The 4 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 traditions, each one leading to this state of union through the use of different sets of tools, and therefore appealing to different human constitutions and characteristic typologies. 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 integral “royal” Yoga path that specializes in training the mind.
Through these four different paths a human being can reach the peak of his or her 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 features that define it.
It’s more than relaxation and athleticism
In today’s era we are witnessing an emergence of what we can call “modern variations of Yoga” – from Vinyasa to Acroyoga, Ashtanga to “Beer Yoga” (yes, the latter actually exists and combines Yoga with drinking beer), and more. It is true that some contemporary styles of Yoga can be revitalizing and athletic in nature, assisting a person with general health and well-being. However, others seem to steer practitioners away from the true meaning of Yoga entirely, even going so far as to deface its sacred name and purpose.
If you are a genuine spiritual seeker, it is beneficial to understand the authentic roots of Yoga as a sacred spiritual science and to familiarize yourself with the aforementioned paths. These are considered the classical paths of Yoga and are backed by tradition as well as lineage. They have time, history, and results on their side – virtues generally missing among the proliferation of modern Yoga styles. Fortunately (or unfortunately, according to your disposition), spiritual liberation and self-realization are not 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 ancient times, a spiritual aspirant would choose the branch of Yoga that best aligned with his temperament and nature, according to personal qualities that were already prevalent in him as well as usually the advice of a competent guru. In effect, his efforts had a degree of leverage and progress came as if by a kind of grace. It was as though 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 as a person would not choose to invest time and energy in learning how to play a musical instrument if she disliked music, a yogi would be wise not to choose a yogic path that contradicted his natural disposition.
Therefore, both self-reflection and self-analysis are vital steps in choosing which branch of Yoga to pursue for spiritual gains. Are you a person of action? Perhaps you are more emotional by nature and chiefly motivated by the call of your 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, Karma Yoga is the path of skillful action, where one acts selflessly without expectation or desire of fruits or rewards. Through the teachings of this Yoga, a person can learn the art of detachment, dedicating and devoting his actions to the Divine, and therefore eliminating the accumulation of karma. Karma, according to yogic lore, is what ultimately keeps us from uniting with the Divine.
- Jnana Yoga – This is 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 through knowledge itself, primarily knowledge of the Self.
- Bhakti Yoga – Motivated by the power of devotional love, Bhakti Yoga brings one into a state of trance through prayer, kirtan, bhajans, worship, and ritual. It teaches a person to transform her emotions into pure unconditional love for the Divine and how to reach God through the heart.
- Raja Yoga – This path is a more technical branch of Yoga, considered the Yoga of concentration and meditation, or the 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, or enlightenment.
Raja Yoga is the most favored path, with an estimated 70 percent of spiritual seekers following this tradition today. Jnana Yoga has unfortunately declined by comparison and only appeals to perhaps 5 percent of modern spiritual aspirants, while Karma Yoga and Bhakti Yoga interest one out of every 10.
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 first key to success is devoting yourself to teachings with not only traditional roots and genuine, verifiable results, but also choosing a path that harmonizes with your personal temperament. In our school, the curriculum and teachings combine Tantra Yoga, Kundalini Yoga, and Hatha Yoga, as well as Raja Yoga, some Karma Yoga, and others. Together, they embody a very potent and powerful path of evolution. The second (and more important) key to success is the actual practice. All Yoga is eminently practical and, without this, it is not alive or effective as a spiritual science within us and its results cannot be demonstrated.