What are the Four Paths of Yoga?

In these modern times, most people see yoga only through the prism of physical exercise, and although that is true, yoga is by no means just that. It is far much more than a mere physical practice. In fact, there are four paths of yoga, that arise from Vedic teaching. So, what are the four paths of yoga?

The four paths of yoga are Jnana yoga, Karma yoga, Bhakti yoga, and Raja-yoga.

These four paths encourage our development on different levels: action, spirituality, wisdom, physical and mental control, and teach us rightful living and fulfillment.

What is Jnana Yoga?

Jnana Yoga is the path of research, wisdom, and knowledge.

Everything in this world includes knowledge, so does yoga, especially Jnana yoga. Jnana yoga translates as the yoga of knowledge or yoga of wisdom. It is actually a yoga of insight. Jnana is a philosophical approach to all phenomena through analysis and distinction. This yoga helps us to distinguish truth from lies, what is real and what is not. Moreover, it strives to reach the goal of existence.

The Four Pillars of Jnana Yoga

The four pillars of knowledge represent the steps towards achieving the goal of Jnana yoga, which is ultimately liberation from one’s thoughts.

  • I pillar: Viveka (insight) is a process of conscious and continuous intellectual effort to distinguish the real from the unreal, the permanent from the temporary, self and the non-self.
  • II pillar: Vairagya (non-attachment) is achieving indifference and non-attachment to material things. This is vital to separate yourself from the ego and worldly possessions and activities.
  • III pillar: Shat-shampatti – six methods that train the mind to look through the illusions of the physical world.
    • The six methods are:
      • Shama – ability to remain calm;
      • Dama – control overreactions to external stimuli;
      • Uparati – abandonment of everything that is not in accordance with your duty or dharma, desire-free;
      • Titiksha – forbearance;
      • Shraddha – faith and confidence in your path and
      • Samadhana – full concentration and focus of the mind.
  • IV pillar: Mumukshutva – a strong longing for liberation from suffering.

Jnana Yoga is considered to be the most difficult form of yoga. This because it requires a strong will and desire that will allow you to successfully perform self-examinations and think about seemingly foreign things.

Jnana Yoga is the path of self-realization It is the path to spiritual freedom. As a result, it suits curious minds because it provides answers to many questions like who are we and why are we here.

What is Karma Yoga?

Karma yoga is the path of selfless work, actions.

Karma yoga implies selfless work and activity that are not motivated by any reward or attachment to the fruits of one’s labor. In addition, Karma yoga believes that you work selflessly to become the best person. It can help you to detach yourself from your actions and get rid of the burden. Karma yoga is known as yoga “action” which helps you find the meaning of your purpose from birth to death. Karma yoga means selfless service that helps you give up the ego to serve a human, animal, plant, or inanimate object. It also means following one’s personal dharma and accepting the destiny that is coming.

It is also welcomed as a path of selfless action, giving wisdom to learning, acting in accordance with dharma. Separation from worldly affairs such as pleasure or personal gain is the main motto. Freedom and fulfillment are achieved when each action is performed selflessly or altruistically, with only focus and attention. When you act with integrity and do the best you can, with an attitude of devotion and gratitude, you practice Karma Yoga. Actions that are done without thinking about the reward are considered Karma Yoga.

How to Practice Karma Yoga

Karma yoga practitioners accept everything as it is. It is about taking our knowledge from the yoga mat and apply it outside of yoga class, in real life.

Karma yoga is based on the principles of the Law of Karma, that everything goes around. It is associated with things like attitude, duty, motivation, and self-sacrifice. There are different ways of understanding this type of yoga, although this idea of selfless service (which may or may not be material) is common among them. The outcome of this service will be correct, whether it is useful or not, depending on the level of loyalty of the person.

The main goal of this path is to help others without expecting any reward. It is a process of excluding the ego from the result of the action. It represents the path of action and the selfless path we take towards enlightenment. Not only that, but it expresses perfect justice in us.

What is Bhakti Yoga?

Bhakti yoga is the path of love and dedication.

The basic idea of Bhakti yoga is to bring love and see God in all aspects of life.

Bhakti yoga is a yoga of devotion to God, and recognition of the divine in everything. This path is connected to spirituality. The relationship between God and the believer is a central theme. It is believed that by loving and serving a God or Deity, one will also love and serve the Divine in everything, thus finding salvation.

The intention when practicing Bhakti Yoga is to dedicate ourselves to the Divine, which is in everything, and in that way to realize the union of the individual Self with God. Motivation is the love of God rather than fear of negative repercussions or punishment.
The Bhakti path is a path of the heart and commitment to this path is expressed by singing mantras and spiritual songs, and the followers of Bhakti yoga strive to rely as much as possible on their feelings, their hearts, and less on their minds.

It is said that achieving union with God through Bhakti Yoga requires absolute surrender and commitment to the path, not just a superficial attempt at worship.

What is Raja Yoga?

Raja yoga is the path of self-observation, mastering all the forces of one’s being.

To begin, Patanjali described this type of yoga as an uncompromising moral path that is achieved by practicing various types of body postures (asanas), learning proper breathing, concentration and meditation, and its ultimate goal is to achieve final liberation.

Raja Yoga is a process that consists of eight guides for living a meaningful and fulfilled life by which a yogi can ascend to a higher level of existence.

  • Yamas – moral and ethical rules:
    • Ahimsa – non-violence;
    • Satya – honesty;
    • Asteya – non – stealing;
    • Brahmacharya – a clean lifestyle;
    • Aparigraha – holding back from greed.
  • Niyamas – ethical rules of behavior to ourselves:
    • Saucha – purity;
    • Santosha – contentment;
    • Tapas – discipline;
    • Svadhyaya – self – knowledge;
    • Ishvara Pranidhana – surrendering to a higher power.
  • Asanas – positions in which we can stay quite long and effortless.
  • Pranayama – conscious control of the breath.
  • Pratyahara – sense control.
  • Dharana – concentration.
  • Dhyana – meditation.
  • Samadhi – state of bliss.

Yogis believe that practicing all these limbs are a path to enlightenment. However, do not try to run through these stages and immediately want to enter Samadhi. You must be careful and patient.

What is Your Yoga Path? / What of the Four Paths are You on?

In yoga, there are many paths to finding your true self. It’s good to remember, that these paths are part of the philosophy of yoga and are not religion. You can apply them to the religion of your choosing as you seek the truth. When western yoga students first start doing yoga the typical starting point is doing yoga postures at home or in a gym or studio.

According to an experienced yoga teacher, here’s a common scenario:

  • First, you start out practicing asanas in class (Raja Yoga).Then, you realize you are much more aware of your impact and influence on the world around you (Karma Yoga).
  • Next, you begin to feel joy, bliss and oneness chanting or meditating on a mantra, and you bring this into your life (Bhakti Yoga).
  • Eventually, you notice that in meditation and when you find some moments of stillness you feeling your connection to our ultimate “oneness” with everything and everyone (Jnana Yoga).

Many of us explore one or more paths of yoga, but often one path becomes more meaningful maybe for just a time, or maybe it becomes your life’s work. Take time to reflect on what path you were first on.

Conclusions on the What are the Four Paths of Yoga

We can conclude that Jnana yoga corresponds to the intellectual personality type, Bhakti yoga to the emotional, Karma yoga is most suitable for dynamic and enterprising people who do not hold a place and do not have the patience to meditate, Raja yoga corresponds to a mystical and determined personality type characterized by a strong will.

We all carry a little of everything inside us. However, some of the mentioned characteristics dominate, so, by that we can determine the most appropriate path for ourselves.

We can practice all of them, or we can practice one of them. Whichever we choose, it will have a huge positive impact on our lifestyle. We will feel joyful, calmer, and more fulfilled. We will feel connected to everything around us and life will get its true meaning.

Related Reading: What is Yoga?

For Each of the Four Paths, Ask Yourself These Questions

  • How is this my path?
  • Or how is it not my path?
  • How can I practice this path of yoga?
  • How do I already see this path active in my life?

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