Yoga Day and Ashtanga Yoga In Hindu Philosophy

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Unveiling Connection Between Ashtanga Yoga and Yoga Day

Analysing Ashtanga Yoga on Yoga Day

Today, as we celebrate Yoga Day on June 21, 2024, HinduInfoPedia.org is excited to launch a new series exploring the detailed and profound teachings of the Patanjali Yoga Sutras. Commencing on this auspicious Yoga Day, our series dives into the deep roots of Ashtanga Yoga within Sanatan Dharma, and will continue every Monday. These sessions are dedicated to our theme of ‘Hindu Philosophy and Scriptures’, with each article thoroughly examining foundational texts like the Vedas, Upanishads, and Bhagavad Gita. This series aims to provide an enriched understanding of how these ancient doctrines influence and elevate the practice and philosophy of Ashtanga Yoga.

Sanatan Dharma, distinctly different from Abrahamic traditions, is not just a set of rules but a vast expanse of sciences and arts. It encompasses all aspects of life, providing a holistic approach that shepherds its practicenors through various life stages—from the household duties of a grihasthi, the renunciations of a sanyasi, to the reflective solitude of a vaanprasthi. Each path is intrinsically linked to the pursuit of Moksha, the ultimate liberation and union with the divine.

As the world joins together in celebrating Yoga Day, it is imperative to delve deeper into the core tenets of Sanatan Dharma that underpin the moral and ethical framework of Hindu philosophy, starting with the principle of Dharma.

Having set the stage with the broad and inclusive ideals of Sanatan Dharma, let us further explore its fundamental principles, commencing with Dharma, which serves as the ethical backbone of Hindu philosophy.

Core Principles of Sanatan Dharma

Dharma (Duty/Righteousness)

This fundamental principle represents moral and ethical duties essential for maintaining societal and cosmic harmony. Adherence to Dharma lays the groundwork for a life of righteousness and ethical conduct. It also refers to helping people and things around one.

Artha (Wealth/Prosperity)

Artha involves the pursuit of material well-being, essential for sustaining life and contributing positively to society. However, this pursuit is always to be conducted in accordance with Dharma, ensuring that the quest for material wealth does not lead to ethical compromises.

Kama (Desire)

The literal meaning of Kama is desire. It is more often taken as worldly pleasures which is a very narrow definition of the term. Kama signifies the legitimate desires to be fulfilled within the broad definition of Dharma. While the goal seeks to fulfill desires for worldly living, it also includes sensory pleasures but not this alone.

Moksha (Liberation)

The ultimate aim of Hindu philosophy, Moksha represents liberation from the cycle of birth and rebirth and the realization of one’s true self (Atman) in unity with the Supreme Reality (Brahman). The journey through Ashtanga Yoga is fundamentally geared towards this ultimate liberation, facilitating transcendence of the material and the ego.

Philosophies that Serve as Guides to Moksha

With the ultimate aim of Moksha clearly defined, it is pertinent to delve into the various philosophical systems within Sanatan Dharma that guide practitioners towards this supreme goal. In Sanatan Dharma, the ultimate aim for every practitioner is Moksha, the liberation from the cycle of birth and rebirth, and union with the divine. To achieve this transcendent state, several philosophical systems and spiritual practices have been established, providing diverse pathways that cater to different spiritual inclinations and practices. Here are some of the key philosophies and paths that lead to Moksha:

Sankhya Yoga

    • Sankhya, founded by the sage Kapila, is a dualistic philosophy that distinguishes between Purusha (consciousness) and Prakriti (matter). It teaches that liberation is achieved by gaining knowledge of the true nature of the self (Purusha) and its distinction from material existence (Prakriti).

Yoga (Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras)

    • Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras outline an eightfold path (Ashtanga Yoga) for achieving self-realization and liberation. This path includes ethical disciplines (yamas and niyamas), physical postures (asanas), breath control (pranayama), sensory withdrawal (pratyahara), concentration (dharana), meditation (dhyana), and ultimate absorption (samadhi).

Brahma Sutras

    • The Brahma Sutras, attributed to the sage Vyasa, systematize and summarize the philosophical teachings of the Upanishads. They provide a coherent framework for understanding the nature of Brahman, the ultimate reality, and the means of attaining Moksha through knowledge (Jnana).


    • Vedanta, particularly Advaita Vedanta, emphasizes the non-dual nature of reality. It teaches that the individual self (Atman) is identical with the ultimate reality (Brahman), and liberation is achieved through the realization of this unity. Key texts include the Upanishads, the Bhagavad Gita, and the Brahma Sutras.

Bhakti Yoga

    • Bhakti Yoga focuses on devotion and love for a personal deity. It emphasizes surrender and devotion to God as a means of attaining Moksha. The Bhagavad Gita and the Puranas are significant texts in this tradition.

Jnana Yoga

    • Jnana Yoga is the path of knowledge and wisdom. It involves the study of scriptures, self-inquiry, and meditation to realize the true nature of the self and its unity with Brahman. The teachings of Adi Shankaracharya and texts like the Upanishads play a crucial role in this path.

Ashtanga Yoga: A Comprehensive Path to Enlightenment in Sanatan Dharma

Introduction to Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras

Dating back to between 200 BCE and 200 CE, the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali are foundational to the philosophical and practical understanding of Yoga. This ancient text is revered for its systematic approach to achieving spiritual liberation, methodically organized into four chapters. These chapters cover a broad spectrum of practices, from ethical principles (Yamas and Niyamas) and physical postures (Asanas) to breath control (Pranayama) and stages of meditative absorption (Dhyana and Samadhi). Patanjali’s teachings integrate various philosophical doctrines, such as Sankhya and Vedanta, providing a holistic guide for those seeking enlightenment.

Patanjali Yoga Sutra: A Path to Salvation

Within Sanatan Dharma, the Patanjali Yoga Sutra holds a special place of reverence. While recent Western adaptations have popularized its physical aspects, emphasizing the health benefits of yogic exercises, these represent merely a fraction of the sutra’s broader teachings. The core of the Patanjali Yoga Sutra is its profound path to Moksha, which emphasizes a spiritual journey transcending mere physical well-being.

Having explored the detailed teachings of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, we now reflect on the broader implications of yoga beyond its physical practice to its profound spiritual and philosophical contributions to Hindu thought.

Yoga: More Than Physical Well-being

Yoga, a profound treasure of ancient wisdom, extends beyond the physical benefits frequently celebrated in today’s fitness-focused culture. Deeply rooted in Hindu philosophy, yoga serves as a comprehensive path to enlightenment, integrating physical, mental, and spiritual dimensions of life. As we observe International Yoga Day, it’s crucial to explore the spiritual depths of this practice, particularly through the significant contributions of Maharishi Patanjali and his Yoga Sutras.

The Philosophical and Spiritual Dimensions of Yoga

In the tradition of Sanatan Dharma, yoga is not merely a physical regimen but a Vedic science. This holistic system is meticulously designed to guide an individual’s journey towards self-realization and ultimate liberation (Moksha). Ashtanga Yoga, or the eight-limbed path, exemplifies this profound approach. It begins with ethical disciplines and progresses through stages that culminate in samadhi—the complete absorption and a state of union with the divine.

Yoga as a Holistic Spiritual Discipline

Ashtanga Yoga, as outlined by Patanjali, provides a holistic framework for spiritual growth. By integrating ethical living, physical discipline, breath mastery, and meditative focus, it addresses all facets of human existence, aligning them towards the goal of Moksha. This path not only enhances physical health but also promotes mental clarity and emotional stability, ultimately leading to a profound understanding of one’s true self and the universe.

By embracing the teachings of the Yoga Sutras, practitioners can embark on a transformative journey that transcends the limitations of the physical body and the fleeting nature of worldly experiences, guiding them towards a timeless state of peace and spiritual fulfillment. On this International Yoga Day, let’s reflect on the deeper meanings of Ashtanga Yoga and its pivotal role in guiding practitioners on their paths to salvation within the profound and eternal framework of Sanatan Dharma.

Ashtanga Yoga, Hindu Philosophy, and Foundations of Sanatan Dharma

Essence of Ashtanga Yoga in Sanatan Dharma

Within the rich tapestry of Vedic sciences that define Sanatan Dharma, Ashtanga Yoga stands out as a core discipline. As mentioned earlier it transcends the common Western conception of yoga as merely a physical exercise. In the context of Sanatan Dharma, Ashtanga Yoga is recognized as a rigorous scientific discipline that probes the depths of the physical, mental, and spiritual realms. This comprehensive approach is beginning to be acknowledged by modern science for its profound insights and effective methodologies.

Integrating Ashtanga Yoga into Hindu Philosophy

Ashtanga Yoga is woven seamlessly into the fabric of Hindu philosophy, providing a practical pathway to achieve the Purusharthas, which focus on living a balanced life that ultimately leads to Moksha (liberation). This path skillfully harmonizes the physical, mental, and spiritual dimensions of life, guiding practitioners toward a purposeful existence. The practice of Ashtanga Yoga includes:

  1. Yamas: It consists of ethical precepts meant to guide the practitioner’s moral standards and conduct, serving as the foundation for personal and social behavior. This refers to practicing these principles: Ahimsa (Non-violence), Satya (Truthfulness), Asteya (Non-stealing), Brahmacharya (Celibacy or Right use of energy), Aparigraha (Non-possessiveness)
  2. Niyamas: It deals with the second set of personal observances or disciplines that foster spiritual and personal growth. They include: Saucha (Purity), Santosha (Contentment), Tapas (Austerity or Self-discipline), Svadhyaya (Study of the Self and Scriptures), Ishvara Pranidhana (Surrender to a higher power),
  3. Asanas: Physical postures that enhance bodily strength, flexibility, and stability.
  4. Pranayama: Breath control exercises that help regulate the energy within the body.
  5. Pratyahara: Withdrawal of the senses, allowing for greater internal focus.
  6. Dharana: Concentration, the ability to focus on a single point or idea.
  7. Dhyana: Meditation, a deeper state of concentration that prepares the mind for enlightenment.
  8. Samadhi: The ultimate stage of Ashtanga Yoga, a state of superconsciousness and union with the divine.

These practices work together to purify the body and mind, setting the stage for deep spiritual growth and the realization of one’s intrinsic divine nature.

Ashtanga Yoga: More Than Physical Well-being

In summary, Ashtanga Yoga serves as a cornerstone of Vedic science within Sanatan Dharma, offering benefits that extend beyond mere physical or mental health. It represents a holistic approach to spiritual awakening, closely aligned with the enduring philosophical goals of Hinduism. This profound integration of yoga with Hindu philosophy not only enriches the spiritual journey of practitioners but also aligns with scientific principles increasingly recognized by modern disciplines.

Interpreting Yoga: From Physical Exercise to Spiritual Discipline on Yoga Day

In today’s global culture, Yoga often evokes images of asanas practiced for physical fitness, flexibility, and stress relief. This modern view, propelled by the worldwide yoga movement, predominantly showcases yoga as a form of physical exercise and wellness regimen. However, on this International Yoga Day, it’s crucial to recognize that such a perspective only scratches the surface of yoga’s profound depths. Maharishi Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras describe yoga as a discipline aimed fundamentally at achieving self-realization and Moksha—liberation from the material confines that tether the human spirit. This comprehensive view transcends the physical, ushering practitioners into realms of deep spiritual growth and enlightenment. Patanjali’s insights illuminate yoga’s true essence and its potential, rooted in the venerable wisdom of Sanatan Dharma.

By adopting this broader perspective, practitioners are encouraged to delve beyond yoga’s physical benefits and explore its spiritual dimensions. Such a journey does more than transform the individual; it contributes to fostering a more harmonious and enlightened society.

Reflections on Yoga Day: Embracing Ashtanga Yoga’s Path to Enlightenment

As we commemorate International Yoga Day, it’s pertinent to reflect on the rich tradition of Ashtanga Yoga, a practice deeply embedded in the philosophical grounds of Sanatan Dharma. Ashtanga Yoga offers more than just a regimen; it is a holistic path to spiritual enlightenment, weaving together the physical, mental, and spiritual facets of practice. By engaging with the eight limbs of yoga, practitioners embark on a transformative journey that leads to profound personal changes and a deeper connection with the divine.

Today, as we embrace the teachings of Ashtanga Yoga, we are reminded of the profound impact this ancient practice has on our journey toward inner peace and spiritual fulfillment. Let us use this Yoga Day to recommit to incorporating the deeper spiritual essence of yoga into our daily lives, acknowledging its powerful role in guiding us towards serenity and enlightenment within the eternal doctrine of Sanatan Dharma.

Join us in the future blogs starting with this, that will continue to dwell on the Patanjali Yoga Sutras.

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Glossary of Terms

  1. Sanatan Dharma (सनातन धर्म) – Derived from “Sanatan” meaning eternal or ageless, and “Dharma,” often translated as duty, righteousness, or law. Sanatan Dharma refers to the timeless spiritual truths and traditions that constitute Hinduism.
  2. Grihasthi (गृहस्थ) – From “griha” meaning home and “asti” meaning there is, Grihasthi refers to the householder stage, one of the four ashramas (stages of life) in Hindu tradition, emphasizing familial and societal responsibilities.
  3. Sanyasi (संन्यासी) – Originating from “sam” meaning complete, and “nyasa” meaning renunciation, Sanyasi refers to one who has renounced worldly and material pursuits for spiritual growth. “Nyasa” also mean establishment. Thus Sanyasi means where the establishment is complete or where nothing else remains to be achieved or attempted for.
  4. Vaanprasthi (वानप्रस्थ) – From “van” meaning forest and “prastha” meaning going to, it refers to the stage of life where an individual withdraws from worldly life to live a hermit-like existence focusing on spiritual matters.
  5. Moksha (मोक्ष) – From the root “muc” meaning to release, Moksha represents the liberation from the cycle of birth and rebirth (samsara), and the realization of the soul’s unity with the ultimate reality.
  6. Dharma (धर्म) – Deriving from “dhr” meaning to hold or maintain, Dharma refers to the behaviors and actions considered necessary to uphold the order and harmony in the universe.
  7. Artha (अर्थ) – From “ṛ,” meaning to attain, Artha pertains to material prosperity and wealth, considered necessary for a well-balanced life and fulfillment of duties.
  8. Kama (काम) – From “kam” meaning desire, Kama represents the pursuit of pleasure and enjoyment within the ethical boundaries set by Dharma.
  9. Brahma Sutras (ब्रह्म सूत्र) – Composed of “Brahma,” referring to the ultimate reality, and “Sutras,” meaning aphorisms, these texts summarize and interpret the teachings of the Upanishads, providing a philosophical foundation for Vedanta.
  10. Sankhya Yoga (सांख्य योग) – “Sankhya,” meaning number or discernment, combined with “Yoga,” meaning union, refers to the philosophical system that differentiates between consciousness (Purusha) and matter (Prakriti) as a means to achieve liberation.
  11. Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras (पतंजलि योग सूत्र) – Named after the sage Patanjali, these texts detail the eightfold path of Ashtanga Yoga, aimed at mastering the mind and achieving spiritual liberation.
  12. Vedanta (वेदान्त) – From “Veda,” meaning knowledge, and “Anta,” meaning end, Vedanta refers to the philosophy derived from the final sections of the Vedas that discuss the nature of reality and the self.
  13. Advaita Vedanta (अद्वैत वेदांत) – “Advaita” meaning non-dual, this school of Vedanta preaches the essential unity of the individual soul (Atman) and the ultimate reality (Brahman).
  14. Bhakti Yoga (भक्ति योग) – “Bhakti” meaning devotion, Bhakti Yoga emphasizes love and devotion towards a personal deity as a path to achieve Moksha.
  15. Jnana Yoga (ज्ञान योग) – From “Jnana,” meaning knowledge, this path involves deep contemplation and understanding of the self and reality to attain spiritual liberation.
  16. Ashtanga Yoga (अष्टांग योग) – “Ashtanga” from “ashta” meaning eight and “anga” meaning limb, referring to the eightfold path of Yoga as outlined by Patanjali that guides the practitioner from moral codes to the peak of divine union.
  17. Yamas and Niyamas (यम और नियम) – Yamas (restraints) and Niyamas (observances) are ethical precepts that form the first two limbs of Ashtanga Yoga, guiding moral conduct and personal discipline.
  18. Asanas (आसन) – Derived from the root “as,” which means to sit, Asanas refer to the various physical postures practiced in yoga that help improve strength, flexibility, and balance, facilitating physical and mental well-being.
  19. Pranayama (प्राणायाम) – From “prana” meaning life force or vital energy, and “ayama” meaning extension or control, Pranayama involves breath control exercises that are believed to vitalize the body and focus the mind.
  20. Pratyahara (प्रत्याहार) – Derived from “prati” meaning against or away and “ahara” meaning food or anything taken in, it refers to the withdrawal of the senses from external objects to help focus the mind inwardly.
  21. Dharana (धारणा) – Coming from “dhri” which means to hold or maintain, Dharana involves concentration or the practice of focusing one’s mind on a single point, thought, or object, which is a preparatory stage for meditation.
  22. Dhyana (ध्यान) – Derived from the root “dhyai” meaning to contemplate or meditate, Dhyana is the practice of uninterrupted meditation where the individual is absorbed in the state of deep contemplation of the divine or the true nature of reality.
  23. Samadhi (समाधि) – From “sam-a-dha,” meaning to collect or bring together, Samadhi refers to the ultimate stage of meditation, where the practitioner experiences a state of superconsciousness or complete absorption in the divine, transcending the self.

To learn more about Patanjali Yoga Sutra, please click here to download the interpretation by Swami Vivekananda.

To download the book from Gita Press click here.

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