All branches of yoga are in essence very similar. They are each suited for various temperaments. Their goal is the same, Self-realization. The inner silence of God communion is the goal of all the various paths. When identity with God is achieved, all distinctions cease.
The Forms of Yoga
Hatha Yoga—Self-Realization through Physical Health and StrengthRaja Yoga—Self-Realization through the Royal PathJnana Yoga—Self-Realization through WisdomKriya Yoga—Self-Realization through Purification, Pranayama and ConcentrationMantra (Japa) Yoga—Yoga of Sacred UtteranceYantra Yoga—Yoga of Mystical DiagramsLaya Yoga—Yoga of Mergence and DissolutionKundalini Yoga—Yoga of Awakening the Cosmic KundaliniBhakti Yoga—Self-Realization through LoveKarma Yoga—Self-Realization through Selfless Service
Hatha Yoga—Self-Realization through Physical Health and Strength
Hatha Yoga is a systematic, supreme and scientific method for health, relaxation and peace of mind. It is the Yoga by which the body is purified, steadied, made light, firm and strong, and courage and patience are cultivated. When practiced properly, Hatha Yoga brings supreme health in body and mind, but its goal is much higher.
Ha represents the sun and Tha represents the moon. The yoking of these together is Hatha Yoga. In the same way polarities exist in the entire universe, these polarities of warming and cooling are present in the physical (gross) body and the polarities of negative and positive currents are present in the subtle (astral) body. The Hatha practitioner employs a systematic course of exercises, cleansings, breathings, mudras and bandhas for the perfect equilibrium between these forces. A combination of all these components is necessary. An unsound body is a hindrance to meditation—the Hatha system restores physical soundness.
Hatha yoga allows the Yogi to experience supreme health, exercising and strengthening not only the limbs, but also the organs, nerves, glands, brain and spinal column. However, the Sadhaka’s attention should not be directed to the physical but toward the nadis, chakras and solar plexus with the aim of purification and concentration. The Hatha practices may begin as physical, but they soon become spiritual. By the attainment of success in the Hatha system, all diseases are rooted out, and health and harmony are felt throughout the entire organism.
Hatha Yoga is a method and technique for Self-realization. The Hatha practitioner begins Sadhana with body and prana, but soon moves beyond them. Hatha Yoga is not the goal, it is only a means to an end. The Goraksha Samhita refers to Hatha Yoga as the “ladder to Raja Yoga.” Raja Yoga begins where Hatha Yoga ends.
Raja Yoga—Self-Realization through the Royal Path
Raja Yoga is the kingly, royal path of yoga, encompassing all the other forms of yoga, and going beyond them all as well. The Raja Yogi ascends the ladder of yoga step by step, systematically withdrawing the senses from the noisy, restless, material world. The Raja practitioner cultivates intense concentration and dispassion through utilizing the discriminative intellect (Buddhi) to go beyond the basic and lower tendencies of the mind. It is easy to concentrate the mind outward, for that is its natural direction. The Raja Yogi redirects this distracted, restless mind to a higher goal—that of Self inquiry.
Through the misperception of incorrect knowledge, the mind normally feels as though it is drawing logical conclusions and perceptions, when in reality it is still resting in Prakriti (nature, or the non-self). In the highest state of concentration, clarity dawns and perfect discrimination is born.
The distinction must be made here between egoistic mental inquiries and subtle, pure mental liberation. The world is filled with great material minds whose intense concentration and intellect have brought forth nothing more than countless world delusions. These inquiries are seldom born from a deep, burning desire for liberation but all too often from the arrogant pomposities of intellectual aridities. The Raja Yogi works with the discriminative aspect of mind that has first been purified through the steady practice of yama and niyama.
Yoga teaches that the mind has a higher state of existence, the Super-conscious state. This is a state beyond mental reason. When the mind rises to this state, the knowledge that is beyond reason comes. All the stages of yoga are preparation to bring us to the Super-conscious state (Samadhi).
When the Raja Yogi has perfected the concentration as to be able to negate the external aspects of perception and meditate solely on the internal aspects, that is Samadhi. The three components of Concentration, Meditation and Samadhi are called Samyama. This is the ultimate result of raja yoga practice.
Jnana Yoga—Self-Realization through Wisdom
Jnana Yoga is based upon philosophical discrimination between the real and unreal through reasoning to realize the Ultimate Truth. It is the Yoga of the scientist. In the Bhagavad Gita, Jnana is described as the proper understanding of the field and the Knower of the field. The Jnana Yogi uses the rational intellect to life the veil of ignorance between the field and the Knower of the field by intellectual inquiry (initially) into Maya, observing the various false identities placed upon the Knower.
The Jnana Yogi develops discrimination through seven stages, beginning with study of the scriptures and renunciation of the fruit of action. This helps to purify and protect the mind and prepares it for the future stages, for the human mind can understand nothing until pretension ceases. Through the middle and final stages, the mind observes the reality of Atman and cultivates disinterest in the material plane. Attraction to the field is severed. The Gunas disappear. The Eternal Truth is seen. Remaining in this Eternal Truth, with clear vision and Jnana, the Yogi abides in the Super-conscious state known as Turiya.
The Jnana Yogi uses both the intellect and reason for Supreme liberation by transcending the mind through observance of non-discrimination. Through the process of Self-inquiry, the practitioner transcends the philosophical, mental states of inquiry.
Self-inquiry frees one from the unceasing fear and turmoil resulting from taking the ego to be real. By becoming free of the ego illusion one experiences true freedom and Supreme peace. It is this path that takes one from the apparent duality of the individual in the world to the bliss of one’s true nature. Discrimination leads to dispassion which leads to Reality. This is the essence of Jnana Yoga.
Kriya Yoga—Self-Realization through Purification, Pranayama and Concentration
Kriya Yoga is the Yoga by which the Kundalini is raised to cosmic consciousness by union of the breath with the Universal Spirit in a very specific way. Unifying the breath, brain and spinal cord, the Kriya Yogi gains knowledge of the body, the chakras and the Soul and acquires full comprehension of the three bodies.
Largely disseminated through the sacred life and teachings of Bhagavan Lahiri Mahasaya, Kriya Yoga engages mental, moral and physical disciplines (actions) for the purification of the ego. The concentrated practice of specific pranayamas (breathings) within the Kriya system cultivates breath mastery for the purification of the nervous system and the attaining of God-consciousness.
Kriya Yogis practice very specific Super-conscious meditations, incorporating Mantra and breath in a systematic, disciplined manner, ultimately gaining control over the mental and sensory impulses, and subsequent surrender of ordinary self-consciousness (egoism). The Kriya Yogi progresses gradually, mastering each successive level, under the faultless guidance of the Guru.
Mantra (Japa) Yoga—Yoga of Sacred Utterance
Mantra Yoga is the repetition of the Lord’s name or of a sacred formula taught to the disciple by the Guru for the purpose of Self-realization. A Mantra is a sanctified word by which the Guru initiates the disciple. Japa is repetition of the Mantra.
Sounds are vibrations. The rhythmic repetition of sound has specific physical and astral effects. The energized thoughts within the Mantra create very specific results for the Sadhaka as the Yogi trains the body and mind through the Mantras prescribed for their vibratory effect. The repetition of the Mantra creates a unique breathing rhythm within the practitioner, and subsequently cultivates deep concentration. As the hidden power within the Mantra begins to materialize, the Yogi experiences a greater liberation of the Soul. Japa may be verbal, semi-verbal (as in humming), or mental (silent). Mental Japa is the most powerful, but until the mind can concentrate, verbal Japa works very well. In the beginning, do Om Mantra. Repetition of the Mantra becomes habitual and should be done with intense devotion and purity. The Mantra itself will remove impurities of the mind.
God–realization cannot be experienced through reasoning and intellect. It can be experienced only through a life of unbroken communion with the Infinite presence. The Mantra Yogi achieves union by sound – by eventually transcending the sound. As the syllable or formula is repeated the psycho-spiritual power within the Mantra alters the consciousness of the Sadhaka and the mind eventually becomes absorbed in the Mantra.
The specific Mantric vibrations eventually produce the manifested object of their astral and sound vibrations. As the Sadhaka advances, the Mantra naturally falls away and meditation alone remains. Name and form disappear along with the manifested world.
Do Japa with faith, devotion and fortitude. Keep calling God to you. See the Lord shining in the cave of your heart. See Him watching your repetition of the Mantra. This is Mantra Yoga.
Yantra Yoga—Yoga of Mystical Diagrams
Yantra Yoga uses mystical diagrams which represent a specific psychic formula for the purpose of spiritual development. The Yantra Yogi uses the psychic pattern (Yantra) as an object of worship and concentration, embedding the psychic formula deep within the Yantra.
The Yantra Yogi then utilizes the Yantra as a means for concentrating the mind toward an intention, attempting to channel the psychic formula within the Yantra into themselves.
The Yantra is a symbolic, material object of name and form that represents the action of Cosmic forces.
It has four doors which contain and shield it from the material world. It is used to subdue lust, anger and other negative forces and is an invisible force of condensed and energized thoughts.
Laya Yoga—Yoga of Mergence and Dissolution
Laya Yoga includes all the components of Hatha Yoga, together with Tapas, Concentration and Meditation with a concentration on inner sounds called Nada (Divine sounds). Laya Yoga is ooften called Nada Yoga.
The physical and astral bodies have sound as their basis, and the sound originates in the heart region (Anahata Chakra). The Anahata sounds do not originate outside, they are already within the heart.
Sound is a powerful force that influences creation. Sound is the first expression of God. The initial vibration of the Creator was sound, the sound of Om, springing forth all of manifested creation. The inner Cosmic vibrations called Anahata absorb the mind, eliminating sense attraction.
There are various sounds, each more subtle than the previous. Mind becomes absorbed in these sounds, and becomes deaf to all other external sounds. By meditation on these Anahata sounds, the Laya Yogi’s consciousness transforms from individual consciousness (I-am), into the Supreme, the Absolute I-AM. Through the more subtle sounds, Divine knowledge of Reality is revealed, until the Laya Yogi becomes absorbed in Pranava Sabda – the principal Sound.
Kundalini Yoga—Yoga of Awakening the Cosmic Kundalini
Kundalini Yoga is the method by which the Yogi seeks to awaken the Kundalini energy through the discipline of the physical body, purification of the Nadis and control of the Prana. Within the human form lies a dormant spiritual power known as Kundalini, located between the anus and the generative organs, and coiled like a serpent. The Kundalini Yogi endeavors to awaken the dormant Kundalini and raise it up through the Shushumna Nadi, and the six plexuses within the interior of the spine.
The Kundalini will only rise safely when the other Nadis (psychic channels) have been purified. Therefore, the first step in Kundalini Yoga is the purification of the Nadis. Kundalini Yoga is an exact science and requires the initiation and guidance of the Guru. The Guru prescribes various methods for the purification of the Nadis, and gradually the instrument is prepared.
When awakened, the Kundalini initially penetrates the Muladhara Chakra (at the base of the spine). As it rises up Brahma Nadi, it travels though the nerve plexuses (chakras), and the consciousness of the practitioner correspondingly rises higher. When the kundalini reaches the sixth center, the Ajna Chakra, the Yogi experiences the vision of God. When the Kundalini ultimately reaches the brain, the Yogi experiences Samadhi, losing all individuality in the absorption of the Supreme Lord.
Bhakti Yoga—Self-Realization through Love
Bhakti Yogis transfer the inner and outer expression of emotion from the material to the Divine. Bhakti is intense love of God. There is no selfish expectation; solely a pure outpouring of love towards God. Bhakti Yoga is the science of highest love. It shows the Sadhaka how to direct, control and give mundane love a higher aim, leading to spiritual blessedness. Lower, selfish, personal love naturally falls away, and the luminous and inexhaustible love of God is revealed. Intense love of God is the Bhakti Yogi’s sole aim.
The Bhakti Yogi has realized through discrimination and detachment that love for worldly illusions is sensory and impermanent. The highest love is that which takes us to the infinite immensity of God. The Bhakti Yogi re-directs the dominant aspect of love within the heart towards God, thinking of God always and seeing God behind the masks of all creation.
Living in love, breathing in love, charging every action, word and thought with love develops compassion and purifies the heart. The Bhakti Yogi then directs this love towards God alone. Love for anything other than God cannot be Bhakti.
Bhakti destroys egoism and selfishness and is continuity of intense devotion to God. Very soon, through this intense devotion, the Lord will express intense bliss within you, revealing the essence of the all pervading truth. Everything is for the Lord. Give to others as if to the Lord. When you offer anything you do to the Lord, expect nothing in return. This is Bhakti Yoga.
Karma Yoga—Self-Realization through Selfless Service
Karma Yoga is selfless action without attachment or expectation of the fruits and without identification with the do-er of the action. It is selfless service performed as worship and free from ego.
Karma Yoga is a complementary and necessary component to all other forms of Yoga. It is Karma Yoga that transforms the vicious egoistic nature of the mind and eradicates selfishness and individuality.
Karma Yoga is the Yoga of spiritualizing all actions. The Karma Yogi directs every action to God rather than the limited motivations of the personal self. In this way, all action becomes a service of creation and a veritable, unbroken link with the Imperishable Brahman. Desires cease and we are free.
When we are engaged in selfless action, the mind moves into a higher vibration. The Karma Yogi does not even strive for spiritual benefits or results. The Mantra of the Karma Yogi is “I am doing it because it has to be done. This is for you, my Lord.”
The very reason for nature’s existence is the education of the soul. Learn from selfless work. Work incessantly, and lift the veil that conceals the truth. In the holy Bhagavad Gita, the Lord explains to Arjuna, “This is my nature—the Indwelling Spirit, by which the entire universe is sustained. I am the origin of the entire universe and also its dissolution.” Be like the Supreme Lord, working for the world out of love.
Work from love. It is a privilege to help others. Be grateful to those you help—see God in them. We have no right nor entitlement to anything in this vast universe—only to work are we entitled, never to the fruit.
Karma Yoga will purify the mind like no other practice. Motives become clean. Selfishness is eradicated and the limited confines of personal identity reveal themselves as nothing more than an illusion. Humility, pure love, sympathy, tolerance, and mercy are developed. Work as God is working for us. This is Karma Yoga.