Types of Yoga*
There are more than one hundred types of yoga that are suitable for people with various temper, but the wise men, who have classified the systems of yoga, define six main paths according to some common characteristics of the individual types of people.
Hatha yoga is suitable for the people who want to keep their body in perfect health. It balances the endocrine and nervous systems and looks after the psychological balance, so that in time one is able to awaken the higher energy and the higher brain centers. Hatha yoga includes cleansing practices for the body by starting with cleansing the eyes, ears and the digestive system. It also includes a breathing practice, kapalbhati, as well as a form of meditation called trataka. All these practices, except for the meditative one, seem to be totally physical, but actually their benefits are not only physical, but spiritual, too. Hatha yoga is not only asana and pranayama, as most people of the west think. Hatha yoga are the cleansing techniques, one technique from pranayama and one meditative technique.
Raja yoga is also known as the king’s path. This is the system of Patanjali, which divides the process of evolution in eight steps. The first two are yama and niyama, defined guidelines and rules for behavior of the yoga practitioners, which provide them with sound basis for the next level. Asana (physical poses) are next. Fourth step is pranayama, control over the pranic energy and its allocation in the body by use of certain breathing techniques. Fifth step is pratyahara, this is the technique of yoga nidra, which helps to take back our consciousness from the five senses. Through pratyahara the attention is not diverted and we can control the senses, we stop being directed outwards, towards the sensory world and direct ourselves to exploring the mind. This process leads to wholesome relaxation. The sixth stage of raja yoga is dharana, concentration. When you succeed in relaxing to a certain extent one is capable of concentrating the mind on an arbitrary chosen object. At this stage the various techniques of concentration are learnt. The seventh stage is dhyana, meditation. It happens only after attaining complete perfection in relaxation and concentration. Then and only then you are ready to enter into a meditative state. In this state one does not learn from the outside world, but knowledge springs from within and one becomes its conductor. Because you have connected with the source, you have reached the inner world. After you have entered a meditative state, in a certain moment it becomes very deep and you enter the final stage of raja yoga, samadhi.
Raja yoga is suitable for people who easily direct their mind inwards. It is created in a way that allows reaching a meditative state and having a new standpoint about things. One must be prepared for meditation because it is the most important. That is why it is stated that one must start with practicing asana in order to prepare one’s body for a stable meditative posture. When you are able to sit comfortable for prolonged time period it is time to start working on controlling the energy channels through pranayama. When the body is stable and the energies are balances one is able to withdraw the awareness of the five senses. This is pratyahara. For the most of time we are totally assumed by our senses, we do not part from them. After pratyahara comes concentration, meditation and samadhi.
The philosophy of bhakti yoga is very beautiful. This is a philosophy of love, dedication and selfless serving to a higher ideal. Emotional people easily dedicate themselves to something. Bhakti yoga helps them cleanse and enlighten their emotions.
Karma yoga is yoga of action. We are all more or less active doing, which is why karma yoga is suitable for everybody. But in karma yoga one is working with a certain attitude, we follow a specific philosophy about the work, according to which it stops being something impulsive or something we wearily do, but rather work with enthusiasm and creative charge. By practicing karma yoga our attitude towards work is changing to an extent that every action is turned into joy and presentation of creativity. Through karma yoga we free the inner tension and express our energy in a creative manner.
Ghyana yoga is yoga of the seeking mind. It answers questions like: “Who am I?”, “Where do I come from?”, “Why am I here?”, “Where do I go to?”, “Why is the universe created?”, “What will happen with the universe in the future?”.
Mantra yoga is a science of sound and its influence on the physical, energy, mental, intuitive and causal body. All of us own these bodies.
In swara yoga people attune subtly to the environment and the surrounding rhythms. With the help of the breath flow through the left or right nostril people practicing swara yoga are capable of determining what answer to give a man who have come near them from the right side or the left one, as well as many other things. This is a mystical state.
These are the main path in yoga and all of them belong to Tantra. Tantra is the mother of yoga.
*) The definitions of the types of yoga are translated from the book “Yoga – in Search of Answers” – part one by Swami Sivamurti Saraswati