The Four Paths of Practice

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Swami Sivananda recognised that every Yogi, or human being for that matter, possesses and identifies with each of these elements: Intellect, heart, body and mind. He therefore advocated everyone to practice certain techniques from each path.  He also taught that in accordance with individual temperament and taste one can emphasize the practice of certain Yogas over others.

Karma Yoga

Karma Yoga is  the Yoga of Action. It is the path chosen primarily by those of an outgoing nature. It purifies the heart by teaching you to act selflessly, without thought of gain or reward.  By detaching yourself from the fruits of your actions and offering them up to    God, you learn to sublimate the ego. To achieve this, it is helpful to keep  your mind focused by repeating a mantra while engaged in any activity.


Niyatma Karma are those activities commensurate with one's station.  There are no brownie points for fulfilling expected duties. There are penalties for non-action.   Conversely, yajna is an unselfish act without condition.  These acts have the touch of holiness, of sacrifice.



Bhakti Yoga

This path appeals particularly to those of an emotional nature. The Bhakti Yogi is motivated chiefly by the power of love and sees God as the embodiment of love. Through prayer, worship and ritual he surrenders himself to God, channelling and transmuting his emotions into unconditional love or devotion. Chanting or singing the praises of God form a substantial part of Bhakti Yoga.


All (nine) forms of bhakti are in the singing of kirtan. 


On the physical plane, prayers and the mantras are chanted during the puja ceremony to create an atmosphere of sacred feelings or vibrations in and around the whole environment. 

Raja Yoga

Often called the "royal road" it offers a comprehensive method for controlling the waves of thought by turning our mental and physical energy into spiritual energy. Raja Yoga is also called Ahtanga Yoga referring to the eight  limbs leading to absolute mental control. The chief practice of Raja Yoga is meditation.   It also includes all other methods which helps one to control body, energy, senses and mind. 

While many Americans associate "Ashtanga Yoga" with K. Patthabhi Jois' teachings, historically, it refers to :

Yamas

Niyamas

Asana

Pranayama

Pratyahara

Dharana

Dhyana

Samadhi

Jnana Yoga

Timothy Burgin, author and Executive director of YogaBasics.com gives critical advice: "..it is important to cultivate humility and compassion on this path. It is easy to become entangled in the constructs and thoughts of the mind and loose sight of the goal of jnana: to realize the divine oneness inherent in all beings. "

Jnana Yoga leads the devotee to experience his unity with God directly by breaking the glass, dissolving the veils of ignorance.  Before practicing Jnana Yoga, the aspirant needs to have integrated the lessons of the other yogic paths - for without selflessness and love of God, strength of body and mind, the search for self-realization can become mere idle speculation.  Sacred scripture study (Vedanta) and sadhana chatushtaya.  The latter are the four means and six virtues (shatsampat).  Swamiji.com treats this beautifully, fully. 

Sources and References

Karma Yoga

  • Sivananda.org
  • Bhagavad Gita with Commentary By Swami Sivananda

Bhakti Yoga

  • Sivananda.org
  • yogamag.com
  • hinduwebsite.com

Raja Yoga

  • Sivananda.org

Jnana Yoga

  • Sivananda.org
  • YogaBasics.com
  • Swamiji.com