The Four Types of Yoga

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The Four Types of Yoga

The true meaning of the word Yoga is “union” – union of the body, mind and Spirit with the Divine. In India historically there exist four classical Yoga tradition, each one leading to the union-state using a different set of tools, and therefore appealing to different human constitutions and character. The four types of yoga are Karma Yoga – the Yoga of action, Jnana Yoga – the Yoga of knowledge, Bhakti Yoga – the Yoga of devotion and Raja Yoga – the royal or kingly Yoga.

Through these four different paths a human can reach the peak of his spiritual evolution. They are like independent pathways leading to the same mountaintop, although in practice, many yogis combine techniques from each of the four paths. If practiced with seriousness and devotion, these four great pillars are ultimately a road to self-realization. We will explore each path individually along with the characteristics that define it.


It’s more than relaxation and athleticism

four types of yoga

In today’s modern era we are witnessing an emergence of what we can call “modern variations of Yoga” – from vinyasa to acroyoga, ashtanga and even beer Yoga (yes, the latter actually exists and combines Yoga with drinking beer). It is true that some contemporary styles of Yoga can be revitalizing, athletic in nature and assist a person with general health and wellbeing; while others seem to steer away from the true meaning of Yoga entirely, and even go as far as defacing its sacred name and purpose.

If you are a genuine spiritual seeker then it is beneficial to understand the authentic roots of this sacred spiritual science and familiarize yourself with the aforementioned paths. These are considered the classical paths of Yoga and backed by tradition as well as lineage. They have time, history and results on their side; virtues that modern techniques are simply void of. Fortunately or unfortunately, spiritual liberation and self-realization are not going to be discovered at the bottom of a beer bottle, but rather through deep internal contemplation and faithful commitment to a proven path.


The four great types of Yoga

In the more ancient times, a spiritual aspirant would choose the branch of Yoga that best aligned with his temperament and nature, according to the personal qualities that were already innate and prevalent and usually by the advice of a competent guru. In effect, his efforts and progress came with a degree of leverage and an advantage. It was although there was already wind in his sails, so to speak, because the chosen path fostered his strengths and his strengths propelled him along his path expeditiously. In the same way a person would not choose to invest time and energy in learning how to play a musical instrument if they disliked music, a yogi would be wise not choose a yogic path that contradicted his natural disposition.

four types of yoga

Therefore both self-reflection and self-analysis are vital components when choosing your branch of Yoga for spiritual gains. Are you more outgoing by default and a person of action? Perhaps you are more emotional in nature and chiefly motivated by the heart? There exists a yogic path that can facilitate your advancement and evolution, according to your primal inclination or inspiration.

  • Karma Yoga – commonly preferred by those with an active nature or personality. It teaches skillful action where one acts selflessly without expectation or desire of fruits or rewards. Through this path, a person can learn the art of detachment, dedicating and devoting their actions to the Divine, and therefore eliminating the accumulation of Karma. Karma, according to Yogic teachings, is what ultimately keeps us from uniting with the Divine.
  • Jnana Yoga – perhaps the most difficult path for a modern aspirant as it requires a high degree of intellectual interest and mental power. This path encourages the practitioner to use his own mind to discover the true nature of his mind. It can dissolve the veil of ignorance by knowledge – primarily knowledge of the Self.
  • Bhakti Yoga – motivated by the power of devotional love. It brings one to a state of trance through prayer, kirtan, bhajan, worship and ritual. It teaches a person to transform one’s emotions into pure unconditional love for the Divine and reach God through the heart.
  • Raja Yoga – is a more technical branch of Yoga and is considered the Yoga of concentration and meditation, or Yoga of the Third Eye. Various tools and techniques are used to train and tame the mind. It is considered the “royal road” among the four paths and can lead a devotee to Samadhi.

Raja Yoga is the most favored path with an estimated following of about 70% of spiritual seekers today. Jnana Yoga has unfortunately declined in comparison and only appeals to perhaps 5% of modern spiritual aspirants while Karma and Bhakti Yoga interest one out of every ten.

Other branches of Yoga, which come with long proven traditions, in addition to the classical four are Hatha Yoga, Kundalini Yoga, Laya Yoga, Tantra Yoga and many more.


Devotion to a genuine path

The key to success is devoting oneself the teachings which not only come with traditional roots and genuine, verifiable results, but which also harmonize with your personal temperament. In our school the curriculum and teachings combine Tantra Yoga, Kundalini and Hatha Yoga, as well as some Karma and Raja Yoga and more. Together, they embody a very potent and powerful path of evolution.


Learn more in our curriculum.

Somananda is the founder and head teacher of Somananda Tantra School - a spiritual school of Meditation, Yoga and Tantra. He has been practicing and teaching these ancient treasures across the globe for two decades.
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