Israel by a Yoga scholar. 1hr 28min
The Science Behind Yoga Documentary - a Discovery Channel style presentation on the power of modern yoga. 26min
Quick and Dirty Yoga Philosophy - a knowledgeable woman with a white board will open your mind to the different models in Yoga. ~ 40min
Why We Breathe, a Yoga Documentary - a documentary of westerners telling about their experience with yoga. It may be fun to relate with these practitioners. 50min
BKS Iyengar's last interview - an interesting interview, as it contains some of the last recorded thoughts of BKS Iyengar, a man who played a huge role in the modern adaptation and usage of yoga in the west. 40min
The Yoga Philosophy lecture from the Indian Institute of Technology - here is a well-detailed lecture from a respected university in India. 54min

  1. Larson, pp. 43-45
  2. Knut Jacobsen (2008), Theory and Practice of Yoga
  3. John A. Grimes, A Concise Dictionary of Indian Philosophy: Sanskrit Terms Defined in English, State University of New York Press, ISBN 978-0791430675, page 238
  4. Edwin Bryant (2011, Rutgers University)
  5. Larson, pp. 43-45
  6. Edwin Bryant (2011, Rutgers University), The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali IEP
  7. Lloyd Pflueger (2008), Person Purity and Power in Yogasutra, in Theory and Practice of Yoga