In the Bagavad Gita, Arjuna asked Lord Krishna – ‘one who is worshiping you in all the forms or one who recognises his immortal nature; who is the greatest devotee?’
Working as a yoga teacher I am often asked which yoga class should I attend, which is best for me? In today’s world there are so many forms of yoga classes from Sivananda the classical approach to very modern power yoga and everything else in-between, and all should be respected in the appropriate manor and at the appropriate times. So how do you choose a class? It is written in the scriptures that all the yoga’s we have to practice simultaneously, that all the yoga’s should work in harmony. By this however they are referring to the four paths of yoga, Raja Yoga, Bhakti Yoga, Karma Yoga and Jnana Yoga.
Raja Yoga is the science of physical and mental control, it offers a comprehensive method for controlling the waves of thought, it is the 8 limbs of yoga that lead to absolute mental control. Hatha yoga is a branch of Raja yoga, which helps one to control the body, energy, senses and mind. Through Raja yoga we can gain control of the physical body and the subtle life force called prana. When the body and energy are under control then meditation comes easily. The 8 limbs consist of; Yamas- restraints, Niyamas- observances, Asanas- postures, Pranayama- Breathing, Pratyahara- withdrawal of the senses, Dharana- concentration, Dhyana- meditation and Samadhi- the super conscious state of bliss.
Bhakti Yoga is the path of devotion or divine love; this includes prayer, worship and ritual that channel and transmute the emotions into unconditional love that lead you to the state of Samadhi.
Karma Yoga is the yoga of selfless action, it purifies the heart by teaching you to act selflessly without gain or reward, and it helps to sublimate the ego. Volunteer work would be considered to be karma yoga or just simply doing something for someone else without any expectation of self-gain.
Jnana Yoga is the yoga of knowledge and wisdom, this is considered to be the hardest path. It means studying Vedanta philosophy and inquiring into the nature or our true selves, jnana yoga leads the practitioner to unity and dissolves the veils of ignorance.
Every individual has their own temperament and will be naturally attracted to one of the paths more so than the others, but it is very important to combine the four to bring balance and harmony to your practice and to reach your goal. Most yoga classes that one would attend may only concentrate on the postures of yoga, giving that classes are only for a short period of time, but try to combine some different types of classes to get a more balanced approach, classes that would include the other practices as well as postures. So when someone asks me which class, I tend to suggest trying all of them and see which one is going to suit you best, then combine a few others with your main practice to get a more rounded approach, giving time for such things as chanting and meditation to harmonise your four paths, and turning your practice of yoga into a whole lifestyle instead of just an hour and half on the mat.
All yoga’s should work harmoniously, all of us should live in harmony with each other, Om Loka Somasta Sukhino Bhavanto; may the whole world live in harmony and balance.
Om shanti Om.