Yoga isn’t all about mastering warrior poses, downward-facing dogs, headstands, and handstands. At its heart, yoga is an ancient philosophy of life, based upon the centuries-old wisdom of the Vedas. The Vedas are a set of Sanskrit manuscripts, written by Hindu sages thousands of years ago. They’re like a treatise on how to live based upon a deep understanding and study of spiritual life. In fact, the word veda means "knowledge" or "wisdom," and the aim of these texts is to manifest the divine insights of the Hindu gods and goddesses in a way that can be understood, and eventually experienced by us mere mortals.
“The Vedas teach that the soul is divine, only held in the bondage of matter; perfection will be reached when this bond will burst; and the word they use for it is, therefore, Mukti---freedom from the bonds of imperfection, freedom from death and misery.”
That’s a tall order, for sure—but not out of the realm of yogic possibility!
What are the Vedas?
There are four books that make up the Vedas. The first and most well-known is the Rig Veda. Its teachings revolve around a thousands songs, all devoted to the gods and goddesses of the yogic pantheon. It’s the only part of the Vedas that really explain what was going on in the Rig-Vedic civilization. It was this civilization that in many ways, created yoga. The second book, the Sama Veda, contains melodies from the Rig Veda. It’s like a condensed version of the Rig Veda. The Yajur Veda contains all the wisdom rituals and acts as a kind of a guidebook for priests, not unlike the Egyptian Book of the Dead. The Atharva Veda is a book of spells and charms that offers us another glimpse into the world of ancient Vedic society. (Learn more about in The Vedas: Get to Know Hinduism's Oldest Texts and Deepen Your Yoga Journey.)
It’s all Connected
The Vedas teach us that there is a dual reality---one that’s material and another that’s nonmaterial. For example, we look up at the night sky and see material, cosmic beings; stars, planets and constellations all floating within a nonmaterial sky. But, the more we practice yoga, the more we study its wisdom teachings, and the more we mediate, the more we experience a deep union, a sense of universal oneness. We realize that all things and beings are connected. We’re all one. There are no material planets or stars without the immaterial night sky.
When we take this wisdom into our daily lives, we can apply this understanding to our relationships and all the people we meet. Remember that we cannot understand ourselves, without being in relation to another. I can’t feel a sense of separation, without feeling a sense of unity. As we experience this paradox, our understanding and experience of a non-dual reality begins to come into our awareness. Greater love, understanding, and compassion for others arises when we see that I need you in order to understand me.
Beginnings and Endings
Another integral teaching of the Vedas has to do with what’s often referred to as the cosmic dance. This cosmic dance offers us an understanding of the spiritual nature of all things, experiences, situations, and beings. There is a beginning, a middle, and an end. There is a period of creation, a period of sustenance, and one of dissolution. This cycle, which is the essence of existence, helps us understand the nature of life and death. Just as the cosmos is constantly undergoing a series of infinite births and rebirths, so are we.
When we apply this wisdom off the mat and into our daily lives, we become less attached to everything. A conversation that didn’t go the way we’d hoped becomes less important because there’s always another conversation to have. What’s done is done. A love story that ended offers a portal into the next love story—one that may better resonate with the current journey of our soul. When you apply this teaching to your life, it all becomes much more easy going. You can go with the flow, rather than trying to control it.
Atman and Brahman
Then there’s Brahman. Brahman refers to the Universe, the Cosmos. The teachings here point towards an experience of universal oneness as well. The heart, or nature of reality is that what is within us, is also out there. Meditation is one of the best practices to do in order to experience this sense of divine union.
Applying the concept of Atman and Brahman makes us more conscientious as we go about our daily lives. For example, when I know that the health of my external environment is intricately linked to my own health, I’ll treat Mother Nature and all her living beings with greater respect. When my experience of life moves from the gross to the subtle, I live with greater intention, love, and compassion. In our modern world, it’s an understatement to say we need more of this.
As you can see, the Vedas transcend time. Their wisdom not only can applied to life today—it must be applied to life today. May you take these ancient teachings to heart, and explore them further in order to come to your own understanding and experience of what it means to apply Vedic wisdom to your precious, sacred life.
And may you delight in the beauty and mystery that is yoga!