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PostHeaderIcon What is Traditional Yoga? (The Original Styles of Yoga)

Every once and a while, my students will ask me questions such as, “What is better Pilates or yoga?” I have a very hard time answering these types of questions because Yoga is a practice that has layers and depths to it. It takes lifetimes to master and it has a rich history, spanning thousands of years of philosophy, tradition, culture and eras. All yoga schools take different approaches and many people will go to one yoga class, only to find that it is nothing like another yoga class because it might focus on a different aspect of the extremely large world of yoga.

The word “yoga” means to “yolk”. It means union. It is a holistic practice that helps us become whole with ourselves and our environment. Another traditional definition of yoga is any practice that helps us become a better person. Therefore, yoga consists of practices such as healthy living, exercise, meditation, study, prayer, and doing good deeds so we can stay connected to our higher selves. It helps us determine truth from illusion and live in the highest state of happiness.

Today I will attempt to explain what traditional yoga is. I will break traditional yoga down to four main styles. These styles are:

Hatha yoga: Yoga of posture and physical health.

Jnana yoga: Yoga of knowledge and truth.

Karma yoga: Yoga of right and selfless action.

Bhakti yoga: Devotional yoga that brings us closer to a higher power.

Each style of yoga helps us become better in each very important aspect of our lives. Hatha yoga helps us with our physical health.  Jnana yoga strengthens our mind and mental will. Karma yoga helps us build healthy social connections.  Bhahkti yoga helps us cultivate our reverence for God if we are religious; or our deep love for our higher selves or for the grandeur of the universe, if we are secular. This holistic practice helps develop a healthy mind, body, spirit and community. It creates a balanced lifestyle.

Examples of Hatha Yoga is “pranayama” or breathing exercises that help us understand our posture or “asana”. Asanas consist of postures such as, “Adho Mukha Svanasana” or “Downward Facing Dog.” This posture is an inverted V. We do this pose to master our posture and alignment which helps us create more strength, flexibility, deeper awareness of our body and more energy. Most yoga that is taught in gyms teaches asana or posture. Posture is very important for our health and well being because it helps unblock places where we are holding tension which creates a better flow in energy. Many studies have showed that our posture affects our hormones and our psychological well being. When a person is standing straight, they automatically become happier. If a person is slouching or cowering, they tend to feel more depressed. Yogis understand how our postures relate to our emotions and use posture to help us control and understand our internal selves, psychologically and physically.

Jnana yoga consists of study, awareness and meditation. It is taught in many yoga studios, ashrams, self actualization institutions and meditation retreats. Sometimes it is taught in conjunction with hatha yoga. For example, when I first started practicing yoga, it was in a studio where we spent the first fifteen minutes of each class studying yoga texts and meditating. Some hatha yoga teachers teach from the yoga texts while you are practicing a posture.
Learning to control our mind helps us become more focused, happier and content. Jnana yoga consists of silencing the mind so the voices in our head do not make us crazy and so we can differentiate what is important from what is not important. It also consists of stepping outside of our selfish ego so we get the bigger picture. It consists of contemplating and reflecting on life or dissecting our problems. It consists of reading, learning, science and even chanting mantras in order to create positive patterns in our subconscious.  At its highest level, jnana yoga helps us understand and accept our place in the universe. It helps us overcome our fear of life and death, master our emotions and have a greater perspective of the ups and downs of life.

Karma yoga is all about action and social responsibility. It consists of being a good teacher, parent, grandparent, daughter, son, friend, etc. When we give or volunteer at a local charity or community, we are practicing karma yoga. When we realize that healthy living goes beyond ourselves and that we all need to do our part to make the world a better place, we start practicing karma yoga.
Great examples of karma yoga gurus are: Martin Luther King Jr., Mahatma Ghandi, Mother Theresa, and Nelson Mandela. These were people who put social responsibility above their own needs. Karma yoga creates happiness by practicing the act of making others happy. It fosters love, gratitude and a more harmonious society.

Bahkti Yoga or the yoga of faith or devotion consists of chants, prayers and singing. It is a cultivation of a deep love and reverence of God or a divine power. When you go to church, a mosque or a temple, you are practicing bahkti yoga. Anytime you are praying, praising or connecting with a divine power, you are practicing bhakti yoga. Although this is a religious or spiritual aspect of yoga, secular people can still practice yoga because of its many other aspects.

In conclusion, I have described the main traditional styles of yoga. This is the foundation of yoga. You might ask about many other styles you have heard of such as Iyengar, Anusara, Bikram, etc. These are usually derived from or are named after a particular guru (teacher) or lineage. Since yoga has evolved for thousands of years, there are some philosophies that have branched off. However, it is still yoga if it incorporates the ideals stated above.

For more information about this many thousands of year old practice, check out these links:

Yoga and The Eightfold path…. http://heroestraining.com/?p=17

Meditation, A Running Into Reality…. http://heroestraining.com/?p=206

Meditation, The Illuminated Perceiver vs. The Afflictive Mind…. http://heroestraining.com/?p=653

Demystifying the Chakras (From a Hormonal Perspective)…. http://heroestraining.com/?p=50