10 different traditional schools of Yoga
The different traditional philosophies, lineages, and Guru–Shishya Paramparas of Yoga have led to the emergence of other traditional schools. These schools include Jnana Yoga, Bhakti Yoga, Karma Yoga, Patanjali Yoga, Hatha Yoga, Bauddha Yoga, Jain Yoga, Kundalini Yoga, Mantra Yoga, etc.
Jnana Yoga is the pathway of intellect to realise the Brahman (which is featureless) through knowledge (Jnana).
According to Jnana Yoga, Avidya (ignorance) is the root cause of suffering.
The underlying philosophy is that due to Avidya, a person identifies themself with various forms such as body, mind, brain, race, nationality, and so on and remains in pursuit of worldly possessions. However, these things cannot give permanent happiness.
To attain permanent happiness and bliss, one has to gain accurate knowledge about the ‘Self’ (Atman) and super-consciousness (Paramataman).
This knowledge can help dispel the darkness of ignorance and enlighten our inner consciousness.
The main attributes of this school are featureless Brahman and Jnana as the means of realisation and liberation (Moksha) through completion.
Bhakti means unconditional and selfless love and devotion towards God.
Bhakti Yoga is a systematic method of engaging the mind in the practice of unconditional and selfless divine love.
In this path, a person surrenders themself to the personal deity.
Bhakti Yoga is characterised by several attributes such as Anugraha (divine grace), dualism (the distinction between ‘self’ and God), and complete surrender to God (Ishwarpranidhana).
Bhagavata Purana (7.5./23-24) mentions ‘nine primary forms of devotion’ (Navadha Bhakti). It consists of 1. Shravana (listening to the scriptural stories of personal deities); 2. Kirtana (singing devotional songs); 3. Smarana (remembering the Divine by constantly meditating upon its name and form); 4. Pada-sevana (rendering service incorporating selfless Karma with devotion); 5. Archana (worshipping an image); 6. Vandana (paying homage or ‘prostration’ before the idea of one’s chosen deity); 7. Dasya (servitude or the ‘unquestioning’ devotion to the Creator with the attitude of serving the will of God instead of one’s ego); 8. Sakhya (friendship and relationship established between the Divine and the devotee); and 9. Atma-nivedana (complete surrender of the self to the deity). These nine practices can be practised independently or together.
Each of these practices creates a specific Bhava (feeling) that appeals to different inner constitutions of practitioners.
Karma Yoga is the path of action. It is based on the principle of Nishkama Karma (action devoid of selflessness), the right attitude, and performing one’s duties.
It emphasises performing one’s duties without having any expectations.
The underlying assumption is that Nishkama Karma ultimately leads to joy and happiness.
In Karma Yoga, the frame of mind with which the person acts action is essential.
It emphasises performing Karma with a sense of duty without any expectations. It also propounds that one should act action (Karma) skillfully in the best possible way (Karma su Kaushalam).
Karma Yoga, thus, emphasises the following attributes: performing Karma as duty skillfulness in action, i.e., with best efforts and efficiency (Karmasu Kaushalam) and selfless acts (Nishkama Karma).
In the context of Karma Yoga, the Bhagavad Gita is the most essential text.
Patanjala Yoga, popularly called ‘Raja Yoga’, is the path of controlling the mental activities/modifications of Chitta Vritti Nirodha to attain Kaivalya. Patanjala Yoga, as the name suggests, has been propagated by Maharishi Patanjali.
It is a systematic process of culturing the mind.
Patanjala Yoga or Raja Yoga considers life full of suffering caused by mental modifications.
According to Patanjali, control of mental modifications is essential to remove suffering and attain permanent bliss.
Patanjala Yoga emphasises Kriya Yoga and Ashtanga Yoga while adopting the correct psychological attitudes of Maitri, Karuna, Mudita, and Upeksha.
Liberation (Kaivalya), according to Patanjala Yoga, can be attained with the help of Ashtanga Yoga, consisting of moral, psycho-physical, and spiritual training.
Ashtanga Yoga consists of Yama, Niyama, Asana, Pranayama, Pratyahara, Dharana, Dhyana, and Samadhi.
In Ashtanga Yoga, Samadhi is the last step, which leads to the aim, i.e., control of the mind.
Here, Yama and Niyama involve moral training; Asana, Pranayama, and Pratyahara involve psycho-physical training; and Dharana, Dhyana, and Samadhi constitute spiritual training.
All these eight limbs together are essential for the successful cessation of mental modifications, which, in turn, leads to liberation.
The term ‘Hatha’ in Hatha Yoga combines two syllables ‘Ha’ and ‘Tha’. ‘Ha’ represents mind or mental energy, while ‘Tha’ represents vital energy (Prana). Thus, Hatha Yoga means union (Yoga) of the mental and pranic energy.
According to Gheranda Samhita, Hatha Yoga creates a harmonious balance among the physical body, the vital energy (Prana), and the mind.
It begins with the body, creates a harmonious balance between the Prana and mind, leads to Samadhi (self-realisation), and finally Moksha (the blissful, unbroken peace and changeless, undifferentiated consciousness).
Hatha Yoga recognises that the mind can be controlled by controlling the Prana. For this, various practices and techniques such as Shatkarma, Asana, Pranayama, Mudra, Bandha, Dhyana and Samadhi have been explained in classical Hatha Yogic texts.
In this context, ‘Hatha Yoga Pradipika’, ‘Gheranda Samhita’, ‘Shiva Samhita’, and ‘Hatha Ratnavali’ can be cited as authoritative texts on Hatha Yoga.
Jain Yoga believes in separate matter (body) and soul (consciousness) identities.
It does not believe in the existence of a supreme divine as creator, owner, preserver, or destroyer of the universe.
Jain Yoga propounded the famous five Mahavrata (great vows), which will help people achieve enlightenment.
In Jain’s philosophy, non-violence (Ahimsa) is a fundamental principle. Non-violence (Ahimsa) means non-injury or absence of desire to harm any life forms.
Violence (Himsa) towards self or others inhibits the soul’s ability to attain Moksha.
Right faith (Samyaka Darshana), right knowledge (Samyaka Jnana), proper conduct (Samyaka Charita), Kayotsarga (a form of meditation), and Preksha meditation constitute the path to attain liberation in Jain Yoga.
Bauddha Yoga is founded on the teachings of Buddha.
It taught the famous ‘Four Noble Truths’ and ‘Eight-fold Path’, which allowed people to achieve enlightenment.
The Four Noble Truths are the suffering, the cause of suffering, the end of suffering, and the path that facilitates the end of suffering.
The Eightfold Path of Bauddha Yoga, also called the Middle Path, is a system of following the eight divisions of the path to cease suffering and achieve spiritual enlightenment. It consists of the following eight practices: (1) right view, (2) right resolve, (3) right speech, (4) right conduct, (5) right livelihood, (6) right effort, (7) right mindfulness, and (8) proper Samadhi (meditative absorption or union).
The Eight-fold Path teaches that by restraining oneself, cultivating discipline, and practising meditation, one can stop the craving for worldly desires and karmic accumulations, thereby ending the suffering and cycle of birth and death.
Bauddha Yoga offers a variety of meditation techniques that lead to the path of enlightenment and Nirvana (liberation). These techniques help to develop mindfulness, concentration, tranquillity, and supra-mundane powers.
Laya Yoga is that form wherein Yoga, that is, Samadhi, is attained through Laya.
Laya gives one perfect control over the five Tattvas, mind and Indriya or senses.
The fluctuations of the mind will stop. The reason, body and Prana will be entirely subdued.”
In the Yoga Taravali, Sankaracharya states, “Sadashiva has spoken of 20,000 kinds of Laya, but most important is Nada Anusandhana for it leads to Samadhi.”
The ways of concentrating the mind vary to suit different temperaments and personalities. According to Natha yogis, one way is suitable for all, i.e. Laya in Nada.
Vishnu says: ‘Layayoga is that in which Chitta (sense-consciousness) undergoes Laya, that is, becomes absorbed in deep concentration; there are many methods most effective is for achieving this: but the Dhyana (deep engagement) on God in form, which can also be done while walking, standing, eating, and resting. This is Laya Yoga.
Laya aims to absorb the two Polarities: mind and Prana, mediator and the object of meditation, the unmanifest Shakti and manifest Shakti. The theory of how the energy evolves from Muladhara to Sahasrara, plus the awakening of Kundalini, is similarly dealt with in Laya Yoga.
It could be termed the Upanishadic Kriya Yoga. The experience of Laya Yoga is so profound that it is like death and rebirth: there is a total dissolution of the united nature and Rebirth to a new dimension.
Kundalini Yoga is a philosophy that propounds that everyone has spiritual energy and consciousness (Kundalini Shakti, also known as ‘serpent power’), which lies dormant in the Muladhara Chakra.
There is a need to awaken this energy. When awakened, this energy goes upwards, passes through Sushumna Nadi, activates Chakras, and increases a person’s potential and consciousness many folds.
Kundalini Yoga is closely related to or dependent on, Hatha Yoga. Kundalini Yoga is founded on yogic physiological terminologies such as Nadis (energy channels), Chakras (energy centres, and Kundalini Shakti).
According to the Yogic philosophy, there are three main Nadis: Ida, Pingala, and Sushumna.
The seven Chakras are located along the spine, starting at its root. The names of these Chakras, starting from the lowest in the sequence of upward location, are Muladhara Chakra, Swadhishthana Chakra, Manipura Chakra, Anahata Chakra, Vishuddhi Chakra, Ajna Chakra, and Sahasrara Chakra.
Chakras are important as the energy flows through the Chakras into the human body.
Kundalini Yoga aims to awaken the Kundalini Shakti (which lies dormant in the Muladhara Chakra), make it move upwards, and pierce the remaining Chakras individually.
Finally, this Shakti reaches the Sahasrara Chakra, representing enlightenment, the ultimate goal of spiritual life.
Awakening the Kundalini Shakti requires an aspirant to perform specific yogic postures like Asanas, breathing techniques (Pranayama), Mudras, etc., as Hatha Yoga recommends.
Mantra Yoga helps to awaken the Self and deepen the meditative aspects of Yoga practice.
Mantra Yoga or Japa Yoga. Japa, a Sanskrit word, means the act of repeating Mantras.
A Mantra is a sound, a syllable, a phoneme, a word, or a phrase. Its repetition aids in the concentration of the mind during meditation as it engages the mind with sound, its duration, and the number of repetitions.
Mantra Yoga is an exact science that uses mantras to get closer to the divinity within. Chanting the mantras creates positive vibrations, benefitting both the one who chants and the one who listens.
Mantra Yoga helps to neutralise agitation (Rajas) and inertia (Tamas), allowing the practitioner to move into a pure state of consciousness.
It helps to calm the mind, bring focus, and control the breath. It improves mental health, too.
Mantras can be practised in three ways: Vaikhari (chanting loudly), Upanshu (chanting in a low voice), and Manas Japa (chanting silently to one’s self). From the above, it is clear that all schools of Yoga have their ideologies where each path adopts a different approach, but all courses ultimately lead to the same destination.
The destination of all schools is the same, i.e., attaining Moksha, bliss or union of individual consciousness with the Super-consciousness. Daily, Yogic practices from all schools of thought are combined and used.