When you see the word yoga, the first thought that most likely pops into your head are colorful workout clothes and people moving into different positions. Yoga, however, has a deeper meaning to the practice and that meaning is to reach a certain spiritual goal. Depending on which yoga path you choose to follow the process and goal with your spirituality may be slightly different. There are a variety of paths that can be followed with yoga, there are even some that you might already be following without realizing! Here are the four main paths of yoga that you can follow or incorporate into your life:
Jnana is related to a still mind, concentration, and meditation. Jhana Yoga is the path of wisdom, where one must confront the superficial idea of themselves and connect with their individual self. Wisdom is not informational knowledge that can be learned in a class, but it is the truth that not everyone sees. Jnana Yoga focuses on breaking down all delusions, illusions, fears, sorrows, hopes, desires, and attachments. By removing yourself from these illusions, the self and the foundation of the universe can be be found. Renunciation is practiced with Jhana Yoga as it comes naturally with a deep understanding of reality. By detaching yourself from worldly possession, sadness can be avoided while inner growth can be achieved.
Karma Yoga is the path of service, an act of righteousness where someone does something without wanting anything in return. An action of service must be made without any underlying reasons such as money, power, or any form of gain. The action is meant to go past the ego and seek harmony, an example of someone who does this is Mother Teresa. Karma Yoga focuses on performing wholesome actions and by trying to spread kindness through your actions, you are continuously growing within the process. This path will lead you to inner-wholeness.
Bhakti Yoga focuses on the devotion and love for a higher being or someone they look up to. This devotion is often related to a God or Lord that they appreciate and look for guidance from. The purpose of worshiping this higher being isn’t meant to place them on an unreachable pedestal, but it is meant to develop a true relationship with this higher being. The relationship made with them must be deep, like a relationship with a loved one. A Bhakta, practicioner in Bhakti Yoga, is meant to feel love in their heart from spiritual fulfillment as they connect to their God or Lord. Bhakti Yoga can be practiced as a form of constant remembrance, this includes performing rituals, dances, meditation, mantras, songs, and chants.
Raja Yoga, the royal path of rajam, is related to practice of self-discipline and is related to more of the physical aspects within yoga. The physical aspects though are not like the ones people see as cool poses, but are the fundamental pieces to attaining clarity. Raja Yoga is covered by the eight principal limbs in the following order : Yamas, Niyama, Asana, Pranyama, Pratyhara, Dharana, Dhyana, and Samadhi. The yamas cover self-control, but within the yamas are five moral principles that one must follow. Niyama covers discipline and follows its own five practices of self-restraint. Asama focuses on posture while Pranyama is all about the breathing exercises. Pratyhara covers withdrawal from the senses and dharana is concentration. Dhyana is the physical meditation aspect and finally, samadhi is ecstasy. Raja Yoga incorporates different techniques and all the limbs must be practiced to find moral restraint and overall reach self-enlightenment.
Sources: The Path of Yoga by Georg Feuerstein