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The Main Traditional Indian Yogas

30 June 2013

Yoga is viewed in the Vedanta tradition as the path which seeks to unite one’s own soul with Atman (the “True Self,” which is equated with the essential, ultimate, eternal, unchanging, nature of the universe).

Most of the Yogas other than Hatha are mostly meditative and more directly aimed at Yoga as end-goal and “union.”

An Overview:

Jnana Yoga: Union acquired through knowledge. Jnana Yoga is the path of spiritual wisdom and knowledge, in which the intellect penetrates the veils of ignorance that prevent man from seeing his True Self (Atman). The disciplines of this path are those of study and meditation.  Jnana Yoga may be considered the practical application of Advaita Vedanta.

Bhakti Yoga: Union acquired through love and devotion. The most popular Yoga of Indian masses is Bhakti. This is the Yoga of strongly-focused love, devotion and worship, at its finest in love of the One. Its disciplines are those of rites and the singing of songs of praise (called Bhajan or Kirtan).

Karma Yoga: Union acquired through action and service. Karma Yoga is the path dedicated work, selfless action and service, without any concern for the “fruits” of action.

Mantra Yoga: Union acquired through voice and sound. The practice of Mantra Yoga influences consciousness through repeating (or chanting) certain syllables, words or phrases. A form of Mantra Yoga is the Transcendental Meditation, which is widely practiced in the West. Rhytmic repetition of mantras is called japa. The most common, highly-regarded mantras are ‘OM’ and ‘OM MANE PADME HUM’.

Yantra Yoga: Union acquired through vision and form. Yantra Yoga employs sight and form. The visualization may be with the inner eye. A yantra is a design with power to influence consciousness; it is generally a two- or three-dimensional geometric composition, but it can be an objective picture, an inner visualization, or even the design of a temple.

The Main Traditional Indian Yogas Laya and Kundalini Yoga: Union acquired through arousal of latent psychic nerve-force. These combine many of the techniques of Hatha Yoga, especially prolonged breath suspension and a stable posture, with intense meditative concentration, so as to awaken the psychic nerve-force latent in the body, symbolized as serpent power (Kundalini), which is coiled below the base of the spine. The force is taken up the spine, passing through several power centers (chakras), until it reaches a chakra in the crown of the head, when intuitive enlightenment (Samadhi) is triggered. The disciplines are severe, best practiced under the guidance of a master teacher or guru.

Tantric Yoga: Union acquired through the harnessing of sexual energy. Tantric techniques are applied to distinguish psycho/physiological systems. The control of the sexual energies has a prominent part and the union of male and female plays a ritualistic role. Tantric Yoga closely guards its teachings and techniques, being the most secret of all the yogas.

Hatha Yoga: Union acquired through bodily mastery (particularly the breath); central to all Hatha Yoga disciplines is the regulation of breath, the harmonizing of its positive (sun) and negative (moon) or male and female currents. Hatha Yoga is the most widely practiced yoga in the West, and its best-known feature is asana (poses). Hatha yoga has practical benefits to the health of the nervous system, glands, and vital organs. It’s often a predecessor to (and purifying preparation for) Raja Yoga, which is work upon consciousness itself. Hatha Yoga is the most practical of yogas, working upon the physical body, purifying it, and through the body upon the mind. It’s the Yoga of physical health and well-being.

Raja Yoga: Union acquired through mastery over the mind. Its principal text is the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. Raja Yoga is considered royal because the Yogi who practices this yoga regularly becomes ruler over his mind. Raja Yoga works upon the mind, refining and perfecting it, and then through the mind upon the body. It’s the Yoga of consciousness, considered by most, the highest form of Yoga.

The Main Traditional Indian Yogas

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