When we mention yoga in Western society, many of us envision young leggings-clad men and women in a yoga studio getting into impossible postures. While this may be the reality in some yoga classes, it’s actually a very narrow representation of the many forms that yoga can take. The yoga that we see in many classes in the West is actually considered Hatha yoga, which is only one of the 6 branches of yoga. Hatha yoga is the practice of asana, or yoga postures, that uses the body and breath as a way of transforming the self. Many of the other 5 branches of yoga actually don’t require you to get into poses at all.
Here’s a brief description of all 6 branches of yoga:
- Raja Yoga or “royal” yoga emphasizes the benefits of meditation for self-realization and offers an 8-fold path to get to that end goal. It still includes asana or poses but they are not the main focus of this type of yoga.
- Jnana Yoga is what we may consider the yoga of the mind. This type of yoga deals with wisdom, knowledge, and intellect as tools to obtain self-realization. Intellect is important to this type of yoga so practitioners are encouraged to study yogic scriptures and meditate on a regular basis.
- Mantra Yoga utilizes sound through chants called mantras that are usually taken from scriptures in order to establish spiritual force fields and invoke divine consciousness. These mantras are repeated many times, sometimes thousands of times or millions of times over a period of years. Lucky for you, there is no set amount of times that a mantra must be chanted. Note that you can make up your own mantras or take mantras from the spiritual path of your choice.
- Karma Yoga is the yoga of selfless action and work. This path emphasizes the importance of remaining detached from the outcome of an action. Practitioners of this type of yoga do not expect any personal gain from their good deeds.
- Bhakti Yoga includes in its practices, prayer, worship, and rituals. The word Bhakti means the intense love for god. In this type of yoga, love, devotion, and surrender to God is the main focus. Each practitioner can choose their own spiritual path whether it is Buddha, Jesus, Divine Mother, Allah, etc. to offer their practice to.
- Hatha Yoga is also called forceful yoga because you use your body as a vehicle to transform yourself spiritually. This is the type of yoga that is popular in the West. The emphasis in this path is on the breath and asana or physical postures. There are many different types of Hatha yoga to choose from such as Vinyasa flow, Iyengar, Ashtanga, restorative, etc. each individual can choose a different type to suit their needs.
Yoga doesn’t have to be about physical postures if you don’t want it to be, but you certainly always have that option. If self-improvement and spiritual growth is your goal then you can start with any of the 6 main paths of yoga and remember—start where you are; the possibilities are endless.