What Are the Principles and Foundations of Yoga?

Feb 20, 2017 | Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, Philosophy, Wisdom | 4 comments

 Image of lotus flower behind Eve doing lunge yoga pose.

Why bother with principles and foundations?

This week, I’m teaching a module on principles and foundations of yoga to trainee teachers. It sounds like a big topic, so where to start?

Of course, The Internet! I googled the above terms to see what was out there. Not so much, it would seem. Then, I wondered about the definitions of the terms.

Finally, I thought, why are we bothering anyway with these subjects in a teacher training? Thirty-seven years ago, it wasn’t part of my training.

Well, it should have been. It would have been beneficial if I’d had some of these concepts to steer by. These notions that are necessary codes of conduct would have helped my evolution as a yoga teacher. And, just generally as a human being.

In retrospect, if I’d surrendered to a code of ethics–not necessarily even yogic–some stumbling blocks might have been avoided. Or at least minimised.

I call myself a late bloomer.

A quote from Will Rogers, Good judgment comes from experience and a lot of that comes from bad judgment.

And, subscribe to the idea that it’s never to late to learn.

A Yoga Definition for ‘Foundation’

A foundation is the basis on which something is grounded. Think of the foundation of a house. It is supportive. It is stable. It is the beginning and underlies what is built on it.

The first saying in the first chapter of Patanjali’s Sutras lays out a succinct foundation for his exposition:

Now the teaching of Yoga.

Atha yoganusasanam

One of the main principles and foundations of yoga is what this quote represents: Now, not yesterday or tomorrow.

The word Now sums up what is foundational in yoga. And, also the point of doing it. To get present.

Yoga Principles

A principle is a rule or standard, especially of good conduct.

Once again, we don’t have to go any further than the Old Sage’s Sutras to discover simple principles for living. These are called Yamas and Niyamas, found in chapter 2 sutras 30 and 32. Ten concepts are presented, including non-violence, honesty, wholesomeness, and self-discipline.

My favourite definition of the word principle is source. It is a basic truth. Source can also refer to what and who we are fundamentally. It is our essential nature. In chapter 1, sutra 3, the idea of this essential self, drastuh, is introduced.

Tada drastuh svarupe vasthanam.

A simple example can explain this verse. In order to create a statue, a sculptor merely removes all the stone that is not the statue; nothing is added to the stone. Likewise, the practice of yoga is not about adding anything to the individual. Instead, as this verse explains, the state of yoga is that state in which everything which is not equanimity is removed…. – Judith Lasater, The Ten Most Important Sutras

The yoga principles–yamas and niyamas–tell us that our fundamental nature is compassionate, generous, honest and peaceful.

To be a yoga teacher trainee and understand this at the beginning of the journey of training is to have had a leg up. We may not always be in touch with our fundamental goodness. We’re human beings. We go in and out of more-or-less enlightened states.

Nevertheless, the foundations and principles of yoga can be our bedrock.


  1. So true ! You can’t begin to understand or get to know yourself until you take time to notice now: will take me the rest of my life !(60 tomorrow)

    • Hey, Happy Birthday, Kathy. Wishing you a long, happy, healthy life. And plenty of time to notice what’s important?

  2. Thank you Eve for sharing this. I love Judith Lasater’s profound analogy as I think of Michelangelo’s statue of David! Clear and still the mind to see the reflection of the true self!

    • All of us have those rough edges and armouring, Jenny.
      If we have long life, and yoga, more time to find our Michaelangelo’s angel inside….


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