Yoga Philosophy For Beginners

Besides yoga postures and anatomy, philosophy forms one of the most important pieces of yoga certification. The principles of yoga philosophy, according to many teachers, adds depth and dimension to asana teaching.

For most aspiring yoga teachers, a teacher training could be their first exposure to the philosophy of yoga and the fundamentals of yoga theory. For beginners these can be challenging to wrap their head around, being deep, vast and immersive.


Yoga certifications can be focused on specific philosophies, such as Kundalini, Tantra, Yoga Therapy or Sadhana. In this case, the philosophy portion of the  training may be focused only on that. On another course, a teacher may explore a range of different philosophies, gaining an understanding of each.

Here are my thoughts as to which standard topics and texts should be covered on the first stage of education for all of us.

1. Origin and evolution of yoga

It’s good to begin at the beginning (makes sense), and learn about the background of yoga. Many people perceive yoga as part of Hinduism. One of the advantages of properly understanding the history of yoga is that one begins to realise that yoga is a philosophy and lifestyle, not a religion.

It is also good to get to know the life stories of some yogis, both ancient and modern in the process, as well as some influential yogic texts for further study.

2. Bhagavadgita

Bhagavadgita is one of the most influential yogic texts of all time. Philosophically, it marks one of the important milestones in the evolution of yoga, and how yoga came to be perceived.

From a practical viewpoint, Bhagavadgita presents life comprehensively. It deals with the important question of how to find your place in the world, while also staying focused on your spiritual growth. Many great thinkers and great souls such as Mahatma Gandhi, Henry David Thoreau and Nicola Tesla were influenced by Bhagavadgita.

3. Yoga sutras of Patanjali

I recommend studying yoga sutras after Bhagavadgita. There are two main reasons for this; firstly, Bhagavadgita came before the yoga sutras. Secondly, some of the principles taught in yoga sutras flow directly from Bhavadgita.

Yoga sutras is focused on spiritual practices, while Bhavadgita deals with life at large. To start with the general and then move to the particulars is the natural flow of things. So, ideally Bhagavadgita first and yoga sutras second.

4. Subtle Anatomy

Having understood the general philosophical foundation of yoga, it’s time to get into the details. The five Koshas including the Nadis, Kundalini Energy and subtle energy centres of the body (Chakras) and Chakra balancing are the focus of study here.

5. Sanskrit

There’s a general debate amongst the yoga community if studying Sanskrit is a ‘must’ to teach yoga. The majority of practitioners and teachers seem to agree that yoga teaching feels more authentic when taught in Sanskrit, the language of yoga. An added advantage of studying a little bit of Sanskrit is that Bhakti Yoga, Mantra chanting and Kirtan become more accessible to you.

6. Bhakti Yoga

Bhakti yoga is gaining a lot of popularity in the yoga community these days. Bhakti yoga is a heart-based approach to yoga. Kirtan and Mantra chanting events are on the rise, and studying a little about Mantras and Bhakti yoga brings in the necessary balance between the head and the heart.

Narada Bhakti Sutras is a popular part of this topic. Some important Mantras to learn are the opening and closing chants (if any) of one’s tradition, Gayatri Mantra (the Mantra of universal light), and peace chants such as ’Saha Navavatu’.

These are my thoughts – what are yours?

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Ram Vakkalanka

A Philosophy teacher Ram Vakkalanka is a Sanskrit expert, Yoga philosopher, Sitar artist, Kirtan singer, Key note speaker and Meditation instructor. Ram shares his deep knowledge of Sanskrit, Vedic sciences and philosophy, Nada Yoga, Kirtan and Meditation thru workshops, webinars, one-on-one sessions, lectures and talks as well as preservative media. Nine CDs and one DVD of Ram’s works have been released so far, with a book on its way. Ram travels in Canada, India, US, UK and Thailand, touching the lives of many people thru his teachings. Ram’s writings are published in print and on-line and his talks are broadcast on Radio and TV. Toronto Yoga Conference and Show, Montreal Chant Festival, Global Mala Festival and Ananda Festival are some of the forums where audiences were enthralled by him.