Traditionally there are five separate Yogas. Each, like a spoke of a wheel, leads to the hub, to oneness or union with the Divine. Hatha, the way of the body; Raja, the way of the mind; Karma, the way of service; and Bhakti, the way of the heart.
“Some people think that Yoga means standing on your head. But, before you even want to stand on your head, you should be standing firmly on your feet.” ~Swami Satchidananda
Without a healthy body, nothing is possible in this life. So, for the physical body, there is Hatha Yoga. Through careless habits of diet and lifestyle, are bodies build up toxins and tensions that increase with time. The tensions block the nerve centers and inhibit the proper flow of energy. Hatha Yoga prescribes simple physical postures for releasing those toxins, and breathing techniques to regulate the energy flow.
“The postures, or asanas, make the body supple, health, and relax. Mainly the poses work on the spine, because the spine is the very staff of life. Because all the organs, glands and nerve centers get their energy through the spine. The various asanas, bend the spine backward, forward, turn it upside down, and twist it from side to side just to keep it healthy and flexible.” ~Swami Satchidananda
The Hatha poses are not like calisthenics, aerobics, or other exercises that are quick and vigorous and mainly affect superficial muscles. This Yoga builds up energy in the system rather than draining it. After a session of Yoga asanas, one feels very light and refreshed.
With the various breathing practices, we are dealing with something very subtle and profound. When you do pranayama, you will feel your system charged with what is called prana or vital energy. By breathing in certain conscious ways, the blood gets purified and the extra oxygen gets diffused into the system and this brings fresh life to every cell. It burns up those impurities that we’ve already put into our bodies and it tones the nerves. But maybe the most important benefit of pranayama, is that it can calm the mind. We all know that when our minds are restless or when we are upset, the breath is very quick and uneven. So, in reverse, by regulating the breathing, we indirectly regulate our thoughts. That is why it’s so effective as a preparation for meditation.
When the body is relaxed and free of tension and the breathing is calm, this is the beginning of meditation and Raja Yoga. We have become slaves to our minds—they control us. The mind is like a lake—all thoughts are like waves on its surface. Each thought is a ripple. As the mind becomes calm, thoughts disappear. Only when the lake is still will it reflect clearly and without distortion. So too, when the mind is quieted through meditation, our own true nature is reflected—the way is open to experience peace and harmony.
One technique is through concentration. If the mind is held on one point it cannot wander from one thought to another as it usually tends to do. Another method is to watch the thoughts as they arise without attempting to select, judge, or separate certain thoughts from others. One merely witnesses the stream of consciousness—no involvement, no attachment.
“Almost all the scriptures agree that the very first manifestation of the unmanifested is sound. The Bible puts it as, ‘In the beginning there was the Word and the Word was God.’ Hindu scriptures call it as Nada Brahma, that means, the sound Absolute. If that is the first manifestation of God, all other forms and names are nothing but the expression of that manifestation, or the variations of that sound—like all the waves are nothing but the variation of the same water in the sea. If that is so, we can come to a conclusion that everything that we see is nothing but vibration.”
~Sri Swami Satchidananda
Yoga is something not to be practiced only when you meditate or do Yoga postures, but all through our lives—day and night. Karma Yoga is meditation in action. It is the Yoga of selfless serving—giving without expecting anything in return; thinking of the actions of themselves as an offering to God or to all of humanity. It is work without attachment to the fruits of one’s actions. The Karma Yogi may be performing the same jobs he or she did before or even the most menial of tasks, but with a different attitude—simply for the joy of doing them. The aspirant purifies one’s mind and becomes an instrument for greater good, thus transcending one’s own individuality.
Karma Yoga means serving without desire of reward; serving with complete dedication‑one works merely for the joy of the work itself and the work itself becomes worship. Normally, we work for reward—for financial gain, for the lunch break, for the weekend. But, with the proper attitude of Karma Yoga, each moment in the work becomes pure joy and one works merely for that joy of being of service to all. Rather than feeling that you are the actor who is doing the work, you feel yourself as a cell in the universal body. Each of us is connected to one another. So, instead of viewing your work from a separate, selfish perspective, you view it from the perspective of the whole.
“In the path of devotion or bhakti, you just love. Devote yourself completely to the Beloved. Open yourself completely; become like a child. Offer everything.”
~Sri Swami Satchidananda
Bhakti Yoga is living love and living service. As far as the life of a bhakti yogi is concerned, everything that one does is motivated by that love, that dedication, surrender, and service. In a way it will encompass all the other paths of Yoga. The only thing is that it emphasizes the heart. Naturally, when a person gives oneself totally to God, this is how Bhakti Yoga evolves: to say it is one thing; to mean it is one thing, but to live it every single day is another thing. One of the greatest devotional practices is constantly remembering God’s presence—that divine energy within. If you really remember this presence, that becomes a living consciousness within you.
Pious worshippers of all faiths have been practicing Bhakti Yoga since human beings first stood in awe and reverence in recognition of the Infinite. Devotion has its origin in the fact that we, as human beings, in some way, share in the Divine life. Therefore, we long to commune with that from which we feel we have come. Many believe that all our desires are really a desire for God. Bhakti, the Yoga of love, concentrates on outgrowing worldly attachments and misdirected love and directing it all to the essential.
By constant love, thought and service of the Divine—in any name or form, or beyond form—the devotee slowly takes on the attributes of the one he or she worships. And, as with other Yogas, moves beyond limited individuality to contact that universal consciousness. Intoxicated by this higher awareness, the bhakti yogi recognizes that all creation is God in manifestation and comes to serve everyone he or she sees as an aspect of the Divine.
“Use the heart. That’s love, because love can never come from the head. If you want love, go to the heart. Everybody wants to be the head and then they bump against each other. The head is a hard nut, no? But the soft heart melts, it always palpitates. It jumps with joy. That’s why in the Hindu mythology, the Lord Nataraja is dancing in the chitahasa, in the heart chakra. Because if you love you are always in joy and you just dance. Love is the only thing and it is just one-way traffic—you just love for the joy of love.” ~Sri Swami Satchidananda
The search for truth and happiness leads directly back to each and every of us. The happiness we seek is in us always. This is our true nature. Yoga practices provide the tools for reuniting us with who we already are. The result is a human being more complete and more balanced—a person awake.
Source: Integral Yoga International