Yoga Philosophy

What is yoga? There are as many definitions of Yoga as there are lineages, schools and traditions. What is important is what Yoga means to you. As you continue to practice Yoga your personal definition will grow and expand as Yoga offers us so much throughout our life time.

Yoga Lila and Rebekah Abhaya are rooted within the lineage of Swami Sivananda and Vedanta. Swami Sivananda is one of the great Yoga masters of the 20th century and is the inspiration behind the Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Centres. The teachings of Swami Sivananda can be summarised in these six words:

Serve, Love, Give, Purify, Meditate, Realise

In 1957 Swami Sivananda sent his devoted disciple Swami Vishnudevananda to the west where he established the International Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Centres. Throughout his whole life Swami Vishnudevananda was deeply concerned about the well-being of the world and he became known as the ‘Flying Swami’ after flying over troubled areas in his small plane, throwing flowers and pamphlets about peace.

Swami Vishnudevananda managed to succinctly and concisely present yoga psychology for the western mind in his 5 points of yoga:

The Five Points of Yoga

Proper Exercise
Proper Breathing
Proper Relaxation
Proper Diet
Positive Thinking and Meditation

If, like me, you are curious to delve deeper into the wonders of Yogic philosophy here is a little more about one of Swami Sivanandas key teachings, the 4 paths of Yoga.

The Four Paths of Yoga

One of Swami Sivananda’s key teachings was the idea of creating a Yoga synthesis through the four key paths of yoga creating balance and harmony within the individual and assisting them on their journey to realisation. The four paths of Yoga can be briefly described as follows:


Raja yoga is the scientific, step by step approach to yoga. Systematically the mind is analysed. Techniques are applied to bring it under control and to achieve higher states of consciousness. “yogas chitta vritti nirodha”. The mind is controlled and the thought waves completely stilled so that one can enter into deep meditation and by the grace of the divine one enters Samadhi were one merges with pure conciousness ceasing to experience duality. In the sub-paths of raja yoga Hatha the prana, subtle energy is mastered first and then the mind comes under control automatically. Raja yoga was compiled by Patanjali Maharishi (Yoga Sutras) and can also be known as ashtanga yoga due to its 8 limbs. The 8 limbs are as follow;


Ahimsa – Reverence, love and compassion for all.

Satya – Truth and integrity.

Bramacharya – Balance and moderation.

Asteya – Generosity and honesty.

Aparigrapha – Awareness of abundance and the blessings of life.


Saucha – purity/ cleanliness external and internal (Body and mind)

Santosha – Contentment, peace in all circumstances, free from likes and dislikes.

Tapas – Discipline to cleanse the mind and body and develop will power.

Swadhyaya – study of spiritual scripture and of the mind.

Ishwara prandidhana – worship of Ishwara, surrender of the ego.

  • Together the yamas and niyamas the mind is uplifted and purified for deep meditation.

3. ASANA – Sitting. Asanas still the mind and help us to sit for longer in preparation for meditation

4. PRANAYAMA – We learn to expand our prana through control of the breath which progressively becomes more subtle.

5. PRATYAHARA – The mind is stilled by withdrawing the senses from the external world to the internal.


  • The next 3 stages of Raja yoga become very subtle.

6. DHRANA – Concentrating the mind on an external object or an internal idea (usually the divine) to the exclusion of other thoughts.

7. DHYANA – Meditation is defined as a relaxed un-broken flow of thought towards the divine to the exclusion of other sensual perception.

8. SAMADHI – Samadhi the super conscious state of realisation, Samadhi is beyond ordinary sensory experience as well as time, space and causation.


This path involves the dedication of all work as an offering to the divine, with no thought of personal reward. A Karma yogi attempts to see the divine dwelling in all living beings. By renouncing the fruits of one’s action, the action becomes unselfish. By renouncing our personal desires and needs and serving others, (human, animal and nature) the heart is expanded, egoism destroyed and oneness realised. Karma yoga can be practised at all times, under any conditions as long as there is the desire to do selfless service (in the workplace, at home, in the community etc.)


Bhakti Yoga is the devotional approach to yoga, the approach of pure love. The bhakta does not try to rid herself of emotions as in Raja yoga, but seeks to channel and harness these emotions by sublimating them into devotion. Bhakti yoga is beyond the mind and thoughts it is of the heart and intuition. The aspirant attempts to realise the truth of existence – oneness – by devotion to the divine. In this personalised relationship to the divine, God is Ishwara – the Ishta Deveta (meaning ‘choice of God’). Bhakti yoga rids the aspirant of egocentricity by developing humility, self -surrender and the feeling of being an instrument in the hands of the Divine. The divine is not external, devotional practices are a means to an end to connect to the Divine.


Jnana Yoga is the intellectual approach to spiritual evolution. Jnana means wisdom. Jnana yoga leads to realisation through thinking rather than stilling the thought waves as in Raja yoga. Through right enquiry (vichara) and constant self analysis (viveka – discrimination) the mind is used to examine its own nature. The question is asked ‘Who am I?’ Jnana Yoga employs different methods of self enquiry but its main tool is Vedanta philosophy. Through the study of Vedanta philosophy the jnani learns to discriminate between what is real (infinite) and what is unreal (finite). The basis of Vedanta philosophy is:

“Brahman is real.
The universe is unreal.
Brahman and Atman are one.”
– Shankaracharya