top of page

Why do I need Yoga Philosophy?

The difference between merely going to the gym and practicing yoga is the philosophy! Yoga the philosophy provides a personal context for getting the most out of practices such as posture flow, breathing exercises, or mental meditational practices. And if one adopts a philosophical approach to Yoga, then all activities are limbs in support of one’s own autonomy and mastery over life.  Without yoga philosophy, practices such as posture flow, or breathing exercises, can become fetishes and hindrances to one’s own independence.  

Your Trusted Source for Scholar-Practitioner 

(Orientalism Free)

Yoga Philosophy


What is Philosophy ?

Philosophy is a Greek word that means love (philo) of wisdom (sophia). But philosophy, the discipline, is found the world over.

Philosophy is primarily a discipline that employs logic to answer controversial questions. Having an opinion is easy, but philosophers know that the diversity of opinions points out that some issues can’t be reduced to just how you see things, for others have contrary views on the same topic. By using reason, philosophers are able to study the diversity of options on a controversial topic, and then help us understand the topic of controversy.

Once we understand what we are disagreeing about, we can replace our partial perspectives on a topic with a synoptic understanding.


Traditional topics of philosophy include questions of ethics (of Right choosing and Good outcomes),  metaphysics (questions of about the Necessarily true and the Contingently true), and epistemology (questions about how we arrive at the truth, and how we can be justified in our answers to questions of what is true).

“Philosophy” in the secondary sense is a perspective, theory or system that contributes to philosophical disagreement. A philosopher and teacher of philosophy does not merely teach one perspective. The study and teach a diversity philosophies (in the second sense) as a means of understanding the topics of confusion and controversy.

Krishna the Philosopher God.jpg

Krishna, the Philosopher God and Teacher of Yoga, with his devotee, the Cosmic Serpent 

Laksmi a.jpg

The Goddess Lakṣmī (the Earth and Prosperity) embodies the goals of yoga: svarūpevasthānam/“abiding in one’s form” (YS I.3), svarūpa-pratiṣṭhā/“standing on one’s form” (YS IV.34), and more literally sva-svāmī/“own mastery” (YS II.22). 

What is Yoga?


Yoga is a philosophical contribution to the debates of philosophy. That is, it is not only a perspective that contributes to what we can disagree about in philosophy, it also clarifies philosophy, the discipline.


As a philosophical theory, Yoga is the view that our minds and bodies are the parts of natural world that we, as persons, must take responsibility for, so that they reflect our interests as people. Our interests as people is personified in the ideal of persons: the Sovereignty, or Īśvara, which is both unconservative (not constrained by pass choices) and self-governing (not externally interfered with).


When we perfect tis practice of devotion to Sovereignty by practicing its essential traits of unconservatism and self-governance, we bring about our own autonomy. 


When ​understand the philosophy of Yoga, our whole life is a way to practice it. 

Classical sources for the philosophy of Yoga include: the Upaniṣads, the Bhagavad Gītā, and the Yoga Sūtra.

Why doesn’t this sound like the Yoga I know?

What we often come to think of as yoga has to do with the move to treat Yoga as a modality of physical fitness, or health and well being. Whereas Yoga the philosophy is all encompassing, and requires extensive research and learning, and continuous practice, it is much easier to teach and market practices that support the practice of yoga. Hence, it is common to see yoga being represented as:


  • the physical practices of posture flow (often called āsana),

  • breathing exercises (prāṇāyāma),

  • mental exercises of clearing and focusing the mind (dhāraṇā),

  • or perhaps exploratory awareness (dhyāna).


When people often say they practice yoga, they mean one or more of these things.


According to Patañjali’s Yoga Sūtra, the basic systematic text of yoga philosophy, these are not yoga: they are among the ancillary practices (aṅga-s) in support of yoga (see for instance, Yoga Sūtra Books II and III).  Yoga in contrast is defined as:

  1. Taking responsibility for your mental life, which is basically philosophy (YS I.2-3)

  2. Three practical ideals that structure philosophical practice: Devotion to Lordliness (Īśvara praṇidhāna), Unconservativism, pushing one’s boundaries (tapas), and Self-Governance, Self-Control (svādhyāya) (YS II.1)

Ganesha Gold.jpg

Ganesha, child God and Remover of Obstacles

Ramanuja philosopher of yoga.jpg

Rāmānuja, influential  philosopher of Yoga 

Where Can One Learn About Yoga And Philosophy?

Dr. Shyam Ranganathan, founder of Yoga Philosophy, is a field changing researcher on the study and translation of philosophy, especially South Asian philosophy and Yoga, translator of the Yoga Sūtra, and a experienced university level teacher of philosophy. Shyam holds an MA in South Asian Studies, and an MA and PhD in philosophy.


He is a professional philosopher, author, theorist and university teacher. Yoga Philosophy was founded to provide support for those interested in Yoga Philosophy.


Before Shyam’s work, the common view among academics was that there was no interesting practical philosophy in South Asia. His work has shown that this is a result of confusing the study of philosophy with the study of belief systems and languages. Shyam’s many scholarly projects, translations and publications have changed the landscape of the scholarly literature on South Asian philosophy, and Yoga.

Our goal at Yoga Philosophy is to support practitioners of the many limbs of yoga deepen their practice and get the most out of the precious time they commit to activities, whether they be posture-flow (āsana), breathing exercises (prāṇāyāma), focusing the mind (dhāraṇā), or exploratory awareness (dhyāna).

But we hope to do this by teaching about Yoga and Philosophy. Students of Yoga Philosophy will hence learn not only about the tradition of Yoga, but contrary and competing traditions that share some commitments with Yoga, and also part ways, including Buddhist philosophies of mindfulness and other contrary philosophies. Our goal is to help students deepen their practice of Yoga.

bottom of page