The term yoga is derived from the Sanskrit word yui. It is defined as “to yoke” or to unite.”Uniting the mind, the body, and the spirit is the heart of yoga philosophy. In the West, the word yoga is synonymous with Hatha Yoga or physical aspect of yoga. In India, however, throughout the centuries yoga encompassed more than just the physical aspect. There are five main branches of yoga that offer spiritual philosophies and discipline beyond Hatha Yoga. Each branch possesses unique characteristics and a particular approach to life. However, the branches can overlap, and study in one branch may stimulate involvement or study in another branch. It is important, however, to realize that modern interpretations of the branches of yoga are actually amalgams taken from many ancient and contemporary beliefs and practices.
1) Bhakti yoga – is the yoga of devotion and selfless love. Bhakti is derived from the Sanskrit word bhaj, which means “to serve,” “to share,” or “to participate.” Expressing love for the Divine is demonstrated through prayer, chanting, singing, and dancing. The path of Bhakti cultivates compassion and acceptance of others. Mother Teresa and Mahatma Gandhi are two modern examples of what a Bhakti yogi represents.
2) Jnana yoga – is the path of wisdom and is practiced by aspiring sages or scholars. In Sanskrit, the word jnana means “knowledge” or “wisdom.” These seekers study the scriptures and texts of the yoga tradition to reach enlightenment. Socrates, Kabala scholars. Jesuit priests, and Benedictine monks could all be regarded as Jnana yogis.
3) Karma yoga – is the path of service through selfless actions without expecting anything in return. Transcendence is achieved by service performed with honesty and integrity. Karma yogis help those less fortunate. The Peace Corps and Habitat for Humanity are two organizations that characterize the ideals of Karma yogis.
4) Raja yoga – is know as “royal” path and refers to the journey
References: Feuerstin, Georg. (2001). The Yoga Tradition. Prescott, AZ: Hohm Press. Iyengar, B.K.S.(1979). Light on Yoga. New York: Schocken Books. White, Ganga. (2007). Yoga Beyond belief. Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books.