What is Yoga?

Yoga is a sanskrit word translated as "yoke" or "union." It joins together aspects of ourselves we usually view as separate: body, mind & spirit, together with a sense that we are all a part of a greater whole. It can be as involved as you wish, as just exercise or, at its deepest level, as a way of life, a way of approaching and interacting with the world. Yoga is not a religion but draws upon universal truths taught in all religions and therefore can be practiced by Christians, Jews, Buddhists, Muslims, Hindus and atheists alike. At its essence, Yoga strives to harmonize your being into one calm and contented whole.

4 Paths of Yoga

There are four different ways to get to your destination of inner peace. You may find you like one path more than another, but you should practice all four while concentrating more on your favorite.

Karma Yoga: selfless service

According to Yoga, every person, and indeed every thing in the universe has a divine essence, a part that is perfect and pure. Some call this soul or spirit. Each individual soul is a fragment of the universal soul, so when you do something for another you are improving the universal soul. By serving others with no expectation of anything in return, you celebrate and strengthen your connection with others and with the world as a whole. Volunteering, favors to friends and family, and even something as small as putting your shopping cart away at the grocery are all Karma Yoga, as long as it is done in a selfless spirit.

Bhakti Yoga: yoga of devotion

This is working towards union with the divine (God, Allah, Brahma, Nature, or whatever your concept is of a greater power) through devotion. By focusing on spiritual pursuits, you channel your emotions and change negative ones such as anger, hatred and jealousy into positive ones. You accomplish this with prayer, chanting/singing, ritual, and studying spiritual texts. Since Yoga was developed in India, traditional texts draw upon the prevalent Hindu and Buddhist beliefs, but it does not matter which religion you study.

Jnana Yoga: intellectual/philosophical approach

Yogic philosophy (Vendanta) is the most difficult path, requiring a firm foundation in all other paths. Through this study you try to discern what is real and unreal by using discrimination (viveka) and dispassion (variagya). What changes is not real: your thoughts, emotions, body, job; but what stays the same is: universal love, your spirit and soul. You practice noticing if something is real or not real, and if it is not, you don't let yourself get upset about it. You can then use your energies on what lasts and is real, which provides you with inner peace. "Jnana Yoga is being the Witness." Swami Vidyananda

Raja Yoga: scientific/psychological approach

In ancient India, wise men (rishis) studied what characteristics produced the most well-rounded people. To release your full potential, Raja Yoga prescribes a practical system of self-study of body and mind. Right conduct, a healthy body, breath regulation and withdrawal of the senses (meditation) are recommended to achieve the most efficient you. There are eight areas to focus on, encompassing ethical, mental and physical practices.

8 Steps of Raja Yoga
Yamas: truth (ahimsa), non-violence (satya), sexual control (bramacharya), non-stealing (asteya) and non-covetousness (aparigraha)
Niyamas: purity (saucha), contentment (santosha), austerity (tapas), study (swadhyaya) and surrender of the ego through worship (ishwara pranidhana)
(The following 2 are known as "hatha yoga")
Asanas: what most people think of as "yoga," steady poses
Pranayama: breathing exercises, control of the vital energy (prana or chi)
(The following 4 are stages of meditation)
Pratyahara: withdrawal of the senses
Dharana: concentration of the mind
Dyhana: meditation
Samadhi: reaching enlightenment