This is the most common question; what type/kind of yoga do I practice? In Western society we have developed this separation into styles. It's nice, I will admit, when you show up to a Restorative class (for example) and you get...A Restorative class, not an Ashtanga class. It helps our Western mind know when I show up to this Restorative class I am going to be moving slow, lots of props and I might fall asleep ; ). When I show up for a Strong/Astanga class, I am going to sweat, my arms may hurt at the end, and svanasana may be only 5minutes (if were lucky). But was this the intention of the practice of Yoga to be dissected in little bite size styles so we could...stay in a dissected state? NO!
But as humans we cannot see the whole picture as one so we must dissect to understand then we begin to tap into the source with one style or school or another.
Yoga means to yoke, union, or bring together the mind body or spirit. So why do we need to have different styles to keep us separated?
Traditionally there not different styles, but different schools. Even though the paths to enlightenment are different, the goal is the same, Samadhi (union with the divine) or in Buddhist schools Nirvana (blissful peacefulness). Buddhism is not yoga, but they are close cousins and some of the ancient texts are the stepping stones for Buddhism. But I digress. Even though there is a lot to digest with these two topics; let's continue.
Yoga began some 5,000 ago (this is not precise as yoga is older than the written texts) with the first "succinct" text called the Vedas. These were the detailed descriptions of rituals, prayers, performances, and offerings. Yoga at first was just the ritual practice. Slowly it began to change with time. Fast forward to 2,000BCE and we find the text of Pantajali graced the Earth with the Yoga Sutras of Pantanjali.
Pantanjali's Yoga Sutras is the basis for all modern yoga, but it is not the only path towards enlightenment. Throughout the Yoga Sutras Pantanjali doesn't prescribe to one religion as yoga can be adapted to all religions. Or to none. This is a spiritual practice of awakening to our deepest and most sensitive self; the one that longs to reconnect to the source of truth, love, and peace.
The 8 schools of yoga described below are a SHORT glimpse into the vast ocean of yoga and all of its facets. Also the order is not in chronological as the learnings and teachings are cyclical and are influenced by each other. They cannot be separated no matter how much we try. The simple fact that one wants to be a better person, voila!, you are a yogi. No need to bind into a pretzel or recite long and intense Sanskrit mantras. Following love and kindness is the truest form of yoga.
1. RAJA YOGA
Raja yoga (pronounced Ra-Ja) is the royal path. It is the path that Pananjali talks about in his Yoga Sutras. He lays out how to reach Samadhi or liberation in 8 "steps" (Samadhi being the 8th). In Pantanjali's Yoga Sutras, the main practice would be considered meditation. (This seriously could be it's own blog). A physical expression of Jnana yoga is Ashtanga yoga gifted to us by Sri Pattabhi Jois.
Hatha Yoga (pronounced hA-TA) is the basis for ALL of our Western postural yoga. Ha means Sun and Tha means Moon. In Hatha yoga you are balancing the Sun and Moon energies, or the masculine and feminine energies or more scientific the right and left sides of body and brain. There is a series of physical practices and cleansings you do before you go into the Raja yoga or meditation style of yoga. All of our physical practices (Ashtanga, Iyengar, Vinyasa, Viniyoga, Goat Yoga, etc.) stem from Hatha yoga.
3. KARMA YOGA
Karma Yoga (pronounced Car-mA) is the yoga of action. Described in the Bhagavad Gita where a great prince and warrior Arjuna is having a dilemma that he has to fight not only his friends, but mentors, teachers and family members in this great war. What a crisis, no? You must make choices in life whether "good" or "bad"-- they happen. Unbeknownst to common belief there are 4 laws of Karma, not just the one: what goes around comes around (even though in the most reduced state that is it). Karma is also described as Self-less Service. All actions that are taken are not for the fruit of the outcome or the spiritual "points" towards salvation, but to be of service to others as we see the sentient beings in ALL!
4. BHAKTI YOGA
Bhakti yoga (pronounced Bak-tea) is the yoga of devotion. This was also described in The Gita and specifically to Krishna as the Ultimate God. This is the first time the yoga leaves its rituals and physical practice to become something from the heart. The longing of the lover to be reunited with the beloved. This practice includes singing, dancing and story-telling. Bhakti yoga was the yoga that broke the boundaries of the caste system in India and became accessible to ALL.
5. JNANA YOGA
Jnana Yoga (pronounced gYan-nA) is the yoga of wisdom. Studying the ancient Scriptures (The Vedas, Upanishads, ect.) to help achieve--you guessed it-- enlightenment. This also refers to wisdom, not just from reading the Scriptures, but also from internal intelligence or gut wisdom.
6. TANTRA YOGA
Tantra yoga (pronounced Tan-trA) is the yoga that connects the divine masculine with the divine feminine. This is the basis for Hatha yoga (as well as Kundalini and Kriya Yoga) and was originally a series of mantras and rituals. Tantra when it came to the West was simplified as sex yoga. Somehow it went there and has not recovered from that reduction of our Western minds. That is not the full scope of this practice, and needs to be opened and shared as our conditioning continues to discriminate from external perceptions instead of discerning what is truth and what is not. Tantra means expanding energy and uses mantra (scared sound), yantra (sacred geometry) and practitioners are devotees to the Divine Mother.
7. KUNDALINI YOGA
Kundalini yoga (pronounced Kun-da-lean-ee) is the yoga of female energy or Shakti. Kunda is the name of the energy coil or snake that sits within the base of the pelvis waiting to be awakened for enlightenment and union. Kundalini has a base in Tantra yoga as it uses the feminine energy (Shakti) to rise up through the spine passing through each Nadi (pronounced NA-DEE), these are the main energy channels that run up and down the spine) and Chakras(pronounced CHUCK-rAs). Chakras are wheels of energy where the nerves or nadis come together. Chakras also correlate with the Endocrine System.
8. KRIYA YOGA
Kriya (pronounced Kree-Ya) Yoga was brought to the West by Paramahasa Yogananda (Author of Autobiography of a Yogi). This is a series of postures, breath work and meditation/self-study that prepares the practitioner for enlightenment. Kriya yoga is a series of exercises that is directly connected to the Kundalini system. Paramahasa Yogananda was the first to stay in the West to teach yoga after Vivikanada's trip in 1893.
So what kind of Yoga do you practice?
No matter what kind of yoga you practice if you are dedicated to living for the greater good you are a yogi. Again, you don't need to bend into a pretzel to be a yogi. And being bendy doesn't mean your more spiritually awakened or superior to others. We do our practices to feel freer in our skin, minds, and hearts. From that place we this with the rest of the world. That is yoga.
“Yoga is the journey of the self, through the self, to the self.”
–The Bhagavad Gita
(Want to know more or have more clarity on this topic I suggest this youtube video gifted by Gaia tv.)