20 Essential Principles of Yoga Philosophy to Deepen Your Practice

 1 Yoga UNION

MEANING The Yoga Sutras of Patañjali is the main text from Raja Yoga—the Eight-Limbed Path that provides guidelines for daily living. Consider it the abridged version of Yoga philosophy! SIGNIFICANCE Most beginner yogis use this system as their first guide when transitioning principles

from the mat to life off the mat.

EFFECT Studying the Yoga Sutras can provide insight into the nature of how your mind functions. The mind is the most complex and powerful piece of equipment you have. Better to use it wisely.

2 Namaste


MEANING Namaste is colloquially described as “the light within me honors and loves the light within you.” The word light may be replaced with Spirit, divinity, or Pure consciousness.

SIGNIFICANCE Saying “Namaste” is an expression of honor and respects the other person as being made of the same Pure consciousness as you. Isn’t that beautiful?

EFFECT The effect of saying and hearing “Namaste” is to feel a sense of union, compassion, and acknowledgment regardless of external differences.

“Namaste” is said with one’s hands in prayer position in front of the heart and with a slight bow to the head. The intention behind saying “Namaste” has changed with its modernization and mass exposure. It is now said at the end of yoga class, prompted by the teacher to the students, as a form of mutual respect and a sign that class is over. Additionally, having students say it to one another after class adds a special touch of community and connection. This helps us realize we aren’t alone and moves us beyond ourselves. In India, “Namaste” is a general greeting, like a casual “hello,” and is not necessarily part of a yoga class. Adding “Namaste” to the end of a yoga class is something the West has applied. “Namaste” to you, curious reader, as you embark on this journey through yoga philosophy. I honor and love you.

3 Vedanta


MEANING Vedanta is scientific knowledge explaining how to have both an active and peaceful life. Yes, you can have both! SIGNIFICANCE Learning Vedanta is like owning a user’s manual to life. You’ll be able to handle any challenge with grace and objectivity. Amen! EFFECT Studying and practicing Vedanta on a daily basis brings about understanding, calmness, and stress

reduction in all areas of your life. Let’s Vedanta!

Vedanta is a way of living and a manual for life. It was originally founded between 1800 and 1000 BCE. Yoga masters at that time noticed that, while the external world was being perfected, people were still suffering and experiencing stress. They deduced that the objects weren’t the problem, but rather the subjects themselves. The yogis decided to focus on studying themselves as subjects instead of obsessing or attaching to objects of the world. Thus, Vedanta is the systemized study of oneself, translating to the “end of knowledge”—implying this knowledge gained is all one needs to learn for a harmonious and full life. Truths and laws were discovered relevant to all beings regardless of race, religion, education, etc.

4 Bhagavad Gita SONG OF GOD

MEANING One of the most ancient Hindu texts, the Bhagavad Gita embodies the theme of realizing one’s true essential nature in a conversation between Arjuna and Krishna. SIGNIFICANCE The Bhagavad Gita contains the guidelines for understanding how to seek and find the truth within oneself. You can’t handle the truth! Or can you?

EFFECT The Gita promises a peaceful and harmonious life. If you follow just one of the guidelines fully, you can get to the truth.

The Bhagavad Gita, written between 1000 and 500 BCE, translates to “Song of God” and is the philosophical part of a greater text called the Mahabharata, written by the sage Vyasa. The story represents the battle within ourselves—between the higher and lower qualities. It’s a conversation between Arjuna, a warrior (the lower qualities), and Krishna, an incarnation of Brahman. Arjuna, paralyzed on the battlefield, realizes he has to fight his old teacher and his family, who have terrorized the kingdom. His fight is righteous, but his attachments to his past make it hard for him to take action and do his duty. This battle is a parallel to the battle in our own lives. Our daily interactions and challenges are our battlefield, where we are constantly confronted with choosing the higher or lower options. The Bhagavad Gita helps us understand how to reach for the higher option—continually and consciously.

5 Yoga Sutras of Patañjali


MEANING The Yoga Sutras of Patañjali is the main text from Raja Yoga—the Eight-Limbed Path that provides guidelines for daily living. Consider it the abridged version of Yoga philosophy! SIGNIFICANCE Most beginner yogis use this system as their first guide when transitioning principles

The Yoga Sutras were written by Maharishi Patañjali between 500 BCE and 200 CE. They were verbally passed down to students, who wrote down their recollections of the teachings. A sutra is translated as a “thread” because it is meant to be strung together to create a seamless message. The Yoga Sutras is divided into four portions: Contemplation, Practice, Accomplishments, and Absoluteness. The first two portions are more practical and accessible; the final two portions are abstract, making it challenging for the student to progress. The second sutra is the most important. It gives both the definition and practice of Yoga according to Patañjali. It states, “Yogas citta vritti nirodhah,” meaning, “Yoga is the cessation of the modifications of the mind-stuff.” It explains that once you control your mind and stop it from fluctuating with desires and emotions, you will experience Yoga. Easier said than done.

6 Deha


MEANING The body (deha in Sanskrit) is one of the three “bodies” (physical, subtle, and nature) to help us function in this world. We have more bodies than meets the eye. Curious? SIGNIFICANCE Our body is our vehicle through which we experience and serve in this life. Thus the reason to make it as healthy, strong, and flexible as possible.

EFFECT You have a body so you can act. Your actions depend on the quality of your mind and intellect: Act selfishly, you suffer; act selflessly, you’re free. The choice is always yours.

A human being has three “bodies:” the physical body, the subtle body, and the causal body. 1.The physical body has the organs of perception and organs of action. The body is what allows you to perceive objects and act in this world. We need to make it healthy with proper diet and exercise. Our physical bodies should be flexible, strong, energetic, active, relaxed, and resilient to disease. These characteristics describe your physical personality. 2.The second body, the subtle body, consists of the mind  and the intellect. It allows you to feel, think, and contemplate what lies within and beyond this world. These capabilities are part of your emotional, intellectual, and spiritual personalities, respectively. 3.The causal body consists of your vasanas— your inherent nature and innate desires. Combined, these three bodies are enlivened by Brahman and make the overall personality of you, today.

7 Manas


MEANING The ancient Yoga texts describe the mind (manas, in Sanskrit) as the house of all our emotions, desires, and preferences. SIGNIFICANCE The more desires you have, the stronger your mind—meaning the further away you are from your true Self. This creates a more challenging and agitated life. EFFECT Depending on the strength of your mind whether weak or strong—you will either be more free or suffer more, respectively. Let’s weaken our minds to be free!

The statement about weakening our minds to be free may be confusing because we have generally been taught to strengthen our minds. The difference lies in the definition of “mind.” As mentioned, the ancient teachings define the mind as your emotions, desires, likes, dislikes, preferences, and ego. A strong mind, in this context, means you have a lot of emotions, desires, and preferences controlling you and your actions. What happens when our emotions and impulses take control over us? We suffer and lose control. How can we not react to our impulsive desires in order to lead a more stable and peaceful life? The teachings explain we need to reduce the power of the mind and strengthen the intellect. The mind is neither good nor bad. We just need to understand its nature to gain better perspective of how we got where we are today and how to move forward with wisdom.

8 Buddhi


 MEANING The third equipment humans have is the intellect, or buddhi. It is the ability to think objectively and rationally. SIGNIFICANCE According to Vedanta, the intellect is the only equipment that allows you to decipher between relative and absolute truth—hence, realizing your true. Our number one job is to build the intellect!

EFFECT The intellect keeps us calm and grounded to see the truth and reach our ultimate goal of Self-realization. Strong intellect = peace and clarity.

The main challenge we face with the intellect is that most people don’t know they have an intellect, and that it’s separate from the mind . We think all our thoughts are part of our mind, so it gets confusing and cluttered in our heads. As you read this sentence, can you hear the words in your head? Most likely it sounds like your own voice. If you’re reading this and have an emotional reaction, you’re activating your mind. If you’re reading this with curiosity and not assigning preferences, you’re activating your intellect. Your intellect is your faculty that controls your impulses and desires, allowing you to elevate yourself spiritually and understand what is real and unreal. This generates wisdom instead of knowledge, which is the difference between transformation and information, respectively. Who’s ready to accept that they need help building their intellect? I am!

9 Brahman


MEANING Brahman is Pure consciousness. It is the constant, absolute reality enlivening the relative, ever-changing world. Patience is your friend on this journey.

SIGNIFICANCE Although it is impossible to understand Brahman with our limited “bodies,” conceptualizing can help you see the bigger picture of your ultimate purpose and the true meaning of Yoga. It’s quite humbling.

EFFECT If you could operate your life from the Self, you’d be peaceful and successful. Eventually, you’d become enlightened and wouldn’t need this book. Then you could teach me.

Realizing Brahman is the highest—and only—goal of practicing Yoga according to the ancient teachings. Brahman is the same as saying the Spirit, Atman, God, anything associated with the Self, Pure Consciousness, absolute reality, etc. Brahman is what enlivens our body, mind, and intellect. Compare it with electricity giving energy to a lightbulb, or to the fuel allowing a vehicle to be driven. Neither the fuel nor the electricity is good or bad; it only enlivens the matter to light up or move. Brahman is the same. It is neither good nor bad—it just enlivens everything in the world to live. This is who we really are—our true essence. Yet we are so far away from it because we focus on the body, mind, and intellect instead. It’s hard to fathom this could be true. Just the fact that we have stress indicates our separation from Brahman. Reality check.

10 Karma


MEANING Karma Yoga is the path of action and selfless service. It’s the path to serve with no selfish motive. Easier said than done.

 SIGNIFICANCE Karma Yoga is the path that helps you purify your body to get closer to realizing your true Self.

EFFECT Practicing Karma Yoga creates feelings of wholeness, compassion, and connectedness to everyone.

everyone. Helping others feels good!

Karma Yoga is the path of action and helps heal the body through higher-quality actions. Everyone must act in this world, so ideally we should act unselfishly and serve beyond benefiting only oneself and one’s family. Karma Yoga’s purpose is to use the vehicle one was given to serve (the body) to give back to the world without asking for anything in return. One is acting without attachment, giving to be of service and indebtedness to the world, which has given us so much. You gain the attitude of “after you” instead of the selfish approach of “after me.” “What can I give?” instead of “What can I get?” People who are both emotional and intellectual in personality benefit from following this path. It’s a practical path with a measurable expression. Because we have to take actions every day, we can practice Karma Yoga every day!

11 Bhakti


MEANING Bhakti Yoga is the path of devotion and love.

 SIGNIFICANCE Bhakti Yoga is the path that purifies the mind to help you get closer to Self-realization. EFFECT Practicing Bhakti Yoga provides you with a sense of humility and a full heart.

Bhakti Yoga is the path that purifies the mind. It’s the path of devotion and unconditional love. When you practice Bhakti Yoga, you recognize divinity everywhere and in everyone. One begins to experience a genuine identification with every living being. No preferential love is felt—only universal love. Someone who is more emotional will benefit from following this path because Bhakti Yoga purifies the mind (the house of our emotions). A sense of fullness, humility, and deep gratitude is experienced as one progresses on this path. You have the opportunity to see the beauty in everything and everyone you encounter no matter how different. When you see Indians wearing a dot (called a bindi) on the spot between their eyebrows, that is a symbol of seeing the divinity in the other that they have themselves. Isn’t this a powerful concept?

12 Jnana Yoga


MEANING jnana Yoga is the path of knowledge, which requires one to question and reflect on the teachings given.

SIGNIFICANCE Jnana Yoga is the path that purifies and strengthens the intellect through the process of unlearning.

 EFFECT Practicing jnana Yoga helps you witness the world around you and your relationship with it without

becoming caught up in it. Wouldn’t that be a blessing?

Jnana Yoga is the path of knowledge. It’s the ability to distinguish between the real and the unreal; the permanent from the impermanent. Consider for a moment what would happen if, in a challenging circumstance, you could be clear on what the truth is and what the truth isn’t. You would remain calm because you understood the bigger picture. This is what happens to a Jnana yogi when placed in most challenges. This path requires that you never take anything for granted and that you question everything you’ve been taught. It’s the process of unlearning and relearning. Reflection is quintessential in this path because it requires your ability to think for yourself. And you can’t think for yourself unless you’ve reflected upon what you’ve been told to think. It’s the path an intellectual personality would benefit from most. This is the path that resonates with

me the most because it uses my creative muscle of thinking outside of the box. It’s so fun out here!

13 Hatha Yoga


MEANING Hatha Yoga is the physical practice of yoga, including the poses, breathwork, and anything that helps create discipline in the body. Think Warrior 2 Pos.

SIGNIFICANCE The physical practice of Hatha Yoga can entice the student to learn the other aspects of yoga, including the philosophy. Consider it the gateway yoga.

EFFECT Practicing Hatha Yoga makes you stronger and more flexible. It helps you gain confidence while helping you learn to relax.

Hatha Yoga is the physical form of the practice, involving a variety of options relating to healing and purifying the body. You could do yoga poses, breathwork , and any form of physical discipline. The intention behind Hatha Yoga is to help the student wake up from mundane, routine life to prepare for practicing the three paths of yoga: Karma, Bhakti, and Jnana. Hatha Yoga alone cannot take you all the way to Enlightenment. It can only awaken and prepare you for the deeper paths of Yoga. Keep this intention in mind every time you go to yoga class or practice at home. You’ll ignite the spark within for understanding there’s more to Yoga than meets the eye!

14 Svadharma


 MEANING Svadharma means to live according to one’s own nature, living your truth. You’ll become a master!

SIGNIFICANCE When you live your Svadharma, you live in harmony, peace, and acceptance of your purpose regardless of what anyone else thinks.

 EFFECT People who decide to follow their true natures lead successful and rich lives. They feel fulfilled

fulfilled every step of the way.

Svadharma translates as one’s “own nature.” Sva means “own” and dharma means “nature.” When one leads a life according to one’s svadharma, one lives happily and without resistance. Everything flows. To know if you’re living according to your own nature, assess the decisions you’ve made. If they’re based on your essential nature regardless of what society expects, you’re living your full life. For example, a businessman has thoughts of business and must have a business. Just because you have a business doesn’t mean you are natural at business. A musician has thoughts of music and must play an instrument. A teacher must teach. A person who loves numbers and math could go into accounting, engineering, etc. An active, outdoor person must be physical and be in nature. People who follow their nature must be strong and resilient enough to go against the

herd instinct. Whoever understands his or her essential nature will be able to serve themselves and others in the most efficient way. This is the only way to live genuinely!

15 Paradharma


 MEANING Paradharma is living according to one’s alien nature. It is a state that keeps us from recognizing our truths and ultimately, Self-realization. This means sacrificing your truth for the sake of laziness, pleasing society, and conforming to the norm.

SIGNIFICANCE When you start your journey toward your spiritual path, you’ll hit roadblock after roadblock if you choose according to others’ opinions.

You’ll feel constant resistance.

EFFECT While living in Paradharma you will suffer, feel stress, and create pain and disharmony within yourself. You’ll find conflict everywhere because you are living in conflict. All your actions will be disingenuous. You can’t live fully this way!

Paradharma breaks into two words: para meaning “alien” and dharma meaning “nature”—this means you live or choose against your natural inclinations. For example, if you always wanted to be a singer but went into medicine because your parents wanted that, you would be living your Paradharma. This leads to emptiness, anger, and stress. Everything feels harder to accomplish—you have no energy to complete basic tasks. You live in resistance, because it’s someone else’s dream or preference—not yours. We choose to live this way because of external pressures from family and society, and because we fear the unknown. This paralyzes us—and it is no way to live. When we recognize this and see the harm it causes, we can take steps toward living in agreement with our nature instead of against it. Then you’ll live with purpose and be happier. Let’s break out of our Paradharma rut and step into our Svadharma

16 Tamas


MEANING Tamas is the lowest of the three gunas (mental states). The qualities relating to tamas are inertia, laziness, and dullness.

SIGNIFICANCE Yoga requires action and Self-reflection—an impossible task while one’s mind is tamasik.

 EFFECT Tamasik qualities create the effect of lethargy and lack of motivation to accomplish anything.

It’s as if your spirit animal is a sloth.

Every living being consists of the three gunas, also known as mental temperaments. They are tamas, rajas, and sattva. However, the quantity of each is different depending on the nature of the individual. For example, someone could be 40 percent tamas, 50 percent rajas, and 10 percent sattva. Since tamas is the lowest mental state, it is often compared with the qualities of a rock—inertia and dullness. It’s a sense of lethargy and sleepiness with an inability to care about anything. Although it seems tamas would be a physical quality, it’s actually the mind that creates the state of laziness so the body doesn’t act. Ideally, where one has tamasik qualities, one would shift them into rajas—activity. Then the ultimate goal is to transition from rajas to sattva—purity and serenity. You will benefit from understanding when and where you are tamasik in your life. Beat it,


17 Rajas


MEANING Rajas, the second guna (state of mind), is described as having activity, but with added agitation. We are making progress.

SIGNIFICANCE Rajas in motion means we have ignited the fire within to take action, but we remain limited because of our impulsiveness and anxiety attached to the activity.

EFFECT Rajas pulls us out of tamas

which is necessary for spiritual growth, but it is also paired with a sense of stress and worry.

We all have a specific proportion of the three mental states (gunas) within us. We can work toward shifting them, depending on the thoughts and desires we fuel. While tamas doesn’t care and is inactive, rajas cares too much and is overly active. Rajasik qualities emerge when we only think about ourselves or our family. This selfishness breeds stress and anxiety. It creates a frenzied form of activity and makes you constantly hurry and run through the day. Visualize New York City streets living in your head. It’s frantic and never stops. This temperament makes you exhausted and frazzled. Ideally, we can elevate our rajasik mental state into a sattvik one by reflection and application of the teachings. Otherwise, one lives constantly agitated and unfulfilled, increasing the level of rajas in our minds. Instead, we should reduce rajas, thus increasing clarity and tranquility. Chill, rajas!

18 Sattva


MEANING Sattva is the highest of the three mental qualities and personalities (gunas). It’s described as purity, serenity, and harmony. Yes, please!

SIGNIFICANCE Understanding that your highest mental temperament is tranquil and wise helps you see the goal is attainable—it’s within you.

 EFFECT By practicing sattvik qualities, you’ll feel happier, more balanced, and more grounded.

The sattvik state is the highest quality of the mind (see here). It refers to a combination of a poised, productive, serene, objective, and contemplative mind. This state of mind is the one we all want to achieve. It means we have developed our intellect (see here) enough so as not to succumb to the impulses of the mind, which can be either actively agitated (rajas) or slothfully dull (tamas). All living beings have a percentage of each of the three gunas. Ideally, one’s mind moves from tamas to rajas, then from rajas to sattva. This shows that the mind is evolving because it is being governed by the intellect. Since we all have these qualities, it behooves us to discover how much of each we have. If someone has 100 percent sattva, she would be said to be “Enlightened.”

19 Ahimsa


MEANING Ahimsa, which translates to “non-harming,” is the first principle founded in the first limb of the Eight Limbs of Yoga called Raja Yoga. Confused?

SIGNIFICANCE If you practice Ahimsa in all areas of your life, you practice Yoga daily; instead of harming others, you are serving others.

 EFFECT The physical effects of practicing Ahimsa are powerful—you feel compassionate and connected.

This creates a sense of calm and identification with everyone and everything.

Ahimsa is the first principle presented in the five yamas of the Eight-Limbed Path, Raja Yoga. Yamas are defined as ethical guidelines. Generally speaking, they are principles that teach us how to relate to others (and ourselves) in a healthy and harmonious way. Himsa means “harming” in Sanskrit, and when you place an “a” in front of any word in Sanskrit it translates as “non.” This principle of nonharming teaches us to reflect on where and how we harm others. We can harm with our motives, intentions, thoughts, words, and actions—all of which we have complete control over if we strengthen our intellects. We wouldn’t even kill a mosquito or cockroach if we practiced Ahimsa fully. We can also harm by our food choices. I know this can be a touchy subject; try to listen objectively. If we eat animals, we allow them to be slaughtered for the palate preferences of our

tongues, which taste food only for a few seconds. We can choose other healthy and balanced food options that don’t cause harm to others in the process. Food for thought.

20 Satya


MEANING Satya, the second yama, is the principle of being truthful in all areas of your life. SIGNIFICANCE Without being truthful, one will live a dishonest and delusional life. Continuing in ignorance, we can’t get closer to Yoga or our true Self.

EFFECT When you practice Satya, you are free because you aren’t hiding from anyone or anything.

You’re living an authentic life to the best of your ability. Free yourself!

Satya is the second of the five yamas (ethical principles to follow on how to treat others and ourselves) from the Eight-Limbed Path, Raja Yoga, meaning Royal Yoga. Satya, meaning truthfulness, has many layers. There are lies, deceit, betrayal, white lies, delusion, etc. If we are delusional, we can’t be honest. Our perspective is skewed. To gain a greater perspective, we must gain spiritual knowledge. More knowledge eliminates ignorance—the seed of our problems. In the meantime, we need to observe our tendency to tell little lies because we want to be accepted by others and not feel rejected. From the simple white lie of saying you read a book you never read to something greater, like cheating on your partner, these pull you away from your true nature and create anxiety. Ideally, we would be honest in a way that doesn’t cause harm. The truth can hurt but doesn’t leave scars,

while lies leave marks for lifetimes. Let’s begin to unscar ourselves and others!