A Yoga Practice Right For You eight limbs of Yoga

The Eight Limbs of Yoga, Find a Yoga Practice Right for You

There is much to Yoga than the physical postures associated with Asana.  Come and find the branch of this ancient system is right for you.

How to Find A Yoga Practice

Selecting the correct spiritual path is essential. Yoga provides a variety of different types which can make your search confusing.  This article summarizes the systems you can make an informed choice.

Eight Limbs of Yoga — 7 Traditional Yoga Paths

Yoga is the most practiced system of self development.  Most  people associate the system with its physical postures, but, the  physical is only one aspect of this holistic system of development.   Indian folklore tells us Shiva, the Adiyogi, or the first yogi.  Legend has it he lived several thousand years ago before recorded history and he gave the system we know as Yoga to the Sapta Rishis, the original seven sages.   He did not leave a written record.

Legend has it; he was too wild to be a scholar.  So, he chose seven people and gave each a different aspect of the system. These became the seven traditional Yoga paths.  Today, there are hundreds of variations of these forms.

Patanjali is considered by many to be the father of modern Yoga.  He did not invent Yoga, but he did create a practical way of organizing the system, his work the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali is a significant cultural document.  It provided a framework for eight distinctive processes and gave examples of the results.  However, the exact way to apply these formulas is missing.  Differences in the translation of his teachings have led to many variations.

There are seven traditional Yoga paths. But, there are eight limbs of Yoga.  So, things get a little confusing.  These are two different ways to categorize the system.  The seven types of Yoga are the traditional way of categorizing the method, while the eight limbs is the system which was complied by Patanjali.  He is a later authoritative teacher around the 2nd century. Here’s a comparison between the two:

The seven traditional types of Yoga are:

1) Jnana
2) Bhakti
3) Karma
4) Mantra
5) Raja
6) Tantra
7) Hatha

Next, the Eight Limbs of Yoga as defined by Patanjali

1) Discipline (Yamas)
2) Self Observation and self-training (Niyamas)
3) Postures (Asana)
4) Breathing exercises (Pranayama)
5) Withdrawal of the senses (Pratyahara)
6) Concentration (Dharana)
7) Meditation (Dhyana), and
8) Samādhi and the Siddhis.

The first and most obvious difference between the two systems is the addition of Samadhi and Siddhis with Yoga Sutras of Patanjali.   His system also specifies other meditative practices, and breaks out concentration, self-observation, and sensory input withdrawal into separate categories.  The seven traditional forms include all of these practices, but uses the name of the person associated with a branch instead of the technique.  No matter how you categorize them, you can see there’s a lot more to Yoga than physical postures

The Different Paths of Yoga

This list includes systems both systems listed above.   Finding a Yoga practice that’s right for you depends on a lot of factors.  You need to consider your level of health and the goals for your practice and what is available near you.  Start by making a list of your goals.  See what is available that meets your needs.

Ashtanga

Ashtanga is power yoga or the eight limb path, and it’s a physically demanding so it not recommended for beginners.  This method is a compilation of the late Sri K. Pattabhi Jois (1915-2009). It involves a progressively harder series of postures while synchronizing the breath.

Bhakti Yoga

Bhakti is a traditional Hinduism path.  It is the second of the seven traditional methods, known as the path of devotion and love for the Supreme God and Guru.  This is a multifaceted method intended to transcend all religious beliefs.

This is a yoga practice which seeks to harness the energy of our emotions.  Then we learn to direct these passions for the greater good.  Its goal is oneness through rituals, verbalizing mantras, songs, and dance.  The goal is to increase positive social activism.

Bikram Yoga

This brand of Yoga is named after its creator, Bikram Choudhury.  This system uses 26 classic postures in a challenging progression.  Apparently, this system is a copy of the practice he learned from Bishnu Ghosh, the younger brother of Paramahansa Yogananda.

He is also known for his abrasive teaching style, and he is one of the first teachers to use a heated room with low humidity increase sweating.  The idea is sweating expedites the release of toxins. It’s a physically demanding practice, definitely not for those with a heart condition or those who like cold weather.

Netflix did a documentary on this teacher called, Bikram: Yogi, Guru, Predator. Many former students have filed complaints ranging from sexual assault to false imprisonment.

Hatha Yoga

Hatha is the seventh of the seven traditional methods. ‘Ha’ means sun, and ‘Tha’ means moon.  Hatha Yoga is a broad term that includes all physical types of practice, so all physical forms of Yoga are a subset of Hatha Yoga.  It is the most popular Yoga form in Western culture.  It is a form to balance mind, body, and spirit.

The Hatha method includes the use of Mudras, which are hand gestures that help you focus on the practice.  It also incorporates a variety of Pranayama techniques for controlling breathing.  Many consider this form the basic science behind all physical aspects of Yoga. These methods help bring harmony to the chakras and energy points throughout our bodies.

There are more variations of Hatha Yoga emerging, such as Pre-Natal Yoga, Acro-Yoga, and Yin Yoga.  You can change this Yoga form to fit any stage and situation in life.

Iyengar Yoga

B. K. S. Iyengar created a system focusing on aligning the body, which makes it an ideal yoga practice for physical therapy, recovery of injuries, and joint problems.

Japa Meditation

Japa is a seated meditation technique which is at the heart of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali.  It is the key to the eight limbs of Yoga.  Japa is the most common meditation technique used to reach Samādhi, the transcendent, 4th state, or bliss consciousness.

The 4th state of consciousness is a state which differs significantly from waking, sleeping, or dreaming. It produces a unique set of measurable physical responses. It lowers heart rate and respiration while increasing skin resistance.  The most prominent aspects are the profound state of rest while the mind remains alert.

This technique is commercially available under the name Transcendental Meditation or TM.  Maharishi Mahesh Yogi Maharishi (1918-2008) is one of the meditation movement’s primary pioneers.

Jnana Yoga

Jnana is a yoga practice that focuses on knowledge and wisdom. It uses a process similar to the repeating question technique.  The idea is you try to get to the core answer without the interference of any previous conditioning or assumptions.  To know that we don’t know and look within for all the answers.

Jnana is one of the seven traditional yoga forms, traced to the Vedas and the early Upanishads.   Jnana and Raja Yoga use meditation methods to investigate the mind’s subtleties.

Jivamukti

This school promotes a holistic approach, combining several of the most popular techniques.   It uses Vinyasa style postures and self-reflection, chanting, breathing exercises, and meditation.

Karma Yoga

Karma Yoga is the third of the seven traditional forms, focusing on positive actions, which is the primary focus of those who become Buddhist monks.  It shows kindness without the expectations of reward other than by showing compassion.

Positive karmic deeds can be practical things like cleaning up litter, fixing a fallen sign, or saving a drowning insect. These things are random acts of kindness.  Doing things for the greater good.

The Bhagavad Gita is the primary source for this philosophy.  It focuses on self-talk to transform attitude.  This idea is to view all actions as an act of sacrifice to our divine nature.  The application of this practice makes daily activities meaningful.

Kripalu Yoga

Are you looking for a Yoga practice that blends form that uses traditional physical postures, then  Kripula Yoga is right for you.  The focus is on self-reflection using Pranayama, music for deep relaxation, and some primary forms of seated meditation.  It is considered an excellent all-around Yoga form with both meditative and moving practices, which makes it a good preparatory practice for Japa Meditation and The Siddhis.

Kundalini Yoga

Kundalini is another powerful seated meditative practice.  It uses mudras, breathing, and visualization techniques to activate energy flow up the spinal column, opening the chakras and awakening the practitioner.

Mantra

Mantra is the fourth of the seven traditional schools of Yoga, the term comes from two Sanskrit words: ‘Manas’ (mind) and ‘Trayati’ (liberation).  The Vedas are replete with mantras for many uses. Mantra Yoga uses Indian Sanskrit energy-based sounds and combinations.  We can verbalize or use them mentally.

Mantras are words or phrases that have unique vibrational properties.  They are frequencies which active, heal and align energy centers known as Chakras.  It is possible to measure the effect of these vibrational tools on our physiology.  Science is still trying to determine how they work.  You can find mantras in many forms of seated and moving meditation.

Moving Meditation

This category of techniques includes Eastern methods like Tai Chi and Qigong.  It also includes dance and ritual forms that you find in Bhakti Yoga.  Almost any movement can become a moving meditation with the right frame of mind.

Many moving practices correlate with seated forms of meditation. Mindfulness Meditation and Forest Bathing have both moving and seated aspects.   It relates to the eightfold path to direct and normalize energy.

Although Yoga is an exercise for the physical body, the purpose of the practice is to prepare us for serious inner work.  The goal of moving meditation is to generate energy for this work.

Raja Yoga

The fifth traditional method is Raja Yoga, also known as Royal Yoga.  It focuses on inner work.  The goal is to awaken hidden potential by investigating each aspect of the psyche.  It uses specific internal work techniques that probe the mind’s intellectual, emotional, and intuitive elements.  Many people use Raja and Hatha Yoga together. Raja prepares the mind to enable the proper mindset for physical practice.

The Siddhis

The Siddhis are the brainchild of Patanjali.  This system uses a collection of specialized Sutras to produce extraordinary experiential results. It’s a technique that springboards from the transcendent state produced by Japa Meditation.  Using these techniques is an advanced practice.  You need to be grounded in the 4th state to use these tools.

These Sutras are formulas that cultivate specific reactions.  These can be emotional, psychological, and even physical.

Tantra Yoga

Tantra is the sixth traditional style, here, the focus is on achieving balance of our nature, the feminine (Shakti) and masculine (Shiva).   Because these instinctual energies are powerful, some people misuse them.  If you choose this method, it is essential to find qualified instruction.

Tantra comes from two Sanskrit words: ‘Tanoti’ (expansion) and ‘Trayati’ (liberation).  So, it means to expand freedom, but with balance.  That does not allow the Ego to override our higher spiritual nature and become selfish and self-indulgent.  Tantra works through the principle of using our instinctual energy to transform consciousness.

For this transformation, there are two main paths. The outer left path is the most misunderstood form.  It uses physical, sexual energy to transcend awareness.  The inner right path involves the individual practice of Asanas, Pranayama, and visualization to achieve the same goal.

Vinyasa

Vinyasa Yoga is a standard commercial form of Yoga that includes a seamless flow of various physical asanas and breathing exercises.   However, unlike some other yoga forms that follow a set routine, this method uses ever-changing sequences.  It means you must stay focused on the practice and not let the mind wander.  The intent is to mirror the ever-changing flow of life. It’s a physically demanding form for those who love verity and change.

Yin Yoga

The practice of Yin Yoga focuses on holding postures for long periods.  Sometimes they also use a heated room.  The purpose of this slower pace is to increase circulation and improve flexibility.  You spend upwards of 4 minutes in a pose to get the maximum benefit.

In Conclusion

Remember, you can use physical postures as exercise.  However, if you only use them as exercise and not a link to the other eight limbs, you miss most of the benefits.  Yoga Asana is a preparatory link to the use of the higher forms.

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