History Foundations

Work your way through the modules, completing all tasks and watch the webinar before completing the end of module quiz

Objectives at a Glance

  • Sanskrit Introduction

Gain an understanding of the origins of Sanskrit, its distinctive qualities, and the significance of it being the language of the original yoga texts.

  • Origins & Sources of Yoga

Gain a basic understanding of the roots of yoga philosophy.

  • Branches of Yoga

Become familiar with the major branches or paths of yoga and their origins.

Sanskrit: Introduction 

Lesson Overview

In this lesson, we introduce the Sanskrit language.


Understand the value and importance of Sanskrit as the language of original yoga texts.


Define the word “Sanskrit” and review its origins. Explore how the language is unique and how it may impact those who use it. Consider reasons that teachers may wish to use Sanskrit in their teaching, and considerations for increasing effectiveness when they do.


  • “Sanskrit” means “refined,” “perfected,” “polished,” “sanctified, “perfectly or entirely done.”
  • Often called “the mother of all languages,” Sanskrit is one of the oldest languages on Earth. (And a number of sources say it is the oldest language
  • It is the liturgical (public worship, services) language of Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism.
  • Sanskrit is one of the 22 official languages of India.
  • Sanskrit is called a “sacred” or “spiritual language” and is regarded as a vibrational and healing language.
  • It originated from oral traditions and was developed to communicate spiritual insights. (Nicolai Bachman)
  • “It includes many words for spiritual experiences and concepts that have no equivalents in other languages.” (Russill Paul)
  • Nearly all Sanskrit literature is in verse. (Encylopedia.com)
  • “We need a language such as Sanskrit to capture the complexity of our deeper nature. It doesn’t make sense to use the language of the analyzing mind to cut through its own illusions, so we employ the discipline of sonic yoga to balance the limitations of our thinking, describing, analyzing mind.” (Russill Paul)

The “High” Language

The name Sanskrit means “refined,” “consecrated” and “sanctified.” It has always been regarded as the “high” language and used mainly for religious and scientific discourse – Esoteric Learning

Perfectly Done

The term ‘Sanskrit’ is derived from the conjoining of the prefix ‘sam’ meaning ‘samyak’ which indicates ‘entirely’, and ‘krit’ that indicates ‘done’. Thus, the name indicates perfectly or entirely done in terms of communication, reading, hearing, and the use of vocabulary to transcend and express an emotion. An extraordinarily complex language with a vast vocabulary, it is still widely used today in the reading of sacred texts and hymns… The language is believed to have been generated by observing the natural progression of sounds created in the human mouth, thus considering sound as an important element of language formation. This is one of the prime reasons why Sanskrit has been rich in poetry and its expressive quality of bringing out the best meaning through perfect sounds that are soothing to the human ear. Vedic Sanskrit also contains abstract nouns and philosophical terms which are not to be found in any other language. – Nikul Joshi 

Perfected, Polished, Refined

Sanskrit has been called the mother of all Indo-European languages. It’s considered to be one of the oldest languages on Earth, predating Greek and Latin, arising from the Proto Indo-European language spoken 7,000 to 8,000 years ago. The word “sanskrit” itself translates to perfected, polished or refined. And that translation is appropriate, given the healing power the language is thought to have. – Marget Braun 

Significant in India and Hindu Tradition

Even though it is not a spoken language, its significance is such that it is one of the 22 official languages of India. As an integral part of Hindu tradition and philosophy, Sanskrit is mostly used today as a ceremonial language in Hindu religious rituals. It is a required subject in many schools. – About World Languages 

A Spiritual Language of Millions of Awakened People

Sanskrit evolved to communicate and awaken spiritual experience… Sanskrit, as a spiritual language, has been accurately and uninterruptedly transmitted for at least four thousand years. The resonance of these sounds uttered by millions of people who have been awakened to spiritual reality assists us in our own use of the language. In other words, we draw from the power of numbers when we use Sanskrit; we connect our soul to numerous yogis and spiritual teachers who have employed this language in their own self-transformation…  We need a language such as Sanskrit to capture the complexity of our deeper nature. It doesn’t make sense to use the language of the analyzing mind to cut through its own illusions, so we employ the discipline of sonic yoga to balance the limitations of our thinking, describing, analyzing mind. – Russill Paul

Origin & purity of Sanskrit

The Sanskrit language was termed as Deva-Vani (‘Deva’ Gods – ‘Vani’ language) as it was believed to have been generated by the god Brahma who passed it to the Rishis (sages) living in celestial abodes, who then communicated the same to their earthly disciples from where it spread on earth. T

he origin of the language in written form is traced back to the 2nd millennium BCE when the Rig Vedaa collection of sacred hymns, is assumed to have been written after being continued for centuries through oral tradition and preservation of verbal knowledge in the Guru-Disciple relationship. 

The purity of this version (Vedic period, 1500 – 500 BCE) of Sanskrit is doubtlessly reflected in the flamboyance of the perfect description of the forces of nature in the Rig Veda.

Vedic Sanskrit

Sanskrit in terms of its literary association is classified into two different periods, the Vedic and Classical. Vedic Sanskrit is found in the Vedas sacred texts, especially the Rig Veda, the Puranas, and the Upanishads, where the most original form of the language was used. The composition of the Vedas is traced to the period of 1000 to 500 BCE, until when Sanskrit had a vigorous tradition of being used consistently through oral communication. This early Sanskrit is rich in vocabulary, phonology, grammar, and syntax, which remains undiluted in its purity to this day. It consists of 52 letters in total, 16 vowels and 36 consonants. These 52 letters have never been tweaked or altered and are believed to have been constant since the beginning, thus making it the most perfect language for word formation and pronunciation.


The Sanskrit language has been the traditional means of communication in Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism, and Sikhism. Sanskrit literature holds the privilege of being used in ancient poetry, drama, and sciences, as well as religious and philosophical texts. 

The language is believed to have been generated by observing the natural progression of sounds created in the human mouth, thus considering sound as an important element of language formation. This is one of the prime reasons why Sanskrit has been rich in poetry and its expressive quality of bringing out the best meaning through perfect sounds that are soothing to the human ear. 

Vedic Sanskrit also contains abstract nouns and philosophical terms which are not to be found in any other language. The consonants and vowels are flexible enough to be grouped together to express nuanced ideas. 

In all, the language is like an endless ocean without a base due to its reach, complexity, and hundreds of words to express a single meaning or object.

The Vedas (Rig-veda)

by BernardM (CC BY-SA)

Classical Sanskrit – AshtadhYayi

Classical Sanskrit has its origin in the end of the Vedic period when the Upanishads were the last sacred texts to be written down, after which Panini, a descendant of Pani and a grammar and linguistic researcher, introduced the refined version of the language. Panini’s timeline is assumed to be around the 4th century BCE, when he introduced his work ‘Ashtadhyayi’, which means eight chapters, forming the only available foundational and analytical text of Sanskrit grammar. It is considered to be the only source of Sanskrit grammar and vocabulary today, because everything that existed before had never been recorded except via their mention in Panini’s Ashtadhyayi.

The Ashtadhyayi contains 3959 systematised rules that are undiluted in brevity, full of wonderful analysis, explanation, and preferential usage of the language and word formation. 

The language is so vast that it has more than 250 words to describe rainfall, 

67 words to describe water, 

and 65 words to describe earth, among other descriptions. This proves the magnanimity of Sanskrit when compared with current modern languages. 

However, different the sub-castes of Hinduism may be in their dialect, race, creed and rank, Sanskrit is considered and accepted as the only sacred language giving rise to the only available sacred literature by all, even though India has a repository of 5000 spoken languages. Panini was responsible for the standardisation of the language, which to this day remains in use in multiple forms. 

Sanskrit as a spoken language is rare and is spoken in some regions in India, some even claiming it as their first language, but it is proudly mentioned as one of the 14 original languages of India in its Constitution. 

It is largely used in Carnatic music in the form of bhajans, shlokas, stotras, and kirtanas, all indicating various hymns to the Gods, and songs and mantras of God worship.



Shiva Pashupati

by Marcus334 (Public Domain)

Impact on other languages

Sanskrit has had a major impact on other Indian languages, such as Hindi, which is presently one of the official languages of India, and Indo-Aryan languages such as Kannada and Malayalam. 

It has impacted the Sino-Tibetan languages with the influence of Buddhist texts in Sanskrit and their translation and spread. 

Telugu as a language is considered to be highly lexically Sanskrit, from which it has borrowed many words. 

It has impacted Chinese language as China has picked up multiple but specific words from Sanskrit. 

In addition, Thailand and Sri Lanka has been enormously influenced by Sanskrit and have many similarly sounding words. 

The Japanese language is another which has been influenced by Sanskrit, along with the modern language of Indonesia and traditional language of malay spoken in Malaysia. 

Philippines has a minor influence from Sanskrit, but less than that from Spanish, for example. 

Above all, English, the current modern international language has also been influenced by Sanskrit and has picked up many loanwords from the ancient language (for example ‘primitive’ from ‘prachin‘, meaning historical, ‘ambrosia’ from ‘amaruta‘ meaning food of the Gods, ‘attack’ from ‘akramana’ meaning taking aggressive action, ‘path’ from ‘patha‘ meaning road or way,  ‘man’ from ‘manu‘ meaning a male human, ‘nirvana’ from ‘nirvan‘ meaning divine liberation or transcendence, ‘door’ from ‘dwar’ meaning a doorway connecting two spaces, ”serpent’ from ‘sarpa‘ meaning snake, etc.) since both are considered as Indo-European languages.

Sanskrit has a long and sacred history often traced back to the Gods and their worship. Starting as a spoken language of the Gods, it has come down to earth and has been diluted of its purity because variable interpretations, precise grammar, and complexity of its use have been accepted by few and avoided by many for its invincibility in vastness and understanding. In spite of its large vocabulary and richness of grammar and prose, many ancient scriptures and texts today are translated from Sanskrit, for none better than Sanskrit can offer such a luxurious literary understanding of the past as it serves as a tool for perfect human expression. Rightfully admired, renowned historian and author William Cooke Taylor acknowledges that “To acquire the mastery of this language is almost a labour of a life; its literature seems exhaustless”. 

History & Evolution

  • “Sanskrit is regarded as the ancient language in Hinduism, where it was used as a means of communication and dialogue by the Hindu Celestial Gods, and then by the Indo-Aryans. Sanskrit is also widely used in Jainism, Buddhism, and Sikhism.” (Ancient History Encyclopedia)
  • The oldest form of the language in written form is traced back to the Rig Veda in the 2nd millennium BCE.
  • The oldest form is called Vedic Sanskrit. From Vedic Sanskrit came Classical Sanskrit.
  • Originally, Sanskrit was considered “a refined way of speaking, a marker of status and education, studied and used by Brahmins.” (About World Languages)
  • Sanskrit continues to be widely used as a ceremonial language in Hindu religious rituals and Buddhist practice in the forms of hymns and mantras.
  • There are a great many efforts being made to revive Sanskrit by various organizations around the world.

Passed from God to Sage

The Sanskrit language was termed as Deva-Vani (Gods – language) as it was believed to have been generated by the god Brahma who passed it to the Rishis (sages) living in celestial abodes, who then communicated the same to their earthly disciples from where it spread on earth. – Nikul Joshi 

Profound History & Meaning

There is a deeply rooted faith among Indians that Sanskrit itself is the language of the Devas (Gods), which is why this language was known during the Vedic period (6,000 – 8,000 years ago) as Daivi Vak(the Divine speech)… Numerous important works from a cultural, spiritual and scientific standpoint were written in this ancient language. All of the classic literature of Vedic times was written in Sanskrit too, including the classical texts of yoga, Vedanta and other spiritual and philosophical schools of ancient times, as well as the historical texts in the great sciences of astrology, astronomy, medicine, architecture and the physical sciences. The language is extremely regular, almost mathematical in its grammar and formulation. It is considered a sacred and mystical language. – Sanskrit History and Use as a Writing System

Origin in Written Form: The Rig Veda

The origin of the language in written form is traced back to the 2nd millennium BCE when the Rig Veda, a collection of sacred hymns, is assumed to have been written after being continued for centuries through oral tradition and preservation of verbal knowledge in the Guru-Disciple relationship. – Nikul Joshi 

Evolution into Classical Sanskrit

Classical Sanskrit has its origin in the end of the Vedic period when the Upanishads were the last sacred texts to be written down, after which Panini, a descendant of Pani and a grammar and linguistic researcher, introduced the refined version of the language. Panini’s timeline is assumed to be around the 4th century BCE, when he introduced his work ‘Ashtadhyayi’, which means eight chapters, forming the only available foundational and analytical text of Sanskrit grammar. It is considered to be the only source of Sanskrit grammar and vocabulary today, because everything that existed before had never been recorded except via their mention in Panini’s Ashtadhyayi. – Nikul Joshi

Previously, A Marker of Status & Education

Originally, Sanskrit was considered not to be a separate language, but a refined way of speaking, a marker of status and education, studied and used by Brahmins. It existed alongside spoken vernaculars, called Prakrits, which later evolved into the modern Indo-Aryan languages. – About World Languages 

Reasons to Consider Using Sanskrit

Sanskrit is the original language used to share the teachings of yoga. The situation today varies:

  • In some lineages, the use of Sanskrit continues to be a big part of the teaching, and it’s expected that teachers will use Sanskrit when naming poses and teaching yoga philosophy.
  • In other styles, it’s considered unnecessary or potentially a turn-off to students. It’s not used at all.
  • And in many studios and styles, it’s mixed: teachers make a personal decision about how interested and committed they are to using Sanskrit in their teaching.

Because Sanskrit is the language of yoga, understanding key Sanskrit terminology and its pronunciation can deepen a practitioner’s knowledge of the yogic path. – Nicholai Bachman 

Some of the reasons teachers and philosophers choose to use Sanskrit include:

  1. To honor, respect and endeavor to understand the culture, history and intention of the original sources of yoga teachings.
  2. To suggest to students that there’s more to yoga than the physical practice and to deepen interest in the philosophical teachings.
  3. To utilize a common language used by practitioners and teachers, no matter their culture or geographic location.
  4. To experience the vibrational quality of the language. “Each of the 50 letters of the Sanskrit alphabet are thought to have a sound frequency with a specific therapeutic benefit.” (Jay Kumar, Sanskrit scholar)

Introductory Considerations

Why go through the trouble of trying to roll that r in Vrksasana when you can just say “Tree”? … For one thing, Sanskrit provides 2,000-3,000 years’ worth of context for the yoga poses as we know them. Plus, studying the ancient language can be as invigorating for your brain as the physical practice is for your body. Let’s consider a few more reasons why studying Sanskrit can be valuable to you as a yogi. – Jessica Levine 

Inspirational & Practical Reasons

I’ve heard so many complaints over the years from both yoga teachers and yoga practitioners that learning the Sanskrit names of poses is just too difficult!…I actually think if you have the right mindset, learning the pose names is not as hard as you might think… Once you understand the logic behind the Sanskrit naming system, it becomes much easier to learn the names… Here are four reasons why I think you should open your mind to Sanskrit: 1) Sanskrit is the universal language of yoga! You can go anywhere in the world and understand it or be understood… 2) English names are inconsistent. For example, I’ve heard Uttanasana be called “Standing Forward Bend,” “Intense Forward Fold,” and “Ragdoll pose.”… 3) One day you may need your Sanskrit… I’m guessing you don’t want to keep sneaking looks at the others in the class to figure out which pose the teacher is talking about. 4) It’s good for your brain! Learning a new language is one of the best brain aerobics you can do for brain health. – Nina Zolotow 


What are your thoughts on this learning sanskrit

Is it too difficult to learn?

Are you worried you will pronounce the words incorrectly?

Do we have a right to decide whether we want to use Sanskrit or not?

If we choose not to are we guilty of westernizing yoga so much that we dilute the true essence of it?

There are no right or wrong answers to such questions but please take the time to pause and consider

A Thoughtful Perspective

The following is an excerpt from a longer post by Susanna Barkataki that we encourage you to read in its entirety.

 “But, Do I Really Need to Speak Sanskrit? On Language, Legacies of Learning and Asking Ourselves, What Am I Committing to be a Student Of?

I’d love to reflect on a question I get asked a lot. “I practice and / or teach yoga, but do I really need to learn Sanskrit?” Sometimes this question is asked with an eyeroll. Or a moan. Or an addendum “…it’s such a hard language to speak…” 

And honestly, when asked this way, it can be painful and harmful. This actually becomes a racial microagressionThis is a racial aggression because our culture needs to be honored and respected, not ignored, downplayed or mocked. As we consider this question, it’s important to stop and ask ourselves: what exactly am I being a student of?When we consider this question of if we should learn Sanskrit when we practice and teach yoga I’d say unequivocally yes. 

For me, the answer is about honoring the roots of this practice. My answer is also personal, political, reverential and practical… Sanskrit is part of the fabric of yoga and lends important context to our yoga practice. When we learn and use the Sanskrit names for asana, pranayama, mudras or bandhas in yoga we not only deepen our practice, but we benefit from the thousands of years of codification that yogis past have offered on this subject. Through our exploration, we may understand the nuances of a shape better, or we may gain insight into yogic philosophy. 

Honestly, wecould be students our whole lives and still barely touch the surface of this immense ancestral wisdom stream… Some of my teachers say that Sanskrit is a sacred language where each sound vibrates with the harmonics of the universe… I’m not saying everyone has to do things the same, just inviting inquiry… To me, Sanskrit is a beautiful, vibrational and spiritual language. I have so much reverence for it and I will always be a student of it. – Susanna Barkataki

Neuroscientist Studies Brain & Mind Effects

The following is an excerpt from Scientific American, A Neuroscientist Explores the “Sanskrit Effect. It’s necessary to read the full article to understand the scope and limitations of the research; here we primarily introduce the author:

I spent many years studying and translating Sanskrit and became fascinated by its apparent impact on mind and memory. In India’s ancient learning methods textual memorization is standard: traditional scholars, or pandits, master many different types of Sanskrit poetry and prose texts; and the tradition holds that exactly memorizing and reciting the ancient words and phrases, known as mantras, enhances both memory and thinking. I had also noticed that the more Sanskrit I studied and translated, the better my verbal memory seemed to become. Fellow students and teachers often remarked on my ability to exactly repeat lecturers’ own sentences when asking them questions in class… I was curious: was there actually a language-specific “Sanskrit effect” as claimed by the tradition? When I entered the cognitive neuroscience doctoral program at the University of Trento (Italy) in 2011, I had the opportunity to start investigating this question…. What we discovered from the structural MRI scanning was remarkable… – James Hartzell

Cautions & Considerations

Using many Sanskrit words in class can overwhelm some students, particularly those who don’t have an interest (at least no current interest) in learning more about yoga. Therefore, in such cases, you may wish to “sprinkle” it in throughout class.

To avoid potentially sounding exclusionary or confusing, or otherwise “turning off” students, consider such strategies as the following:

  • Provide an overview of the language to students, explaining your respect for the history of yoga and other reasons for using it.
  • Use an inviting and open approach, avoiding any appearance of exclusivity.
  • Translate every Sanskrit phrase used.

Don’t Assume That People Learn the Way You Do

Every student learns differently, so if there are 30 people in a class, I assume there are 30 different classes going on. Don’t assume that people learn the way you do. Only 20% of people are auditory learners. The rest of us are visual and kinesthetic learners. – Diana Damelio


  • Since the late 19th century, Sanskrit has been written mostly with the Devanāgarī alphabet.
  • However, it has also been written using most other alphabets of India and with such alphabets as Thai, Tibetan and Latin.
  • The most commonly used system is the International Alphabet of Sanskrit Transliteration (IAST), which has been the standard for academic work since 1912.
  • Mainstream English words with Sanskrit Roots




Yoga Philosophy Origins & Sources

Lesson Overview

In this lesson, we introduce the source texts of yoga.


Gain a basic understanding of the roots of yoga philosophy.


Discuss the potential impact of yoga philosophy within a well-rounded yoga practice. Review basic facts related to original source texts, including TheVedas, The Upanishads, The Yoga SutraTheBhagavad GitaandThe Hatha Yoga Pradipika.


  • Yoga practices are based on a vast and profound philosophy.
  • Yoga philosophy is not taught as a belief system but is intended for practitioners to experience for themselves.
  • As Pema Chodron points out, when life becomes intense, mere philosophical belief isn’t going to be enough. We each have to find out the truth for ourselves. The following quote comes from a discussion of Buddhist philosophy but is broadly applicable.

Teachings Must Be Experienced

 [Teachings] have to be experienced because when the real quality of our lives, including the obstacles and problems and experiences that cause us to start questioning, becomes intense, any mere philosophical belief isn’t going to hold a candle to the reality of what we are experiencing… Maybe [it’s] the worst advice anybody could give you, but you have to find out for yourself. Often we hear the teachings so subjectively that we think we’re being told what is true and what is false. But the [wisdom teachings] never tell you what is true or what is false. It just encourages you to find out for yourself. – Pema Chodron,

More Effective Than Physical Practices Alone

  • Researchers at the University of Mississippi reported study results that reflect what many yoga practitioners find as they study more: a regular yoga practice that includes philosophical teachings may ease anxiety more effectively than physical practices alone.

Fundamental Importance of Yoga Philosophy

There is good reason for yoga to have many adherents. It offers not only the much-sought way, but also a philosophy of unrivaled profundity. Yoga practice is unthinkable, and would also be ineffectual, without the ideas on which it is based. It works the physical and the spiritual into one another in an extraordinarily complete way. – C. G. Jung

Research Summary

A regular practice that includes yoga’s spiritual and ethical teachings may ease anxiety more effectively than a practice of asana, breathing, and relaxation alone, according to a recent study. Yoga students learning about the yamas and niyamas had significant decreases in anxiety, including lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol. “Spiritual principles can help you see meaning in your life situation,” says researcher Tammy Greer of the University of Southern Mississippi, “and that can lower stress.”  – Carol Krucoff

Primary Sources of Yoga Philosophy

  • The origins of yoga philosophy are traced back to the The Vedas (veda = knowledge) of India, estimated to have been written between 3,000 and 6,000 years ago.
  • The four books of the Vedas are The Atharva Veda, the Reg Veda, the Sama Veda and the Yajur Veda.
  • The verses within the Vedas are said to be revealed scriptures, having been heard by enlightened sages (rishis), seers in states of deep yogic meditation, or samadhi.
  • The writings are on one hand “poetic, nonlinear and therefore difficult to understand” and on another, “as simple, pure, and pristine as the rishis who received them.”
  • Yoga becomes more defined in The Upanishads (which include hundreds of philosophical texts) with language that is less symbolic and more direct than The Vedas.

Yoga is the Practical Aspect of Vedic Science

With roots in the Indus Valley civilization going back over five thousand years, the Vedas represent the poetic cognitions of enlightened sages on the origins of the universe and the evolution of life… The Vedas are the expression of perennial wisdom, and yoga is the practical aspect of Vedic science. – Deepak Chopra & David Simon

Known as Apauruseya: Not Given by Man

These sacred writings are at the very root of Hindu thought and philosophy… They are known as “apauruseya,” not given by man. Yoga, too, is apauruseya. Because these sciences are not man-made, they are universal and are meant for the whole of humanity. Brahmawas the founder of yoga, which is therefore as old as civilization. Ayurveda is also as old as civilization. – B.K.S. Iyengar

The Rishis Retained the Pristine Mind

We all came to the world with an uncomplicated mind. Those who retained this pristine mind came to be known as rishis (seers), for they were able to see the truth without distortion. Scriptures such as the Vedas embody the experiences of these rishis and so are regarded as the original sources of religion and spirituality. The knowledge and experiences documented in these primary sources are as simple, pure, and pristine as the rishis who received them… The experiences attained by these immortal beings were so profound and wondrous that they could not be contained or expressed in speech. What little could be expressed was extremely compact and exceptionally potent. These expressions—which came to be regarded as revelations or mantras—form the foundation of spirituality. The techniques that enable us to gain experiences similar to those of the rishis are spiritual practices. – Pandit Rajmani Tigunai

Vedic Commentaries

The Vedic texts were not composed in a discursive philosophical style. They were poetic and nonlinear and, as such, complicated and difficult to understand. Commentaries by great masters emerged to explain them. These commentaries took the form of philosophical discourses and oral teachings collectively known as smriti, that which was remembered. The oldest of these systems is Sankhya, founded by the great sage Kapila. The Sankhya system formed the metaphysical foundation for Patanjali’s yoga philosophy recorded in his Yoga Sutra. In this sense, yoga can be thought of as applied Sankhya. – Gary Kraftsow

The Upanishads

The first books to refer to yoga were the ancient Tantras and later the Vedas, which were written about the time the Indus Valley culture was flourishing. Although they do not give specific practices, they allude to yoga symbolically. In fact, the verses of the Vedas were heard by the rishis, seers, in states of deep yogic meditation or samadhi, and are regarded as revealed scriptures. It is, however, in the Upanishads that yoga begins to take a more definable shape. These scriptures collectively form Vedanta, the culmination of the Vedas, and are said to contain the essence of the Vedas. – Swami Satyananda Saraswati

More Behind the Vedas & Upanishads

In mythological times, Brahma, the Creator, saw the ignorance and confusion of humankind. With his infinite compassion, he sent his sons to restore the wisdom of Divine Consciousness and alleviate suffering. This wisdom became the Vedas, and Brahma’s sons became the Great Vedic Rishis. The four principal Vedas and their supporting texts contain the spiritual knowledge encompassing all aspects of life… However, the essence of each Veda is contained in the parts known as the Upanishads. Upanishad literally means “to sit close by.” So these “hidden” teachings were reserved for those select students deemed ready for higher states of consciousness. While the Vedas prepare us and bring us to the door of enlightenment, the Upanishads lift us over the threshold into the magnificence of Self-realization. Thus, as the culmination of knowledge, they became known as Vedanta, the “end of the Veda.” – Chopra Center

The Yoga Sutra

  • The Yoga Sutra was written by Patanjali, said to have been a revered yogi and scholar of many subjects.
  • It is thought to have been written 200 years before the common era (BCE), or over 2,000 years ago.
  • The word “sutra” means thread, as in a thread that strings beads together.
  • Sutras are summaries (of the “utmost condensation”) of teachings, designed to be remembered and recalled easily. They are intended to serve as reminders for a teacher to expand upon.
  • The sutras were written in Sanskrit, a “vibrational language” in which words have many layers of meaning and are designed to convey subtlety. In translating the sutras into English—a language whose strength is precision — many subtleties can be lost.



The Bhagavad Gita

  • The Bhagavad Gita is translated as The Lord’s Song or the Song of God.
  • The Gita is a key yoga philosophy text. It is “essentially a book on yoga.” (Graham M. Schweig)
  • Often called “the Gita,” it is a portion of The Mahabharata, an epic poem containing 18 books, said to have been authored by an illumined sage, Vyasa.
  • Many sources explain that it isn’t known when The Mahabharata and the Gita itself were written. Often, it is said to have been written “5,000 years ago.” It’s also common to see a date of 1500 BC.
  • The Gita is 700 verses and forms 18 chapters of the sixth book.
  • The Gita is often treated as a stand-alone text and considered as important as The Upanishads.
  • It is a dialogue between the incarnate God Krishna and the warrior-prince Arjuna.
  • The Gita describes various paths of yoga including Jnana Yoga, Bhakti Yoga, and Raja Yoga.

The Hatha Yoga Pradipika

  • The Hatha Yoga Pradipika, or Light on Yoga, was written in the fifteenth century.
  • The author was an Indian yogi named Swatmarama, of whom little seems to be known. B.K.S. Iyengar refers to him as a “great yogi.”
  • Swatmarama’s name means “one who delights in one’s Atman,” indicating a person who has achieved a sense of wholeness.
  • Unlike the Yoga Sutra, the text “starts with the body” and describes the Hatha Yoga practices as a way to advance to Raja Yoga.
  • It covers asanashatkarmamudrasbandhas and pranayama.
  • In some places it is also “opaque” as it is “an esoteric work from medieval India which describes mystical entities, practices, and states of consciousness.” – Brian Dana Akers, The Hatha Yoga Pradipika 2002

Starts with the Body

One of the most outstanding authorities on hatha yoga, Swami Swatmarama, wrote the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, or Light on Yoga in Sanskrit, collating all extant material on the subject. In doing so, he reduced the emphasis on yama and niyama, thereby eliminating a great obstacle experienced by many beginners. In the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, Swatmarama starts with the body and only later, when the mind has become stable and balanced, are the yamas and niyamas (self-control and self-discipline) introduced. – Swami Satyananda Saraswati

Practices to Awaken Kundalini & Advance to Raja Yoga

While the text describes asanas (postures), purifying practices (shatkarma), mudras (finger and hand positions), bandhas (locks), and pranayama (breath exercises), it also explains that the purpose of Hatha Yoga is the awakening of kundalini (subtle energy), advancement to Raja Yoga, and the experience of deep meditative absorption known as samadhi. – Swamij.com 

Guidelines for Incorporating Philosophy in Class 

Branches of Yoga

Lesson Overview

In this lesson, we introduce the diverse branches of yoga.


Become familiar with the major branches or paths of yoga and their origins.


Examine the primary focus and underlying principles of Bhakti, Jnana, Raja, TantraandHatha Yoga. Describe how Hatha Yogais distinguished from other branches and how Hatha Yoga, Tantra,andRaja Yoga are related. Explain the causal forces that sparked the rise of Tantra and the primary philosophical underpinning of the philosophy.

Bhakti: Yoga of Devotion

  • Bhakti Yoga is known as the Path of Devotion.
  • It is one of the yogic paths explained by Krishna in The Bhagavad Gita.
  • Bhakti Yogis see the Divine in all.
  • Bhakti Yogis invoke love and a feeling of closeness to the Divine through thought, word and deed.
  • Bhakti Yoga practices include Mantras and Kirtan.

Blossoming of Love

Bhakti is love of God but also the expression and blossoming of love in all your relationships. The divine light of God resides in all that is alive, or for that matter, even that which we consider inanimate. Through our relationships with others, we discover our higher self. – Deepak Chopra & David Simon

Karma: Yoga of Action

  • Karma Yoga is known as the Path of Service, the Yoga of Action and Union Through Action.
  • It is one of the yogic paths explained by Krishna in The Bhagavad Gita.
  • Karma Yogis practice yoga through actions intended to transcend self and influence destiny.
  • This yoga is based on karma, or the law of universal causality, which states that what we experience today was created by actions in the past and that our present efforts create our future.
  • The principles of Karma Yoga are to act responsibly, unselfishly, without attachment, and with integrity.
  • Volunteering and other forms of selfless service are examples of Karma Yoga. Off the Mat Into the World and other Yoga Service and outreach organizations are examples Karma Yoga.

All Action Belongs to the Supreme Being

The ultimate expression of Karma Yoga is the recognition that all action belongs to the Supreme Being… True practice of Karma Yoga leads to spontaneous detachment from outcome and one-pointed focused mindfulness as you perform your actions… The Karma yogi knows that God is performing the action and takes care of the results. – Deepak Chopra & David Simon

The Fast Lane to Spiritual Fulfillment

The Bhagavad Gita touts karma yoga — the Hindu path of service to others — as the fast lane to spiritual fulfillment. So comprehensive are its benefits that one of India’s most widely respected gurus, Neem Karoli Baba, gave just one instruction to his devotees: “Love everyone, serve everyone, remember God” — six words that encompass the whole tradition. – Alan Reder

Jnana: Yoga of Wisdom

  • Jnana Yoga is the Yoga of Wisdom or Knowledge.
  • Jnana Yogis use intellect and reasoning to transcend limitations of the “I” mind and discover the natural state of yoga.
  • It is one of the yogic paths explained by Krishna in The Bhagavad Gita.

You Become One with the Immortal Spirit

Jnana Yoga (pronounced gyah-nah) teaches the ideal of non-dualism — that reality is singular and your perception of countless distinct phenomena is a basic misconception… Jnana Yoga [says that] things are real at your present level of consciousness, but they aren’t ultimately real as separate or distinct things. Upon enlightenment, everything melts into one, and you become one with the immortal spirit. – For Dummies

Raja or Classical: Yoga of Patanjali

  • “Raja” means “royal” and thus this is known as the Royal Path.
  • Often, Raja Yoga is described as the teaching outlined in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra. Or, when differentiated, Patanjali Yoga may be known as Classical Yoga and considered a subset of Raja Yoga.
  • The Raja Yoga practices are the The Eight Limbs of Yoga: yama, niyama, asana, pranayama, pratyahara, dharana, dhyana and samadhi.
  • In Sanskrit, the Eight Limbs of Yoga are known as ashtanga yoga (different from the style, Ashtanga Yoga, founded by Pattabhi Jois).

Raja Yoga Bigger Than Patanjali Yoga

Patanjali yoga is widely identified as being the same as Raja Yoga (the royal path of yoga). We, however, prefer to define Patanjali Yoga as a specific system within the wider framework of Raja Yoga (which includes the following systems: Kundalini Yoga, Kriya Yoga, Mantra Yoga, Dhyana Yoga, Patanjali Yoga)… Specifically, Patanjali Yoga is that systemwhich consists of eight stages: yama, niyama, asana, pranayma, pratyhara, dharana, dhyana and samadhi. It is therefore widely called ashtanga yoga (the yoga of eight stages). – Swami Satyananda Saraswati

Practices that Take Awareness Inward

Raja yoga is the path of union through practices that take your awareness inward. The essence of Raja yoga is an integration of body, mind and soul through procedures that enhance mind-body coordination… Raja yoga helps you practice the other yogas with greater ease, effortlessness, and joy. When you feel physically vital, emotionally stable, and psychologically centered, your ability and desire to love and express authentic compassion expand. – Deepak Chopra & David Simon

For Those Drawn to Meditation

Raja yoga attracts individuals who are introspective and drawn to meditation. Members of religious orders and spiritual communities devote themselves to this branch of yoga. However, even though this path suggests a monastic or contemplative lifestyle, entering an ashram or monastery is not a prerequisite to practicing raja yoga. – Maria Carrico 



Write them out and then commit them to memory 

Tantra: Liberation in the World

  • “Tan” means “to extend”, “expansive,” or “whole.”
  • Tantrikas seek liberation in the world. Tantric practices are designed to realize through experience that everything is divine and connected.
  • Tantra arose in reaction to patriarchy, dualism, and atheism.
  • A key philosophy of Tantra is nondualism, or the idea that “one’s true essence exists in every particle of the universe.”
  • Practices include pranayamamantramudra, and yantra.


Passed on Through Siddha Yoga

Until as recently as a hundred years ago, Tantra was a practice that was shrouded in mystery because it was passed down orally from teacher to initiated student… But the second half of the 20th century brought a group of dedicated teachers who started to make the teachings better known… Swamis Muktananda and Chidvilasananda spread their approaches to Tantra through the Siddha Yoga tradition in the West. Today their students—like Rod Stryker, Sally Kempton, and John Friend…are fervently leading a Tantric renaissance in the West, and translations of influential texts such as Spanda Karika, Vijnana Bhairava, and the Shiva Sutras have become widely available in English. –  Nora Isaacs 

Denial of the Body & the Feminine

Tantra arose out of the seeds of Samkhya, Classical Yoga, and Buddhism but it quickly surpassed all of these philosophies. Where the earlier schools were patriarchal and either dualistic or atheistic, Tantra embraced the feminine, the principle of unity, and offered a way for anyone to practice… The goal of the practice of Tantra Yoga is, fundamentally, to release Shakti, and move her up the central channel of the body, to meet with Shiva who is waiting for her just above the crown of the head. Of course, like all yogic teachings, there are some schools that claim the exact opposite is what must happen: Shakti must descend to the waiting Shiva. In either case, the tools mostly used to awaken and move the sleeping Shakti are the tools of pranayama… Pranayama, however, is not the only tool available. Tantra has a broad offering of techniques and practices. They include mantra, mudra, yantra, and pancha-makara (the Five-Ms). – Bernie Clark

A Continuity Between Ordinary Life & the Infinite

The essential idea of Tantra is that everything in the universe is an expression of the divine and thus can be tapped as a source of divine consciousness and being… At the heart of tantra is the idea, born of experience, rather than grand philosophical speculation, that there is a continuity between what seems the ordinary realm of human life and the infinite… The philosophy of tantra identifies the path of freedom not through renunciation of human desire and experience, but indeed largely through it. – Mark Stephens

Nondualism: The Divine Exists in Everything

“There are widely different Tantric texts,” says meditation teacher Sally Kempton, “and different philosophical positions taken.” …One core aspect of Tantric philosophy that’s taught in the West, however, remains consistent: That aspect is nondualism, or the idea that one’s true essence (alternatively known as the transcendental Self, pure awareness, or the Divine) exists in every particle of the universe. – Nora Isaacs

Liberation Possible in the World

In the nondualist belief system, there is no separation between the material world and the spiritual realm. Although as humans we perceive duality all around us—good and bad, male and female, hot and cold—these are illusions created by the ego when, in fact, all opposites are contained in the same universal consciousness. For Tantrikas, that means that everything you do and all that you sense, ranging from pain to pleasure and anything in between, is really a manifestation of the Divine and can be a means to bring you closer to your own divinity. “In Tantra, the world is not something to escape from or overcome, but rather, even the mundane or seemingly negative events in day-to-day life are actually beautiful and auspicious,” says Para Yoga founder Rod Stryker… “Rather than looking for samadhi, or liberation from the world, Tantra teaches that liberation is possible in the world.” – Nora Isaacs 

Tantra: Expanding Consciousness & Liberating Energy

Tantra is the science of expanding the consciousness and liberating the energy. Tantra is the way to attain freedom from the bondage of the world while still living in it. The first step in tantra is to know the limitations and capacities of the body and mind. Next it prescribes techniques for the expansion of consciousness and the liberation of energy whereby individual limitations are transcended and a higher reality experienced. – Swami Satyananda Saraswati

Hatha: Yoga Through the Body


  • Hatha Yoga is the branch of yoga that works through the body, rather than through the mind or emotions.
  • Primary practices of Hatha Yoga include asanapranayamabandha and mudra.
  • Much of the popularized yoga in the West today is Hatha Yoga
  • Mark Stephens notes that many Hatha Yoga traditions attribute their roots to Raja Yoga when in fact, he proposes, the origins are more tied to Tantra. Bernie Clark agrees, noting that “Hatha kept many of the practices that Tantra developed, but just as Tantra discarded what it didn’t like of Classical Yoga, Hatha also dropped the unsavory parts of Tantra. Hatha Yoga focused its practices on building a healthy body, one that would be perfect for the higher practices of meditation and samadhi.” – YinSights 2007

Meaning of Hatha

‘Ha’ and ‘tha’ mean the union of the sun and the moon, union of prana and apana vayus. ‘Hatha’ means any tenacious practice till the object or end is achieved. – Swami Sivananda 


According to the original texts, there are three purposes of Hatha yoga: 1) the total purification of the body, 2) the complete balancing of the physical, mental, and energetic fields, and 3) the awakening of pure consciousness through which one ultimately connects with the divine by engaging in practices rooted in the physical body. – Mark Stephens

Preparation for Raja Yoga

  • “Traditional Hatha Yoga is intended to lead to Raja Yoga, ‘Royal Yoga,” the goal of which is the highest state of consciousness known as samadhi.” (Hatha Yoga and Raja Yoga, swamij.com)
  • Swami Sivananda writes, “Raja Yoga begins where Hatha Yoga ends. Raja Yoga and Hatha Yoga are interdependent. Raja Yoga and Hatha Yoga are the necessary counterparts of each other. No one can become a perfect Yogi without a knowledge and practice of both the Yogas. Hatha Yoga prepares the student to take up Raja Yoga.”


Some listings of yoga branches will include these:

Guru Yoga

  • Dedication to a master

Mantra Yoga

  • Using sound to focus the mind