A lot of people not just in the United States but all over the world practice yoga. It leaves us wondering, do they really know what yoga is all about? There are a lot of people who practice yoga to manage stress or to lose weight and although that’s a good reason, when they focus and dive deeper, they’ll find out that yoga is so much more than being fit and relieving stress.
Yoga is a way of finding and restoring balance in our life. In Sanskrit, yoga literally means to unite. Its purpose is to reunite our mind, soul and body with our deepest and truest selves so that our life is in absolute harmony. Since we already have our highest selves deep within us, all we have to do is to dig in and tap deeper in order for us to rediscover it. Looking for it essentially equates to finding a meaning for our lives which ultimately leads us to achieving happiness.
It is through the four paths of yoga (bhakti, karma, raja, and jnana) that the truth and happiness can be achieved. Each of us chooses a different path from another and for some, they choose a combination of these four paths. No matter what path they choose, the important thing to remember is that all these four paths lead to the same destination: union with the Divine presence which essentially brings about happiness and contentment.
The Four Paths of Yoga
Although each one of us is unique, we all still share similarities which makes us the same: our lives being controlled by our emotions and our energy. What makes us different in this aspect is the fact that we operate on different levels. This is essentially the reason why there are four margas or four paths in yoga that represents each of our lives’ facet and it’s only through living that we conjure at least one aspect and apply it into our lives.
- Bhakti Yoga
Bhakti yoga is also known as the yoga of love. It removes jelousy, pride, and lust and replaces it with bliss, contentment, and peace. This path leads yogis into devotion to the family, guru, and ultimately to the Divine. It is said to be the easiest path to choose because it doesn’t require a person to be an extensive yoga practitioner. Advanced or not, Bkahti Yoga can be practiced by anyone.
This path particularly focuses on the emotions of a person. It teaches the yogis to love all creation deeply. The combination of love and devotion is what makes our world a better place.
How do you practice Bhakti Yoga? Since the time inception, there is really no proper way to practice Bhakti Yoga. However, according to Sri Ramunja, a person can practice Bhakti Yoga by following these 11 factors:
- The constant thinking of the Divine Being or Abhyasa.
- Avoiding discriminating opinions about others or Viveka.
- Our strong desire to pursue God by surrendering everything to him or Vimoka.
- Being true to yourself and what you really feel or
- Maintaining a proper behaviour and living a simple life or Arjavam.
- Devotion to doing good and helping others or
- Praying for everyone’s health and happiness or
- Being compassionate towards the less fortunate ones and doing something to help them or Daya.
- Avoiding any violence towards others or Ahimsa.
- Giving to charity and extending a helping hand to those who need it most or
- Maintaining a positive attitude towards things and spreading the positivity to the people around or Anavasada.
Basically, Bhakti yoga is a way of cultivating love for oneself and others. In the Indian traditional times, it involves a devotion to a particular concept or deity though it can also be devotion to other forms. This way we can plant love in our hearts, allow it to grow, and give it to other. And in the act of giving it out, we receive it as well.
- Karma Yoga
This is also known as the yoga of action. It implies that for every action you take, there is always a reaction. It essentially talks about the cause and effect of life.
Karma Yoga is the path of selfless service and “doing the right thing”. It teaches each individual to act without thinking about how it will affect their lives – to give without expecting something in return. What we are today is the result of both our good and bad karma which stemmed from our previous actions.
It encourages yogis to surrender everything to the Divine Being so that the heart may be purified from egoism, selfishness, hatred, jealousy, and other negative emotions.
In order to become a true karma yogi, you have to be able to understand some of its principles:
- Have a Positive Attitude
Approaching things with a positive attitude can have a great effect. When you work on something, don’t think about how heavy it makes you feel, rather, work on it with a dutiful and loving heart. After all, it’s not the how you do the job that matters, it’s your attitude towards doing it that counts. Always remember that when you do something, it is always for a reason. Remember that reason and focus on doing your job with a pure intention.
- Focus on Your Duty
We all have duties individually. Before you can become a true karma yogi, you need to perform your duties well and responsibly. Don’t waste your energy doing things that won’t make you grow as a person. Even if you’re not keen on doing your duties, don’t shun them. Look on the bright side of it and try to do it wholeheartedly.
- Treat Everyone Equally
“Do unto others what you want others to do unto you.” Treat people in the same way you want to be treated. Try to understand their opinions and never ever treat them as if they are below you. After all, we are a part of the same universe. The least we can do is to be friendly with each other and avoid being prey to power.
- Don’t Think About the Results
Do your work well and do not think of the rewards that will come from your hard work. Don’t just work for the sake of getting the job done. Do your job and do it well. No job is harder than the other. All are the same and it’s your dedication towards your job that’s most important.
A true karma yogi is selfless. They rejoice in the success of others and their compassionate being mourns with a person’s failure. No matter what life throws at them, they face it calmly knowing that they are fuelled with the love from the Divine.
- Raja Yoga
Raja yoga or what is also known as the “royal path” of yoga teaches yogis to have complete control of their minds. It includes self-discipline and the yoga techniques such as breathing or pranayamas, poses or asanas, meditation, and mantras. Its goal is to rid your mind of the barrier that prevents your mind from seeing the goodness and greatness of God. It consists of 3 exercises, namely:
- Tapas – self-discipline
- Svhadyaya – self-inspection
- Ishvara Pranidhana – the complete surrender and devotion to the Divine Being
- Jnana Yoga
This path is known as the path of wisdom. Jnana yoga focuses on using the intellect to know what is real and what is not. Basically, it deals with gaining wisdom by digging deeper into your inner self so that you can achieve self-realization.
Jnana Yoga in itself needs knowledge and it’s not something that can easily be picked up not to mention using it to achieve yoga’s greatest goal. This is the reason why this path is considered to be the most difficult among the four paths. In order to be a Jnana yogi, you need to go into self-questioning, self-awareness, and reflection and be able to unite with your realizations.
Practicing Jnana yoga is extremely challenging. However, there are methods you can use to be able to completely liberate yourself from your thoughts and it’s important to do in in the same order as listed since each item will lead you to the other.
Essentially viveka is the one that makes you see what is real and what is not. It needs to be constantly fed by your intellect so that one can be differentiated from the other. This will then lead you to the next method, the Vairagya.
Once you have completely differentiated what real and unreal, Vairaga will then come next. This method is where you remove or release yourself from the practical possessions and the events that happens around. This method requires the yogi to completely let go of the surroundings in order to make room for new knowledge.
This method focuses on stabilizing your mind. In doing so, you can prepare and develop your mind to completely see beyond the illusions of the world. In order to do this, you have to be able to follow its six virtues: Shama or calmness of the mind; Dama or the ability to control the senses; Uprati or the renunciation of unnecessary duties; Titiksha or ability to cope with toxic situations and tolerating suffering and pain; Shraddha or instilling belief in the guru; and Samadhana or the complete concentration of the mind.
Mumukshutva is the complete release of all the suffering committing oneself to the path of self-realization.
We all strive to live a happy life. Happiness in each person varies. Mostly it is influenced by the events that we have experienced before that in turn cultivates a longing inside us that can’t be filled with anything – even material things.
The truth of the matter is: we cannot find the happiness we’re looking for on the outside world. It lies within ourselves. True contentment and bliss can be achieved by a sincere heart that is full of wisdom along with deep meditation and God’s grace.