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The Main Systems of Yoga from India

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By Soror Tzadkiel

Here I will explain the main systems of Yoga from India. Note that there is a lot of crossover between the various Yogas. For example, Bhakti Yoga, the Yoga of devotion, often uses Mantra Yoga as a vehicle for devotion to be expressed.

Bhakti Yoga is the Yoga of devotion, and so it is the experience of Union through rapturous piety. Bhakti Yoga practices often include working with a deity via visualization and mantra(s), or through various prayers rooted in bodhicitta. Kirtan is a common Bhakti practice embraced by many members of the Yogic path.

Hatha Yoga is a system of Yoga embracing the mastery of the body and breath. “Ha” means “Sun” and “Tha” means “Moon.” These words allude to the the Pingala Nadi, the solar energy channel, and the Ida Nadi, the lunar energy channel. Thus, Hatha Yoga encompasses a multitude of techniques that, when practiced, bring about the harmony of the internal solar and lunar currents of energy. When these energies are brought into harmony, a deep sense of well being permeates the multidimensional facets of the practitioner.

Jnana Yoga is the yogic path that embodies and investigates sacred knowledge. Common topics of contemplation include philosophical and meditative explorations of the individual self, or Atman, and its relationship to the One Cosmic Self, or Brahman. In Jnana Yoga, the practitioner is typically guided by a Guru who instructs the student in the main practices of the path, which include meditation and contemplation. This path is said to unveil cosmic truths, aiding the practitioner in integrating sacred knowledge into conscious awareness.

Karma Yoga, also referred to as the Yoga of action, entails acts of service, which in many ways are prayers enfleshed in human deeds. This path guides the practitioner to take actions in the world that are in resonance with Dharma, and it guides the student to not be attached to the fruition of their actions. Ancient teachings from India convey that Karma Yoga has a cleansing effect the mind. Karma Yoga, in and of itself, is a form of worship, and is an exaltation of the powers of life and love. Through the yogi’s selfless actions, the world is transformed bit by bit.

Laya Yoga, or Kundalini Yoga, is a set of practices having their origin in the Tantric veins of Hinduism, the title of which alludes to the stimulation of the latent pranic force resting near the base of the spine known as the serpent power, or Kundalini. The results of awakening are the fruitions birthed from a combination of meditation, mantra, asana, pranayama, and being inflamed in prayers for all sentient beings. Kundalini Yoga is said to enhance vitality, mental clarity, and evoke compassion and truth in the practitioner.

Mantra Yoga entails utilizing sacred sounds, varying from a syllable, to a few syllables, to a word, or a string of words. Mantras are said to stimulate a healing change in the consciousness of the practitioner. Deities, for example, often have more complex mantras that are uttered with intention by the practitioner, resulting in an invocation of the Deity’s essence. These are often used in tandem with prayers for the benefit of all sentient beings. Mantras hold a crucial role in tantric practices, as they are tools for achieving higher states of union with the divine.

Raja Yoga is often translated as “Royal Yoga,” which suggests that it is chief among the Yogas. This makes sense, as this form of Yoga is often correlated with Samadhi, the perfected state of consciousness which is considered the end result of Yoga. In Sanskrit texts from ancient India such as the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, it is conveyed that Hatha Yoga is a valid path that will end in the result of Samadhi, or Raja Yoga. According to James Hewitt’s The Complete Yoga Book, Raja Yoga assists the practitioner in mastering their own mind. Hewitt also explains that Raja Yoga is intimately linked with Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. It is said that the practices laid out in Patanjali’s work prepare the vehicle of the human being to properly explore the advanced techniques entailed in Raja Yoga.

Tantric Yoga, according to Hewitt, is primarily a non-physiological type of Yoga that is concerned with the conscious direction of sexual energies up the main nadis of the spine. It works with the union of male and female energies, either literally in a ritualistic form or internally in a symbolic form.

Finally, Yantra Yoga is the Yoga of sacred imagery. Through connecting with sacred iconography in a visual way, our consciousness becomes influenced by the healing archetypes we are seeing, and thus a healing shift in consciousness is stimulated. Often, trance states can be induced through working with Yantra Yoga, in a similar manner to how they are induced with Mantra Yoga. The two techniques are often combined in Yogic practices.