According to yoga, the goal of life is to discover our true nature to connect with our divine nature. As people have different temperaments, there are different techniques, yogas, to help them find the truth. There are various paths to the union of yoga but there is ultimately only one truth.
The four paths of Yoga:
There are four traditional schools of Yoga, and these are: Jnana Yoga, Bhakti Yoga, Karma Yoga, and Raja Yoga. While a Yogi or Yogini may focus exclusively on one of these approaches to Yoga, that is quite uncommon. For the vast majority of practitioners of Yoga, a blending of the four paths of Yoga is most appropriate. One follows his or her own predisposition in balancing these different paths of Yoga
Yoga is the preexisting union:
Yoga means the realization in direct experience of the preexisting union between the individual consciousness and the universal consciousness. There are different ways of expressing this, including that Atman is one with Brahman, Jivatman is one with Paramatman, or Shiva and Shakti are one and the same. Each of these ways of saying it come from a different viewing point, while they are not essentially different points of view. They all point in the same general direction of union or Yoga.
Not merely union of body and mind:
It has become common to say that this union is merely the union of the physical body and the mind. This allows both teachers and practitioners to dodge the true meaning of Yoga so as to present it as being something other than a spiritual path such as only physical health or fitness. It also allows people to avoid any sense of conflict with limited religious views that have no place for such high direct experience.
Bhakti Yoga-Love Yoga
Whoever offers Me with devotion a leaf, a flower, a fruit or a little water – that, so offered devotedly by the pure-minded, I accept
Bhakti yoga is the yoga of feeling or deep devotion. While this can translate to a deep devotion to the divine, it can also be a strong emotional connection to a guru, family, or friend. Bhakti yoga is experienced through a variety of ways that may be seen similar to prayer.
Whether using a mantra, a prayer, or a song, this expression allows you to connect deeply to your devotion. A common Bhakti yoga practice is Kirtan which is a series of songs or chants accompanied by music. While Bhakti is often referred to as the “love” yoga, it is more about emanating the qualities and characteristics of love than to love a person or a thing.
Karma Yoga-Yoga of action
You have a right to perform your prescribed duty, but you are not entitled to the fruits of action. Never consider yourself the cause of the results of your activities, and never be attached to not doing your duty
The yoga of action is what Karma yoga is all about. Karma yoga deals directly with the idea of cause and effect. This idea that every action has a reaction that affects the body, mind, and consciousness is the basis of Karma yoga. While Karma yoga is the yoga of action, it is truly about acting without the expectation of receiving. Karma yoga allows you to give in a way the lessens the power of the ego and increases the overall feelings of love, sympathy, and tolerance.
Gyana/Jnana Yoga-Yoga of thought
When a man puts away all the desires of his mind, O Partha [Arjuna], and when his spirit is content in itself, then is he called stable in intelligence
Gyana yoga is the yoga of thought. It is a philosophical path that requires intense self-study and self-inquiry. It is the path to enlightenment and is considered to be one of the most difficult of the four paths of yoga. This path requires great discipline and perseverance. While this yoga is practiced through studying the ancient yogic texts like The Upanishads, it also requires intense self-inquiry.
Raja Yoga-The royal path of yoga
For him who has conquered the mind, the mind is the best of friends; but for one who has failed to do so, his mind will remain the greatest enemy
This is the “royal path of yoga.” It is considered so because you must become the master of your mental territory. In order to do so, you must practice mantras, mudras, meditations and other techniques to still the body and mind in order for you to see the true nature of the mind.
This is the most commonly practiced path of western yogis as it does not require a specific deity practice and encourages you to believe in only what you are able to see and experience for yourself. This is also the path most closely related to the eight limb path of yoga as described in The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali.
While these may seem like four separate paths of Yoga, each is related to one another. At times we are on more than one of these paths of yoga depending on our current state and practices. So whether you are practicing asana, meditating, studying, or performing selfless actions you are walking on the four paths of yoga. The varied aspects of these paths may resonate with you more at one time in life versus another.
Other paths of Yoga:
Yoga is traditionally taught orally, rather than organized in books, which naturally are linear in nature, and are clustered into chapters. In oral teachings, there is a natural movement from one to another of the aspects of Yoga, including between the four paths of Yoga.
Books and organization are useful, but we need to remember that Yoga is, in fact, a whole which has different aspects. For example, in the text Hatha Yoga Pradipika, Hatha Yoga (often called “physical yoga”) is described as also related to Kundalini Yoga.
It also explains that the purpose of Hatha Yoga is Raja Yoga. Thus, we can easily see the relationship of Hatha Yoga and Kundalini Yoga as being parts or aspects of Raja Yoga, which is one of the traditional four paths of Yoga.
All of these paths of yoga lead to the ultimate goal of enlightenment and with diligent practice you can make great strides and determine which path is right for you.