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Module II - The Six yoga Systems

Yoga originates from the Sanskrit word Yuj, which literally means "to yoke".  It is generally translated as "union" or "integration" -- to yoke, attach, join, or unite. 

The "union" referred to here is that of the individual soul with the cosmos, the Supreme; of the small "self" of ego/individual identity with the larger "Self" or "Spirit" of which we are all a part.

One way of looking at yoga is through the lens of "The Six Yoga Systems," which can be understood as six different doorways, entry-points, portals, or vehicles through which a practitioner might approach, engage with, and enter the territory of Yoga.

Hatha Yoga

Ha and tha, the sun and moon, refer to the two opposite currents that regulate all processes in our body.  They are the "masculine" and the "feminine"; or in terms of subtle anatomy, the pingala and the two nadis, or channels of energy, whose union within the central channel of the shushumna nadi is for those practising in this tradition.

Hatha Yoga is known for the asanas or postures. It is thought that by perfecting the body, creating a healthy physical condition, and raising Kundalini (dormant energy) upwards along the spine, the body becomes better prepared for yogic awakening.  The first effects felt are usually improved health and strengthened nervous system.  Some Hatha Yogis may even demonstrate control over internal organs, blood flow, and breathing.  

Traditional Hatha Yoga consists of:

1.    Asanas (postures)

2.    Shat Karmas (six cleansing techniques, also known as Shat Kriyas)

3.    Pranayama (control of breathing with retention)

4.    Bandhas (locks) and Mudras (seals) for the regulation of Prana (life-force) and Kundalini

5.    Samadhi (Union with God, realisation of the Self, ecstasy, nirvana)

Raja Yoga

Raja Yoga means royal and is sometimes called the “crown of Hatha Yoga”.  Raja adds concentration after body and mind are cleaned and trained to stay calm and attentive.  The improvement in our power of concentration, as a result of Raja Yoga, moves all of our attention towards the source of our Being in order to become that Being.  Raja Yoga is a complete system, also referred to as Ashtanga Yoga because of the eight (ashta) limbs (anga) the system rests on.

The Eight Limbs (Ashtanga) are:

1.    Yamas – Restraints: harmlessness, truthfulness, non-stealing, control of senses

2.    Niyamas – Disciplines: cleanliness, purification of body, mind and nervous system, study of metaphysical principles, contemplation on God

3.    Asanas – Postures

4.    Pranayama – Control of breathing and life-currents

5.    Pratyahara – Turning the attention within, by reversing the flow of energy of the sense organs

6.    Dharana – Concentration

7.    Dhyana – Meditation ie prolonged periods of perfect concentration and contemplation

8.    Samadhi – Mystical union; enlightenment


The exposition of Raja Yoga is contained most famously in the sage Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras.

Bhakti Yoga

Bhakti means “devotion”.  Bhakti yoga can be said to be the “yoga of devotion”, of love for the Divine in its embodied forms.  It is the yoga of selfless love, compassion, humility, purity and the desire and serious intention to merge with God.  It is also called the yoga of worshipping the divine and creating a deep emotional bond between the bahakta (devotee) and God (the Divine self). 


Jnana Yoga

Jnana literally means “knowledge”.  Jnana Yoga is the “yoga of knowledge and wisdom”.  It is practical philosophy/metaphysics.  It is both theory and practice.  Jnana Yoga uses the intellect as a tool to understand that our true Self is behind and beyond our mind.  

It is, in other words, a path which uses the power of the intellect to ultimately free us from conceptual elaboration of all sorts, and allow us to relax within the space beyond all concepts of mind.  For the purpose of this sort of self-discovery, Jnana Yoga probes the nature of the Self through the question, "Who am I?"  Thus, Jnana Yoga is sometimes called the Quest for the Self or the Inquiry into "who we are."

Along with Bhakti Yoga (Devotion), Jnana is listed among the best approaches for becoming aware of the eternal Self (God).

Like Hatha and Raja Yogis, Jnana Yogis also acknowledge the relationship between breathing and thinking.  They found that breathing slows automatically through concentration on the "I am."


Kriya Yoga

Kriya is often used in reference to (intended or spontaneous) actions designed to rid the body and mind of obstructions.  Kriya Yoga is a complete system including mantras, meditation, and other techniques towards controlling the prana (life force) and bringing calmness and control over body and mind.  The goal is to unite with pure Awareness (God).  Since pure awareness is our original condition, it is also referred to as self-awareness.


Karma Yoga (Selfless work for our fellow neighbour)

Karma is the total sum of all our actions (mental and physical), in this life and before.  Karma Yoga can be described as the “yoga of action”.  Action in this context relates to deeds on performs in daily life.  This form of yoga is the path of selfless service.  Every action performed with the highest level of awareness so as to purify the mind from all the negative bondages.  In yogic tradition, an inner attitude of awareness towards one’s own action is what is described in the sacred Hindu text, Srimad Bhagavad Gita.

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