Pranayama at Bihar School of Yoga in Munger. Photo Credit: Coni Hörler


Yoga is a path; a philosophy to harmonise the interactions and expressions of consciousness and energies in an individual. There are numerous methods and tools employed to reach a state of inner poise, balance and harmony. These interactions of energies and consciousness express onto different layers of existence; creating various dimensions of human functioning and experiences. In our lives, we experience dimension of expressions in the physical, mental, emotional, intellectual and behavioural plane. From the grossest level; it is the physical body where both energy and consciousness interact on the plane of gross energies, vitality and senses. Then on subtle plane, we have the expressions of mental energies. The existence of emotional energies makes us experience the emotional dimension of being. And then we do experience more subtle expressions of intellect in the form of clear, detached and refined perspective to life and events. The cumulative interactions of these various energies and consciousness present there result in the outcome of certain behavioural patterns and interaction with the external environment.

Establishing harmony in these various planes of existence is the goal of various yogic paths. A traditional specific path or branch of yoga looks after existing energies or expressions of consciousness present in a certain dimension. Each of these paths prescribes distinct methods to harmonise that level of existence. For the purpose of understanding, I have chosen the five distinct traditional branches of yoga which suit the different temperaments and help harmonise our being. It is also to clarify before delving into this discussion that none of these levels of functioning exists in separation. There is definite interactions and interconnected amongst all of these planes of existence. This study will help the readers understand the subject matter and scope of these five traditional branches of yoga.

  1. Hatha Yoga
  2. Raja Yoga
  3. Bhakti Yoga
  4. Gyana Yoga and
  5. Karma Yoga

Hatha Yoga

Hatha yoga uses the body as an instrument to expand and liberate the mind. Philosophy of Tantras is the metaphysical background of Hatha Yoga. People, who see Hatha yoga merely as a system of physical discipline, should know this is one of those philosophies in India which established a direct link between Body, Mind and Energies. And secondly, the founding principles of Tantras upon which Hatha Yoga tradition is based, is purely monistic, which sees a direct relationship and interconnectedness in all the different fabrics of creation. According to Tantras, nothing exists in separation. All the different elements of manifestations have originated from the same source and essence of the same source of creation exists in all. The entire teaching of Tantras and Hatha Yoga focuses on tapping the essence or building blocks of creation; energy. Principles of Tantras propound that the creation is a pulsating or vibrant ‘Whole’ and very much alive.

Based on the principles of interconnectedness and interaction between various levels of function, Hatha Yoga uses Body as an instrument to harmonise the mind. It says the states of the body affect the mind and vice-versa. But unlike Raja Yoga, it uses the body and not mind as an instrument. Therefore most of the techniques of Hatha yoga work on the body to get the intended results. Practitioners of Hatha yoga should know that the ultimate purpose of Hatha Yoga is not confined only up to body rather it works on expanding and releasing the energies of the mind-body complex. Practices of hatha yoga postures, breath work (Pranayama), psycho-physical gestures (Mudra), psychic locks/contraction (Bandha) and cleansing practices, these all work together to harmonise the physical, mental and emotional energies of an individual. And in the due process, one strives to liberate and expand the mind Results of all Hatha Yogic practices should take one to the state of elevated mind and awareness rather than be getting identified/trapped within the field of body consciousness.

Therefore during the practice or process of hatha yoga class acknowledging the body and its strengths and limitations is very important. Here experiencing the process in here n now, becomes more important than setting the goal and striving hard and violently to achieve it.

Raja Yoga

Raja Yoga, literally known as kingly yoga aims to tame the tendencies of the mind. Since mind is considered as the controller or master of all our behaviours and endeavour, Raja yoga is called kingly because with its help one learns to rule over the mind and its tendencies. Therefore its philosophy and practices make the entire orientation of its teaching very meditative and mindful. The teachings in this yogic philosophy create very incisive insights into the nature and tendencies of the mind. This approach of teaching makes one watch and understand the mind from the standpoint of an observer. The principles and methods discussed in the manual of this branch are highly psychotherapeutic. Techniques of meditation emphasising on developing meditative awareness in one’s day-to-day life have roots in Raja Yoga. The metaphysical background of Raja Yoga is Samkhya Philosophy which is one of the oldest existing philosophies in India.

Yoga in Mysore. Photo Credit: Coni Hörler

Bhakti yoga

Bhakti yoga is the path of harnessing and channelling emotional energies. In the process, practitioner nurtures and develops refined and uplifting emotions, which later are directed towards divine self, deity or guru. In bhakti yoga, singing kirtan (a group devotional song), bhajan (solo devotional song) or even mantra chanting are used as tools to create and channel devotional energies towards divine principle. For the followers of bhakti yoga, it is one of the quickest ways to transcend ego and uniting with the higher self. One quote of Ramana Maharshi on Bhakti yoga sums it up very nicely. When asked; what is bhakti yoga? He says; ‘to thinks of God. That means only one thought prevails to the exclusion of all other thoughts. That is of God which is the self or it is the self-surrender unto God; when he has taken you up nothing will assail you. The absence of thoughts is bhakti. It is also Mukti (liberation).’

Gyana or Jnana Yoga

Jnana Yoga is the path of self-enquiry. This path of yoga seeks answers to the most fundamental queries to find truth and purpose to life. One of the most fundamental questions, a seeker contemplates upon in this path is; ‘who am I?’ Who am I’ is an enquiry which shapes the journey of a spiritual aspirant. In traditional yogic discipline, Jnana yoga discusses the fundamental questions pertaining to spiritual truths, nature of reality, the existence of suffering, causes of suffering and yogic processes to eliminate suffering.’ In this path of Jnana yoga through listening (shravana), contemplation and meditation on pure essence i.e. self; knowledge is attained. There are methods recommended in this path to refine one’s intellect which helps cut through the layers of identification with the ever changing field of reality.

Karma yoga

Karma is translated as action. In this path or discipline of yoga, one learns to harmonise one’s attitude towards actions and fruits of actions. This branch of yoga teaches us how to let go the attachments and egoistic desires associated with our actions and their outcomes. Therefore, it involves behavioural components and ‘awareness in action’. It resets our ego driven actions and transforms them into selfless work and actions, which are more liberating and uplifting. Essentially path of karma yoga teaches to drop the attitude of doer ship and dedicating all actions to divine self. According to Swami Sivananda, having motive to serve without expectations, attitude of service, dedication in action and letting go the attachments towards the fruit of actions are the qualities one imbibe following the path of Karma Yoga.

Sushant embarked on a journey of yoga in 1997 as a post graduate student of Yoga Psychology from Bihar Yoga Bharati (Deemed University); known worldwide for its authentic and systematic teachings of the yogic discipline. After completing his Post Graduation in Yoga Psychology; he was involved as an intern in various projects/studies in prisons, army, hospitals and corporate for one and half years. After an internship; he was appointed lecturer in the Department of Yoga Psychology at Bihar Yoga Bharati, which provided him ample opportunities to explore the theoretical as well as practical dimensions of yogic knowledge.

He is the co-founder of Rishikesh Yogis Yogshala and is currently living in Russia & India. He conducts retreats and workshops on Yoga philosophy, meditations and Kriya Yoga.  Connect with him on Facebook.



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