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Yoga Paths or Approaches
Yoga has evolved in many forms throughout its ancient history and there is no one path, technique or system that is the 'right way' to practice yoga. Each person has his or her unique route to the 'mountain top'. Although a well-rounded yoga practice includes all eight limbs, different people, at different stages of their life journey, will be drawn to a path that emphasises one or more of the limbs, and paths/approaches of yoga. The four main paths of yoga are described in the most well-known yoga text, the Bhagavad Gita. They are Karma Yoga, Bhakti Yoga, Gyana (or Jnana) Yoga and Raja Yoga. These paths also reflect experiences of different states of consciousness. Hatha yoga is described in many other texts incuding the Hatha Yoga Pradipika
Karma Yoga: The Yoga of Action
This is the path chosen primarily by those of an outgoing, active nature. It purifies the heart by teaching us to act selflessly, without thought of gain or reward. By letting go of the rewards of actions and offering them to God / Life / the Higher Self or the benefit of others, the grip of the ego is weakened.
Bhakti Yoga: The Path of Devotion and Divine Love
This path cultivates the feeling level and awakens the beauty and power of the heart. It is the path of the lover and the beloved, and focuses on devotion. Through openness to life, prayer, worship and ritual, a Bhakti Yogi surrenders to love, the beloved or the Divine and ultimately experiences the bliss of divine love in all things. Chanting or singing in praise of God/life is a common practice of Bhakti Yoga.
Jnana or Gyana Yoga: The Yoga of Knowledge and Wisdom
The Jnana Yogi uses the mind to seek essential Truth, to inquire into its own nature, its own source. We perceive the space inside and outside a glass as different, just as we see ourselves as separate from Life/God. Jnana Yoga leads the practitioner to experience his unity with Life/God directly by breaking the glass and dissolving the veils of ignorance. Jnana Yoga encourages us to live life consciously and to learn from everything - to put all experience into the context of spiritual teaching.
Raja Yoga: The Science of Physical and Mental Control
Raja Yoga or the royal yoga is associated with Classical Yoga and makes use of all of the eight limbs but is primarily concerned with the mind and with meditation. The mind is traditionally conceived of as the 'king' of the psycho-physical structure. Every thought, feeling, perception or memory is a movement, like a ripple on a lake, which prevents us from 'seeing' below the surface. If we can settle and purify the mind there will be no ripples, no distortions, and we will access our true Self.
This commonly refers to the physically focused approach to purifying the body and mind. It emphasises postures (asana), breath practices (pranayama) and cleansing techniques (shat karmas). Some say this approach prepares us for the other paths of yoga.