What is Yoga – Part 2

170px-YogisculptureIn part 1 I introduced what is perhaps the heart of Yoga, namely the knowledge of how to use the technique of Samyama to attain self-realization. In this writing I want to clear up some of the confusion that arises from the many forms, aspects and different schools.

Although from a macro perspective, Yoga is simply one thing, namely a philosophy and technique to get to the core of the mystery of being human, within this field there are many approaches to this goal and at times, seemingly opposing interpretations on how to go reach it.

Main Approaches

Some of the common approaches include:  Raja Yoga, Hatha Yoga, Jnana Yoga, Bhakti Yoga, Kriya Yoga, Laya Yoga, Karma Yoga and Kundalini Yoga. We will look at each in turn in a little more depth.

Raja Yoga. Raja means ‘royal’ in Sanskrit and thus ‘royal union’. Raja Yoga, also known as ‘classical Yoga’ (Astanga Yoga) is principally concerned with the techniques of Meditation (Dhyana), specifically to gain insight into the nature of reality and as with all yogas, to finally achieve liberation (moksha)

The definitive description of Raja Yoga is usually attributed to Patanjali in his Yoga Sutras. Interestingly however, Patanjali does not actually use the term Raja but rather ‘Kriya’. This need not be confusing if we remember that Kriya, are cleansing techniques. Patanjali emphasises for us that yoga is the ‘removing of obstacles’ , hence the term Kriya.
The term Raja refers to the mind, and so the yoga of controlling the mind through meditation. Patanjalis first sutra states that “yoga limits the oscillations of the mind” and so we see he is actually referring to Raja Yoga.  

A further point to note is that the ‘Hatha Yoga Pradipika’ of Svatmarama, one of the cornerstone texts of Hatha Yoga, uses the term Raja in a number of places. No issue will arise if we remember Yoga is really just one subject with a number of different approaches.

Hatha Yoga. The word Hatha comprises the two syllables Ha and Tha, meaning sun and moon. This is then read as the two polarities, male and female. This Yoga is the yoga of balancing and unifying of masculine and feminine energy within our body soul and spirit. Needless to say the purpose of this balancing is once again the one central purpose of Yoga – the sight of the soul.

Another interpretation of Hatha is to force or push against the grain. The implication here is that great effort is needed (often translated as asceticism) to attain Yoga (self-realisation)

The core practice of Hatha yoga is sometimes interpreted as the Mudras, (seals) Bhandas (locks) and Shatkarmas /shatkriya (cleansing techniques) along with Pranayama (breath control)

Others have interpreted the core practice of Hatha as Asana (postures) and Pranayama. More specifically still, a static or non-vinyasa style, characterised with long holds in the postures.

Jnana Yoga. This is the Yoga of knowledge/wisdom. Not surprisingly, the emphasis here is on withdrawing the mind and emotions from what is perceived to be illusion and so bringing oneself into alignment with the ultimate spirit of Atman. It is within Jnana yoga that the famous saying neti-neti is found – not this not this. The idea here is similar to Vipasana technique, where, in Meditation, if a perception arises based in the senses, one remarks to oneslf neti-neti.

Bhakti Yoga. This is the Yoga of devotion. The so-called easy path of Yoga for the common person since it does not involve difficult techniques and practices. The Bhagavad Gita and Bhagavata Puranas are important scriptures that expound on Bhakti Yoga. Bhakti signifies an attitude of devotion to a personalised god that is akin to human relationships. Bhakti includes elements such as listening to scriptural stories of Krishna et al, praise and ecstatic singing, rendering service, worshiping an image, paying dues, friendship and surrender of the self.

Laya Yoga is the Yoga of absorbtion. Classically, all practices and techniques aim to merge into the heart. Laya Yoga involves Hatha yoga, Kundalini Yoga and Raja Yoga.

Karma Yoga, based mainly in the Bhagavad Gita, the Yoga of action, is primarily concerned with cause and effect and the neutralising of karmic tendancy. This quote on Karma Yoga from Wikipedia gives us a great summary: “. . . is described as a way of acting, thinking and willing, by which one orients oneself towards realisation, by acting in accordance with one’s duty (Dharma) without consideration of personal self-centred desires, likes and dislikes. One acts without being attached to the fruits of ones deeds.

Kundalini Yoga is concerned with the raising of the so-called serpent energy, the primal energy of creation, within the body. Kundalini includes Asana, active and passive Kriyas, Pranayama, Meditations and more. Swami Sivananda has said that Kundalini Yoga is practiced to attain bliss, opening the heart, developing power, serving others, gaining self-realisation and ultimately liberation by merging our awareness in god-consciousness. Yogi Bhajan is probably the most popular modern day exponent with his school of ’Kundalini Yoga’

Schools and Styles

Currently, literally thousands of Yoga schools have sprung into existence worldwide to cater to the burgeoning popularity. Given the inherently broad diversity of the subject, this plethora of organisations, many affiliated to larger bodies for political and economic leverage, vary in approach in equally as much range and diversity.

There are however as is to be expected, let’s say, the top ten or so schools that have something of a monopoly in the world of Yoga. Usually these schools evolve from the teachings of prominent ‘Yoga masters’, who gradually develop systems or streams of thought that define them.

While there are a multitude of schools, a number of differing ‘styles’ have also evolved, and so any given school will usually adopt one main style that it then represents.

We can very roughly divide up the styles (and therefore the schools) into those that are so-called Asana based and those that are Meditation based. There are also schools that focus predominantly on Mantra and philosophy.

The Asana based styles are probably the most popular with the ‘exercise’ element being most understandable to the average western psyche. These styles have in the main grown out of what can be loosely termed ‘Hatha Yoga’ Interestingly enough one of the central ancient sacred texts of Hatha, the Hatha Yoga Pradipika of Svatmaram, although mentioning 84 Asanas, lists a mere 15 as being of importance, and mainly focuses on Meditation techniques to balance the Ida, Pingala and Sushumna nadis in the body.

Quick Guide to popular styles

Hatha Yoga: poses are held longer and while sun salutations and activated sequences may be included, generally not a Vinyasa style. Some more orthodox schools focus mainly on Mudra, Bandha, Kriya and Pranayama. Mani Finger was a great exponent of Hatha.

B.K.S Iyengar took Hatha a considerable step further in terms of Asana and lists over 200 Asanas, many extremely difficult, in his book ‘Light on Yoga’. Yet another modern exponent has come up with over 900 postures and movements.

Astanga Vinyasa Pattabhi Jois, who studied with the same teacher as Iyengar, is probably largely responsible for the currently popular ‘Flow’ (Vinyasa) style – breath and movement synchronisation. This method sequences a set of given Asanas into a ‘flow’. The postures are not held for long duration as in Iyengar, but once again some sets require considerable Yogic body conditioning to achieve and therefore make the practice rigorous.

Bikram Yoga, developed by Bikram Choudhury, is a Vinyasa style Yoga that further employs the concept of a heated room (39°) Supposedly to assist in achieving the Asana more easily while promoting de-tox in the body sauna style. Perhaps it should be considered here that while natural temperature and humidity in many parts of India may be high, this is not the day to day norm in many other parts of the world.

Hot Yoga is an offshoot of Bikram but not affiliated.

Sivananda Yoga developed by Swami Sivanada is a balanced form of Yoga comprising Asana, Pranyama, Diet and positive thinking.

Integral Yoga Introduced by Swami Satchitananda is similar to Sivananda but includes Mantra chanting and Meditation.

Kundalini Yoga is Sheik Yogi Bhajans invention and revolves around co-ordinanting breath and movement, Asana and chanting throughout the class. The stated goal as the name suggest is to raise Kundalini in the practitioners body.

We could probably reduce the Asana based styles to three main elements:

Long holds with deep stretches and deepening breath control (Hatha)

Fast paced Asana sequences – Vinyasa

Heated rooms – usually Vinyasa approach

Other noteworthy styles include:

·         Viniyoga

·         Jivamukhti Yoga – David Life & Sharon Gannon

·         Bihar centre

·         Restorative Yoga – Judith Lasater

·         Yin Yoga – Paul Grilley

·         Power Yoga – Baron Baptiste

·         Anusara – John Friend

·         Sacred Spiral Yoga – Paul Carlos

Many more styles exist.

Paul Carlos is the founder/director of Sacred Spiral Yoga 500h Y.A.I



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s