Yoga means many things to many people – but in its simplest form, it’s a practice that unites body, mind and soul. No surprise, then, that one of the word’s main Sanskrit meanings is ‘union’.
Yoga has been practiced for thousands of years, and it has its origins in several ancient texts, including Vedas, the Upanishads, Bhagavad Ghita and Yoga Sutras of Patanjali.
The Eight Limbs of Yoga
Yoga is rooted in eight steps or ‘limbs’ – principles for a purposeful life. These are guidelines to live by, and they also direct us towards practices for good health, and remind us of the spiritual aspects of our nature.
Just like a tree, yoga has ‘branches’ as well as ‘limbs’. These branches describe the main styles of yoga. Each branch has its own unique characteristics and function, and represents a particular approach to life.
Branches of Yoga
a) HATHA YOGA (base chakra) – is the union of opposites, with a focus on postures (asanas) and breath control (pranayama) to energise the subtle channels (nadis). Hatha yogis believed that creating polarities (male vs female; hot vs cold; happy vs sad) caused suffering and brought about disease, delusion and pain.
Hatha Yoga varieties: Iyengar Yoga, Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga, Kids Yoga, Kundalini Yoga etc.
b) TANTRA YOGA (sacral chakra) – is the path of awakening the sexual and spiritual energy known as Kundalini energy, which lies dormant at the base of the spine. The body is seen as a sacred temple of the divine, and practises focus on circulating energy throughout the body, without release or dissipation.
c) KARMA YOGA (solar plexus) – is the yoga of right action and selfless service to other in daily life, without expecting anything in return. This path purifies the ego and leads to spiritual freedom through the discipline of selfless service.
d) BHAKTI YOGA (heart chakra) – is the way of love and devotion. Appeals to people who are emotional by nature, and incorporates practises such as chanting, prayer and the repetition of mantra (sacred sounds) for channelling devotion.
e) MANTRA YOGA (throat chakra) – uses sound vibrations, such as chanting, music and prayer, to help raise consciousness. Mantras have specific spiritual meanings and vibrations, and are repeated audibly or silently, to focus and concentrate the mind.
f) YANTRA YOGA (third eye) – this is a system from Tibet, with similar asanas to those used in Hatha Yoga, though the application differs significantly. Yantra Yoga uses a sequence of 7 phases of movement, connected with 7 phases of breathing. In particular, the central phase of each movement helps create specific retentions of the breath that work at a deep, subtle level.
g) RAYA YOGA (third eye, crown) – also known as ‘royal yoga’, this is the path of meditation, with an enlightened state of mind as the goal. This path incorporates Patanjali’s 8-limb path.
h) JNANA YOGA (crown chakra) – is the way of attaining knowledge through intellectual, scholarly pursuits. This branch of yoga appeals to the intellectually -inclined, and requires in-depth study of the texts and scriptures of yoga traditions.