Everyone can do yoga because it is more than poses. The word is Sanskrit meaning union, join, or connect. It is a science that joins mind, body, and spirit through four distinct paths — jhana, bhakti, karma, and raja.
Within each path are activities that allows us to connect the physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual aspects of our lives. That, in itself, brings us closer to our soul, strengthens our connection to the Universe (or God/Source/Divine/One), and allows us to understand our life purpose on a deeper level.
Below is how the paths look individually.
Jhana — Path of Knowledge
Study of philosophical, spiritual, or texts that are the foundations of life, but also questioning what is studied. One way of testing the knowledge is through applying it to everyday life.
Bhakti — Path of Devotion
Seeing the soul in everyone and everything and treating them all as the Divine. When we say, “Namaste,” it means the Divine in me sees the Divine in you. Another way of devotion is celebrating through poetry, songs, dance, or chants, which is also called kirtan.
Karma — Path of Selfless Service
This can be reduced to volunteerism, but involves taking action without expectations, being compassionate towards all beings, and fighting for what is right.
Raja — Path of Oneness
The most common path, especially amongst Westerners, is raja, or the Royal Path. It is primarily known for the physical postures (asana). There are eight limbs that consists of lifestyle choices, breathing techniques, and meditation that leads practitioners to samadhi, or oneness with the Divine.
- Yama (ethics) — In its purest form, yama is about not harming living beings: animals, plants, minerals and humans, especially in the ways below.
- Ahimsa (non-violence, or no harm to self or others)
- Satya (truthfulness)
- Asteya (non-stealing)
- Bramacharya (behavior that is the right use of energy)
- Aparigraha (letting go, non-attachment, or non-greediness)
- Niyamas (self control) — Our beliefs are put into action with daily practices.
- Saucha (cleanliness)
- Santosha (contentment, or unconditional happiness)
- Tapas (discipline)
- Svadhyaya (self-study or reflection)
- Ishvarapranidaha (surrender to God)
- Asana (physical postures) — We all know this as the different styles of hatha (power) – Iyengar, Astanga, Kundalini, Bikram and Sivananda. The intention of hatha is to strengthen the body for meditation.
- Pranayama (breathing techniques) — Translated as ‘life force extension,’ this is a focus on the breath as it is connected to the body and mind. It moves the chi, or energy, throughout the body. Alternate nostril breathing and the Breath of Fire are two types of pranayama.
- Pratyahara (sensory withdrawal, i.e., eliminate external distractions) — This is a result of doing numbers 3, 4, and 6, but taking a break from daily life by turning off the television, cell phone and computer are ways to break away from the external world.
- Dharana (focus on breath or focal point) — Sitting in meditation focusing on the breath, chakra or an object (candle flame, symbol pictured in the mind).
- Dhyana (concentration) — Experiencing ‘monkey mind’ is normal. The mind becomes still with practice. With dhyana we no longer notice the breath or other object of focus.
- Samadhi (oneness with God) — This is where we transcend mind, body and breath. It is a sense of ultimate peace, connection with the Divine. In meditation we can experience this for a moment, several minutes or longer. Oneness is a result of doing 1 through 7.
We do not have to become a monastic to achieve enlightenment, but we can choose where to focus our energy in work, play, friends and family to maintain our internal feeling of peace.
All paths lead to the same center, but it is good to mix them for balance. An integration could appear as living a vegan or vegetarian lifestyle, doing daily Hatha yoga (pranayama, asana, and meditation), being kind to everyone, singing and dancing, and studying a text that speaks to the heart. In this manner, yoga is for everyone.