spanish yoga retreat logo


Subscribe To Posts


What Is The True Meaning Of Yoga?

Yoga has become a mainstream phenomenon, with millions of people practicing it worldwide. Yoga has been associated with almost countless benefits, and its practice is joyful and life enhancing. But have you ever wondered about the origins and philosophy behind this ancient practice?

Yoga has a long and rich history dating back thousands of years, with roots in India and connections to Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism. Its practices include physical postures, but go beyond, embracing spirituality, and self-awareness

How would a knowledge of yoga philosophy be useful? How you understand your practice will not only enrich what you do on the mat, but allow you to integrate yoga into your life to bring about deep and lasting changes. By understanding the principles behind yoga you can unlock its mysteries and more fully access its transformative power

What Is Yoga?

Derived from the Sanskrit root yuj, meaning yoke, yoga means union. But what is united with what? In the popular mind yoga integrates mind and body. And certainly, embodied awareness brings advantages, helping you you use your body optimally to minimize wear and release tension, as well as reducing anxiety and generally improving emotional resilience

However, therapeutic as it is as a mind-body practice, yoga is at source a spiritual practice: a quest to discover our innermost nature and experience the oneness of all

In its original meaning yoga refers to a vary particular type of union: the union of individual awareness with universal consciousness. This direct experience is described as beyond thought, thus one of yoga’s most famous (and my personal favourite) definitions, as expressed by Patanjali, author of the Yoga Sutras:


“Yoga is the suspension of the thinking processes of the mind

This is in direct contradiction to mainstream Western thinking, which is polarized in the mind. For the Westerner, to stop thinking is to cease to be. And in a sense this is true. When we stop thinking our individuality vanishes. For the yogis of old, the ultimate anihilation of the little self gives way to a realization of your true self. As a metaphor, think of an empty tumbler. The glass is the ego. The Space within is the individual. And the space without the universal. What happens when we take away the glass?

History of Yoga – Ancient Indian Roots

The origins of yoga can be traced back to the Indus-Sarasvati civilization in Northern India (modern day Pakistan) over 5,000 years ago. The practice was originally developed as a way to achieve spiritual enlightenment and connect with the divine

Though over time yoga has evolved and developed into countless different schools and traditions, all yoga systems are variations of just four classical types of yoga, each more or less suited to the temperament of the practitioner:

  1. Jñana (pronounced gyana) yoga: is the yoga of study and reflecting on universal truths. It’s practiced by those of a more intellectual, reflective disposition.
  2. Bhakti yoga: engages the emotions toward a devotional ideal and suitable for those more anchored in the realm of feelings
  3. Karma yoga: the yoga of action not for self-gain is to be practiced by those of a more extrovert, action-centred disposition
  4. Raja (Royal) yoga: the yoga of order and method. Raja Yoga was systematized somewhere between 200 BCE and 200 CE by the sage Patanjali in the form of aphorisms (sutras) describing eight steps to wisdom. Raja is synonymous with Ashtanga on account of having 8 (ashta) limbs (anga)

In the 20th century, yoga spread to the West where it became popularized as a form of exercise and stress relief. Today, yoga is practiced all over the world, with countless schools typically bearing the name of a style (yin, vinnie, restorative, dynamic) or a teacher (Sivananda, Muktananda, Iyengar). What binds them all is that virtually all modern yogas are schools of Hatha, itself a branch of Patanjali’s eight-limbed path, Raja Yoga

The Philosophy of Yoga – Understanding The Eight Limbs Of Ashtanga

Hatha is widely considered to be a variant of Raja Yoga. In the opening lines Swami Swatmarama, author of the Hatha Yoga Pradipika (Light On Hatha Yoga), says

Yogi Svatmarama, after saluting the Lord and teacher, explains the science of Hatha for one reason—Raja Yoga

For those ignorant of Raja Yoga, wandering in the darkness of too many opinions, compassionate Svatmarama gives the light of Hatha

A composite of two words, Ha (Sun) and Tha (Moon), Hatha seeks to put you in touch with the essential oneness of opposite and complimentary aspects of yourself and your environment





Sun: warm, active, energetic



Moon: cool, reflective, calming


Hatha being none other than Ashtanga, let’s take a look at this yoga of meditation. The Raja Yoga Sutras enumerate eight steps to wisdom. These are:

  1. Yama – ethical standards and integrity
  2. Niyama – self-discipline and spiritual observances
  3. Asana – physical postures
  4. Pranayama – breathwork
  5. Pratyahara – withdrawal of the senses
  6. Dharana – concentration with effort
  7. Dhyana – meditation or flowing awareness
  8. Samadhi – the transcendental state of pure and blissful awareness

The first 2 limbs deal with principles for living in harmony with yourself and others.  Though an essential part of the yoga path, they are outside the scope of this article and beyond the remit of the yoga class, and will be treated separately

The remaining six are the subject of this article and we will discuss them in a philosophical and practical context below

Hatha Yoga: Your Body Is Your Temple

Hatha, with its emphasis on physical postures, breath regulation and mindful attention is the essence of modern day yoga practice. Yet behind their outer form hatha practices remain a system for quietening the mind through meditation

Hatha seeks to join the active, warm, outgoing principle (ha) with the receptive, cool, reflective principle (tha) through practices centred on body-work, breath-regulation and mindfulness

Similar to the Chinese system of meridians, Hatha describes 72,000 nadis (literally rivers) transmitting the vital energy prana which gives us life. Of these, three are vital: Ida, Pingala and Shushumna





Right Side

Rising energy


Left Side

falling energy



spiritual energy

yoga physlosophy - the menaing of yoga

Associated with the active principle ha,Ida runs on the right of the spine

Pingala, associated with the receptivetha principle runs on the left

Ida and Pingala cris-cross as they ascend, creating vortices of energy at their intersections which you may know as the system of chakras (wheels). Each chakra represents a level of being. We will deal with these in a later article

The third channel, Shushumna, runs straight in the midline from the tailbone to the top of the head. Shushumna is ordinarily dormant

During waking, dreaming and deep sleep life force (prana) flows in Ida and Pingala

The goal of Hatha is to unite the Ha with the Tha, Ida with Pingala, to awaken the serpent power, Kundalini Shakti, which resides in the coccyx or tailbone, allowing it to ascend through the Shushumna to reveal the true nature of the self and the universe

Doing And Being

If you follow the eight steps you’ll see that Patanjali takes us from doing and not doing (worthy deeds) to sensing (turning your attention within and holding it there) to being (entering a state of abiding through to complete absorption)

Yoga is both the process of practising yoga and the state achieving yoga or union, it´s both the path and the goal. In Indian thought acting, thinking and feeling are all actions. Modern neuroscience concurs with this having established that the same brain areas involved in planning and executing movement organize thinking process

Motor activity has an affinity with the ha principle and is associated with Ida Nadi

Sensory perception belongs to the tha principle and is linked to pingala nadi

But yoga is ultimately about stillness. Stillness belongs to the realm of Shumuna Nadi

Just like falling asleep, being can arise naturally under the right conditions. Try this observational body mindfulness combining doing and being

PRACTICAL 1 – Sitting: Doing, Sensing And Being

Assume an easy, comfortable sitting position

Notice your posture: is you body comfortable and relaxed? Or tense and in discomfort? Is your reaction to stay put or change your position? Can you alter your position to feel more at ease? Where in the body can you feel tension? Which areas are relaxed? Are there areas that you feel disconnected from, where you feel little or nothing?

Feel free to support parts of your body with cushions or a folded blanket. Are there areas that remain tense?

Now, notice your breath in the body. Can you feel your heart beating? How does your belly feel? How does your chest feel? Let your body speak to you. Listen to what it’s saying

Without losing sight of your body, notice the space around you. Feel the air against your skin. Its temperature and humidity. Notice the sounds around you. While these are external stimuli, they are registered within your own consciousness. They are a part of you

Notice your thoughts. What are you thinking about? How are you feeling? If you find yourself following a train of thought, come back to your body and breath. Maintain an awareness of the whole perceptive field. Notice impressions come and go, like clouds in the sky. Foment an attitude of curiosity. Be gentle and loving with all your experiences

Holding the whole field of awareness, repeat to yourself

Just sitting, I know that I am just sitting

Repeat this a few times while observing your entire perceptive field. Be with yourself for a minute or two. Stay a while longer. Or read on…

Yoga and the Body – Asana

This quiet, observant attitude can be applied to any and all of activities fast and slow, from practising yoga asanas to all your daily activities

We typically start asana practice by trying to perform the asana correctly, the definition of correct depending on the style and teacher. You think about your posture and alignment, appraise its quality and make necessary adjustments. Breath helps you enhance body awareness and relax unnecessary effort.

Gradually, you begin to relax your effort as posture, movement, breath and attention flow. As you continue to observe your whole field of awareness, stillness emerges as settling of the body into a posture or movement that’s finely balanced, dynamic and joyful. The process continues, as you, the observer, are able to remain still

Benefits Of Practising Asanas

In common with other hatha practices, the primary purpose of asanas is to clear the body’s energy channels, the physical counterpart of this being expressed as

  • improved circulation and
  • enhanced nerve-signal transmission

In addition to increasing tissue nutrition, improved circulation assists the function of the hormonal (endocrine) and immune systems which, together with the nervous system constitute the body’s primary regulatory mechanism, to keep you healthy, happy and alive

Different asanas also afford specific benefits, from releasing tension and stiffness to facilitating mobility and building strength and stability. Asana work has been used to successfully treat many aches and pains, especially those of a more chronic nature, improving joint and muscle function, circulation, and overall fitness

Asanas are a major tool for enhancing body awareness. Increased awareness of the body in space (proprioception, kinaesthesia) is associated with a reduction in injuries. More generally, embodied consciousness is associated with a reduction in anxiety and improved emotional resilience

The Importance of Breathwork in Yoga: Pranayama

Breathwork, or prana (vital air) – yama (restraint), is an essential part of yoga. Prana, the life-force, has its primary expression in the body as breath. In the mind, prana manifests as thinking and feeling. By calming the breath, we calm the movement of prana. Just as pranayama helps to still the mind to allow us to experience our true nature, which lies beyond thought, breath can also calm the mind to reduce stress and anxiety and improve your mental health

There are many pranayamas in yoga. One well known technique involves breathing with the throat partially constricted. This Ujjayi is a heating breath that will energize you and focus the mind and body. Others, like alternate nostril breathing, will balance and calm the sympathetic and parasympathetic portions of the autonomic nervous system by regulating the flow of prana through ida and pingala

Or you may prefer to sit quietly , observing the breath, allowing the body to set the rhythm. However you practice breathwork you will be working with prana. Where prana moves the mind is active. Where prana rests, the mind is at peace

Benefits Of Pranayama

Pranayama in yoga is offered as a tool to still the mind and bring peace. There is a strong link between breath calming techniques and activation of the parasympathetic rest-and-repair portion of the nervous system. The action is mediated via an important nerve called the Vagus. You can read my article on the Vagus nerve here

Whether you seek to reach the superconscious state of enlightenment, enjoy moments of being, or want to live a healthier life with less stress, tension and anxiety, pranayama is a vital component of yoga’s healing power

Yoga and Meditation – Connecting Mind and Body

Meditation is an essential, if not a defining aspect of all yoga practices. Without meditation, yoga is indeed a system of physical and breathing exercises. The engagement of the mind in breath and body-work is the soul of all yoga practice

Though many meditation techniques exist, including mindfulness meditation, loving-kindness meditation, and transcendental mantra-based meditation, practices are generally of two complementary kinds:

  • one pointed absorption on a single object or concept
  • A dispassionate observation of the whole field of perception: bodily feelings, sights and sounds, thoughts, memories and emotions, without dwelling on any one

By practicing mindfulness, we can cultivate an awareness of our physical and mental habits and introduce a greater element of choice. On the yoga mat and in daily life, observing how you move, sit and stand lets you listen to the feedback from your body and introduce an element of choice. The choice to improve what can be changed. And also the choice to embrace things as they are

Benefits Of Meditation

Research into mindfulness has shown a great many physical and mental health benefits, notably associated with a reduction in stress and anxiety and a lifting of mood

In yoga, the physical postures are used as a preparation for meditation and as a meditation in itself. By focusing the mind on the body and the breath, we can quieten the mind and prepare for deeper states of meditation and self-awareness

Benefits of Yoga – Physical and Mental Health

The application of the ancient Buddhist practices of mindfulness to mental health, and the development of Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) and Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) has led the way to a vast body of literature examining and demonstrating the benefits of meditation

Research into yoga practices soon followed, offering equally profound insights into the physical and mental health of practicing yoga. Importantly, the research has tended to emphasize the importance of yoga as a mindfulness based intervention (MBI), a trait shared with other systems, including Chi Qong, Tai’ Chi, and Pilates

Physically, yoga can help improve flexibility, strength, and balance, as well as reduce pain and inflammation. Yoga’s effects on inflammation are not mediated by an improvement in mechanics, but rather by a reduction in stress, leading to a change in nervous, hormonal and immune activity to actively down regulate inflammation promoting genes

Mentally, yoga helps reduce stress and anxiety and improve mood, sleep and cognitive function, as well as promoting self-awareness

Check my previous article for or a fuller account of how yoga benefits specific areas of wellbeing

Yoga – Finding A Practice That Works For You

Developing a holistic yoga practice involves going beyond the physical postures and breathwork to cultivate a mindful and compassionate attitude, first towards ourselves, and then extended towards others. This can be achieved through any combination of mindful movement, breath regulation, meditations on loving kindness and just gentle and patient self-observation, both within the class and beyond

Finding a practice that’s right for you requires exploring a variety of approaches, working preferably with a teacher who can support your needs and work with you to adapt the postures accordingly. 

In the same way we gravitate towards particular people and places, by trying out different styles and teachers, you will find a practice that resonates with you and supports your physical, mental, and spiritual health

If you´re new to yoga, start by taking a beginner’s class or workshop. Working with a teacher will start you off on a firm path with good habits on which to build your personal practice

If you are wanting to use yoga to resolve aches and pains or manage some health condition you will definitely want to start working one on one with a qualified teacher

Check our range of online yoga classes and Spanish yoga retreats

Conclusion – Embracing the Spiritual Journey of Yoga

Yoga is more than a physical practice – it’s a spiritual journey that can help you connect with your true self and the world in which you live

Yoga is something you do. And also a state of being you can experience and enjoy

Understanding the philosophy and origins of yoga gives you greater freedom to enjoy the full range of yoga´s transformative power

Whether you’re a seasoned yogi or just starting out, there’s always more to learn and discover on the path of yoga. Embrace the journey and let the light of yoga guide you towards a happier, healthier, and more meaningful life