What yoga teachers should know about yoga philosophy

Yoga philosophy in a nutshell


Sadhana means practice, and refers to the specific yogic techniques or spiritual disciplines one chooses to follow on a daily basis. Each of the yogic paths may lead to the same result—union with divine consciousness—but the techniques and practices one uses to get there may differ.

The paths of yoga you should be familiar with are:

  • Hatha Yoga – the yoga of physical postures and breathing exercises, as previously discussed
  • Bhakti Yoga – the path of devotion to the divine, including prayer, ritual, and chanting
  • Karma Yoga – the path of right action, or selfless service, focused on the causes and effects of our actions
  • Jnana Yoga – the path of knowledge, through study, questioning, meditation, and contemplation
  • Raja Yoga – the “royal” path, or the path of meditation or self-control

The eight limbs

Raja Yoga consists of Patanjali’s Ashtanga Yoga, or eight-limbed path. It has become popular to refer to the meditative path as Raja Yoga so as not to confuse it with the popular physical style of hatha yoga that is also called Ashtanga Yoga. Here, the eight-limbed path refers to the sadhana a yogi follows to achieve Samadhi, or bliss, as laid out by Patanjali in The Yoga Sutras. The eight limbs are:

  1.      Yama – code of conduct, or self-restraint:
Ahimsa – compassion or non-violence
Satya – truthfulness
Asteya – non-stealing
Brahmacharya – moderation or sexual restraint
Aparigraha – non-covetousness or non-greediness
2.      Niyama – observances or commitments:
Saucha – cleanliness or purity
Santosha – contentment
Tapas – discipline or austerity
Svadhyaya – self-study and study of sacred texts
Ishvarapranidhana – surrender to a higher power
3.      Asana – posture or physical activity
4.      Pranayama – breathing practices to integrate mind and body
5.      Pratyahara – withdrawal of the senses
6.      Dharana – concentration, one-pointedness of the mind
7.      Dhyana – meditation
8.      Samadhi – blissful awareness


The five koshas

According to yoga philosophy, human beings are made of physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual aspects that function together as a holistic system. The koshas are like sheaths, or layers of human consciousness. The layers are visualized like the layers of an onion, from the dense physical body, inward to the subtle levels of the emotions, mind, and spirit. The five koshas are:

  1. Annamaya kosha – the physical self, or “food body”
  2. Pranamaya kosha – the energy body, composed of prana, or vital energy
  3. Manomaya kosha – the mind, including both the thoughts and the five senses
  4. Vijnanamaya kosha- the intellect and ego, the knowledge of our identity or “I-ness”
  5. Anandamaya kosha – the bliss body, a reflection of the Atman, or true Self

The five koshas operate as one system, giving rise to the self and the multitude of ways we experience being human.

The five kleshas

One should not confuse the five koshas with the five kleshas, or afflictions. The five afflictions are the causes of human suffering. They are also known as the obstacles to yoga, union with our true selves. The five kleshas are:

  1. Avidya – ignorance of our true self
  2. Asmita – ego, or “I-ness,” identification with the “false self”
  3. Raga – attachment to pleasure (likes)
  4. Dvesa – aversion to pain (dislikes)
  5. Abhinivesa – fear of death/clinging to life

How the philosophy is applied in your teaching is up to you. While the yoga we practice now is technically hatha yoga, part of what has made yoga so popular and beloved by so many people is the integration of the wisdom and philosophy of the various paths of yoga into the contemporary yoga experience. The best teachers weave techniques from the various areas of yoga into their classes. I love yoga philosophy and utilize its lessons in my teaching of the physical postures; some yoga teachers love chanting, and integrate that; some love the esoteric or subtle anatomy of the chakras, and teach them within the context of the yoga postures. This cannot be forced, but needs to arise for each teacher in an authentic way. So find what you love and integrate it as you see fit. But first, teach sound physical sequences with good alignment instruction. Themes and philosophy are advanced teaching techniques which can be overwhelming for new teachers, and should really spring forth organically from your experience as a practitioner.


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