The Many Forms of Yoga

The Many Forms of Yoga

As practitioners of yoga in the west many of us recognize the physical posturing of the Asanas as yoga.  Did you know that the yoga we know is only one part of a broad and beautiful system discovered long, long ago.  Our ignorance is not our fault – you don’t walk down the street and see a tantric yoga studio on four different corners like you do with Hatha or the physical yoga that we recognize.  Hatha yoga is like the early bird that eagerly made its way across land and ocean to find us as new friends in the West.  Now that Hatha yoga has established itself and become accepted in its new land, its brothers and sisters, Jnana, Bhakti, Karma, Mantra, Yantra, Kundalini, Tantric and Raja yoga are following in its footsteps.  This article will introduce each of these new forms of yoga and give a cursory overview of each type.

Jnana Yoga

This one’s for the intellectuals. Its been said that the pursuit of knowledge is the noblest of quests, and the founders of Jnana Yoga would agree.  Jnana is the yoga of knowledge.  Rather than postures, study and meditation are the tools of this path and its goal is to work through the ignorance that prevents us from knowing our true selves.

Bhakti Yoga

Bhakti Yoga is the practice of intense love, devotion and worship. This is the most common form of yoga practiced in India and is comprised of singing songs of praise or acts of faith.  Many times Saint Francis of Assisi is a genuine example of this form of yoga (The same saint that the current Pope has chosen as his namesake).

Karma Yoga

Would you believe Gandhi was a yogi?  This is the yoga of peace and practiced by committed selfless acts with no regard for a return on those acts.  Gandhi is a prime example of this form of yoga as he practiced peaceful protests, fasted during riots to end the violence.

Mantra Yoga

If you practice Hatha Yoga you might have heard of a mantra or mantra yoga.  This is the yoga of sound, in which practitioners repeat sounds, words or phrases in order to influence their state of consciousness.  Often the vedas are repeated as mantras.

Yantra Yoga

Just as mantra yoga can be utilized in yoga or meditation, Yantra yoga employs the sense of sight and form (of objects).  This form of yoga combines the use of objects as well as the mind’s eye to practice or enhance meditation and influence consciousness.  Often times a lit candle or the inside of a temple is used as a visualization.

Kundalini (Or Laya) Yoga

These forms of yoga combine or build upon those of Hatha yoga (breath suspension and stable posture), and meditation to awaken a “psychic nerve-force” that exists latently in the physical body.  This energy is said to live at the base of the spine and is represented by a coiled snake.  The energy is aroused and then travels through the different chakras or energy centers in the body ending with the chakra at the crown of the head inducing bliss.

Tantric Yoga

The term tantric is often misunderstood or misused in the west.  When used correctly it is a term that delineate the physiological from the non-physiological systems of the body.  Tantrism is a different type of yoga is found mainly in Northern India and Tibet and in which control of the sexual energies is prominent and the union (yoga means union) of the male and female (either creatively or physically) has a ritualistic role.

Raja Yoga

The mind is an intense and passionate creature.  Raja Yoga seeks to gain mastery of the mind.  It is considered royal because the practioner becomes the ruler of their mind.  Hatha yoga is said to prepare the body for Raja yoga, because one must be able to still the body in order to harness or control the mind.  Just as Hatha yoga purifies the body, raja yoga purifies, and refines the mind.

*Research is based on James Hewitt’s book The Complete Yoga Book

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