As the modern western yoga world gets farther away from what yoga historically and traditionally is we try our best to stay closer to its origins. Yoga is so much more than doing postures in various styles and rhythms under the direction of a single teacher or guru. There are Four Paths of Yoga, or union – which means non dualism, no separate self, everything is consciousness. Only one of those four include asana, or postures, and even then only to a small degree.
Those four paths are Jnana – philosophy, Raja – science, Bhakti – devotion, and Karma – service. Each of these give a different path or possibility for a student to find their way too yoga, or enlightenment if you will. There are many trails to the top of the mountain but each one can get you to the same destination. Some of us are thinkers, some of us are lovers, some of us are doers, and some of us are a nicely mixed bag of everything. Follow what’s driving you in whatever direction that may be.
Personally, I’m a Jnana yogi. The philosophy of yoga has encapsulated me since I was a young man. The simple idea of no you, nothing is real, only the present exists. Boom. I couldn’t look away from that and had to investigate these ideas further. The epics of Hinduism, where the word yoga was first recorded, read like science fiction dramas but the metaphors are clear and the message being conveyed is always the same, no you, no separate self, non dualism, everything is consciousness. The Bhagavad Gita is the best place to start if you’re curious, but the Yoga Vasistha is my personal favourite. Vasistha was the guru of Rama, the hero of the Ramayana, and this is a collection of stories he told Rama to help him understand the concept of no self and dharma, or our life’s natural path.
Then there is Karma yoga, selfless service. Doing something without any desire or thought of getting anything in return for your actions. Acting simply for the sake of others, or God if you will, given that we are all the same. Staying present, this helps us get out of our mind and the thoughts and ideas that keep us so busy with our false sense of self. By simply acting for the sake of others, or our community, we leave ourself behind for a moment and embrace the present and the oneness we share with each other. All other humans are simply projections of ourself. So in the end you’re just making yourself better in the process.
This can be taken even further to Bhakti yoga. This is the yoga of love and devotion. Always acting from the heart, seeing consciousness in everything, and giving it love to purify your heart and your mind. This is where the rituals and pujas of Hinduism connect to yoga. Chanting is a beautiful way to express the heart and quiet the mind in the process. It’s also been proven to have a positive effect on our nervous system.
Lastly we have Raja yoga, the royal path of science. Patanjali gave us the Yoga Sutras and in this text he explains in detail the fluctuations of the mind, how to notice them and then also how to better take control of them to lead to a heightened state of focus, concentration, and consciousness. This was included in the eight limbs of yoga [(yama (abstinences), niyama (observances), asana (yoga postures), pranayama (breath control), pratyahara (withdrawal of the senses), dharana (concentration), dhyana (meditation) and samadhi (absorption)]. Through these practices we can stabilise our physiological states thus altering the state of mind and body at the same time.
All four paths compliment one another but maybe one calls out more to you. One destination, many paths. Where would you like your journey into the self to begin?