Paths of yoga and its structure

Structuring the different paths of yoga 

There are many different paths of yoga, well over a hundred different types. However, most of these separate paths are only slight variations of a few basic forms of yoga practices. These numerous variations arise from modifications designed to suit the temperaments and beliefs of everyone. Since each person has a unique personality, we can say there is a different path of yoga for each individual.

Our basic characteristics mainly include emotion, the tendency to act, among others. Maybe that is why our personalities are more notable for their similarities rather than their differences. Because of these common aspects, we can separate yoga into a few paths which cater for each of these facets of personality.

The different paths of yoga can be considered to different rivers. As these rivers flow into the sea, likewise, the different paths of yoga lead to a source. At first, they are completely separate and are known by different names. However, as the rivers progress, they begin to merge with each other until eventually they are totally absorbed in the ocean. The rivers completely lose their individuality.

It is the same with the various yogic paths. At first, they have specific characteristics and sometimes even appear to contradict each other, but as one progresses along any one or number of these paths, their separateness disappears. We can, therefore, conclude that all these paths of yoga have the same goals: physical health, mental peace and higher awareness.

Types of yoga

As mentioned earlier, there are 100 various types of yoga. Here is a list of the main branches:


  • Mantra,
  • Kundalini,
  • Laya,
  • Hatha,
  • Raja,
  • Patanjali,
  • Bhakti,
  • Jnana,
  • Swara,
  • Karma,
  • Kriya,
  • Japa,
  • Jnana and so on.

However, the many variations of yoga can be broadly classified into five basic groups. These cater to the most prominent aspects of our personality:

  • Karma: the path of activity.
  • Bhakti: the path of devotion.
  • Jnana: the path of enquiry, intuition.
  • Raja: the path of introspection.
  • Hatha: the path of balancing the mental, physical and subtle forces of the body.

Accordingly, we can place any other forms of yoga under these five main categories.

Karma yoga

So if someone wants to attain awareness through activity without expecting any reward, he must practice karma yoga, the path of action. It is the performance of our daily work with constant awareness. It is this living in the present which enables far more effective, efficient and powerful actions.

By totally absorbing the self in the work at hand we tend to reduce the power of the ego. This is the essence of karma yoga and results in less emotional and mental upsets in life. It helps to make the mind more calm and peaceful under any circumstances and more receptive to the practices of yoga. Consequently, this in itself can lead to meditation.

Bhakti yoga

Also, there are devotees who provide an outlet to their emotions instead of suppressing them or dissipating them in different directions. This is the yoga of devotion, bhakti. The devotee or “bhakta” absorbs himself completely in his object of devotion, thus losing his individuality or ego.

This object might be a guru or deity. By doing such, emotional and mental problems disappear, concentration increases and the path to higher awareness and self-realization opens up.

Jnana yoga

This path leads to illuminative knowledge. In this path, one enquires about the essence of existence and one’s true nature. In order to succeed on this path, we need effort, concentration and total absorption.  Without these attributes, illumination will not take place.

By illumination, we mean intuitive answers which cannot be spoken about. The path of Jnana yoga is open for everyone, but at the same time, few people are really ready for it. They have too many mental tensions and problems and are unable to relax. They dissipate their mental energies in a large number of different pursuits, and therefore lack the intensity of purpose to pursue their enquiries until they gain the answers in the form of revelations.

As such, most people should follow alternate forms of yoga to clean out their minds and develop their power of concentration.

Raja yoga

This is the path in which one attempts to explore the different realms of the mind: conscious, subconscious, unconscious and super-conscious. Hence, this is why we call it the path of introspection. In this path, one progressively attempts to transcend the outer environment of the physical body, and direct the awareness to the inner environment. Each person has consciousness. It can either be directed outwards or it can be directed inwards.

Usually, our attention is on outer objects. If the perception of the external is cut off, as is attempted in Raja yoga, then the consciousness must be directed inwards. It has to go somewhere. When it goes inwards it starts to light up our inner existence and we begin to explore ourselves. We normally see only the surface of the ocean of the mind but we don’t see what is below. If we dive into the depths towards the seabed we would see the deeper aspects of the mind that are normally hidden from us.

Hatha yoga

The word Hatha comprises two syllables, namely ha and tha. Ha means the ‘sun’ and tha means the ‘moon’. Yoga means communion. Thus hatha yoga means the harmony between the sun and moon aspects of our being.

The right nostril is connected with the sun aspect; the left is associated with the moon aspect. The moon rules over the mental functions, while the sun controls the vital and physical functions. The two nostrils have a deeper association with the flow of prana (life force) within our being. It is this flow of prana that ultimately influences the mental and physical functions

If the moon flow is predominant, then one tends to think too much. If the sun flow is predominant there is a tendency towards extroversion and physical activity. For perfect mental and physical balance, the sun flow should predominate for a total of about twelve hours and the moon flow for the other twelve hours in each day. This ensures a balanced personality – neither too much introversion nor too much extroversion. The balance of these two is essential and is the basic aim of hatha yoga.

Structuring hatha yoga

Hatha precedes all the other 4 basic paths. In order to tread any path of yoga, physical, psychic and mental health is essential and these are the basic aims of hatha yoga. Hatha can be roughly divided into other groups:

  • Shatkarmas: Related to body cleansing;
  • Asanas: Physical postures of yoga;
  • Pranayama: Regulation of prana through breath control;
  • Mudras and Bandhas: Mudras are special physical positions of the body or parts of the body which induce deeper physiological, psychic and mental changes in one’s being. On the other hand, bandhas are physical locks which perform the same function.

The best paths of yoga

It is best to practise all the five main paths of yoga to a certain extent, with an emphasis on the path that is in keeping with the predominant aspect of your personality. This is the path that we should follow with the most zeal, for it will be in accordance with our nature.

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