There is much to Yoga than the physical postures associated with Asana. Come and find the branch of Yoga that is right for you.
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To find the best practice, you need to know something about them. We hope this article will help you find a qualified path that meets your needs.
Eight Limbs of Yoga VS Seven Traditional Yoga Paths
Yoga is the most widely practiced form of spiritual development. Many in the West associate it with physical postures. But the physical side is only one aspect of Yoga. Many activate or clean our spiritual, physical, and mental energy. The Indian system identifies seven energy centers along the spine called Chakras.
Indian folklore tells us Shiva, the Adiyogi, or the first yogi. He lived before recorded history several thousand years ago. He gave the system we know as Yoga to the Sapta Rishis. These are the original seven sages. He gave the knowledge verbally and 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 yoga. These became the seven traditional Yoga paths. Today there are hundreds of variations of these forms.
We know Patanjali as the father of modern yoga. However, he did not invent Yoga. Instead, he developed a unique way of organizing the system. Differences in the translation of his teachings led to hundreds of variations. So, there are many ways to categorize them. Here’s a way we think is helpful. The goal of yoga asanas is to prepare one for the inner journey. It all depends on the teacher and how they lead the practice.
There are seven traditional Yoga paths. But, there are eight limbs of Yoga. So, things get a little confusing. Both are a way of categorizing the components of the system. Many see the seven paths as the oldest method. The eight limbs come from Patanjali. He is a later authoritative teacher around the 2nd century. Patanjali categorized the elements of Yoga in a new way. Here’s a comparison between the two:
The seven traditional types of Yoga are:
The Eight Limbs of Yoga 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.
There are several differences between the two. The first and most obvious is the addition of Samadhi and Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. His system also specifies other meditative practices. He breaks out concentration, self-observation, and sensory input withdrawal are separate categories.
The seven traditional forms include most of these practices. The significant difference is the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, a later addition. No matter which way you categorize them, you can see there’s a lot more to Yoga than physical postures.
The Different Paths of Yoga
Yoga has become hundreds of variations. So, there are many ways to categorize them. Here’s a little about some of the most popular types of yoga you’ll encounter today so that you can find a Yoga practice right for you.
We also know this form as power yoga or the “eight limb path.” Ashtanga is a physically demanding form and not 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 is a traditional Hinduism path and the second of the seven traditional methods. It’s known as the Yoga of devotion and love for the Supreme God and Guru. It is a multifaceted method intended to transcend all religious beliefs.
This practice harnesses our emotions’ energy and directs it for the greater good. Its goal is oneness through rituals, verbalizing mantras, song, and dance. The goal is to channel this energy into social and community action.
This brand of Yoga is Bikram Choudhury’s namesake. It uses 26 classic postures in increasing challenging progressions. He copied the system’s former teacher in India, Bishnu Ghosh, younger brother of Paramahansa Yogananda, born Mukunda L. Ghosh.
He is known for an abrasive teaching style. He is one of the first to use a heated room for yoga practice; the room’s high temperature and low humidity increase sweating. The idea is sweating expedites the release of toxins. It’s a physically demanding practice which is not for those who like cold weather.
Netflix did a documentary on this teacher, Bikram: Yogi, Guru, Predator. Many students have filed several complaints from sexual assault to false imprisonment.
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 other 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. These 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 body.
There are ever-more forms of Hatha Yoga emerging, such as Pre-Natal Yoga, Acro-Yoga, and Yin Yoga. You can modify this Yoga form for any stage and situation in life.
Iyengar Yoga is the creation of B. K. S. Iyengar. This a form that focuses on alignment or realigning the body. It is a yoga practice ideal for physical therapy, recovery of injuries, and joint problems.
Japa is a seated meditation technique, and it’s the primary tool of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. It is the key to the eight limbs of yoga. It is the most common meditation technique used to reach Samādhi = the transcendent state of consciousness.
The 4th state of consciousness is a state which differs significantly from waking, sleeping, or dreaming. The body produces a unique set of measurable physical responses when you use this technique. It lowers heart rate and respiration while increasing skin resistance. One achieves a 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 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 the first 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.
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 is the third of the seven traditional forms, focusing on positive actions. It’s the primary focus of those who become monks. It shows kindness without the expectations of reward other than by showing compassion.
It can be an unnoticed deed like cleaning up litter, fixing a fallen sign, or saving a drowning insect. These things are acts of kindness. It revolves around doing something for the greater good.
The Bhagavad Gita is the primary source of this philosophy and practice. 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.
Are you looking for a Yoga form that blended form that uses traditional physical postures? Kripula Yoga is 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. It’s good preparation for Japa Meditation and The Siddhis.
Kundalini is another powerful seated meditative practice. It uses mudras, breathing, and visualization techniques to activate energy flow up the spinal column which facilitates opening the chakras, awakening the practitioner.
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 Sankrit energy-based sounds and combinations. We can verbalize or use them mentally.
Mantras are sounds that vibrate with the human nervous system’s energy centers known as Chakras. We can measure their effect on our physiology, consciousness, and awareness. But science is still trying to determine how they work. You can find mantras in many forms of seated and 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.
The fifth of the seven traditional methods 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. It is said to bring us to a state of clear awareness and awaken psychic potential.
This system focuses on inner work through contemplation and meditation. Many teachers use Raja and Hatha Yoga together. Raja prepares the mind to enable the proper mindset for physical practice. The goal is to bring the meditative Raja awareness into physical exercise.
Raja Yoga is the ‘royal’ yoga. The focus is on the holistic method similar to what they describe in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. Without the inner framework of Raja, physical postures are exercise.
We cannot attain the proper state of meditation without the right mind, body, and breath alignment. So postures, breath, and awareness are all necessary building blocks of the complete practice.
The Siddhis are the brainchild of the Yoga master 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.
The sixth of the seven traditional methods is Tantra. This practice harnesses the power of our sexual energy. The idea is to bring balance to our nature, the feminine (Shakti) and masculine (Shiva). Because these energies are powerful, some people misuse them. If you use this method, it is essential to find qualified instruction.
The term 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 Yoga is a standard commercial form of Yoga that includes a seamless flow of various asanas and Pranayama. However, unlike some other yoga forms that follow a set routine, this method uses ever-changing sequences. The intent is to mirror the ever-changing flow of life. It’s a physically demanding form for those who love verity and change.
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.
Remember, you can use physical postures as exercise. However, if you only use them as exercise and not as 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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(1) Joseph Campbell & Joseph Campbell’s book The Hero’s Journey, Wikipedia