20 Suggestions for Doing Yoga Philosophy Today

  1. It used to be that the unexamined life was not worth living. Now, the unexamined life is killing the planet. Staying mindful of our collective condition will keep things on point and our heads out of the stars.
  2. Yoga philosophy today is meeting a world of neoliberal values and catastrophic climate change. It needs teeth.
  3. Never assume that there will be agreement as to what “yoga” is, “philosophy” is, or what “yoga philosophy” is.
  4. Always reach for more historical and cultural context for the work in question, so as to develop awareness of the conditions – including our own – and evolutions of yogic thought.
  5. Recognize, if one is a cultural outsider to the heritage of “yoga”, “dharma”, etc., how difficult it is read/hear these terms without assimilating them via comparison or analogy into pre-established cultural categories that can prevent even earnest seekers from approaching them on their own terms.
  6. Learn the twisted history of colonialism, appropriation, and cultural exchange that has broadcast yoga philosophy to the world, often in a fragmented, reductionary, and politicized form. Work to understand what this means for you particularly, and for those around you, and for those you never meet because you do not share the same spaces of privilege, culture, or class.
  7. Learn the contentious difference between philosophical and religious discourse, and examine how this difference is managed by different cultures and in different times.
  8. Actively seek oral and anecdotal knowledge, and contemplate its relationship to textual knowledge.
  9. Become sensitive to the agendas and territorialism of both academic and traditionalist approaches, which can both be exclusionary.
  10. Become very aware of your own agendas as a learner, and your prejudices.
  11. (Via Angela Jamison:) Become intimate with the anger that often sparks intellectual or ideological, argumentation, as it can reveal the roots of one’s insecurities and passions.
  12. Become able to hold contradictory views for the sake of comparison, and to realize that practice evolves through a dance of social, psychological and cognitive dialectics.
  13. Assume there will be flaws in your reasoning and blind spots in your position, and welcome criticism.
  14. To understand the difference and oscillation between exegesis (a reverence for received knowledge) and hermeneutics (the exuberance of reading/experiencing things anew).
  15. Actively seek analogies to yogic thought and practice within the knowledge paradigms generated by science, so that yoga and science might dialogue with and demystify each other. Understand how the epistemologies of yoga and science are different.
  16. Develop a capacity for taking pleasure in uncertainty — to pursue it actually — understanding it to be a primary condition of learning.
  17. (Via Douglas Brooks:) The “Black Swan”: take your most cherished view, and try to refute it with every tool available to see how sound it is and where it comes from.
  18. (Via Father Jack in “Six Feet Under”:) Always ask, “How does this idea connect to my life right now – not as I would wish my life to be, but as it actually is?”
  19. Because of the breadth of the tradition and its timeframe, actively participating in yoga philosophy today will always be a combined act of archeology, homage, filtering, deconstruction, and reframing. There are no “original” meanings that are not simultaneously present constructions. Discourse improves to the extent that we are aware of these processes. The trick is to love the past without being bound to it.
  20. Remember that this is a privileged pursuit best paid-forward by service. The first service of yoga philosophy would be to foster a socio-economic framework in which more people have more time to participate.


This list hits some similar notes to a previous list, but it’s crafted as a series of discussion points for training programmes. Like all lists, it is incomplete, and open to revision in perpetuity. It evolved from both personal study and from interacting with students over the years, and with such good colleagues: Carol Horton, Ramesh Bjonnes, Christopher Wallis, Douglas Brooks, Josh Schrei, Jody Greene, Dearbhla Kelly, Julian Marc Walker, Angela Jamison, the SAAPYA collective and too many others to mention.



  • Dear Matthew, you’ve done it again. Woken us up and unsettled us all with your insights and your analysis. I particularly resonate with this: “The first service of yoga philosophy would be to foster a socio-economic framework in which more people have more time to participate.” That would also stop us from “killing the planet” a bit slower….then perhaps some dynamic, ever-changing balance can be restored. Up on the barricades of service, chanting and action yogis! The mats are too soft, the cushions too comfortable–the planet needs us!

  • Wow. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if ‘the tradition/s’ embraced this kind of work/thought, instead of the usual ‘filtering’ of students –via hegemony. Or worse, ‘filching’ the individual. The ‘collectively’ (enmeshed in a culture) individual.
    Use your purses/feet –students of yoga
    –and challenge/consider –with your intellect and beyond.

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