The Six Main Branches
There are too many individual yoga styles to list them all here, but each style grew out of one of the six main branches of yoga in one way or another. Ancient practitioners likened yoga to a six branched tree, each branch having its own function that relates to a particular lifestyle.
Hatha: Hatha yoga is about taking care of the physical body. It aims to make the body perfect and fill it with Life Force Energy, aka prana. It involves physical purification that prepares the body for raja yoga (meditation), so in this way it keeps glands, nerves and other organs in good health. It also can release physical and mental tension.
Raja: Literally translated, raja means “royal”. Here, meditation is the focus. Raja yoga involves strict adherence to the 8-Fold Path set out by Patanjali, author of the Yoga Sutras. It teaches deep self-respect through self-mastery.
Karma: Karma yoga is the yogic path of service. So, what we experience today is created by our past actions and, our current endeavors are a way of consciously creating the future. Karma yoga is considered a practice of action, as it tries to direct one’s actions toward the good. Any volunteer work is an example of Karma yoga.
Bhakti: Devotion is the focus in Bhakti yoga. The Sanskrit translation is “love of God or mankind”. Bhakti yogis see the Divine in everything – it is considered the yoga of the heart. It also involves controlling and channeling emotions. Its principals are universal and common to many religions, and its devotional nature can be expressed in thought, word and deed.
Jnana: Jnana yoga is the path of the mind, of wisdom, and of the scholar. It is considered to be the most direct but most difficult path of yoga. It requires study of the scriptures and texts, and jnana yogis aim to be open-minded by accepting all other philosophies and religions. Jnana yogis also aim to keep an open and curious mind in studying the Spirit.
Tantra: Tantric Yoga was first taught in India more than 7,000 years ago. Literally, it is defined as “weaving” or “what extends knowledge”. There are three types of Tantra – red, white and black – all with very different components. However, all three aim to transform or transmute energy and also to balance polarities within or in interactions with another person. Red Tantra is the most well-known type in the West. It utilizes sexual energy to allow for experiencing higher states of consciousness and to create a pathway towards life transformation. For more information about Tantra, visit my What is Tantra/Neo-Tantra? page.