Considering Your Options The Eight Main Branches of Yoga

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When you take a bird's-eye view of the Yoga tradition, you see a dozen major strands of development, each with its own subdivisions. Picture Yoga as a giant tree with eight branches; each branch has its own unique character, but each is also part of the same tree. With so many different paths, you're sure to find one that's right for your personality, lifestyle, and goals. In this book we focus on Hatha Yoga, the most popular branch of Yoga, but we avoid the common mistake of reducing it to mere physical fitness training. Thus, we also talk about meditation and the spiritual aspects of Yoga.

Here are the seven principal branches of Yoga, arranged alphabetically:

✓ Bhakti (bhuk-tee) Yoga: The Yoga of devotion

✓ Hatha (haht-ha) Yoga: The Yoga of physical discipline

✓ Karma (kahr-mah) Yoga: The Yoga of self-transcending action

✓ Mantra (mahn-trah) Yoga: The Yoga of potent sound

Tantra (tahn-trah) Yoga (including Laya Yoga and Kundalini Yoga):

The Yoga of continuity

To this list we must add as a branch of its own Guru (goo-roo) Yoga, the Yoga of dedication to a Yoga master.

The seven branches and Guru Yoga are described in the following sections.

Feeling enlightened

To get a sense of the nature of enlightenment, sit in a warm room as still as possible, with your hands in your lap. Now sense your skin all over; it's your body's boundary separating you from the air surrounding you. As you become more aware of your body's sensations, pay special attention to the connection between your skin and the air. After a while, you realize that no sharp boundary really exists between your skin and the outside air. In your imagination, you can extend yourself further and further beyond your skin into the surrounding space. Where do you end, and where does the space begin? This experience can give you a sense of the all-comprising expansiveness of enlightenment, which knows no boundaries.

Bhakti Yoga: The Yoga of devotion

Bhakti Yoga practitioners believe that a supreme being (the Divine) transcends their lives, and they feel moved to connect or even completely merge with that supreme being through acts of devotion. Bhakti Yoga includes such practices as making flower offerings, singing hymns of praise, and thinking about the Divine.

Hatha Yoga: The Yoga of physical discipline

All branches of Yoga seek to achieve the same final goal, enlightenment (see Chapter 21), but Hatha Yoga approaches this goal through the body rather than through the mind or the emotions. Hatha Yoga practitioners believe that unless they properly purify and prepare their bodies, the higher stages of meditation and beyond are virtually impossible to achieve — such an attempt would be like trying to climb Mt. Everest without the necessary gear. We focus on this particular branch of Yoga in this book.

Hatha Yoga is very much more than posture practice, which is so popular today. Like every form of authentic Yoga, it's a spiritual path.

Jnana Yoga: The Yoga of wisdom

Jnana Yoga teaches the ideal of nondualism — that reality is singular, and your perception of countless distinct phenomena is a basic misconception. What about the chair or sofa that you're sitting on? Isn't that real? What about the light that strikes your retina? Isn't that real? Jnana Yoga masters answer these questions by saying that all these things are real at your present level of consciousness, but they aren't ultimately real as separate or distinct things. Upon enlightenment, everything melts into one, and you become one with the immortal spirit.

Karma Yoga: The Yoga of self-transcending action

Karma Yoga's most important principle is to act unselfishly, without attachment, and with integrity. Karma Yoga practitioners believe that all actions, whether bodily, vocal, or mental, have far-reaching consequences for which they must assume full responsibility.

Good karma, bad

The Sanskrit term karma literally means "action." It stands for activity in general but also for the "invisible action" of destiny. According to Yoga, every action of body, speech, and mind produces visible and also hidden consequences. Sometimes the hidden consequences — destiny — are far more significant than the obvious repercussions. Don't karma, no karma think of karma as blind destiny. You're always free to make choices. The purpose of Karma Yoga is to regulate how you act in the world so that you cease to be bound by karma. The practitioners of all types of Yoga seek to not only prevent bad (black) karma but also go beyond good (white) karma to no karma at all.

Mantra Yoga: The Yoga of potent sound

Mantra Yoga makes use of sound to harmonize the body and focus the mind. It works with mantras, which can be a syllable, word, or phrase. Traditionally, practitioners receive a mantra from their teacher in the context of a formal initiation. They're asked to repeat it as often as possible and to keep it secret. Many Western teachers feel that initiation isn't necessary and that any sound works. You can even pick a word from the dictionary, such as love, peace, or happiness, but from a traditional perspective, such words are, strictly speaking, not mantras.

Raja Yoga: The Royal Yoga

Raja Yoga means literally "Royal Yoga" and is also known as Classical Yoga. When you mingle with Yoga students long enough, you can expect to hear them refer to the eightfold path laid down in the Yoga-Sutra of Patanjali, the standard work of Raja Yoga. Another name for this yogic tradition is Ashtanga Yoga (pronounced ahsh-tahng-gah), the "eight-limbed Yoga" — from ashta ("eight") and anga ("limb"). (Don't confuse this tradition with the Yoga style known as Ashtanga Yoga, which we discuss in "Getting The Scoop on the Prominent Styles of Hatha Yoga" later in this chapter.) The eight limbs of the prominent traditional approach, designed to lead to enlightenment or liberation, are as follows:

✓ Yama (yah-mah): Moral discipline, consisting of the practices of non-harming, truthfulness, nonstealing, chastity, and greedlessness (for an explanation of these five virtues, head to Chapter 20).

✓ Niyama (nee-yah-mah): Self-restraint, consisting of the five practices of purity, contentment, austerity, self-study, and devotion to a higher principle.

✓ Asana (ah-sah-nah): Posture, which serves two basic purposes: meditation and health.

Pranayama (prah-nah-yah-mah): Breath control, which raises and balances your mental energy, thus boosting your health and mental concentration.

✓ Pratyahara (prah-tyah-hah-rah): Sensory inhibition, which internalizes your consciousness to prepare your mind for the various stages of meditation.

✓ Dharana (dhah-rah-nah): Concentration, or extended mental focusing, which is fundamental to yogic meditation.

✓ Dhyana (dhee-yah-nah): Meditation, the principal practice of higher Yoga (this practice and the next are explained in Chapter 21).

✓ Samadhi (sah-mah-dhee): Ecstasy, or the experience in which you become inwardly one with the object of your contemplation. This state is surpassed by actual enlightenment, or spiritual liberation.

The sacred syllable om

The best known traditional mantra, used by Hindus and Buddhists alike, is the sacred syllable om (pronounced ommm, with a long o sound). It's the symbol of the absolute reality — the Self or spirit. It's composed of the letters a, u, and m and the nasal humming of the letter m. A

corresponds to the waking state, u to the dream state, and m to the state of deep sleep; the nasal humming sound represents the ultimate reality. We introduce several other traditional mantras in Chapter 21 in our coverage of meditation.

Tantra Yoga: The Yoga of continuity

Tantra Yoga is the most complex and most widely misunderstood branch of Yoga. In the West and in India, Tantra Yoga is often confused with "spiritualized" sex; although sexual rituals are used in some (so-called left-hand) schools of Tantra Yoga, they aren't a regular practice in the majority of (so-called right-hand) schools. Tantra Yoga is actually a strict spiritual discipline involving fairly complex rituals and detailed visualizations of deities. These deities are either visions of the divine or the equivalent of Christianity's angels and are invoked to aid the yogic process of contemplation.

Another common name for Tantra Yoga is Kundalini Yoga (pronounced koon-dah-lee-nee). The latter name, which means "she who is coiled," hints at the secret "serpent power" that Tantra Yoga seeks to activate: the latent spiritual energy stored in the human body. If you're curious about this aspect of Yoga, you may want to read the autobiographical account by Gopi Krishna (see the appendix) or my (Georg's) Tantra: The Path of Ecstasy (Shambhala). Note: Kundalini Yoga is also the name of a Hatha Yoga style; we discuss it in "Getting The Scoop on the Prominent Styles of Hatha Yoga" later in the chapter.


Guru Yoga: The Yoga of dedication to a master

In Guru Yoga, your teacher is the main focus of spiritual practice. Such a teacher is expected to be enlightened or at least close to being enlightened (see Chapter 21 for more about enlightenment). In Guru Yoga, you honor and meditate on your guru until you merge with him or her. Because the guru is thought to already be one with the ultimate reality, this merger duplicates his or her spiritual realization in you.

But, please, don't merge too readily! This Yoga is relatively rare in the West, so approach it with great caution to avoid possible exploitation.

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Beginners Guide To Yoga

Beginners Guide To Yoga

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