What Is Yoga: Origin, Principles and Philosophy

Yoga is an ancient practice having its origins in India. It dates back centuries ago and through time has seen some transformations, modifications, various schools have arisen, and many new followers joined.

The beginning of it is hard to trace and questionable due to the teachings being transmitted from mouth to mouth. The sacred texts have not been for all ears to hear and little has been transcribed on fragile palm leaves that did not survive the ravage of time.

No matter this, yoga lies on the foundations of solid principles that all schools, teachers, and yogis, try to stick to and follow. The five principles include the body and the mind with guidance for proper exercise (through Asanas), breathing techniques (Pranayama), relaxation methods (Savasana), healthy eating habits (through proper nutrition), and positivity in the thoughts (achieved through regular meditation).

Yoga is so broad in its teachings – it’s hard to be categorized and goes beyond the limitations of just one category. It’s a philosophy since it preaches a proper way of living for various areas of life. It’s unquestionably a practice for physical well-being as well as emotional and spiritual because it challenges the limitations of our body strength and mobility, and the flexibility of the mind.

And last but not least, yoga is a tradition as old as time directed towards the unity of the mind, body, and soul. Mindfulness and presence in the current moment foster this unity and build spiritual strength through patience, acceptance, and letting go.

Origin of Yoga


Yoga has its roots many centuries ago in ancient India and has originally started as a spiritual rather than physical practice. It evolves around uniting mind and body into a balanced state of presence. This is deeply pledged into the denotation of the word “yoga”, which is derived from the Sanskrit root “Yuj”, meaning “to join”, “to yoke”, “to unite”.

In the Yogis scriptures, it’s written that the essence of practicing yoga is uniting the mind and body of man, and uniting him with nature. That is achieved through the harmony of one’s existence and is a way of living, rather than a 2-hour a day exception of the routine. The ancients believed in connecting the Universal Consciousness with Individual Consciousness by slowing the pace down, silencing the mind, and focusing on the present moment.

According to Google Arts & Culture, the word “Yoga” was first mentioned in an ancient sacred text dating back 5,000 years ago in India, called Rig Veda. The Vedas are a set of four sacred canonical texts of Hinduism written in Sanskrit. The earliest of them is the Rig Veda whose first layers are the oldest extant texts in any Indo-European language. It consists of over a thousand hymns and mantras in ten chapters known as mandalas. Those were used by the Vedic priests to praise deities and discuss cosmic, philosophical, metaphysical, or speculative questions like the origin of the Universe, human virtues such as charity, and the like.

History of Yoga


Yoga is believed to have its initiation with the very dawn of civilization. It precedes any other religion or belief system, having its roots thousands of years ago. The first yogi to have ever existed is Shiva. He is the Lord of Yogis, the Adiyogi, the First Guru, or Adi Guru.

Pre-Vedic (3000-1700 BCE) and Vedic Period (1700-500 BCE)


According to the legend, Shiva attained his full enlightenment and abandoned the world in an intense ecstatic dance in the Himalayas. When his ecstasy allowed him some movement, he indulged in wild dances. When it came beyond movement, he became utterly still. His profound knowledge was obvious to other people, who realized that he was experiencing something unknown to anyone before. They were intrigued by it and came from all around to witness his out-of-this-world dance or absolute stillness. He, however, was oblivious of their presence, not caring of anything happening around him.

People came and go, losing interest or hope he will pay any attention to them. Except for seven men, who stayed and waited and pleaded and begged him to share his knowledge with them. He tried to chase them away, saying they were not prepared. But they stayed. And started preparing for eighty-four years when Shiva looked at them and saw they were ready – ripe to receive.

The seven sages – Saptarishis, carried the powerful yogic science to different parts of the world, including Asia, Middle East, Northern Africa, and South America. Scientists have marveled at the similarities found in the different ancient cultures across the globe. The presence of Yoga in ancient India is evident from seals and fossil remains of the Indus Saraswati civilization. It is seen in folk traditions, Buddhist and Jain traditions, and many more.

Preclassical Era (500 BC – 200 AD)


During this period systematic yoga concepts began to emerge in other religions and worshippers, such as the early Buddhist texts and the middle Upanishads. The first describes yogic and mediative practices and, according to Karel Werner: “…[act for] the first systematic and comprehensive or even integral school of Yoga practice..”. In the latter is the first known appearance of the word “yoga” with the same connotation as the modern term. During the time those were written, the idea of sacrifice transformed into the idea of sacrificing the ego for greater self-knowledge and wisdom.

Classical Era (200 – 500 AD)


This is unquestionably the most fertile period in the history of yoga. During this time, coherent systems of yoga began to emerge. Various traditions gave birth to new texts discussing and systematically compiling yoga methods and practices. One of the best-known early expressions of yoga thought is the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. They are most famous for defining an Ashtanga or “Eight-Limbed” Yoga, – those are principles for yogis to follow in living life the proper way. They include moral rules such as truthfulness and nonstealing, physical challenge through asanas, breathing, concentration, meditation, and more.

Middle Ages (500 – 1500 AD)


This period is most prominent for the emergence of the so-popular Hatha Yoga. Many other satellite traditions, however, developed in those times, including the Hindu Tantra. It is an esoteric theory, system, technique, practice, or ritualistic religion. It’s hard to define Tantrism since it’s not a coherent system, but overall it is a quest for salvation or spiritual excellence by realizing and fostering the divine within one’s own body, one that is the simultaneous union of the masculine-feminine and spirit-matter with the final goal of reaching a primal blissful state of non-duality.

Modern Era (1700 – 1900 AD)

yoga-history-modern-era-Vivekananda-Krishnamacharya-dynamic-asana- practice-s Ashtanga-intensive- strength-building-power-yoga-vinyasa-flow

In later years, yoga was introduced to the rest of the world by the translation of the Bhagavad Gita (“The Song of God”) in English. This initiated a global interest in yoga and during this period its concepts and teachings reach various parts of the world through the prominent activity of some key figures.

The most famous of them is Swami Vivekananda, a Hindu monk, who brought yoga and the knowledge of the Vedas to the Western world. He went to America at the beginning of the 19th century. He brought the Eastern teachings and concentrated on breathing, concentration, and relaxation techniques rather than asanas and physical activities.

Another prominent name in this period is the promoter of Hatha yoga both in the West and in the East – T. Krishnamacharya. He established the first Hatha yoga school in Mysore in 1924. His influence on yoga the way we know it today is major – mainly in regards to it as a physical practice.

Krishnamacharya was the first to the actual needs of the time. His yoga style was developed back in Tibet, blending elements of Hatha yoga, British military training exercises, and southwest Indian gymnastics/wrestling.

Later on, that led to the birth of a dynamic asana practice now known as Ashtanga. His teachings have been very influential to the creation of other intensive and strength-building practices, such as Vinyasa and Power Yoga.

The 5 Principles of Yoga


Yoga lies on very stable foundations focused on bringing together the body, mind, and soul into an inseparable unity. That is achieved by following 5 major principles in one’s everyday life.

The body is perceived as a temple for the temporary physical presence on Earth. Hence, looking after it and taking good care of its state by regularly moving, exercising, and carefully choosing the food we feed it, is so important.

The mind is in a constant process of working, perceiving, analyzing, planning, thus expending huge amounts of energy and exhausting the available reservoir. Being the driving power of life, it, too, needs special care to function properly. Thus the need for taking a moment to stop, breathe and relax to recharge our batteries.

The soul is the intangible force, connecting the physical to the Universal, transcending the human presence beyond the boundaries of Earth. It is the link to the Greater Outer World of the Unknown. Mystical as it is and far from being explored, it requires unique attention and care. All efforts aimed at balancing the body and mind are said to result positively in our spiritual self.

Following are the 5 principles of yoga, examined and explained in detail. Read on to familiarize yourself, how to achieve a better life by drawing from the wisdom of the ancient yogi.

1. Proper Exercises (Asanas)

yoga-principles-way-of-life-regular-proper-exercise-asanas-massaging- internal-organs- stretching-toning-muscles-ligaments-enhancing- flexibility-spine-joints

A very common misconception about the physical dimensions of yoga, is the understanding of it, being a stretching practice for increasing flexibility only. While this is indeed a result of regularly performing asanas (the different yoga poses), the benefits to the body are many more. For one, the yoga routine provides a full cardiac workout and increases aerobic stamina.

Poses and sequences are built to provide the so-called proper exercise, which is the first foundation principle of yoga. This is achieved by massaging the internal organs, stretching and toning the muscles and ligaments, and enhancing the flexibility of the spine and joints. As a result, blood circulation is greatly improved, thus guaranteeing a better transfer of vital ingredients throughout the whole body.

The best thing about yoga, and any other proper training regime for that matter, is that it can be modified according to the physical preparedness, skills, and endurance of the practitioner. By performing postures in a variety of ways and using aiding tools (such as blocks, straps, belts, etc.) whenever needed to assist in carrying them out the right way, people of different physical abilities are enabled to practice safely.

2. Proper Breathing (Pranayama)


The most essential element of every yoga practice is the breath. It is believed to be the bridge between the physical body and the mind, thus all revolves around keeping it in a steady and rhythmic state. In yoga, it is called prana, or vital energy that animated matter and is present in all living things, including ourselves.

If you have attended a single yoga class before, you have noticed how many times will the instructor remind you not to forget to breathe and to even stop for a moment to catch it back and normalize it, if needed.

Breathing correctly in yoga requires you to breathe deeply, slowly, fully, and rhythmically, actively employing your entire lung capacity in order to maximize your intake of oxygen. The focus should always be on inhaling and exhaling through the nose, and the retention of air in your lungs – those are the pauses between each breath.

Another very important aspect of regulating the flow of Prana (i.e. the life force) is being aware of the position of the upper torso – ensuring the ribs are lifted up and outwards and the chest is open. When performing the Asanas, every single move should be connected to the movements of the diaphragm.

3. Proper Relaxation (Savasana)


The second most popular association with yoga is that it is a method for achieving relaxation and calmness. This, indeed, is a grounding pillar of the yoga philosophy that teaches its followers to frequently take a moment to stop, breathe, and relax.

The constant ongoing and neverending rush of the surrounding world infuses a tremendous amount of stress into the body and mind. If we don’t remember to slow down the pace and strive for balance, this can lead to physical and mental health issues.

Yoga understands relaxation as the state of minimum energy consumption by the body at the lowest possible amount required for its existence. That is achieved through Savasana (i.e. the Corpse Pose), where the body lies on the ground, fully awake and fully relaxed, with eyes closed and breathing naturally. Even though this seems easy as walking in the park, it actually is pretty challenging as it requires the calmness of the mind.

Thoughts will come and need to be let go. Our thinking never ends so the trick is to observe them without engagement. One could say that Savasana is the ultimate act of conscious surrender.

4. Proper Nutrition (Balanced Diet)


Food intake is just as defining for the state of the body as ensuring regular movement and exercise. Choosing a balanced diet and sticking to it is the fourth principle of yoga. It is a way of life, not a temporary solution to losing weight or getting into shape. Thus, this is not a torturing experience for the yogis but part of their philosophy.

Proper nutrition is a diet of fresh fruit and vegetables, dairy products, and nuts and pulses. The general rules yogis follow are:

  • eating in moderation only when hungry,
  • taking time to chew food properly,
  • eating at set times each day,
  • minimizing fluid intake at meals,
  • and generally having a positive attitude to food and its preparation.

Food is perceived as a necessity and is done to keep us alive and healthy. Therefore making eating habitual by setting fixed time for each meal, and only to sate the hunger, does not allow for indulgence into gluttony. Nevertheless, food is life, and its flavors delicious, thus getting enjoyment out of eating brings happiness and should not be undervalued.

5. Positivity in Thoughts (Meditation)


Being happy is the ultimate goal of life, as per hedonists’ beliefs and yogis strongly support that idea. Happiness is experienced in the current moment. Of course, we can keep dearly the memory of a happy moment in the past, or make plans and hope for more happiness in the future, but the real and authentic euphoric emotion can only be experienced in the here and now. Thus meditation and positivity in thoughts all together are perceived as the way to achieve the fifth principle of yoga – sustaining mental wellbeing.

Yoga practitioners use meditation and relaxation techniques to consciously clear the mind of negative thoughts and emotions. A common practice included in meditation sessions is the employment of positive affirmations to bolster self-esteem, hope, and the power of spirit.

The main purpose of putting negative thinking and emotions to one side is to enable us to see and concentrate on our strengths and weaknesses more realistically. That is in contradiction to the tendency of getting absorbed by fear, loss, low self-esteem, etc.

Staying present and grounded is the essence of mindfulness – one of the most popular types of meditating. However, all are aimed at reaching a state of psychological harmony and serenity.

Philosophy of Yoga


By now, you should already know that Yoga is a lot more than just physical training or a meditative approach. Yoga is a way of life, philosophy about the tangible material world, and the unknown universal realm. It gives guidance to those who seek.

Yoga philosophy is one of the six major orthodox schools of Hinduism, closely related to the Samkhya school. At its center lies the concept of the inseparable unity of body, mind, and spirit. The Yoga school of Hinduism, often being referred to simply as Yoga in modern times, systematically studies the betterment of the self physically, mentally, and spiritually.

Yoga content a multitude of philosophical teachings aimed at reaching deeper dimensions of the above-mentioned holy trinity. It is built on the same dualist foundations where the Universe is conceptualized as composed of two realities: Puruṣa (consciousness) and Prakriti (matter). The first is the pure consciousness – the realm of thoughts and qualities; while the latter is the empirical realm of matter, but also the mind, the sensory organs, but also the sense of identity (self, soul). Jiva (a living being) is seen as the state of bondage between those two, taking various forms, permutations, and combinations of different elements, senses, feelings, activity, and mind. At the end of this bondage is the absolute liberation, called Moksha.

Yogis believe that ignoring the spiritual creates suffering, and one needs to take the paths to remove it, which are many. There are 4 fundamental strives to help us achieve that – for mental discernment, detachment, spiritual knowledge, and self-awareness. The sacral texts of Patanjali state that all limbs of yoga are a necessary foundation to reaching the state of self-awareness, freedom, and liberation. He talks about the three limbs of Yoga, called sanyama, which are a technique for the “discerning principle” and mastery of citta (consciousness) and self-knowledge. This leads to recognizing the difference between sabda (word), artha (meaning), and pratyaya (understanding). Reaching the state of sanyama gives the yogi unusual powers, intuition, self-knowledge, and freedoms.

The ultimate goal of Yoga is the sustained state of pure awareness (i.e. Moksha or Samadhi). That is the transcendence of the self (the ego) to the realization of “true self” and “higher self”. However strange and distant this state of pure consciousness may sound, it actually is our true natural state, long forgotten and left hidden behind the illusional everyday reality of goals, ambitions, and constant rush after material things and experiences.

Yoga as a Practice


So far, we explained the history behind what Yoga is, where it has its roots, and how were the foundations laid. We covered briefly how the world is perceived by the Yogis and what rules they follow in living their lives – both physical and spiritual. If you are already hooked and identify yourself in the lines above, we are here to help you begin your exciting journey of internal and external discovery of serenity, happiness, and unity.

Yoga is referred to as practice, not by accident or randomly. The ingredient without which nothing of what we talked about would be possible, is consistency. It is by no question the most important element for achieving the goals of Yoga, or of any other given goal for that matter.

Doing Yoga is a process – a journey without an end destination. There is always room for improvement – be it going deeper into a given pose, holding longer, mastering balance, breathing naturally and deeply, silencing and restraining the mind, etc.

Conditions are dynamic and in constant move and nothing ever stays the same. No practice is equivalent to the ones before or after it. There are days when the body is more stiff than usual, or the mind is restless. Sometimes we struggle in balancing poses, while other times we simply freeze in them.

Going on the mat every single time poses a different challenge for our body, mind, and soul. That’s why at the beginning of each session we sit quiet and calm, getting ready to practice, and we think of an affirmation, a dedication of the upcoming physical, mental, and spiritual efforts.

The process of consistently dedicating time to return to the yoga mat and focusing on overcoming physical and mental difficulties, pushing through limitations, challenging believes and habits is why yoga is a practice rather than training or exercise.

Traditions of Yoga


As with everything else in the modern world, where all is connected and has traveled far from its initial spot of origin, Yoga has reached distant places and been transformed by various sources of influence. It is so colorful and variant that some classes differ immensely from others.

Practices nowadays focus mostly on the physical aspects of yoga in pursuit of the ideal body type. This is far from the roots of the teaching, where the main goal was finding peace, balance, humility, patience, and connection to a greater internal power. Mantras, the Om, breathing techniques, pranayama, and the intentions of finding inner pеаce have given way to exercising at 40.6 degree Celsius rooms, sweating it out in a session of Bikram’s hot yoga, or working the core in power vinyasa yoga classes that focus on asanas, or physical postures of yoga combined with fitness.

Although yoga practices have changed significantly even in their native location of origin – India, the elements which usually constitute it are the very same foundation pillars, part of the ancient teachings and philosophy. All instructors try to include the following essentials:

  • Classes are introduced with an opening mantra, an Om; practitioners are invited to focus their energy and prepare for the session by thinking of what their today’s intention/ affirmation will be and even repeat it a couple of times in their minds.
  • Next comes a sequence of asanas, or poses, aimed at warming the body, posing a challenge for the strength of the muscles and stretching the joints and ligaments. The last pose is always savasana or the corpse pose, which always tests the mind’s calmness and quiet.
  • Sometimes classes begin or end with pranayama or breathing techniques to enhance concentration and harness the thoughts.
  • Finally, the session concludes with a form of meditation or relaxation – often in advanced classes, this choice is left to the practitioner as the goal is to reap fully the benefits of the physical challenge by stilling the body and slowing the mind.



Yoga is an enormously big topic to cover and not all has been said here, but we tried to give you a more deep understanding of what yoga actually is.

In the modern world, we have come to perceive it too superficially, focusing on its physical aspect only. Although practicing yoga brings plenty of benefits to the body, that is far from all.

Yoga has a long history dating back to ancient times and has undergone numerous transformations and influences. Through the ages, it has traveled the world, reached various locations, and planted the seed of love in the hearts of many.

Traditions have changed, but fundamental elements have remained part of the typical yoga sessions. Yogis continue to follow the principles of yoga in their everyday life as part of their philosophy.

We hope this piece enriched your knowledge and inflamed, even more, your passion for yoga. Continue reading our blog to find out more about how to live your life in accordance with its teachings.

Post Your Thoughts