The Six Branches of Yoga
Bending, stretching, standing on your head, doing deep breathing, murmuring OM while seated in a cross-legged position on the floor - sounds like Yoga, doesn't it? To most people in the West, this is the image of Yoga. It's not incorrect; it's just not the full picture. The tradition of Yoga, which dates back at least 5000 years, is a holistic approach to attaining greater health, peace, happiness, and fulfillment in life.
Yoga teaches that the happiness we seek is within us as our True Nature. The main factor that keeps us from experiencing this happiness is the restlessness of our minds. The central teaching, common to all schools of Yoga, can be summed up by the following analogy: just as a perfectly clean and undistorted mirror allows us to see the true and accurate reflection of our face, a mind made clear, peaceful, and one-pointed through the teachings and practices of Yoga, reflects the unshakable peace of our True Nature. The moment we experience our True Nature, we see that same spirit as the essence behind all names and forms in creation.
In a world which sometimes seems hopelessly divided by religion, politics, economics, nationality, and race, Yoga provides a powerful counterforce, always emphasizing our essential unity. As Guruji reminds us, "Seek the peace within, know your self as unshakable and eternal Peace, and then you will see it in all. You will know the entire creation as your own family; your own Self. Then, it will be natural to love and serve all. Peace and Joy will be yours always."
We can summarize the goal of Yoga as:
A body of optimal health and ease
A mind that is clear, tranquil, and strong
An ego free from selfishness
A heart filled with compassion and unconditional loving-kindness to all
And this goal is attained through:
The gentle and mindful practice of postures, deep relaxation, and breathing techniques
Meditation and mantra repetition
Introspection and self-analysis
Selfless, dedicated service
Nonviolence, truthfulness, and other such moral and ethical precepts
Study of sacred teachings
Worship of the Absolute in any name or form that one chooses
The mutual support of like-minded individuals
Anyone of any age or in any physical condition can begin a regular practice in Yoga.
Yoga: Its Interfaith Perspective
"Truth is One, paths are many." This quote, over 5000 years old, reflects a central teaching in Yoga. It reminds us that wisdom, peace, or any fundamental sacred teachings are not limited to any spiritual tradition. What we call by the name of Yoga is really the same as the essence of all faith and spiritual paths.
These essential teachings are:
•Our True Nature is unlimited, unshakable peace, and joy.
•When the mind attains a condition of tranquil clarity and one-pointedness, our True Nature can be experienced.
•Leading a selfless, dedicated life is the best way to achieve that inner tranquility.
The reality of our True Nature as Peace, and the way to experience it, is found in all faith traditions. That is why anyone of any faith, or even those with no particular faith at all, can benefit from the practices of Yoga.
The Six Branches of Yoga: Paths to Health, Well-being, and Peace
Yoga has always been a holistic science and a perfect vehicle for understanding the unity of all spiritual paths and of everything in creation. The body, mind, and spirit have never been considered separate in Yoga. They are perceived as facets of one, integrated whole.
Every aspect of who we are: physical, social, devotional, intellectual, analytical, and introspective has a completely developed path of Yoga theory and practice to cultivate and perfect it. Each branch also acts to balance the other branches. Classic Yoga includes six major branches. Students are free to form a personal practice based on their temperament and needs. The six major paths of Yoga are:
Jnana Yoga: study and self-analysis
Bhakti Yoga: love and devotion to any form of God
Japa Yoga: repetition of a mantra to clear, calm, and steady the mind
Karma Yoga: the path of selfless service
Hatha Yoga: postures, techniques for breath control, deep relaxation, cleansing practices
Raja Yoga: the Yoga of synthesis and the science of meditation and the mind. It is a holistic approach founded on moral and ethical precepts.
Every practitioner of Yoga will naturally develop a different mix of these practices according to their taste, temperament, and needs. However, the best progress is made by including at least a little of every branch in daily life. Students who do, experience a balanced and harmonious development of every aspect of who they are.
To read more about any of the six major branches of Yoga: