The Tree of Yoga

Thus, the tree of yoga ... leads us by its practice through layer after layer of our being, till we come to live and experience the ambrosia of the fruit of yoga, which is the sight of the soul.1

Yoga is frequently likened to a tree. Akin to a tree, it is a living, vibrant system, comprised of many branches and limbs. Akin to a tree, it sprouts new growths as it develops and evolves over time. Each of these branches and limbs has its individual name, as well as its own subsystems with their unique names. It is for this reason that yoga can sometimes seem confusing. Anyone interested in yoga soon comes to realize the myriad diversity of these systems of yoga—hatha yoga, power yoga, kundalini yoga, tantric yoga, and Iyengar yoga are just a few of the more frequently encountered terms.

Understanding that yoga has developed over a 5,000-year period and has extended its reach into many cultures and belief systems can help explain why there are so many approaches to yoga. It is important to realize, however, that as a tree, all the branches and limbs of yoga developed from one initial seed: the goal of liberating the self through the union of body, mind, and soul. Virtually each system of yoga represents a path of inquiry that unfolded from a single starting point: responding to the question, "Who am I?" Each of the systems of yoga represents a particular approach to realizing self-understanding and liberation. None of the systems is superior or inferior to any other. Each system or approach merely emphasizes certain aspects of yoga as the path to liberation. These systems do not have to be viewed as mutually exclusive. Each system offers valuable insight.

We have arrived at an exciting time in the development of yoga. As practiced in India for millennia, yoga has frequently entailed detailed study of a particular path of yoga under the tutelage of a venerated teacher, or guru. As the tree of yoga is becoming embraced in the West, it, in turn, is being influenced by and benefiting from the uniquely individual and creative input from the characteristically Western style of thinking. By understanding what each system of yoga teaches and emphasizes, each individual can decide for himself which elements are most appropriate to his needs. He can then create a uniquely personal practice by drawing selectively from the best elements of yoga. Those men who prefer a more methodical, organized approach are also free to follow the teachings of a particular school or teacher in the time-honored tradition of guru study. Your practice of yoga will be your own personal decision.

The following outline of the major branches and limbs of yoga will help demystify the many diverse names you may have heard for systems of yoga. It will help you to get a bird's-eye view of the overall organizational system of yoga without becoming overwhelmed in the intricacies of the details of each. You can then choose, through the remaining chapters in this book, to learn more about a particular style of yoga or practice. Throughout this book, you will also find a wealth of resource information to help you learn more about a particular approach to yoga you might like to explore further.

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