Discover how to get more from yoga: the 4 paths of yoga
Whether you are a beginner to yoga or have been practicing it for so time, you may arrive at a point where you ask yourself the question…Is that it? Can I get more from yoga?
If that’s you, then continue reading. We’ll simplify your understanding of your journey and go back to the basics so you can get a sense of direction and where you are right now.
What might interest you is looking into the yoga philosophy and deepening your relationship with yoga. To understand YOUR path, I need to say something…There is only ONE yoga.
Back to the basics… there’s only ONE yoga
You might be wondering with all the yogas that are practiced in the world today, especially in the Western World, why I say there is only one yoga. There’s Hatha Yoga, Ashtanga Yoga, Vinyasa yoga, Yin Yoga, Kundalini Yoga, and so on…they LOOK all different, right? That is where the confusion begins when claiming that there is only one yoga. Once you understand this paradigm you can get more from yoga and see that it’s not about doing more different yogas or doing the same yoga that you like more often.
Fundamentally, yoga is an Indian philosophy which means Uniting. It is about uniting with the Divine. The Divine is personal for everybody and that is not so apparent.
But what is apparent is what common to all the yogas mentioned above…the physical parts of yoga. You see and practice the movements. But doing movements IS NOT what yoga is. They are only ways for doing the movements; ways of doing the asanas. They are the methods that allow you to do the physical part of yoga.
If that is what you are doing, and that is what is getting you engaged in yoga, that is fine. That means you started your journey. Nothing is lost and you have everything to gain, BUT you need to understand where you are on the “spectrum” of your yoga practice.
If you’re practicing yoga and it makes you feel good…great! If you’ve been practicing yoga for a while and think you have it all figured out, then I must tell you that there IS more. To get more from yoga you first have to see the big picture. And by all means, I don’t want you to be discouraged by me telling you that you’re not there yet.
The 4 paths of yoga
The 4 ways to approach yoga was compiled and defined over 2000 years ago. They are 4 ways you can practice yoga and strive for this Union with the Divine.
They are known as Karma Yoga, Bhakti Yoga, Jnana Yoga, and Raja Yoga. I do not want to get into the deep details of each but I do want to make you aware they exist. You can find plenty more details in books and the internet.
The first way you can practice yoga is what we call Karma Yoga which is called the path of action. Very quickly, the idea behind Karma yoga is that every good deed will get a reaction.
So every action we do causes a reaction. It doesn’t matter what the reaction is because you can’t control that. The idea is if you do good things that good things will happen to you. For example, be kind and you will get that back from others.
At some point, you will reach Enlightenment by simply doing positive things and being good through your interactions. In a nutshell, Karma yoga is doing good deeds.
The second way you can practice yoga is called Bhakti Yoga.
Bhakti Yoga is the path of devotion. I want you to think of the monks you see praying all the time singing their mantras. So, most times, people that practice Bhakti yoga are involved with singing mantras for meditation, not confused with chanting.
This is their way to praise the Divine. I want to stress here again that the divine is not God the way we see it in the Western world. Maybe to define it further, I would say the Divine is everything that is around us. The Divine exists as Mother Nature.
So, think of the grandeur of mother nature and how little you are in it. Now think of respecting mother nature and praising the grandeur of mother nature. And being good and kind to mother nature.
This might sound oversimplified definition to you but the truth is that it is made to be as simple as it is.
The third way to practice yoga is Jnana yoga, which is defined as the path of knowledge or philosophy. You could think of this as the path for the curious, the intellects that question the how and the why’s. It’s sort of what Plateau was already doing, trying to understand what we truly are and how we belong in life.
“Intellects” is probably not the right word. It’s a path for the strong-minded people who are more concerned about asking questions and being curious than praying. We all know these curious types. So for these people, Jnana yoga can be more appealing to them. That is THEIR path to Uniting with the divine.
Lastly, the fourth way to approach yoga is called Raja Yoga.
This is where this article gets interesting!
The meaning of Raja is the Royal path, it is called that way because everybody can do it.
The Royal path is specifically paved by 8 steps or 8 limbs. The idea is that you will follow each step one at a time and by the 8th, then you will reach enlightenment. This is overly simplified but that is the idea.
In this form of yoga, you don’t have to be a philosopher or devoted like the other yogas…it is a yoga that you just do. Like one of the famous slogans…Just Do It! It’s for everyone.
Looking at the steps more closely, it requires we do meditation, the breathing exercises called pranayama and it is also the path involving the physical exercises like the asanas.
Now let’s zoom out and take a look at the whole picture for a moment. Compared to the big picture described above, we can now see how small (only 1 of the 8 steps of Raja Yoga) the asanas occupy in the whole“spectrum” of paths to reach enlightenment.
The interesting part or observation if you will, is that the western world has popularized and commercialized yoga by magnifying the physical part, the asanas… ending up where we are today…A ton of different yogas with different labels slapped on them and the conversations are mostly about how they are physically.
Commercializing Yoga and making it popular
In some ways, the physical aspects of yoga is what is sold to people…it is what they see, it is what makes them sweat, it is what makes them lose weight… and this interpretation of yoga has become a huge business. We hardly meditate, and the breathing exercises are also lost…we are all about doing asanas (yes, I’m generalizing, not all yoga teachers are the same but let me make my point).
My observation – the western world seemed to have magnified the asanas, which is one of the 8 steps, and made yoga as popular as it is today.
It’s true, we do focus on the breath but only when we do asanas. Pranayama is a whole subject in itself, it is supposed to be a system that controls the physical but also the mental aspects of our wellbeing. And as we move into today’s yoga popularity, the true pranayama has been lost in translation.
The same thing goes for the asanas. The physical parts of yoga can be done in different ways. It can be done the Hatha way going from pose-to-pose, it can be done the Ashtanga way were the poses are done quickly or done with a more dynamic Vinyasa flow method (unlike Ashtanga you can build your own sequence). In any case, the breathing is used to connect the asanas together…only during yoga class.
The point is, whatever you decided to practice, these methods are not the way to approach yoga as whole. They are methods to approach the physical part of yoga and that’s it.,
The next step: Study of yoga to get more from yoga
If you want to study yoga, you want to study the basics.
Yoga has been around for thousands of years and it’s been passed on by mouth-to-mouth. From one Sage to another Sage, from one Yogi to the other Yogi, the Yoga philosophy was shared and taught in this manner. Then a very long time ago one Sage came along and documented in writing his observations of yoga, he was called Patanjali.
Patanjali wrote the sutras of yoga, which is 196 lines explaining what yoga is and defined what you have to do when you want to practice yoga. It wasn’t very well organized and if you just read them it would seem like a confusing puzzle of information.
Luckily for us though, famous Yogis and teachers like Iyengar wrote their vision on the yoga sutras and those are available to us today. These books explain what yoga is, what the Union with the Divine is and how to do it.
Below are a couple of resources that will get you on your way to get more from yoga. Studying yoga in this manner will answer your questions and help you develop a stronger relationship with yoga.
Doing asanas is not Yoga
So if you’re serious about yoga, and you want to get more from yoga then forget about how you wanted to practice the asanas. Study how to do the poses and get better at them, but as you see now, the physical part is a very small part of the whole picture.
If you’re a person that likes to spend a long time doing asanas then go do Hatha yoga.
If you like Vinyasa Flow, and you like a dynamic workout…then perfect, do vinyasa flow.
If you feel you resonate with meditation or singing Mantras, then maybe Kundalini Yoga is for you, but keep in mind that it’s just an approach to the physical side.
Start your yoga study with Yoga Sutra, start with Upanishad, because then you’ll start to understand why you actually do the physical work in class.