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The Six Branches of Yoga

There are many styles of yoga but there are only six branches of the original tradition. There are many debates over the age of yoga, but the most commonly used date is that yoga is at least 5,000 years old. It originally was a practice to prepare the body for extended meditation as well as the mind. There are ancient texts called the Vedas and much of our knowledge of yoga today comes from these texts, with one of my favorite texts being the “Bhagavad Gita”. I want to share with you a definition of yoga from this text:

योगस्थ: कुरु कर्माणि सङ्गं त्यक्त्वा धनंजय ।
सिद्ध्यसिद्ध्यो: समो भूत्वा समत्वं योग उच्यते ।।

Translated as: "Be steadfast in yoga. Perform your duty and abandon all attachment to success or failure. Such evenness of mind is called yoga.
- Bhagavad Gita 2.48

The Six Branches

1.Hatha Yoga – Yoga of Postures
This is the most popular branch of yoga and the one to which we are most accustomed. This is the branch that introduces us to Asana (postures), Pranayama (breathing practices), and meditation. All of these combine to provide the student with better health of mind, body, and spirit. The many physical styles of yoga are branches of the tree of Hatha Yoga.

2.Bhakti Yoga – Yoga of Devotion
Bhakti yoga is the path of devotion and is the most common yoga practiced in India today. Bhakti yoga is a positive way to guide the emotions which in turn nurture acceptance, and tolerance towards everyone.

3.Raja Yoga – Yoga of Self-Control
Raja yoga is considered the King of Yoga. Members of this path are devoted to religious and spiritual practices. The Raja yogis believe that they are the central self, and therefore respect for themselves and all creation are the vital course. They reach self-respect by learning self-control and mastery of themselves.

4.Jnana Yoga – Yoga of the Mind
Jnana Yoga is often considered the yoga of the mind, wisdom, the path of a scholar. This path searches for the “knowledge of the true self”. It is said that this is the most difficult and direct path to follow. It involves serious study of the ancient texts hoping to achieve the ability to apply knowledge, common sense, and inner insight.

5.Karma Yoga – Yoga of Service

This is the path of service. The practitioners of this branch of yoga believe that your current life’s foundation is brought on by your past actions. Selfless service is the primary action of Karma Yoga. This branch of yoga believes that you can influence your future by acting on good actions and therefore convert yourself into a selfless soul.

6.Tantra Yoga – Yoga of Ritual
This path is often the most misunderstood of all. The rituals of Tantra Yoga are performed in order to expand the student’s awareness. This includes “consecrated” sexuality, our physical relations are sacred. In the Tantric path a spiritual attitude is developed and they experience the Divine in all they do.

There will always be misconceptions regarding Yoga, such as it is a religion. Yoga is not a religion but a philosophy of tradition, leading you on a path to develop spirituality. Many gyms, studios, and individuals teach and participate in yoga as the perfect physical exercise. Yoga is not just physical; it must combine the mind, the body and soul in order for it to truly be yoga.

Live well, practice yoga.

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