When I first had the idea for this post I wanted to write about the different types of yoga that people practice, like Vinyasa, Ashtanga or Bikram. However, as I started doing my research I realized that in addition to different ways to practice yoga there are also different ways of thinking about yoga. So, I made a short summary of the different branches for other beginning yogis like myself. Each one of the branches is much more complicated and detailed than what I write in this post, so if one of the branches intrigues you I encourage you to go out and do your own research!
1. Raja Yoga, the royal path, is the branch of yoga most closely associated with classical yoga. It consists of two parts, Kriya and Ashtanga. Kriya is the “preliminary” yoga, the yoga of action that we practice on a daily basis. Kriya attempts to lessen the five afflictions, ignorance, egotism, liking, disliking, and clinging to bodily life through effort, study and appreciation of the divine. Ashtanga are the eight limbs of yoga which are broken up into three sections. The moral limbs tell us what to do and what not to do. We should not injure, lie, steal, be incontinent, or be greedy. We should be clean, content, self-controlled, studious, and devoted. The external limbs tell us to practice the right postures (asana), right breathing (pranayama), and control of our senses (pratyahara). Finally, the internal limbs tell us to practice concentration on a single object, meditation on the flow of thoughts regarding that object, and contemplation of the highest thought about the object that you have.
2. Karma Yoga is the path of selfless action. The goal of Karma Yoga is to do good in the world. Yogis act to lessen lawlessness and increase virtue/harmony in the world. Karma yoga teaches that to evolve as a person we must go through a process of letting material objects go in order to attain a higher state of being.
3. Jnana Yoga is the path of wisdom. Through Jnana Yoga we try to understand the truth about life. Jnana Yogis draw a distinction between what we want to have and what we want to know as two separate things. What we want to have connects us to the material world, so to attain a higher state we must focus instead of what we want to know. Jnana Yoga also emphasizes the unity of all things, since all things are parts of the divine.
4. Hatha Yoga is the most commonly accepted practice of yoga today. It is the path of inner power. This branch of yoga uses breath and posture to active the kundalini, the energy at the base of the spine, and open the chakras, the path for the kundalini to flow through our bodies. Most yogis today practice some form of Hatha Yoga daily.
5. Bhakti Yoga is the path of love-devotion. This branch is devoted to honoring the divine in all things.
6. Mantra Yoga is the path of sacred sound. This branch would be what we today would think of as a meditation practice. Mantra Yoga uses the repetition of sacred sounds, most commonly “om”, to calm the mind.
These branches of yoga are not completely separate schools. Most yogis incorporate multiple branches into their daily practice by flowing through a Hatha routine, sitting down for a calming Mantra practice, and trying to live their lives as the different teachers in these branches tell us to.
Which branch of yoga do you find the most interesting?