There is a natural impulse in every human being, a tendency to eliminate or decrease pain and suffering and to increase happiness, contentment, and joy. It seems like we ( at least most of us) are naturally inclined towards creating life in harmony with ourselves, our fellow humans and our surroundings. Everyone experiences the world in their own personal way. Life circumstances, upbringing, education, cultural and religious conditioning all work as a loop or a filter through which we see the world within us and the world outside of us. Therefore no one can safely say what the real picture is, because we cannot be the observer and the observee, the subject and object of observation at the same time. Actually, we could, if we sit motionless for 49 days in meditation, preferably under some tree. But that will not happen any time soon for most of us, so let’s stick to reality.
Human life moves within the set of boundaries compiled of thoughts, feelings, and judgments or any other imposed framework which both restrict but also encourage us to express ourselves in a unique way. As such, yoga offers different branches as people naturally have different tendencies. In other words, what might sound appealing to me doesn’t have to appeal to you so each branch is unique in its characteristics and represents a particular approach to life. Nevertheless, it’s important to mention that taking one of these paths don’t completely exclude the other, in fact, they often overlap.
Yoga was in ancient times symbolically regarded as a tree. With roots to hold on to, trunk to provide stability and branches to grow flowers or fruits as the reflection of joy and amusement (any resemblance to us humans is purely NON coincidental). Let’s branch off this tree!
If you are intellectually inclined, you will most likely choose the branch of knowledge and wisdom, called JNANA yoga. As a path of a scholar, it involves studying old scriptures and texts of yogic tradition and philosophy.
If you selflessly help, often putting the benefit of the other person in front of your own interests, if you simply provide service for the others without expectations of praise and reward, you have taken the path of KARMA Yoga.
If you like to challenge your physical body with asanas (body postures ), explore breathing and meditation techniques, you have started your journey through the path of self-discipline called HATHA yoga. Most forms of yoga in the West can be classified as Hatha Yoga as it refers to the practice of physical body postures that became popular throughout the world in the 20th century.
If you receive everything in your life as a gift and you do not expect anything in return, if you humbly surrender to your inner voice or the “source” to guide you, you have chosen the BHAKTI path. It is the path of devotion, acceptance, and tolerance for everything and everyone you come into contact with.
If you are introspective and drawn to meditation, then RAJA yoga might be your choice. This branch of yoga, also known as the “royal way” or “eight-fold way”, is a holistic system that creates a balance between mind, body, and spirit through 8 subsystems: ethical standards or yama; self-discipline or niyama; posture or asana; breath control or pranayama; sensory withdrawal or pratyahara; concentration or dharana; meditation or dhyana; and final liberation or samadhi.
All these paths traverse and complement each other on their way to the same goal – coming back home. To your own self.