How many types of Yoga are there?

By July 15, 2012 Yoga No Comments

The word Yoga comes from Sanskrit, from the verbal root “yuj” which means “unity”. Although it is used colloquially to refer to postural and physical exercises, the origin of the word has little to do with such exercises.

The word “yoga” is currently used in many different contexts. It can refer to numerous postural and physical exercises and meditation. A common theme is that “yoga” improves health and well-being, reduces stress and promotes self-knowledge, even if the latter is mistaken for some kind of therapeutic process. Besides its vagueness, we also find several “types” of yoga, which actually refer to different activities for the body and mind, such as:

  • Hatha Yoga – associated with postural and breathing exercises.
  • Raja Yoga – related to meditation and mind control exercises.
  • Bhakti Yoga – associated with devotion, rituals, chants and prayers.
  • Karma Yoga – associated with attitude in action and human values.
  • Dhyana Yoga – related to meditation, visualization and contemplation.
  • Jnana Yoga – associated with the study of scriptures.
  • Kriya Yoga – associated with energy balance through mantra meditation exercises.
  • Kundalini Yoga – associated with unblocking the energy flow in the body.
  • Etc., etc., etc.…

In turn, each term can develop into a further set of classifications. Hatha yoga, which generically refers to postural exercises, can be split into several branches, each associated with a style of exercise or a lineage of teachers such as: classic hatha, astanga, vinyāsa, iyengar, etc….

These classifications emerged as a way to introduce a lifestyle for people interested in self-knowledge; however, if the use of the word Yoga is in itself vague, the “types” of Yoga lead to more confusion and give the impression that there is a “menu” of activities from which to choose. There are so many names and so many terms that it is difficult for the outsider to understand what Yoga really is.

If we analyze the options presented, removing the names to be more objective, we can group the various categories into 5 groups of activities: 1 postural exercise, 2 devotional exercises, 3 meditation exercises, 4 attitude in action and 5 scripture studies. The energy-related exercises are only specific combinations of postural and meditation exercises; therefore, it is not necessary to separate them since they are indeed included on those activities already presented.

Now the question is: does it really make sense to have to choose from these 5 options? Does it make sense to say that a person who is more emotional should choose “the path of devotion”, whereas the one who is more rational should choose “the way of the scriptures”, and likewise, the one who is more active “the way of action”, and the one who is more contemplative “the path of meditation?” That said, the one who chooses postural exercises is more what exactly? Are there healthy people who are not emotional, intellectual, contemplative and active? And, ultimately, would it not make more sense to say that a person who is less emotional should look for something to help him/her open up emotionally and not the opposite? To say that there are 5 options for the psychophysical development of a person is illogical, because all 5 aspects are present in the individual.

According to the Vedic tradition, these groups of activities make up the lifestyle of the person who is seeking self-knowledge and are completely interdependent; therefore, these activities cannot be conceived as being separate from one another.

Devotion, like any other emotion, depends on knowledge. In order to really love someone you must know that someone and we can even say that love is the appreciation that comes from getting to know the other. If the scripture is the means of knowledge of the Creator, how can we separate the devotional practice from the study of the scriptures? Without the light of the Vedas, devotional practices – however sincere they intend to be – become mere chants without any real meaning.

It is not possible to study the Vedas without a mind that is prepared through meditation. The superficial and unfocused mind of everyday life does not have the depth necessary to appreciate the meaning of the Vedas, much less the ability to deal with the emotions needed for this search.

Emotions in turn are worked out with the attitude in action, no meditation can replace the ability of the world to bring out our past traumas or love, for example, the feelings we have for a child.

Lastly, to live well and healthy and to be able to meditate, postures are essential, regardless of the name of the Yoga the person is doing. Yoga is essentially all the same: there is Paschimottanāsana for the suffering of all and Shavāsana for the joy of all. It should provide health, the ability to sit properly without disruptions and to bring about a contemplative state in the mind.

We cannot separate the activities associated with the search for self-knowledge and there are no “types of yoga” from which to choose. The word Yoga is used in its origin to refer to the necessary preparation for the study of the scriptures and ultimately self-knowledge. In the Vedas, it generally appears ranking the word “mind”, making the distinction between the scattered, emotionally disconnected or out of control mind against the focused, integrated, and objective mind. Hence, we have the word “yoga”, which is the set of activities that makes this integration with the mind, and the word “yogi” to describe one who desires self-knowledge and adopts the lifestyle of the scriptures that constitute these practices – yoga.

The activities of this lifestyle are like the “hooves” on a horse, all must be working in harmony in order for the yogi to prepare the mind and to embark on the spiritual journey.

This article was written by Jonas Masetti at satsangaonline.

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