6 paths, same destination
the word ‘yoga’ comes from the root word yuj in sanskrit which means to ‘yoke’, ‘join’, ‘unite’. It basically refers to the notion of integration. The pulling together and unity of mind, body and all within the universe. Yoga is a means of exploring the depths of human nature. It is based on personal practice and experience rather than adherence to a particular set of beliefs. But then there is the question of HOW to practice. Within the yoga tradition, there are 6 main and distinct paths which can guide the yogi on how to practice yoga.
the paths include:
bhakti yoga (the heart-based devotional love for God path)
jnana yoga (insight, intellect and inner-knowledge)
karma yoga (skill during action)
hatha yoga (physically focused practice that generates an alchemical transformation of the individual consciousness)
raja yoga (the eight-fold path also referred to as the ‘royal’ classical yoga of Patanjali).
kriya yoga (or tantra yoga, which is ritual action)
These paths aren’t mutually exclusive, although, for many yoga practitioners, one path may resonate more deeply but as their practice develops they may expand their practice to a combination of all 6 paths.
‘bhakti’ means devotional worship. Bhakti is the path of open-hearted love. The Bhagavad Gita, known as the ‘Love Song to God’ is a prominent text that gathered momentum for Bhakti Yoga as a yogic path to self-realisation.
There aren’t any formal or systemised instructions on how to practice bhakti yoga, but there are defining principles of surrender, dedication, humility.
‘jnana’ yoga is the path of the intellect. Jnana means knowledge. This is the path of self-realisation that takes place through wisdom. Building wisdom, through cultivating intellect and intelligence. It is a scholarly approach and self-realisation is said to be attained though knowledge from reading and studying scripture and also through self-enquiry, introspection and contemplation.
this is the path of self-transcending action. It requires offering up ourselves to the service of others based on the understanding of the principle of cause and effect. Karma is the notion that our actions create the fruits for future action and this is an endless cycle. The practitioner of karma yoga attempts to overcome the endless cycle by recognising that conscious efforts are required to create an enlightening future that frees them from being bound by negativity and selfishness.
‘raja’ means ‘royal’. raja yoga is said to be the King of yoga paths. It provides a thorough systematic framework that outlines the progressive steps necessary on the path to self-realisation. The steps develop from cultivating strength and awareness with respect to the external world and gross experiences and eventually moves the practitioner towards exploring and controlling their internal world and more subtle of human experiences, until eventually, the practitioner overcomes the human condition and merges with the universal divine principle.
a prominent scripture that outlines Raja Yoga is Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. This scripture is very much focused on the nature of mind and how to overcome it’s nature. It could be described as an ancient text on psychology. Comprised of 109 Sutras (threads of wisdom) which are organised into 4 Padas (chapters):
chapter 1: samadhi pada: provides a definition and the goal of yoga. It offers approaches to attain the goal of self-realisation.
chapter 2: sadhana pada: is a practical guideline in which to approach yoga practice. It is framework organised into 8 sequentially progressive steps that lead to self-realisation. These steps are often referred to the 8-limbs of yoga whereby by 8 is ‘ashtanga’.
chapter 3: vibhuti pada: focuses on supernatural powers that experienced yogi’s may come across as they travel along the path to self-realisation.
chapter 4: kaivalya pada: further explores the nature of the mind, mental perceptions, the nature of desire, attachment, freedom and beyond.
the notion that mind and body need to integrate in order to attain the goal of self-realisation becomes the centrepiece for the path of Hatha Yoga. It is the path of of transcending the duality of the illusion of ‘separateness’. Ha means Sun and Tha means Moon. This definition refers to the seemingly [olar opposite phenomena within nature. The definition of the word ‘Hatha’ is ‘force’ in sanskrit. It is said that through ‘forceful’ physical exertion, the alchemical transformation takes place which is the merging and union of all opposites within ourselves. This returns us to our True Self, which is non-seperate from the whole.
The Hatha Yoga Pradipika is the scripture that outlines how the physical body is the temple to the soul and as such, the journey to the soul starts by purifying and perfecting physical health. The path of Hatha Yoga combines asanas (postures) and pranayama (breath control). Many other styles of modern yoga fall within the umbrella term physically focused practices of Hatha yoga.
tantra yoga is the path of ritual, which can include honouring the sacred sexual energy within us. The defining principle of tantra is that the practitioner recognises that there is divinity within every action that they take. It involves cultivating a reverential attitude and taking a conscious and sacred kind of ritualistic approach to life. There is much emphasis on the feminine principle of the cosmos known as shakti.