Skip directly to content

The Philosophy of Yoga

Course overview

This course is a detailed study of the origins and development of Yoga.

We look first at the ideas of Vedanta and Samkhya on which the earliest expositions of Yoga are based. This preliminary study will then provide a basis for a consideration of the teachings on Yoga found in the Upanishads, Bhagavad-gita, and Yoga Sutras as well as a thorough review of the Tantric roots of Hatha Yoga practice.

This course gives a detailed understanding of the fundamental ideas on which Yoga practice is based and the ways in which it has developed during the ensuing millennia.

Course structure

The course consists of seven sessions delivered on a weekly basis.

Session One: Understanding Classical Yoga

In this session we consider the position of Yoga within the wider context of Indian religious and philosophical thought. This will include a consideration of the principal ideas presented within Vedanta and Samkhya and the influence these have had on Yoga theory and practice.

Session Two: Yoga Teachings in the Upanishads and the Mahabharata

It is impossible to be certain about the origins of Yoga practice or about its antiquity but the earliest extant works in which Yoga is considered are the Upanishads and certain passages of the Mahabharata. In this session we look at the type of Yoga these passages advocate and their relationship with the Yoga Sutras of Patañjali.

Session Three: Yoga in the Bhagavad-gita

One of the best known passages of the Mahabharata is the Bhagavad-gita where Krishna gives an extensive exposition of religious doctrine imbued with Yogic concepts. In this session we consider the principal ideas of the Bhagavad-gita and focus on passages in which the practice of Yoga is outlined.

Session Four: Patañjali's Yoga Sutras (I)

The most significant exposition of early Yoga teachings is Patañjali's Yoga Sutras, still widely regarded as the foundational work on Yoga philosophy. In this session we consider the theological and philosophical orientation of the Yoga Sutras in relation to the wider context of Indian thought and make a more detailed examination of the first two chapters of the work.

Session Five: Patañjali's Yoga Sutras (II)

In this session we extend and build upon the previous consideration of the principal ideas of the Yoga Sutras and move on to consider the third and fourth chapters in greater detail.

Session Six: Tantra and Yoga

It is well known that contemporary Yoga practice includes significant elements of doctrine and practice that are not derived from the Yoga Sutras or from Vedanta or Samkhya. In this session we explore the extent to which contemporary Indian religion is based on a combination of Vedic and Tantric ideology. We will then use this discussion to consider the ways in which the Yoga systems were augmented by Tantric ideals so that a dual source can be identified for contemporary Yoga.

Session Seven: The Hatha Yoga Pradipika

In this session we build upon the previous consideration of Tantric ideas and consider the extent to which Hatha Yoga practice is derived from Tantric sources. For this study we focus particularly on Svatmarama's Hatha Yoga Pradipika and attempt to identify the spiritual and philosophical ideas underpinning the practice taught therein.