Since yoga was introduced to Westerners at the latter end of the 20th century, many disciplines of yoga have evolved. Most of these focus only on the physical aspect of yoga, asana practice. However, traditional hatha yoga is an ancient philosophy which includes teachings on diet and nutrition, prayer and meditation, ethical living or codes of conduct, in addition to the postures or asanas that are popular today. Yoga teachings are found in Hinduism as well as Buddhism. In their book "From Here to Nirvana," authors Anne Cushman and Jerry Jones explain that there are five main types of yoga: Jhana, Bhakti, Karma, Raja and Hatha.
The first path, or type of yoga, is Jnana yoga. Yoga Guru Patanjali taught that meditating on the question, "Who am I?" would eventually lead to self-realization, and enlightenment. Jnana yoga is the path of right inquiry. To reach enlightenment, we must dedicate ourselves to the search for truth, by asking the right questions. Jnana yoga is the path of study and intellectual development.
Bhakti yoga is the path of love, devotion, and worship. Sri Yogi Hari explains that Bhakti is actually an intense love for God. Yogis teach the personal development of this love of God naturally leads one to love all beings, to see the "god" in all forms of creation. By practicing bhakti yoga, the individual lets go of feelings of hate, jealousy, and vengeance; and instead embraces compassion, tolerance and love.
Karma yoga is the path of selfless service. Many have heard the terms "good karma" or "bad karma." These refer to actions which either are for the benefit of others, or actions which only benefit the self at the sacrifice of others. The latter stems from feelings of greed, pride, anger and fear. To practice karma yoga is to perform acts of kindness and service. Yogis believe karma is based on a universal law, which is: For every action, there is an opposite reaction. By serving others, we invite good acts into our own lives.
Raja yoga is the path to control over the mind. It includes a moral code, breath control and a meditation. Yogi Hari teaches the human mind is a bundle of thoughts which are often fragmented. This agitated mind keeps human beings trapped in a state of stress, anxiety and focused on the external world. This distracts the individual from the happiness he is seeking, which yogis teach, comes from focusing inward on the soul. This path of yoga takes discipline and time to master, but can be accomplished through pranayama, or breathing exercises, and meditation.
Hatha yoga is the path of physical exercise. This is the face of yoga which is most familiar to people in the West. It involves regular practice of a series of asanas, or postures, to heal the body and promote well-being. Yoga has its roots in Ayurveda, an ancient system of medicine from India. This system identifies seven energy centers in the body, called chakras, which, when functioning properly, maintain good health. Yoga postures are designed to stimulate these chakras, and balance the body's energy.
Another overlooked aspect of yoga is sound or vibration techniques, called nada yoga. Nada yoga incorporates chanting, singing of bhajans, or hymns, and using different instruments to produce healing vibrations. Music or sounds are often used in popular yoga classes throughout the western world, although few know this practice stems from nada yoga.
- "From Here to Nirvana: The Yoga Journal Guide to Spiritual India;" Anne Cushman, Jerry Jones, 1998
- Sri Yogi Hari: Yoga Teachings