Monday, September 8, 2008

The Four Forms of Yoga

There are four main paths of Yoga - Karma Yoga, Bhakti Yoga, Jnana Yoga and Raja Yoga. Each of them is suited to a different temperament or approach to life. Each of them is briefly described below:

  • Karma Yoga or the Yoga of action is the path chosen primarily by those of an outgoing nature. It purifies the heart by teaching you to act selflessly, without thinking of the reward. By detaching yourself from the fruits of your actions and offering them to God, you learn to sublimate the ego. To achieve this, it is helpful to keep your mind focused by repeating a mantra while engaged in any activity.

  • Bhakti Yoga is the path of devotion, which appeases those who have an emotional nature. The Bhakti yogi is motivated chiefly by the power of love and sees God as the embodiment of love. Through prayer, worship and ritual he surrenders himself to God, channellising and transmuting his emotions into unconditional love or devotion. Chanting or singing the praises of God form a substantial part of Bhakti Yoga.

  • Jnana Yoga is the Yoga of knowledge or wisdom. It is the most difficult path, requiring tremendous strength of will and intellect. Taking the philosophy of Vedanta, the Jnana yogi uses his mind to inquire into its own nature. Jnana Yoga leads the devotee to experience his unity with God directly by breaking the the veil of ignorance. Before practising Jnana Yoga, the aspirant needs to have integrated the lessons of the other yogic paths -- for without selflessness and love of God, strength of body and mind, the search for self-realisation can become mere idle speculation.

  • Raja Yoga is the science of physical and mental control. Often called the royal road it offers a comprehensive method for controlling the waves of thought by turning our mental and physical energy into spiritual energy.

The Eight Limbs of Raja Yoga
Out of all the four forms, it is Raja Yoga that is practical to implement in modern life. It consists of eight limbs that are a progressive series of steps or disciplines which purify the body and mind, ultimately leading the yogi to enlightenment. These eight limbs or disciplines are:
  • Yama: (Abstinences) Moral conduct, truthfulness, non-covetuousness.

  • Niyama: (Observances) of cleanliness contentment, self-discipline, study and self-surrender to God.

  • Asana: Right Postures.
  • Pranayama: (Breath control) Control of pran by regulating breathing processes of inspiration, expiration and retention of breath.

  • Dharna: (Concentration) Fixing the mind on one object at a place or point.

  • Pratyahar (Sense withdrawal) Turning the senses inward and withdrawing them from external objects.

  • Dhyana: (Contemplation) or meditation. Keeping the mind fixed exclusively on one object or idea for sometime without any interruption.

  • Samadhi: (Self-realisation) Super-conscious experience in trances where enlightenment or Union with self takes place. The first five steps are referred to as 'Bahiranga' (external) and the remaining three as 'Antaranga ' (internal). These eight steps of Raja Yoga will transform your being into a higher state where you will have absolute control over your mind and body.

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