Yoga is mainly known for its physical exercise and postures (asanas). However, asanas are only a single step in the eight-step path (Raja Yoga of Patanjali). Patanjali is quick to point out that asanas are to be used as a stepping-stone for the higher paths, since just working on the beauty and welfare of an impermanent object (the body) is a waste of time and effort. There are two main branches in yoga, Hatha Yoga and Raja Yoga. (To read more about these two branches see the menu on the left). Within these two categories their are various paths in Yoga, which all lead to the same goal - Unification with the Divine. The Yoga paths can be broadly classified into the following categories:Bhakti Yoga is the path of devotion (to the Divine). It is pure selfless love from the heart. A bhakti yogi feels that whenever he thinks of God, God thinks more of him. A relationship between a Bhakta and God can never be described in words.
Karma Yoga is the path of selfless service. For a karma yogi, the activities of human life is a God-given opportunity to serve Him. He does not feel that the world is an illusion, does not encounter the ego-given 'highs' of success or the 'lows' of failure. Thus a karma yogi is detached while carrying out his duties on the earth.
Jnana Yoga is the path of knowledge. A jnana yogi wants to understand the transcendental truth. He wants to solve the mystery of birth, death and the purpose of life. Hindu scriptures describe a Jnani yogi as one who utters Neti, Neti meaning 'not this, not this' to differentiate between what is permanent and impermanent. He uses viveka (discernment) for moving on from avidya (ignorance) to vidya (knowledge). He discerns that the world as perceived by the senses is not real, but an illusion conjured up by the mind.
Asthanga Yoga is the eight-step path systemized by the great sage Patanjali. Asthanga Yoga is sometimes referred to as Raja Yoga . However, Asthanga Yoga is more of a philosophy like basic research while Raja Yoga usually refers to specific techniques which are based on not only Asthanga Yoga but also on various [minor] Upanishads.
Yoga is an ancient practice which dates back at least 5,000 years. Originating in ancient India, Yoga references can be found in many of the sacred texts, including the Rgveda (possibly the oldest literary monument of mankind). One of the most flexible terms of the Sanskrit language, the word "Yoga" can be translated a few different ways. It derives from the same root as the English word "yoke", as in "yoke together" or "unite". Also translated as "disciplined training" or "application", this method of training is designed to lead the practitioner to integration or union. So what is it that we are unifying? Our body/mind, our understanding of self, and how we exist in relation to the world. The ancient technology of Yoga is just as valid to human experience today as it was 5,000 years ago.
The Asana (or Postures - what most people recognize as Yoga), Pranayama (breath work or regulation of breath), and Dharana (Concentration, One-Pointedness). Asana, Pranayama, and Dharana help the student to focus and quiet the mind, gain deeper awareness of the physical body, and calm the senses. The main aim is always concentration of the mind. Sometimes in our fast-paced lives we forget to pay attention to our body/mind. Slowing down, relaxing, and paying quiet attention are very important. When the mind is nurtured, so is the body, and vice versa. The body and mind are not separate, but integrated in one's experience of health and well-being. The method of Yoga is healing to both.
In this modern world we certainly know life is filled with variety, as found in forms, sounds, emotions and desires. The ancient Yogis knew this as well; however, they came to understand life as having an underlying unity - a field beyond and within the variety of joy and suffering in life. A silence within the noise. A vision which opened them to recognize life as miraculous. Yoga is with us today as it was then. No special knowledge or equipment are required, just an interest in our experience. Yoga works with what we are born with: our body/mind. Your direct experience of the practice will tell you what Yoga is and can be for you.