As a yoga teacher one of the common questions I get asked is “What type of Yoga do you teach?” which is a bit like someone at an art gallery asking “What type of artist are you?”. Truth is, it’s not as simple as that.
What’s unique and brutally beautiful about yoga is it’s not prescriptive. What do I mean by that? Yoga recognises that we’re all different. Each person has their own unique experience’s that without a doubt has lead them to this point in time (and possibly from past lives if that’s your thing). This point in time. In yoga call this we could loosely call this karma but for the purpose of this article let’s call it conditioning.
Our conditioning, that is our thoughts, actions, beliefs, myths (stories that inform us), decisions, desires and character (to name a few) have all kept us alive until this point in time. They serve us pretty well if you come at it from a ‘Yay! we’re alive!’ point of view. Which is terrific if you can live that way. But what happens when they get in the way of that ‘Yay! I’m alive!’ feeling? Then we have a choice to continue on in autopilot (which is great if that’s your thing) or alternatively pause for a moment, say “Hold on a minute, what if these beliefs and stories no longer serve us.” What then?
If yoga is a science, then Yoga is a process of trial and error. What works for you might not work for me and vice versa. If your one to study Yoga over time you’ll end up with a suite of tools where you’ll know if I do this (particular practice) in the morning it may help to shift that energy into this. Ultimately it’s up to you to find what works.
Enter the types (or branches) of yoga.
Classical yoga is defined into catagories or systems that if followed with the help of a realised teacher will take you all the way. For the rest of us they give us a chance to bumble along until we find what works for us. A little bit from here, a little bit from there. Working out through your own experience of what works. What takes you closer to your truth and what leads you further away.
Like all good systems individuals differ but for simplicity lets look at the 7 major categories (very briefly).
Hatha Yoga – Uses the body as a vehicle for self realisation. Focuses of cleansing practices, predominately using the body and breath to ground to the present moment and remove blockages from the body and by extension the mind. This is the most common form of yoga which contains the series of asana’s (movements) that most people are familiar with.
Karma Yoga – Uses our everyday experiences as a practice of yoga. Achieving the balance of what you think, feel and do in the world are in harmony. What’s the point of all this yoga if it doesn’t lead to tangible changes in one’s life? It predominately focuses on service to others as a form of becoming impersonal and freeing oneself from the ego.
Bhakti Yoga – Is primarily a devotional style of yoga where the object of a living meditation is love. Both the practice of kirtan (singing) or devotion to a teacher or sacred object becomes the meditation. Connecting oneself to a higher sense of love and joy. It’s said among bhakti yogi’s that all paths of yoga eventually lead to bhakti yoga.
Jyana Yoga – Is said to be the yoga for the mind (or those orientated to a more intellectual disposition). It’s a fierce and extremely dedicated form of yoga using the mind to go beyond the mind. Once described as exacting as trying remove a bee sting using another bee sting.
Raja Yoga – Referred to as the Royal or Ashtanga (8 limbed) Yoga which was the entireity of yoga codified into a universal path. It’s also known as Patanjali Yoga from the sage who developed it thousands of years ago. It follows a steady progression from Yama (attitudes toward our environment), Niyama (attitudes toward ourselves), Asana (physical postures), Pranayama (restraint or expansion of the breath), Pratyahara (withdrawal of the senses), Dharana (concentration), Dhyana (meditation) and Samadhi (complete integration).
Mantra Yoga – Uses vibration (sound) in the form of a mantra (sacred vibration) and repetition to achieve a higher state of concentration and awareness. It’s said that different mantras can work on different aspects of ones disposition to calm and focus the body and mind.
Kundalini Yoga – Is focused on awakening dormant subtle energies within the body and mind (think chakra system). Through various advanced practices (or kriyas) energy (or prana) is channeled through the main energy channels within the body (or nadis) to strengthen the nervous system for the awakening of consciousness. It’s used alongside a thorough understanding of yogic physiology and psychology to ultimately awaken to higher states of consciousness.
During your yoga journey you may come across some of all of these branches of yoga. Certainly those that study yoga will be very familiar to the branches of yoga but it’s not necessary to know them all. Find what style of yoga works for you and keep at it. Sometimes you may think your definitely a jyana yogi (yep i’m a meditator! Meditation is for me) only to find out years later your actually a sloppy bhakti yogi (getting right into those feelings of love!). Each to their own!