Truth is One; paths are many. – Rig Veda
My family loves exercise and sports. Growing up, my brother and I were introduced to tennis and table tennis by my father who was an avid player. While early morning walks was my mother’s exercise, she supported his love for the sport by regularly driving us to our practices amidst her busy schedule. Trying her hand at table tennis, she got quite good to make our family game nights in our garage a roaring success. While volley ball, track and field were the other choices, yoga-asana was not one of them.
Decades later, I went to YogaLife Institute, in Devon, PA for a yoga class and was introduced to Classical or Raja Yoga. I had not frequented many studios or tried different styles. The choice fell into my lap and I did not find the need to question it at that point. Once my practice was established in Raja Yoga, I did experiment with other styles.
The act of choosing a yoga path – of choosing one of the oldest exercise systems – is not an easy task. It takes patience, perseverance and practice to find a yoga path that suits you. The differences between types of yoga which includes asana – postures within its practices, and styles of yoga where the main focus appears to be the way asanas are taught – are elaborated in the two previous posts to help with your choice.
How does one make the right choice? How many yoga -(asana) studios are listed in your hometown? How many gyms have recently added yoga – (asana) to their exercise schedule? Probably a lot. Seeing an array of classes – restorative to vinyasa flow, can make the choice confusing and frustrating as these classes are taught by instructors who have been trained from various lineages and styles.
When you bounce from style to style with no commitment it is hard to improve and perfect what you learn. For instance, you’ve probably heard an instructor give specific alignment cues only to attend another class with a different instructor completely contradict what you heard a week ago. Each instructor has his or her own approach to teaching. Gaining exposure to different teachers, types and styles is a way of discovering what agrees with you – in the beginning. But be wary of getting lost in the variety and using it as a diversion.
No matter which style of asana practice you choose, without the tenets such as non-harming, ahimsa, or contentment, santosha of yoga philosophy, you may not observe change in your attitude or in your lifestyle. However, choosing the type of yoga such as Raja Yoga (8-fold path) which is inclusive of philosophy and asana, will effect a change in your body via asana, (3rd limb) and in your mind via the other six limbs.
Of course, choosing a yoga path is a very personal decision. Different philosophies, though similar, have a varying appeal to different people. Spending time with each philosophy, and ideally, with the teacher or diciples of the teacher, to help decide which teachings feel best for you is a necessity.
There are many wonderful paths, many true teachers; but one teaching will tend to draw you, will inspire you to get more involved, and to make a commitment. The root cause of all our sorrows and sufferings is loss of contact with our true Self according to Swami Adhisvarananda. Yoga philosophy prescribes four spiritual paths to attain this Self-knowledge: karma-yoga, path of selfless action; bhakti-yoga, path of devotion; raja-yoga, path of meditation; and jnana-yoga, path of knowledge.
In the text, Yoga Sutras, Swami Satyananda Saraswati noted that Patanjali clearly understood the presence of four categories within the human personality: emotional, active, intuitive and volitional. Each person has a different temperament and inclination according to the predominance of one or more of these categories. Meaning that the yoga path had to be decided to suit the specific characteristics of an individual.
Swami Adishvarananda says that each seeker is called to decide which type of yoga best corresponds to his or her natural disposition. Karma Yoga is advised for the active, Bhakthi yoga for the devotional, Raja yoga for the strong-willed and Jnana Yoga for the rational. It’s best to ask for guidance from an illumined teacher who is able to advise which path a seeker is to follow and prescribe the specific practices suitable for his or her natural disposition.
My disposition: I’m active, devotional, strong-willed and somewhat rational. My primary practice should follow the path of my strongest disposition (strong-willed) and use other types to supplement it. Right? Is this a contradiction to choosing only one yoga path? Not at all. I started with Raja (Classical) Yoga and added Kriya Yoga a few years later which also uses the 8 fold path at the core of its practice.
The instructions for yoga given by Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras is not confined only to the eight fold path. Swami Satyananada Saraswati clearly points to the hidden implication behind many obscure verses; Mantra or Japa yoga is clearly indicated in the sutras 1:27-29, bhakti in 1:23, 2:23, jnana in 1:27-29, 2:20-21, karma in 1:30-32 and raja in the entire text.
Of course, each seeker may uncover something for themselves as well. For example, the 5th Niyama of the 2nd limb of Raja Yoga, is Ishvara Pranidhana, which implies surrender (ego) to the Self. To surrender the ego, you must have unconditional love of the practices, fierce dedication to attaining the Self, Ishvara. I see this unconditional love as Bhakti yoga amidst Raja Yoga practices. As a part of this surrender, I also practice Mantra (Japa) yoga, Kirthan, soulful singing and some Puja, worship as it fits perfectly with Raja/Kriya Yoga practices.
The 4th Niyama is Svadhyaya, study of the Self. In this study, you are unveiling the layers of Maya, delusion and Avidya, ignorance, in order to uncover the true Self. Jnana Yoga is the study of understanding the presence of this ignorance and process of unveiling the delusion.
The knowledge thence uncovered will help us understand that we operate in this world using lower knowledge to achieve material desires and instant gratification. The yogic disciplines help to overcome egotistical desires to realize who we really are. In essence, Svadhyaya and Jnana Yoga can be sister practices.
Swami Adhisvarananda states that the goal of the four yogas is essentially the same – Self-Realization. “Exclusive practice of any of the four yogas is difficult. Although each of them have been presented as an independent path to the Divine, the four are interconnected. When one of the four yogas leads the way, the other three remain in the background.”
The beauty of yoga is that you can dip as far as you like in the sea of practices and still receive wonderful benefits. Not only will you feel great at the end of each class, but over a period of time other aspects of your life will begin to change for the better. Of course, the deeper you go and the more disciplined your practice, the more profound the changes.
Finally, when we settle into our chosen practice, it is not just our physical (ego) self that evolves. Gurus want us to notice that – our Spiritual Self – will slowly begin to reveal itself in subtle ways. When this happens – when we become aware of a quiet presence – an inner teacher; this is when practice really begins to create transformation within our individual selves.
Ultimately, there is no contradiction once you have chosen your path(s), found your teacher and owned your practice.
Choose your path. Begin. The right time is – Now.
Adishvaranada, Swami.2006. The Four Yogas – A Guide to the Spiritual Paths of Action, Devotion, Meditation and Knowledge. Skylight Paths Publishing, VT
Saraswati Satyananda, Swami.1976. Four Chapters to Freedom – Commentary on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. Yoga Publications Trust, Munger, Bihar, India