"When the wisdom of well-considered experience is joined coherently to well-grounded factual knowledge, you have a strong foundation from which to successfully navigate both the path of yoga and the world in general." -Christopher Wallis in his book Tantra Illuminated
I first began a daily yoga practice in 2004. Like most beginners, I had no idea what I was getting myself into, and that was a good thing. I knew that yoga would meet my goals of staying fit and relaxed, and those physical benefits were enough for me.
Perhaps my introductory years of yoga sound familiar to you. In my experience, physical yoga is what most often attracts people to yoga. Perhaps you came to yoga seeking some degree of fitness (cross training, stretching, strengthening, or physical upkeep) mixed with some degree of relaxation.
There's no denying that the physical benefits of yoga come without needing to study old texts.
Yet, as we dive deeper into yoga practices and move from the beginning levels of yoga, studying yoga philosophy helps.
Three reasons to study yoga philosophy today:
1. It magnifies the benefits of physical practice
Studying yoga philosophy gives practices and concepts that can be applied within your asana practice.
Texts such as the Vijnana Bhairava and the Yoga Sutras offer techniques that can be used to create grounding during your yoga practice or that can serve as a central concept to consider when setting an intention.
Philosophy tidbit: In Tantrik philosophy there is a system of tattvas (defined as levels of reality). The physical realm is at the bottom of the chart, but contrary to being seen as the least important, it is viewed as the most complete, the only level of reality in which all levels of existence are fully expressed. (Tantra Illuminated, Wallis, 125).
2. It helps your state of mind
If there's one thing yoga philosophy highlights, its meditation and mental/spiritual wellbeing. You hardly to look farther than mainstream publications to find the benefits of meditation these days: increased attention span, equanimity, and mental longevity are some highlights.
Through reading yoga philosophy (and texts about yoga philosophy), you'll be able to learn more about how and why meditation works. As well, you'll be able to explore different approaches to meditation and discover which techniques resonate with you.
Philosophy tidbit: In the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali describes eight limbs of yoga practice, and four of those limbs are devoted toward meditation! This compares with only one limb dedicated to the physical practice of yoga.
3. It encourages a culturally sensitive yoga practice
As yoga practitioners, many of us seek to follow the concept of ahimsa (non harming) which is one of the yamas (self-regulated behaviors) offered in the Yoga Sutras. And, as modern people, we seek to create a society where each person and culture is respected.
As a yoga practitioner, you might notice that various aspects of Indian culture (particularly images from Hinduism) are commodified within yoga. Studying yoga philosophy helps ground our practice in a historical and cultural context that enables us to understand and respect where these practices come from.
Philosophy tidbit: "Modern yoga is the latest phase of a historical development that may be traced all the way back to Saiva Tantrik yoga." -Christopher Wallis in his book Tantra Illuminated