Jana is a yoga enthusiast who investigates every aspect of this ancient art with both Zen and zeal.
The Novice's Crossroads
There comes a time when every yoga practitioner feels the need to narrow down their path. They want to choose a specific kind of yoga and even start studying the spiritual texts. This is the novice's crossroads. Some take years to arrive and even longer to decide. Certainly, when about to dedicate oneself to a certain branch of yoga, a thorough awareness of the facts can take time to accumulate. Quick decisions often end in the abandonment of one path for another and this kind of “yoga hopping” can prevent the student from mastering any path at all.
At first, the nine paths may seem confusing and hugely different. Some focus on intelligence or wisdom to reach enlightenment, while others highlight breathing as the way. Certain paths are even esoteric and not widely available. Should a yogi just want to do poses for physical benefits and not choose a path at all, that's also fine. There's no problem, either, if you want to do a blend of exercises from different kinds of yoga because that works for you.
One of the most widely practiced kinds in the world, Hatha Yoga is also the number one choice in the West. Directly translated, it would read along the lines of Sun-Moon Yoga. This reflects one of its key aspects – balance.
The main theme claims that control over the physical body leads to enlightenment. This kind of control, forged from purification and strengthening, comes from aligning all aspects of the person. The mind, body and spirit must balance in every sense. Physical fitness is achieved through exercises and meditation is responsible for clearing the mind. Though the spiritual side is also important, Hatha Yoga concentrates foremostly on gaining control over the physical. As is often the case, tranquility naturally follows when health and fitness improve.
The Royal Road
A more intellectual path is Raja Yoga. Like the rest of the branches, the goal is to obtain enlightenment but Raja yogis believe the mind is key. The physical side is not neglected but the intellect is paramount. Known as “The Royal Path,” supreme control of the mind is achieved through concentration, meditation and breathing exercises. Since fitness makes mental control easier, some consider Hatha Yoga as great preparation for Raja Yoga.
As another path for the mental ninja, this branch is all about knowledge and wisdom. There's a belief that both exist, complete, within each human being. It's the goal of Jnana Yoga to find this hidden well, using meditation, contemplation and questions. At its most extreme, this practice asks the yogi to challenge everything they know. The past, feelings and emotions, thoughts, beliefs – everything. The idea behind this temporary exercise is to strip the practitioner of perceptions that might stand in the way of seeing clearly. Information has a way of creating illusions through the stories we tell ourselves, emotions skew reality with bias and thoughts cannot always be trusted to be true. When all of this is stripped away, true wisdom can be encountered.
The Spiritual Student
For anyone interested in the spiritual side of yoga, as well as the ancient scripts, Kriya Yoga is a good choice. The name means “spiritual action.” A core belief in Kriya Yoga is to strengthen the body through the activation of divine energy. Said to reside in the lower half of a person, the energy is brought up the spine through meditating and breathing techniques. This path also calls for studying the ancient texts, using mantras and cultivating stillness of mind.
Yoga in Action
The term “Karma Yoga,” may sound like a joke, but it's quite real. Most of us is familiar with the idea of karma; the good things you do causes a ripple effect that returns positive happenings in your own life. On the flip side, negative actions, especially when done with intentional harm eventually boomerangs back by some way of punishment. The belief in this kind of cosmic cause-and-effect is up to the individual to discard or not. Either way, it's not essential to the yoga that bears its name.
Karma Yoga is fantastic because it takes selfless work into the outside world. However, this road remains challenging. It's not easy to stay selfless or to overcome the ego or a desire for material success. Karma Yoga calls for yogis to perform service to other beings, respect all and the abandonment of personal desires. As beneficial as this is to the world and those helped by Karma yogis, this path may not be for everyone. If not properly trained, one can very easily become unbalanced as constant self-sacrifice is required.
Charity Beyond the Yoga Room
Throughout history, sound was important to spiritual ceremonies. Even today, church goers sing and monks chant. In meditation, mantras are syllables or phrases used to empty the mind and foster enlightenment. “Om” is probably the most famous example of all. Mantra Yoga studies sacred sounds and unlike most other paths that resulted from philosophies, it arose from more esoteric roots. This particular school was built on the idea that mantra vibrations affects the speaker's consciousness and connects them to the energy of the universe.
The Devotional Yogi
Bhakti Yoga has one caveat — devotion to the sacred takes priority over everything else. The divine aspects differ for everyone. Yoga isn't a religion but can enhance the practitioner's faith, regardless of what it is. A constant practice involving reverence and contemplation on the divine is important to Bhakti yogis, who aim to unite with the sacred and don't concern themselves with the material world or intellectual problems.
Kundalini means “serpent power” and represents a kind of yoga that safely channels this potent force. Kundalini energy coils at the base of the spine like a snake. There, it “sleeps” until released through the correct techniques and when the student is ready, the energy travels up the spine and brings enlightenment. Proper training is required for this complex branch of yoga. It may sound like the fast track to enlightenment – and it's been known to happen spontaneously in Kundalini yogis — but when released incorrectly, is said to be frightening.
The tantric path of yoga is the most misunderstood of all. Sometime, after its arrival in the West, one element was perverted and soon, it became Tantra Yoga's whole image. This element concerned the use of sexual rituals. Tantra Yoga has never revolved around sex. It does, however, highlight the power of sacred rituals. The misconception isn't without a grain of truth. Some practices include a sexual element since the correct use of this kind of energy is believed to boost spirituality. They are used within a context that isn't promiscuous but unfortunately, that snippet never hit its Western image.
This path is also highly complex and esoteric, with many facets that also includes the study of holy texts. Similar to Kundalini Yoga, anyone interested in Tantra Yoga must seek a qualified teacher. There's plenty of information and teachings about this path that are held back and only given to a trustworthy adept.
You May Chuck Away the Spiritual Stuff
Yoga doesn't demand a certificate of dedication to Spiritual Stuff. Yoga doesn't care. Traditionally, this ancient system is a spiritual vehicle. Today, it's a top addition to fitness lovers everywhere who only want to breathe better, perform better and be healthier. Even meditation is often just used to survive the rat race and not achieve enlightenment. It doesn't matter what school of yoga you choose, if you choose one at all. At the end of the day, yoga is about extracting the best version of yourself – with or without enlightenment.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2018 Jana Louise Smit
Jana Louise Smit (author) from South Africa on September 10, 2019:
Hi Shaloo. Thanks for reading and your great comment.
Shaloo Walia from India on September 10, 2019:
Thanks for such detailed explanation...Lord Krishna says in Bhagvad Gita that Bhakti Yoga is the best of all. I practice yoga asanas for physical well being & bhakti yoga for spiritual well being
Jana Louise Smit (author) from South Africa on July 25, 2018:
Thank you so much, Beth! I appreciate the share. :)
Beth Deyo from Bradenton, FL on July 19, 2018:
This is an excellent post for those trying to figure out what's what when it comes to yoga. I'm going to share it on my Facebook page, as I think many of my followers will enjoy it as well. Thanks for sharing!