The more yoga styles I explore and the more yoga students I meet, the more fascinated i am by what attracts a certain person to a certain practice. (I don't just mean yoga styles: active A-types may favour Ashtanga, Power or Bikram yoga while quieter, slower movers opt for Yin, Iyengar or Hatha. Or not; a certain personality may totally turn a stereotype on its head.) I'm curious about what drives people beyond the physical practice and invites them to truly live yoga off the mat, in their daily lives. Almost without fail, we are all searching for a personal combination of contentment, well-being, positivity, health, relaxation, fulfilment and spirituality. If you use yoga as a tool to accomplish our life's goals, it's likely you'll gravitate to one of four paths or "margas."
Bhakti Yoga is the yoga of devotion to the divine. Often practiced through chanting (think Krishna Das), this path asks for a surrender of ego, for love, compassion and service in remembrance of God (whatever that means to you). Karma Yoga is the path of action, characterized by service to others and detachment from the fruits of one's labours. Jnana Yoga is the philosopher's path, concerned with knowledge, wisdom, introspection, and leads to a systematic investigation of one's essential nature. Raja Yoga , the "royal path," emphasizes techniques - particularly meditation - that help to transcend the distractions and misinterpretations of the mind. I suppose one could also name, among others: Hatha Yoga (using the force of the body to bring polarities into balance) and Kundalini Yoga (expanding prana to cleanse and stimulate the chakras) to the network of paths that lead towards self-awareness and integration of body, mind and spirit.
What is important to note is that there are no strong separations between these paths, They overlap and intertwine. At certain times in our lives, one path seems more accessible while, at other times, we choose a path less traveled. Some open to us naturally, while others require a greater effort to clear.
I used to consider myself a Jnana yogi. My active (sometimes hyperactive) mind can send me into whirlwinds of thought until I am bound to self-doubt and smallness, though my soul yearns for greatness., But intellect can also systematically reinforce that I am not my body, I am not my circumstances, I am not my fleeting feelings and desires; I am energy and potential, and I should act and live from that place of greatness. Lately, though, I cross over to other paths. I try to consciously make my teaching my yoga, dedicating my efforts to giving my students a few moments of peace and well-being in class (karma). I am trying to devote more time to concentrating, meditating and absorbing myself in the moment (raja). And from teaching to mothering to socializing, it is really all about bhakti - love love love - which I make the unspoken theme of my days. I try to take at least one step along the day's path: some gesture of love, some act of kindness, or some study of myself through reading or silent meditation. Step after step. That is the practice!
Which one of the paths calls to you at the moment? What step will you take on your path today?