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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 ago. It is thought that originally it was a practice to prepare the body for extended meditation as well as a meditation itself. 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 that we are most accustomed to. This is the branch that introduces to Asana (postures), Pranayama (breathing practices), and meditation. All of these combine to provide the student with better health of mind, body, and spirituality. 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. Most 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 master 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 living life 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, which means making it sacred. In the Tantric path a spiritual attitude is developed and the practice 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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Content copyright © 2014 by Terri Johansen. All rights reserved.
This content was written by Terri Johansen. If you wish to use this content in any manner, you need written permission. Contact Terri Johansen for details.

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