Brian December 31st, 2012
Like most things, the answer to this question depends on who you ask. In current usage, ”Yoga” primarily refers to a physical practice involving stretching and strengthening the body. This practice of yoga may also include breathing exercises, meditation, and diet.
Stepping back a bit, the word yoga has a variety of meanings. It is a Sanskrit word that is commonly translated as “union” or “yoke.” In this context, the word is used in terms of finding “union with” or being “yoked to” some type of higher power. When the word is used this way, it is often referring to one of the 6 main Yogas, meaning paths or methods for finding your way to a god. Since these practices originated in India, the gods being sought are, of course, Hindu gods, but the practices are thought to be universal and can make a person more available to spiritual experience regardless of religious affiliation.
The 6 main Yogas are:
- Karma Yoga: The yoga of selfless service. In this approach, an individual dedicates the fruits of their actions to something other than themself. Mother Theresa is a good example of someone using this path to god.
- Bhakti Yoga: The yoga of devotion. This path of yoga is said to be suitable for those of an emotional nature. Although their devotion has a negative connotation in this country, the Hare Krishnas are examples of Bhakti Yogis. Ghandi and Martin Luther King Jr. are other examples.
- Hatha Yoga: The yoga of the mind and body. In the early 1900’s the traditional form of hatha yoga mixed with European gymnastics, resulting in a practice that reflects most of our current yoga culture.
- Raja Yoga: The royal yoga. Considered to be the hardest of all the paths, this yoga uses the mind to find union, primarily through meditation practice. An Indian sage named Patanjali is credited with writing a book that outlines this branch of yoga. In the book, he defines yoga as “the cessation of the fluctuations of the mind-stuff.”
- Nada Yoga: The yoga of sound. As you can imagine, the sects that follow this path to yoga tend to do a lot of chanting.
- Jnana Yoga: The yoga of the intellect. I call this path the “philosopher’s Yoga.” I went to a jnana ashram in India where they stood around rubbing their chins thoughtfully, pondering very deep questions.
Obviously there is room for overlap in these paths, and overlap comes nowhere close to describing the ways they mingle in India. My personal practice is primarily traditional Hatha Yoga, but I integrate aspects from all the paths as much as I possibly can. I like to chant, read, think, love, meditate….can’t hurt, right? And, God knows, I need all the help I can get.
- Homepage Content