Yoga is generally understood as a process of unification. This unification is multifaceted. In one dimension, it is a unification of the various systems that exist within the human being including the emotional, physical, mental, and spiritual systems. In total there are believed to be five different systems within human life. These are typically referred to as the koshas which are the physical, energetic, mental, subtle, and bliss sheaths. In our current understanding of yoga, we are working to unify these five bodies or layers of the human being. Another process of unification occurs between of the individual consciousness and the universal consciousness.
This unification is often referred to as Samadhi and is one of the primary transformations that occur within the practice of yoga. Observing this from a different angle, Samadhi is a transformation of perception in which disillusionments about the world are reformed so that the truth behind reality can be seen in its purest of form. Yoga, as a system, has developed into various branches through which people pursue the evolution and unification of the elements within their being. Each branch retains its own unique set of ideas and philosophies which defined the process and eventual obtainment of complete unification.
There is no right or wrong system of yoga as the each possesses their own distinct characteristics that accommodate the needs of various characteristics and personalities that exist among human beings. Each system is designed to accommodate a different personality type, and yoga has developed into a broad reaching system that can be practiced by nearly anyone who is interested in pursuing a spiritual life. A practice like Jnana yoga is ideal for someone who is philosophically minded whereas the practice of bhakti yoga is good for someone who is emotionally perceptive and inclined towards a sense of devotion. In this article we will be reviewing the more mainstream practices of yoga which are derived from the tradition of yogic spirituality. These traditions of yoga are as young as 500 years and as old as several thousand. While there are many modern practices of yoga which have been defined by various teachers, the systems we will be discussing are traditional systems which have been in existence throughout many generations.
Bhakti Yoga The first system we will discuss it is Bhakti yoga. Bhakti yoga is a practice in which the spiritual practitioner focuses on developing a state of devotion within the mind and the heart. In bhakti yoga a strong sense of faith is needed as one is expected to submit themselves to God through a process of self surrendering. The practices and techniques of bhakti yoga are therefore designed to help surrendered the ego and embrace with love the thought of the creator. The more common practices of bhakti yoga are kirtan (chanting/song), japa (mantra repetition), and meditation on the divine.
Usually the practice of bhakti yoga is advised to be practiced by those who are well connected to their emotions and also receptive of more subtle feelings within themselves and others. Emphatic love defines the practice of bhakti yoga as the practitioner devotes their whole being towards the spiritual divine. A belief in God or a higher being is vital to the practice, and without it, it is near to impossible to practice bhakti yoga. The devotion that is practiced by the bhakti Yogi is not one of slavery towards the divine. Rather, it is a relationship that is filled with love, friendship, and companionship. In bhakti yoga people view God as a friend, a lover, a father, or mother. It is through this relationship that bhakti yoga is practiced. There are many aspects of devotion for the bhakti yogi; there are many forms of God that are worshiped in yoga including Shiva, Vishnu, Brahman, Parvatti, etc. Aside from the metaphysical forms of God, a guru or teacher can also be worshiped within the practice. The primary purpose of this practice is to help in relinquishing the ego and unifying the individual being with the universal.
Karma Yoga Karma is an aspect of human life that is responsible for our thoughts, feelings, and actions. It is believed in yoga that Karma keeps the cycle of rebirth in motion as past actions and events force us to take another life in the world to balance out the inequalities that we have imposed within our spirit and the universe. Once accumulated Karmic merit is balanced or destroyed then cycle of birth and death is stopped and the spirit is return to its origins within the universal divine. The practice of Karma yoga directly addresses this primary aspect of life, works to abolish the effects of Karma with disciplined action that formulates a separation between the individual and the effects of Karma. This separation occurs through a process of disassociation in which the individual separates themselves from the benefits or losses from their actions within the world.
The practice of Karma yoga is typically based around one’s Dharma or duties within the world. Dharma is determined by the actions of the individual in the past, including both the past of the current life as well as the past of previous lives. In some respects, Dharma is the most effective way for an individual to use their time on earth for spiritual progress as it is based upon the realistic capacities and potential of the individual. One of the main components of Dharma is acting in the world without thought of the benefits or losses of one’s actions. The practitioner lives and acts within the world without any expectations or imposed impressions of how the future should unfold. The mind is focused on selfless service and working for the benefit of the greater good as opposed to the independent needs of the individual. In Karma yoga the practice is gradual as the individual slowly relinquishes the bonds of karma and liberates the spirit from the confines of egocentric thought processes.
Although a Karma yogi may practice techniques such as the asanas, breathing practices, and meditations, the primary focus of their spiritual practice is service and actions with the focus of selflessness and humbleness. The first mention of Karma yoga is within the Bhagavad-Gita in a dialogue between Arjuna and Krishna. In this dialogue, Krishna informs Arjuna that he can merge his consciousness with Krishna’s when he surrenders his actions to the divine (which in this case is Krishna). Krishna encourages Arjuna to act and follow out his duty without worry or consideration of the benefits or losses of his actions. He informs Arjuna that acting in the name of Krishna (or divine) will provide him with the liberation that he has set forth to achieve.
Kundalini Yoga Kundalini yoga is a practice of yoga which originated from the practice of tantra yoga. Historically speaking, tantra yoga is believed to be one of the oldest forms of spirituality which is still in practice today. One of the key components of tantra yoga is the incorporation of kundalini which is considered to be the primordial force existence within each human being. The practice of Kundalini yoga was formed to control and harness the potential of the kundalini energy within the body. Unlike the other systems of yoga, kundalini yoga can be a highly unstable practice of yoga as the release of kundalini energy can lead to extreme psychological and physical disorders if not controlled in the proper manner.