As time passed, the priests continually evolved yoga and divided it into four paths. Each path functions to help the yoga student work towards the goal of experiencing a union with Brahman, or God. Recognizing that different individuals approach yoga differently, the yogis created these paths to help their students reach full enlightenment. Each of the four paths exists as a different way to reach Brahman, and an individual must master it in order to attain the wisdom that leads to a deeper, fuller understanding of the world. The four paths of yoga are Karma, Bhakti, Raja, and Jnana. Click on the following tabs for more info.
Karma Yoga definition
Karma yoga represents the yoga of action. This path is most appealing to students who demonstrate a very outgoing nature. Students who follow the Karma yoga path are typically extroverts who enjoy great natural energy and interacting with people. Because of these personality characteristics, this yoga path focuses on the heart and encourages practitioners to routinely act selflessly. Outgoing individuals often seek validation of their actions; this path works to eliminate ego-driven acts and replace them with actions committed without the intent of rewards. Karma yoga encourages the students within its path to repeat mantas while engaged in activities to focus the mind on selflessness instead of the gains the ego seeks. The key principle of Karma yoga is to act throughout life without intent of any reward. This principle aims to guide students to actively choose against the wants of the ego and choose to act selflessly. These actions apply to both external and internal activities. For example, choosing to help an elderly lady cross the street should be made solely to help an individual, not because an individual seeks acknowledgement for doing something nice or being recognized as being a good person. Practitioners of this path work tirelessly to identify their own motives, evaluate them, and choose the selfless path. While following Karma yoga, the student aims to acknowledge that he or she is merely an instrument of God and that God is responsible for all things. By acknowledging this truth, the individual is able to let of an action’s results and simply be.
Students on the Karma yoga pathway spend a great deal of time listening to sacred stories and analyzing their own motivations. This analyzation leads to recognition of the ego; once a student can identify the ego in name and action, he or she can then work to eradicate it. This process can take months or years to master. Once the student defeats the ego, he or she discovers an enlightenment of self and can begin honoring the Divine. Many karma yoga students report finding great inner peace and acceptance at the end of this pathway. They engage in selfless acts for the Divine because they understand that they themselves are the Divine and the Divine is indeed them. Many yoga students treat the Karma yoga path as the first journey; after completing this journey, the student works to begin another of the three paths while continuing the mastery of the Karma path. Typically, students begin the path of Bhati or Raja yoga, leaving Jnana yoga for last. While each pathway may appeal to different personalities, every personality benefits from the mastery of each yoga pathway.
Jnana Yoga Definition
The Jnana yoga path exists for those of a more intellectual nature; it is commonly referred to as the yoga of will and intellect. Some believe that this is the most demanding of the four yoga paths as it requires studying yogic philosophy with the goal to investigate one’s own nature and then work to rewire the brain to see oneself as a complete part of the universe rather than a separate aspect within a framework of moving gears. The perception of gears needs to be erased and replaced with a wider view. This yoga path is appealing to those who continually seek knowledge and act to improve themselves. It requires full commitment, devotion, and understanding of yoga. Before beginning the path to Jnana yoga, a yogic student must complete the three other paths as the mastery learned in the other three paths are crucial for the mastery of the last path. It is not until a student has mastered the selflessness of Karma yoga, the strength of body and mind of Bhakti yoga, and the spiritual nature of Raja yoga that he or she is ready to begin the final path of Jnana yoga. After mastering the other paths, the yoga student is ready to begin studying the Vedanta philosophy. This yogic philosophy can be found in sacred scriptures known as The Upanishads. The experiences of mastering the other paths prepares students of yoga not only understand the philosophies contained in The Upanishads, but actually apply them in each moment of their lives.
Jnana yoga involves a path unfolding in four distinct stages. Those stages include:
Samanyasa. This stage involves the student mastering four key disciplines which include knowing the difference between eternal substance and the substance that makes up transitory existence, repudiating the joy objects bring, mastering the processes of the physical and mental bodies, and acknowledging that the world is one of misery.
Sravana. This stage focuses on listening to the stories of sacred texts. Listening not only with the ears, but with the heart, the spirit: with everything.
Manana. This stage requires reflecting upon Sravana and all the teachings the student has listened to.
Nididhyasana. This stage centers on practiced meditation. The student works to realize the truth that they are Divine; they meditate to realize the truth that no real veil exists between God and themselves.
The ultimate goal of Jnana yoga is to make the philosophy presented in sacred texts alive in the student’s life. Indeed, this philosophy communicates that true knowledge possesses the ability to release individuals from bondage created through the ego and material world. This type of true knowledge leads to liberation, which in turn leads to the divinity which resides in each and every person. Attaining such knowledge can be difficult, and often requires years of dedication and study. Typical practices within Jnana yoga require the student to ask many questions and investigate each and every answer from not only that individual’s experience, but other individuals’ experiences as well as the wider world’s experience. Just as the Divine is able to see all things, all perspectives, the individual needs to be able to do so as well. There are three sentences which convey the goal of following this yoga philosophy; translated, the sentences most closely mean: God only is real. The word is unreal. The individual is none other than God. Once a student can embody these ideas internally and externally, he or she has achieved the Jnana yoga path.
Raja Yoga Definition
Raja yoga earned its nickname, “royal road”, for the intensity of this particular path. Those who achieve it have mastered the second most difficult path of the four paths of yoga. This particular yoga pathway appeals to the student who seeks true spiritual enlightenment and views the spiritual nature of both the individual and the greater world; he or she sees and believes in the interconnectedness of the world and seeks to become a selfless part of it. The goal of Raja yoga is to transform an individual’s physical energy to spiritual energy. This is done through mastering the eight elements, or limbs, of this particular path. And how do students following the Raja path accomplish this monumental task? Through meditation; meditation is the chief tool Raja yoga uses to move students through the eight elements that lead to developing control Prana, or the life force that surrounds every living being on the planet. Curious about the eight elements, or limbs of Raja yoga? Here is the cliff notes version:
Yamas. The yamas are powerful tools to help an individual eradicate their baser nature. The yamas exist to help a person achieve a higher level through five moral goals: non-violence, non-stealing, non-covetousness, moderation, and truthfulness. These yamas should be applied each and every day until they become a part of an individual rather than merely a conscious a practice.
Niyamas. The niyamas are specific qualities that yoga students should strive to embody effortlessly. These five qualities include austerity, purity, contentment, reading of sacred texts, and honoring the divine. Attaining the five niyamas in conjunction with the five yamas encourages an individual to create a more mindful approach to interactions with oneself, with others, and with the greater world.
Asanas. Asanas are the postures in yoga. By perfecting the postures, a student of Raja yoga strengthens the mind-body connection and thus moves closer to the Divine.
Pranayama. Pranayama is the practice of mastering the breath. By manipulating breath, a yoga student can achieve a greater awareness of his or her internal and external presence in the world.
Pratyahara. Pratyahara refers to the practice of stilling one’s mind. By mastering the senses, an individual is able to eliminate thoughts and focus on accessing the stillness required to focus the mind and let go of everything. This mastery of letting go is an essential element of yogic practice as it eventually leads students to the ability to relinquish the ego and move closer to the Divine.
Dharana. This practice focuses on instilling intense concentration. The mind and body often experience hundreds of stimuli in any given day that detract from full concentration. Dharana requires that yoga students master concentration to better understand the Divine.
Dhyana. Mastering this element leads a student to meditation as pure thought. The seventh element prepares the student for the last and final stage of the path of Raja yoga.
Samadhi. The last and final element of this yoga path refers to the superconscious state. Once a student following the Raja yoga path arrives at this step he or she works to achieve a true oneness with God. As this belief system believes that God resides in each of us, the student becomes one with God and themselves simultaneously.
Achieving the Raja yoga path can be very difficult yet rewarding. It takes years of discipline to master this rewarding path of yogic study. Studying under the right yogi is key as he or she will be able to guide the student along this rigorous and demanding yoga path.
Bhakti Yoga Definition
Bhakti yoga represents the yoga of emotion. It is appealing to individuals who are very in tune with their emotional nature and seek to heighten their emotional connection with the universe at large. Those who follow this yoga path inherently believe in the power of love and seek out this path to increase the love in the world. Those who embrace this yoga path acknowledge that God exists as the purest form of love, and they seek to honor this through actions, deeds, and thoughts throughout their life. Bhakti yoga is inherently spiritual as its essence focuses on cultivating an unwavering devotion to the Divine. Practitioners accomplish this task when their actions are motivated solely from a place wishing to honor the Divine rather than be rewarded by the Divine while in corporeal form or otherwise. The path of Bhakti yoga fosters a greater sense of emotional connection with oneself, with the world, and with God through prayer and the use of mantras throughout daily life. This path recommends particular rituals to assist students in surrendering aspects of their lives to God so that they may experience life fully and without fear. Bhakti yoga includes the use of many different songs and chants to help an individual form a connection to God and the greater love that exists throughout the world. The Bhagavata Purana offers yoga students nine different forms of bhakti, which should be practiced until they are mastered and applied effortlessly in everyday life. The nine forms of bhakti include:
Listening. Listening, especially to the key scriptural stories allow students to contemplate key ideas and consider how to best apply such ideas into their own lives.
Praising. This act typically applies to group singing; for when praise happens in a group, it gains momentum and grace.
Remembering. This form of Bhakti focuses on remembering the wisdom of Vishnu. When a student of yoga encounters a dilemma or issue, he or she should pause and take a moment to remember Vishnu. Doing so will often lend an answer to an issue at hand.
Rendering Service. Believing that the Divine exists as each of us, rendering service is a key part of this yoga pathway. Such service should be offered without prompt and given freely without expectation of compensation or reward.
Worshiping. Acknowledging the lives of those who came before is an important aspect of this pathway. Worship can take diverse forms; however it is simply essential that it takes place.
Paying Homage. In paying homage, the yoga student honors the wisdom and knowledge and selflessness of those who came before.
Servitude. Through servitude, the student learns many lessons including grace and humbleness.
Friendship. The second to last form of Bhakti reminds those learning about the importance of positive connections with others. Through friendship, love, compassion, and wisdom can be shared, gained, and multiplied.
Complete Surrender of the Self. This last and most important form of Bhakti encourages students to release the ego and realize the oneness of all. It is the hardest, yet most rewarding stage of this yoga pathway.
The purpose of each form of Bhakti, and indeed all four of the greater pathways, is to help a student find his or her pathway to the Divine. These practices must be consciously engaged in until they become an unconscious action in daily life; when such happens, the student may choose to stay on this path or begin a new journey on a more demanding path to obtain a deeper understanding of God.
There are dozens of different kinds of yoga practices, all with their own series of poses, stretches, and breathing techniques. Some forms of yoga are more vigorous and intense, while others are more meditative and relaxing. Regardless of what kind of yoga you prefer to do, they all have immense physical, mental, and emotional benefits.
There are many different types of Yoga. Each with its own rich history and philosophy. Our goal, is to list every Yoga styles, until we build an exhaustive and complete list of all possible styles. We'll continue to add them on an ongoing basis. So, check back frequently for more info on your favorite one.
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