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The Four Paths of Yoga

Yoga honors not only the universal connection between all beings, but also the individual ways people connect to that spirit. There are different ways to practice yoga, and these can be simplified into four basic paths that most traditions hold standard.


Helping others is always an amazing way to help yourself. The idea of karma has to do with action and reaction. A wrong action produces "baggage," called samskaras, that people carry around with them. For example, you might run a red light or cut somebody off on the road. This might make you feel bad for a while. This feeling is a samskara. A right action remains in the moment without consequence. To help others is to do a right action. Giving and helping through feeding, gardening or even making people laugh allows one to become more connected. And connection is what yoga is all about.


Raja or Ashtanga yoga is what most people are familiar with. The raja yoga system includes meditation, poses, cleansing techniques, breathing and concentration. Many yogis would go to the Himalayas to practice their raja yoga auserities. However, modern day practitioners can incorporate poses, meditation and breathing into their lives quite easily for a gentle raja yoga practice. Each practice is designed to cleanse the body and mind. Eventually, adhering to such a practice is said to lead to enlightenment.


For the intellectually inclined, jnana yoga utilizes knowledge and study as a path to a clear mind. Yoga was documented in the ancient Vedas -- pre-Hinduism texts. The Upanishads are said to have formed around the first millenia BCE. The Upanishads relate the idea of monism,one universal consciousness; the idea that everything is connected with a timeless spirit. The first documented texts specifically for yoga are Patanjali's Yoga Sutras. Patanjali writes simple, short verses about yoga practices in the Yoga Sutras, but the brevity has been analyzed in volumes.


The yoga of devotion is known as bhakti yoga. Yoga has no religious affiliation, and devotion can be tailored to personal beliefs. Devotion is also subjective. Chanting mantras, singing hymns and making offerings are all forms of bhakti. Bhakti yogis obtain a quiet mind by focusing their energy and thoughts on a deeper place than the superficial ups and downs of life. This is said to be the bhakti yoga path.

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