Yogic scholars Feuerstein and Bodian note six major types of yoga. In no particular order, they are:
- hatha yoga
- raja yoga
- karma yoga
- bhakti yoga
- jnana yoga
- tantra yoga
Let’s look at each one of these in turn.
Graham Ledgerwood, who has been teaching yoga and mysticism for over 30 years, says that hatha yoga is practiced in the west mostly for health and vitality, and is the most popular in western society.
Ha is a Sanskrit term meaning sun, so hatha yoga according to Ledgerwood is a “marvelous means of exercising, stretching, and freeing the body so it can be a healthy, long-lived, and vital instrument of the mind and soul”.
Perfecting the postures in hatha yoga has two objectives:
People need at least one posture that they can be totally comfortable with, for a long period of time. The more postures you can master, the better you are able to cultivate deeper meditation techniques.
- Renewing body’s energies for optimum health.
Similar to classical yoga, Raja Yoga is considered the “royal path” to unifying the mind and body. Raja yoga is considered by some to be a rather difficult form of yoga, because it seeks enlightenment through direct control and mastery of the mind.
People who can concentrate well and enjoy meditation are best suited for Raja yoga. This type – or branch – of yoga has 8 limbs:
- moral discipline
- breath control
- sensory inhibition
Karma yoga involves selfless action. The word karma itself means action – all actions that come from the individual beginning from his birth until his death. Most importantly, karma is the path to doing the right thing. Hence the practice of karma yoga means giving up the ego to serve God and humanity.
Karma yoga comes from the teachings of the BhagavadVita, which is sometimes respectfully referred to as “the New Testament of Hinduism”. Service to God through serving others is the foundation of Karma Yoga.
Sri Swami Sivananda says:
Mark how love develops. First arises faith. Then follows attraction and after that adoration. Adoration leads to suppression of mundane desires. The result is single-mindedness and satisfaction. Then grow attachment and supreme love towards God.
In this type of highest Bhakti all attraction and attachment which one has for objects of enjoyment are transferred to the only dearest object, God. This leads the devotee to an eternal union with his Beloved and culminates in oneness.
Bhakti yoga is thus seen as divine love. As a force of attraction, Swami Nikhilananda and Sri Ramakrishna Math say that love operates on three levels:
These two yogis further explain that love is a creative power, and this creative power pushes us to seek joy and immortality. In their own elegant and precise words:
Love based upon intellectual attraction is more impersonal and enduring… It is a matter of common observation that the more intellectually developed the life of a person is, the less he takes pleasure in the objects of the senses.
Jnana yoga is the path to wisdom. Graham Ledgerwood defines jnana as “emptying out” the mind and soul of delusions so that individuals can be attuned to reality, releasing all thoughts and emotions until the individual is transformed and enlightened.
Jnana yoga is one of the four main paths that lead directly to self-realization (philosophy of advaita vedanda). By crushing the obstacles of ignorance, the student of jnana yoga experiences God.
Concepts such as discernment and discrimination are highly regarded in Jnana yoga, where the student or devotee identifies himself as separate from the components of his environment. “Neti-neti” is also a principle inherent in Jnana Yoga. Literally, it means “not this, not this” and by removing objects around, what’s left is just YOU and only you.
A sixth type of yoga that many people have heard about, and indeed, are quite curious about, is tantra yoga.
Tantra yoga is considered by some to be most oriental of all yoga branches. It is often misunderstood as consisting exclusively of sexual rituals. It involves more than sex: it is the path of self-transcendence through ritual means, one of which is just consecrated sexuality. Some tantric schools actually recommend a celibate lifestyle after a certain point.
Tantra literally means “expansion.” A Tantra devotee expands all his levels of consciousness so he/she can reach out to the Supreme Reality. Tantra yoga aims to awaken the male and female aspects within a person to trigger a spiritual awakening.