The Paths of Yoga

Within traditional yoga, there are many paths that can be taken, each appealing to different temperaments. There are varying theories about these paths but the general gist is as follows: –

The Paths of Yoga

Raja Yoga – Royal Yoga

Think: The Buddha. This is also called the scientific path of yoga. We each possess vast mental and psychic resources that lie virtually untapped below the surface of the conscious mind. To release these latent potential, Raja Yoga prescribes a psychological approach, based on a practical system of concentration and control of the mind. Right conduct, a healthy body and steady posture, breath regulation and withdrawal of the sins are recommended to achieve this. Only if this foundation is firm can the superstructure of concentration and meditation succeed. Hatha Yoga is a form of Raja Yoga that emphasises Asana and Pranayama. Without the Yamas, Niyamas and the other steps, it is not yoga. Read about all the steps of yoga here.

Jnana Yoga -The Yoga of Knowledge/Wisdom

This is a philosophical type of yoga. This philosophical or intellectual approach to spiritual evolution describes the world as an illusion. Using the two powerful interlectual techniques of Viveka (discrimination) and Vairagya (dispassion), the veils ofillusion, or Maya, are lifted. Jnana Yoga is usually regarded as the most difficult of the four paths of yoga. This path demands a sharp min and an unclouded intellect.

Tantra Yoga – The Yoga of Technology

Central to Tantra Yoga is the concept of Kundalini Shakti. The focus is on the subtle body, prana, chakras and awakening of Kundalini energy. This path uses mantra, geometric designs (yantra), visualisation and devotional worship as its main techniques. One of the most striking aspects of Tantra is that it does not view the body, or the world, as an illusion. Instead, it sees them as manifestations of ultimate reality and as such they must be treated as sacred. Both the body and the universal world should be treated as divine and nurtured. As a philosophy, Tantra peaked in popularity in 1200CE. The teachings formed a new approach, which was created for people living in the Kali Yuga (dark ages: a time of moral and spiritual decline in which we still live today).

Mantra Yoga – The Yoga of Sound/Repetition

Mantras can be thought of as Asana for the mind. The use of repetition of mantra helps to focus the mind and develops sense withdrawal (Pratyahara). A practicioner is usually given a personalised mantra by their guru. If the student does not have a guru from whom they can receive a mantra, they may choose a universal mantra such as “OM”. The three methods of reciting mantras are audible, whispered and mental. The mantra is usually repeated with the aid of a mala or rosary of 108 beads. Each time the practicioner repeats the mantra, they move along one bead on their mala. The path of yoga has very strong links with Bhakti Yoga and it is an integral part of the Tantra Yoga path.

Karma Yoga – The Yoga of Selfless Action

Think: Hare Krishnas. This is an active path of yoga. It is selfless service, the path by which the mind is most quickly purified and it’s limits transcended. The karma yoga works hard, both physically and mentally. They seek to eliminate the ego and its attachments, to serve humanity without expecting reward and to see unity in diversity. This enables them to tune into the one underlying divine essence that dwells within all beings. Karma Yoga is most suitable for people who have an active temperament. It involves working in the world and giving of oneself, but working on a spiritual level.

Bhakti Yoga – The Yoga of Devotion

Bhakti Yoga tends to appeal to people who are emotional by nature. Since the emotions cannot be endlessly repressed, Bhakti Yoga teaches tecniques for their sublimination. Through various practices, such as chanting, prayer, and the repetition of mantra, emotional energy is channelled into devotion, turning anger, hatred, and jealousy to a positive direction. Emotional love is changed into a pure divine love. The Bhakti yoga tries to see God in all. The prayer pose (Namaskar) signifies the joining of the individual soul with the divine soul. This concept of union with the divine through devotion, or bhakti, is found in all of the world’s great religions.

Hatha Yoga – The Yoga of Forceful Effort

This is the most common form of yoga and the beloved umbrella under which all our favourite yoga styles fall. The name “Hatha Yoga” is often referred to as a gentle form of physical yoga but in reality it means all the physical forms of yoga which have become popular and accessible throughout the world today, i.e. Ashtanga, Iyengar, Vinyasa Flow, Anusara, Bikram, etc. These are all forms of Hatha yoga: the yoga of forceful effort. Based on two tantric texts (the Gheranda-Samhita and the Hatha Yoga Pradipika) it utilises not only physical yoga poses (Asana) but also breath control (Pranayama) sensory inhibition, concentration and meditation. In addition, it outlines six preliminary cleansing practices as vital preparation for the body.

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