The Four Classifications of Yoga

The Four Classifications of Yoga
The Four Classifications of Yoga

Yoga means union. It is the practice of joining together the body, mind and spirit. It is not simply putting your leg behind your head or being able to sit in full lotus position. Yoga can be practiced in every area of our daily lives. There are four distinct types of yoga that we must remember and practice.

Karma Yoga: Yoga of Action

“Unless one is engaged in the devotional service of the Lord, mere renunciation of activities cannot make one happy. The sages, purified by works of devotion, achieve the Supreme without delay.” -Bhagavad Gita 5:6

Every action requires energy and intention so when action is carried out without any personal attachment to the outcome, one is practicing Karma Yoga. Karma Yoga is selfless service. It gives without needing anything in return but it just gives for the love of it. This could be volunteering your time at a shelter or even at a yoga studio. It could be caring for your spouse or children in a completely selfless and serving manner. Karma Yoga can also be just going the extra mile at work, not with the expectation of getting paid for it, but simply because it is what has to be done for the good of the company.

One who practices Karma Yoga sees themselves as merely an instrument of the Divine, carrying out the work of the Most High. When our actions are motivated by nothing but pure love and service, this is Karma Yoga.

Bhakti Yoga: Yoga of Devotion

“The individual soul is forever a servant of the Supersoul and therefore, his relationship with the Supersoul is to offer service. That is called Bhakti-Yoga or Bhakti-bhaava.” -Srimad Bhagavatham 4.9.5

Bhakti Yoga is a bit like Karma Yoga in that it is motivated by love of God. Bhakti Yoga is pure devotion and unwavering love of the Divine. Bringing Bhakti to our daily lives means to be in a state of pure devotion and love, seeing the Supreme in all things and in everyone. This state has no fear, no selfish motivations, no expectations and no desires. It is loving for the sake of loving, without seeking anything in return.

The most effective way to practice Bhakti Yoga is by chanting the holy names of God and singing His praises. Kirtan, bajans and chanting all cultivate ecstatic love and devotion within the seeker. Chanting can be an aid in meditation to help channel devotion. The name of God is not separate from God so by keeping His name on our tongues, we evoke the same divine power in our heart and minds.

Janan Yoga: Yoga of Knowledge

“Nothing in the world can purify as powerfully as wisdom; practiced in yoga, you will find this wisdom within yourself.” -Bhagavad Gita 4.37-38

Jnana Yoga is the way of knowledge and wisdom, not so much in an intellectual sense but more so in the knowing of the eternal truth. The Jnani Yogi employes the powers of the mind to differentiate between the real and the unreal, the lasting and the impermanent. Through intense meditation and continuously withdrawing the mind and emotions from the illusions of the world, one can attune themselves with true reality and Spirit.

A meditation technique called neti-neti helps to cultivate this transcendental wisdom. Should a thought of feeling arise that obstructs the goal of meditation, the seeker simply says, “Neti-neti.” Neti-neti means “not this, not this.” and it encourages the meditator to dismiss anything that does not bring them closer to ultimate truth. Compassionately and patiently, useless thoughts and emotions and put aside and the mind becomes clearer and more focused within.

Dhyana Yoga: Yoga of Meditation

“In the stage of perfection called trance, or samadhi, one’s mind is completely restrained from material mental activities by practice of yoga. This perfection is characterized by one’s ability to see the self by the pure mind and to relish and rejoice in the self. In that joyous state, one is situated in boundless transcendental happiness, realized through transcendental senses. Established thus, one never departs from the truth, and upon gaining this he thinks there is no greater gain. Being situated in such a position, one is never shaken, even in the midst of greatest difficulty. This indeed is actual freedom from all miseries arising from material contact.” -Bhagavad Gita 6:20-23

Dhyana Yoga is about constant meditation on the Supreme. It is to focus all of the attention and awareness on Spirit and to realize that it exists in all things. Dhyana is the ultimate state of meditation and higher awareness.

Our human condition keeps us separate from this state of complete union and bliss with the Most High. We are plagued with the endless cycle of seeking pleasure and avoiding pain. We regret the past and worry about the future and impose our likes and dislikes onto everyone and everything. Dhyana Yoga consists of learning to sit with all that is and just be present with it for God is in all of it anyway. Sitting quietly and allowing each attachment, each like and dislike, each opinion and each thought to just fall away brings the seeker at the feet of the Supreme. Stay present in the Light of Spirit. Everything in this world is an illusion and therefore it is not real or lasting. The only real or lasting thing is our oneness with all that is.

Yoga can be achieved many ways in your life. It is all about creating space for the Divine to enter and letting go of everything that is not aligned with truth. Practice yoga and remember the Self.  Atma Smaranam.

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