The different types of yoga (part I) : The main branches of yoga

Whether you are new to yoga or you have been practicing yoga for a while, you probably know that there is not just one style of yoga. In fact there are many and it can be quite confusing at first, as well as overwhelming, when you are trying to find the right yoga class suited for your needs. In this post I intend to clarify which are the different branches of yoga and in the forthcoming second part, I will specifically detail which are the different types of hatha yoga.

Yoga and God

In India, where religion is deeply connected to the culture, yoga is traditionally as a way to get closer to God. In this post I will be therefore refering to God. This word can be a bit frightnening for some of us, especially if you are new to yoga and skeptical or agnostic. You should not let this scare you. I strongly believe that yoga is beneficial for everybody regardless of your believes. Since God is supposedly in everything, whenever mention is made of It, you can just replace It by “the universe”, thus “getting closer to God” can be understood as “getting more connected to the universe surrounding us”.

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The branches of yoga

Yoga is a very old practice. The writings about yoga such as the yoga sutras of Pantanjali, the Bhagavad Gita or the yoga pradipika can be interpreted in many ways. This is probably one of the reasons why overtime different branches of yoga have developed. We usually consider that there are 6 branches of yoga, which are : Raja yoga, Bhakti yoga, Jnana yoga, Karma yoga, Tantra yoga and Hatha yoga. The latter being the most popular type of yoga in the western world.

Raja yoga

Known as the “highest form of yoga” or “classical yoga”, it is a form of yoga based mainly on concentration, meditation and self-discipline. It is the closest form of yoga to the description made in the Yoga sutras of Patanjali. This type of yoga considers that you do not need any posture except the meditation posture, which is the way to enlightment.

Karma yoga

Karma yoga is yoga through actions. It is mainly based on the Bhagavad Gita. Karma yogis believes that you do not need any postures nor to meditate, selfless service to man and to the world is enough, by serving men, karma yogis get closer to God. Practitioners aim to experience the moment in action and being mindful at all times.

Jnana Yoga

It is the yoga of the intellect. It is based on the study of the traditional textes and the philosophy of yoga. Philosophy can be enlightening and bring you wisdom and jnana yogis believe that the mind can take you to God.

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Bhakti Yoga

It is the yoga of devotion. Bhakti yogis believe that you need postures, wisdom or intellect to get closer to God, you need nothing but an open heart and a complete devotion to the devine. Their practice is primarly based on mantra singing, on rituals and meditation on God.

Tantra Yoga

Tantra yoga explores the sensations and energies going throught our body and mind. It is rooted in the traditional Hatha yoga and but includes elements of other styles such as Bhakti, Karma or Raja. On top of the asanas and yogic traditions, it is also linked to astrology, ayurveda and mystical teachings.

Hatha yoga

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It is the yoga of the physical body. Hatha is a combination of Ha (sun) and Tha (moon) and it aims to bring balance between those two polar energies within our body and our mind. This state of balance can be considered as enlightment and the way to enlightment in hatha yoga is made by witnessing the changes taking place in our body-mind thoughout the practice. As previously mentioned, it is type of yoga the most spread in the West

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