Yoga is many things to many people. For some, it is just a form of physical exercise, while for others, it is their life’s greatest passion. Many practitioners enjoy the complex formulation and execution of breathing techniques while others simply treat it as a practical means of maintaining good health and wellbeing.
Globally, the popularity of yoga in its many forms is growing, from the posture-based physical fitness and relaxation techniques that are more popular in the west, to the more meditative and spiritual approach that is preferred in its traditional form in India. It is important to know that there is no one single method and all have something to offer.
The Heartfulness Institute aims to provide you with resources in order tol guide and help you understand “what yoga is” and its different forms. Indeed there are quite a few branches and types of yoga
Guide to the Different Types of Yoga
It would be worthwhile to begin with an understanding of the term yoga, as is largely prevalent in the western world – physical fitness or relaxation techniques with the help of postures or asanas, as they are called. In reality these are a modernized form of hatha yoga, which in English is loosely translated to “a system of physical techniques”. However, the first step in understanding “what yoga is ” is to know that yoga is so much more than the physical practice of asanas.
The term yoga broadly refers to a variety of physical, mental, and spiritual schools, practices, and disciplines. So, depending on the sphere or the type of discipline we choose, regular practice of yoga can help us grow physically, mentally, and spiritually.
In terms of mental wellbeing, regular practice of yoga helps us grow as we learn to control our desires so that they stop having a hold on us. Or rather than controlling them, our cravings simply fall off the wayside, they no longer have the same appeal. Through yoga, we learn to lead a more balanced and regulated life, enabling us to notice what feels truly good for us and what does not. Without much effort, we begin to live a self-disciplined life naturally. Essentially, we learn to connect with ourselves.
Bhakti & Karma Yoga
Through love and devotion enacted through the practice and action of Bhakti Yoga, we develop love for God or love of the Divine through beautiful rituals. In addition, we learn to experience love and share it with others around us.
By remaining in a state of connection with the Source during all our routine actions, we interact and spread the Grace that we receive. Although this takes practice, it is nevertheless experienced by many on a daily basis – the mother cooking for her child, the gardener tending his garden, dancers and musicians absorbed in their practice – all who see God in whatever it is they are doing. In this Bhakti Yoga, they are so immersed in their love of God as they complete their tasks that they can sense it flowing.
There are many ways to practice Bhakti Yoga some of which include the practice of devotion through chants, songs, dances, and prayers – any ritual or ceremony that helps us express our love for the Divine as well as celebrate it.
On the other hand, through Karma Yoga we learn to do our work without self-interest or an ulterior motive. We learn to “do” for others – it is the path of service or dedicating our lives for the good of others. It helps us become more selfless and caring by shifting the focus from ourselves to those around us. Apart from teaching us to work for others without expecting anything in return, it also inculcates in us the value of working punctually and with discipline. Our actions display our noble selves through Karma yoga. Any type of voluntary service such as teaching, cooking, cleaning, or nursing without monetary or any other type of compensation is an example of Karma Yoga.
The best way to realize the distinction between Bhakti and Karma Yoga is by knowing that the former is love- or devotion-oriented while the latter is action-oriented.
Jnana & Raja Yoga
Yet another distinct type of yoga is Jnana Yoga – the yoga of intellect, knowledge, and wisdom. It helps us identify who we truly are. By allowing us to connect inwardly first, we then learn to recognize, see and connect with our ‘Higher Self’, something that we do not ordinarily know or recognize in ourselves. Through the use of right knowledge and wisdom of the mind we are equipped to progress along the path of self-inquiry (and finally realization).
In Jnana yoga, the path to self-realization can also be achieved through learning, which can be practiced by participating in intellectual debates or philosophical discussions or studying the sacred texts.
Finally there is Raja Yoga, which can be literally translated to the “royal path”. We learn to regulate our mind through the practice of Raja Yoga, by gently guiding our minds towards ‘right thinking’ and personal enlightenment. This enables us to walk the ‘natural path’ not likely to lead us astray. This is an advanced form of yoga that in the past was practiced only by those yogis well-versed in the other forms of yoga. Raja yoga is the combination of the three other types of yoga we explained above – Bhakti, Karma, and Jnana. In addition it also involves following the eight limbs of yoga, which are nothing but a series of disciplinary steps. This integrated branch of yoga also comprises regular practice of meditation, which leads us deeper into spiritual life.
Yoga Leads to an All-Encompassing Knowledge of Self
All in all, there is no singular answer to the question “what is yoga?” Yogaleads to the knowledge of Self that encompasses all spheres – physical, mental, and spiritual. In an overall sense, apart from helping us lead a balanced life, yoga appears to endow us with a ‘superpower’, an enlightenment of ourselves. Each day we practice, we encounter something new that already existed within us, something we did not notice or see before. In this sense, we become ‘enlightened’ to our inner being and to our own being-ness. Through self-discipline and devotion, we create harmony and a space for inner transformation. We come to understand the value of life, not only our own, but of all life forms.
Suggested Read: Yoga – The perception of reality
The union of your inner self with the Higher Self is the means by which you can get to completely know yourself. So, in that sense, the answer to “what is yoga?” lies in the realization that yoga is not merely a word or a physical activity or form of exercise or relaxation. And nor is it confined to asanas that can help you stretch or become flexible, as is the popular notion in the modern world. It is all of these and much more. It encompasses everything in the act of coming to ‘know’ – coming to know oneself and the world, and the connections in-between. It brings you peace with freedom from suffering, from confusion, and from doubt. It enables us to reach our goals more easily. With the help of yoga you can truly do anything because ‘what is impossible becomes possible by yoga’
– Appraptasya prapthi yoga.