The Tree of Yoga
A Brief Overview:
We can think of Yoga as a majestic tree with several branches. You may identify with a particular branch and want to build a nest there; but if you spread your wings and fly, you may discover that each branch nurtures a particular aspect of yourself. Eventually the perception of the branches as separate disappears and the vision of the whole tree grows in our awareness.
Traditionally, some of the main branches originated in ancient India are:
Jnana Yoga: the path of discernment or knowledge of our true spiritual identity, appeals to those with an inquisitive mind. It is a path of self-inquiry around the question "Who am I?" (as taught by the modern Indian sage Ramana Maharishi). As one progressively misidentifies with the limits of body and mind, awareness of eternal Spirit grows.
Karma Yoga: the path of action or selfless service, it appeals naturally to those with a dynamic and giving disposition. Focus is on right effort and detachment from the fruits (results) of our actions. By serving others comes purification of mind, which eventually leads to renunciation of all selfish desires. According to the Bhagavad-Gita, Karma Yoga is a path that can help all souls to evolve.
Bhakti Yoga: the path of devotional love, appeals to those with an emotional nature. God, the Beloved, is worshipped in its many names and forms.
Mantra Yoga: a branch of Bhakti, mantras are sacred words and sounds. Chanting awakens and fans the flame in the heart, taking the devotee to higher levels of communion with the Divine.
Classical or Ashtanga Yoga: the eight limbs of yoga as described by Patanjali in the yoga sutras. "By the practice of the limbs of yoga, the impurities dwindle away and there dawns the light of wisdom leading to discriminative discernment" (book 2, sutra 28). The eight limbs of yoga are:
1) yamas - ethical principles
2) nyamas - self observances
3) asana - postures
4) pranayama - breath regulation
5) pratyahara - sense withdrawal
6) dharana - concentration
7) dhyana - meditation
8) samadhi - Self realization
Ashtanga Yoga of Patanjali (also known as Raja Yoga, a royal path leading to Self-realization) offers a highly practical map that can guide followers from all paths.
Tantra Yoga: a movement originated in medieval India (600 - 1400 AD), Tantrism includes the body in the spiritual quest. Considering enlightenment a whole body experience, Tantrism aims at creating a divine, adamantine (vajra) body, capable of enduring higher spiritual practices. It is a path of intense experience - the body is a laboratory. Some of the tantric practices include: mantra, purification of chakras, kundalini arousal, geometric meditation (yantra), goddess worship and sexual transmutation.
Hatha Yoga: an offshoot of Tantrism, Hatha Yoga developed among the Nathas, a group of Siddhas ('accomplished' or 'perfected') who traced their lineage directly to Lord Shiva (Adinatha, the Primordial Lord). The idea of body cultivation with a spiritual purpose becomes more refined with the development of Hatha Yoga (9th - 11th centuries AD). Aiming to balance the solar (HA) and lunar (THA) energies in the physical and subtle bodies, the main practices are: purificatory techniques (kriyas), seals (mudras), locks (bandhas), postures (asana), and breath regulation (pranayama).
Published in Yoga Links. Mar. 2001. Issue 5