Yoga refers to traditional physical and mental disciplines originating in India. The word is associated with meditative practices in Hinduism, Buddhism, Sufism, and Jainism. In Hinduism, it also refers to one of the six orthodox (āstika) schools of Hindu philosophy, and to the goal toward which that school directs its practices. In Jainism it refers to the sum total of all activities—mental, verbal and physical.
Major branches of yoga in Hindu philosophy include Raja Yoga, Karma Yoga, Jnana Yoga, Bhakti Yoga, and Hatha Yoga. Raja Yoga, compiled in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, and known simply as yoga in the context of Hindu philosophy, is part of the Samkhya tradition. Many other Hindu texts discuss aspects of yoga, including Upanishads, the Bhagavad Gita, the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, the Shiva Samhita and various Tantras.
The Sanskrit word yoga has many meanings, and is derived from the Sanskrit root yuj, meaning “to control”, “to yoke” or “to unite”. Translations include “joining”, “uniting”, “union”, “conjunction”, and “means”. Outside India, the term yoga is typically associated with Hatha Yoga and its asanas (postures) as a form of exercise.
Raja Yoga: The Path of Meditation
Rāja Yoga is concerned principally with the cultivation of the mind using meditation (dhyana) to further one’s acquaintance with reality and finally achieve liberation. In the context of Hindu philosophy Raja Yoga is known simply as yoga.
The mind is traditionally conceived as the “king” of the psycho-physical structure which does its bidding (whether or not one has realized this). Because of the relationship between the mind and the body, the body must be first “tamed” through self-discipline and purified by various means. A good level of overall health and psychological integration must be attained before the deeper aspects of yoga can be pursued.
Every thought, feeling, perception, or memory you may have causes a modification, or ripple, in the mind. It distorts and colors the mental mirror. If you can restrain the mind from forming into modifications, there will be no distortion, and you will experience your true Self. – Swami Satchidananda
Karma Yoga: The Path of Work or Action
The word Karma is derived from the Sanskrit Kri, meaning ‘to do’, in its most basic sense karma simply means action, and yoga translates to union. Thus Karma yoga literally translates to the path of union through action. It is described as a way of acting, thinking and willing by which one acts in accordance with one’s duty (dharma) without consideration of personal selfish desires, likes, or dislikes. Acting without being attached to the fruits of one’s deeds. It focuses on the adherence to duty while remaining detached from the reward.
Jnana Yoga: The Path of Knowledge
Jnâna yoga, or path of knowledge, is one of the types of yoga mentioned in Hindu philosophies. As used in the Bhagavad Gita, the Advaita philosopher Adi Shankara gave primary importance to jnâna yoga as “knowledge of the absolute” (Brahman), while the Vishishtadvaita commentator Ramanuja regarded knowledge only as a condition of devotion.
In the Bhagavad Gita (13.3) Krishna says that:
Those who see with eyes of knowledge the difference between the body and the knower of the body, and can also understand the process of liberation from bondage in material nature, attain to the supreme goal.
Bhakti Yoga: The Path of Devotion
Bhakti in practice signifies an active involvement by the devotee in divine worship. The term is often translated as “devotion”, though it has been suggested that a better rendering would be “participation”.
Bhakti Yoga is described by Swami Vivekananda as “the path of systematized devotion for the attainment of union with the Absolute”. In the twelfth chapter of the Gita Krishna describes bhakti yoga as a path to the highest spiritual attainments. In the ninth chapter, he says:
Fill thy mind with Me, be My devotee, sacrifice unto Me, bow down to Me; thus having made thy heart steadfast in Me, taking Me as the Supreme Goal, thou shalt come to Me. – Bhagavad Gita (9.34)
Hatha Yoga: Purification Postures or Exercises
Hatha Yoga is a system of Yoga introduced by Yogi Swatmarama, a sage of 15th century India, and compiler of the Hatha Yoga Pradipika. In this treatise Swatmarama introduces Hatha Yoga as preparatory stage of physical purification that the body practices for higher meditation. This is the most well known form of yoga outside India, and is what most westerners refer to as yoga. It is typically associated with performing asanas (postures) as a form of exercise.
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