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What is Yoga: Definition of Yoga and the Six Branches of Yoga

Written by: shaynebance

What is Yoga? What comes into your mind when you hear the word Yoga?

Well, if you think of women in seemingly impossible poses, then you may have an inkling of what Yoga is. But that's just it - an inkling. You've got a long way to go before fully understanding Yoga.

Yoga is an ancient Indian body of knowledge that dates back more than 500" class="related_products_container"0 years ago. The word "Yoga" came from the Sanskrit word "yuj" which means "to unite or integrate." Yoga then is about the union of a person's own consciousness and the universal consciousness.

Ancient Yogis had a belief that in order for man to be in harmony with himself and his environment, he has to integrate the body, the mind, and the spirit. For these three to be integrated, emotion, action, and intelligence must be in balance. The Yogis formulated a way to achieve and maintain this balance and it is done through exercise, breathing, and Meditation - the three main Yoga structures.

In Yoga, the body is treated with care and respect for it is the primary
instrument in man's work and growth. Yoga Exercises improve circulation, stimulate the abdominal organs, and put pressure on the glandular system of the body, which can generally result to better health.

Breathing techniques were developed based on the concept that breath is the source of life. In Yoga, students gain breathing control as they slowly increase their breathing. By focusing on their breathing, they prepare their minds for the next step - Meditation.

There is a general misconception that in Meditation, your mind has to go blank. It doesn't have to be so. In Meditation, students bring the activities of the mind into focus resulting in a 'quiet' mind. By designing physical poses and Breathing Techniques that develop awareness of our body, Yoga helps us focus and relieves us from our everyday stress.

Six Branches of Yoga

  • Hatha Yoga or Yoga of Postures
    Hatha Yoga is perhaps the path of Yoga you are most familiar with since this is the most popular branch of Yoga in the West. This branch of Yoga uses physical poses or Asana, Breathing Techniques or Pranayama, and Meditation to achieve better health, as well as spirituality. There are many styles within this path - Iyengar, Integral, Astanga, Kripalu, and Jiva Mukti to name a few.

    If what you want is a peaceful mind and a healthy body to go along with it, Hatha Yoga may just be the path for you.

  • Bhakti Yoga or Yoga of Devotion
    Bhakti Yoga is the path most followed in India. This is the path of the heart and devotion. Yogis who practice this branch sees the "One" or the Divine in everyone and everything. Bhakti Yoga teaches a person to have devotion to the "One" or to Brahma by developing a person's love and acceptance for all things.

  • Raja Yoga or Yoga of Self-Control
    Raja means "royal". This path is considered to be the King of Yoga and this may be due to the fact that most of its practitioners are members of religious and spiritual orders. Raja Yoga is based on the teachings of the Eight Limbs of Yoga found in the Yoga sutras.

    A Raja Yogi sees the self as central, and as such, respect to oneself and for all creation are vital to this path. They achieve self-respect by first learning to be masters of themselves.

    If you wish to learn discipline, then Raja Yoga would perfectly suit that need.

  • Jnana Yoga or Yoga of the Mind
    Jnana Yoga is the path of Yoga that basically deals with the mind, and as such, it focuses on man's intelligence. Jnana Yogis consider wisdom and intellect as important and they aim to unify the two to surpass limitations. Since they wish to gain knowledge, they are open to other philosophies and religion for they believe that an open and rational mind is crucial in knowing the spirit.

  • Karma Yoga or Yoga of Service
    Karma Yoga is the path of service for in this path, it is believed that your present situation is based on your past actions. So by doing selfless service now, you are choosing a future that is free from negativity and selfishness. Karma Yogis change their attitude towards the good and in the process, change their souls, which leads to a change in their destiny.

  • Tantra Yoga or Yoga of Rituals
    Perhaps the most misunderstood of all the paths, Tantra Yoga is about using rituals to experience what is sacred. Although sex is a part of it, sex is not the whole of it since this path aims to find what is sacred in everything we do. Tantra Yogis must possess certain qualities like purity, humility, devotion, dedication to his Guru, cosmic love, and truthfulness among other things.

    There are still a lot of misconceptions about Yoga, for instance, Yoga being a religion. Yoga is not a religion. It is more of a set of techniques for us to find spirituality. In fact, Yoga is being practiced by a lot of people from different religions like Christians, Jewish, Buddhists, and Muslims.

    Another misconception is that Yoga is an exercise, a way for us to keep fit. It is partly true, but if you think that Yoga is just that then you are greatly mistaken. Yoga develops the body since a weak one is a hindrance to spiritual growth. It does not simply focus on the physical but on the mental and spiritual aspects as well.

  • What is Yoga?

    Yoga in Your Life

    You may ask, "Is Yoga for me?"

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    Definitely, yes! Yoga is for anyone who is willing to learn its ways and ideas. It does not actually require any special equipment or clothing. What it requires is your will to have a healthier, stress-free self.

    You may first approach Yoga as a way to achieve a great body or to keep fit and that is perfectly alright. Yoga really does help in improving your health for stretching can tone your muscles and exercise your spine and your entire skeletal system.

    Do not just take advantage of what Yoga can offer. Yoga encourages you to reflect on yourself and to find your inner peace. It exercises not just your body but your mind as well. With a healthy body and mind, you're on your way to a more fulfilling life.

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    Article Comments
    Friday 4th June 2004 at 9:30:07 AM  

    i have a guestion if i have p m s can i do yoga exercise? thank you

    Sunday 2nd January 2005 at 11:54:52 PM  

    thankyou for the work o divineself

    Monday 10th September 2007 at 6:57:08 AM  

    If I understand correctly PMS stands for Pre Menstrual Syndrome or even Pre Menstrual Tension. Yogasanas are actually helpfull in reducing PMS. But I suppose your question actually is whether you can do yogasana while menstruating. The answer is that yes you can, but usually inversions are avoided during the period.

    Friday 7th November 2008 at 8:50:26 AM  

    I respectfully disagree that Yoga is not a religion. I understand the hesitance of calling it such, but Yoga does have very specific spiritual beliefs, many listed in this very article. It is more than just a "set of practices" it is a spiritual practice rooted in very specific and very ancient beliefs that pre-date Hinduism. While some call the spiritual aspect of Yoga "Vedanta" in fact there are some significant differences between most Hindu/Vedanta sects and Yoga. At the same time, to say that Yoga does not have a specific spiritual set of beliefs is highly misleading. While you list Buddhism as a religion, I would like to point out that there are many Buddhist Christians and Buddhist Jews. Yoga has as much a right to be called a religion as Buddhism.Finally, you may be aware that Autobiography of a Yogi, listed as one of 100 best spiritual books of the century, is the memoir of the founder of the Self Realization Fellowship, a religious organization of Kriya Yoga.There is also another sect of Kriya Yoga in Chicago, very much a religion.There is also the highly controversial Siddha Yoga, which is spread throughout the United States and India, as well as many parts of the world. It is very much a religion, which shares similarity with Vedanta, but ultimately has its own set of belief.I am sorry, but I do not call myself Hindu nor Vedanta. I am Yoga, and it is very much a spiritual practice for me, which is just a nicer name for religion.

    Monday 20th April 2009 at 3:41:30 PM  


    Towards the end of your article, in the sentence "In fact, Yoga is being practiced by a lot of people from different religions like Christians, Jewish, Buddhists, and Muslims." the word "Jewish" is used incorrectly. The correct word should be "Jews" . Thanks.


    Tuesday 28th July 2009 at 8:01:05 AM  

    thanks for giving me valuable information regarding yoga............

    Thursday 6th August 2009 at 4:06:18 AM  

    Thanks a lot for the article. I was searching for some material for writing an article on yoga for children. This information is useful to me.
    Whether it is a religion or not, the benefits of yoga are unquestionable. We all human beings have been created by the almighty in the same way physically. So, what''s wrong in practising something which does good to our mind and soul and hence to the society even though if it does belong to another religion. Every religion teaches us to take good from everywhere possible.
    By the way, we use so many medicines in our day to day life. Who knows to which religion the inventor of the drug belongs to?
    Let''s be united and work together for the upheaval of mankind.

    Monday 10th August 2009 at 7:49:48 AM  

    thank you for giving such a good information regarding yoga.

    Chindo James
    Tuesday 13th October 2009 at 1:11:27 PM  

    After reading a few lines of the meaning of Yoga,I began to imagine myself tranforming into an organised person. I wish I knew this 15years ago.
    Am a Nigerian citizen and here only very few of just 1% citizens know about it. I will really appreciate it if I can get more information or help from you to unravel myself through Yoga.
    2347039074873 or 2348139135748

    Sunday 14th February 2010 at 12:13:59 PM  

    thanks for informing me about yoga

    Sunday 28th March 2010 at 10:55:53 AM  

    yoga is a wonderfull feeling

    archana singh
    Thursday 26th August 2010 at 11:42:35 AM  

    Thanks for the infomation about yoga.

    Shailesh Yadav
    Monday 6th September 2010 at 11:56:40 PM  

    Excellent place to know about Yoga!!!!

    Veena Grover
    Wednesday 8th September 2010 at 4:47:43 PM  

    Yoga is connection with body,mind & soul.Yoga cannot be practiced without spirituality & Higher power.
    You surrender to God & you feel internal connection & opening.

    Lynne Lala
    Tuesday 14th September 2010 at 5:05:19 PM  

    Thankyou for the indepth information on yoga. I do attend a power yoga class and yoga is absolutely wonderful

    sanjeeb panda
    Thursday 18th November 2010 at 5:10:33 AM  

    their is no relationship between yoga and are different culture.

    Tuesday 23rd November 2010 at 9:34:01 PM  

    when was this article written?

    shankar dayal
    Monday 14th February 2011 at 4:58:29 AM  

    Thanks for the great oldest information

    Friday 22nd April 2011 at 9:27:29 PM  

    A beautiful descriptive definition of yoga. thanks a lot

    Tuesday 3rd May 2011 at 8:46:12 AM  

    This article is indeed an interesting piece. I love it.

    Wednesday 31st August 2011 at 10:16:57 AM  

    very beautiful and brief description of yoga; thank you very much for this; I enjoyed it a lot.

    suresh deswal
    Saturday 3rd December 2011 at 12:02:55 AM  

    execellent information on yoga thanks

    Friday 16th December 2011 at 11:57:50 AM  

    its very true

    Sunday 18th December 2011 at 3:27:59 PM  

    Hi to levaleri: I just wanted to point out to me yoga is not a religion, even though I understand why it is religious for you and I agree that there are several religions that use yoga and there could be a religous base, I don''t think it''s religious to everyone. For me it''s a way of life. Also many originally considered buddism a philosophy. Of course throughout the years many branches of buddism arrised which are now religion. Regarding calling someone a Jew, I like Jewish better and thank the author for being respectul of that. Being jewish myself, if you called me a jew, I might take offense to that. When I read your post I took offense to it, I''m not sure if you meant it that way or not as I am only reading it and not speaking to you live. At any rate thank you to the author for the article it''s informative and a nice base for deepening the practice beyond asana. Thanks again!

    Sunday 18th December 2011 at 3:35:37 PM  

    Also my apologies to levaleri re:the comment regarding jews, that was directed to pundit 45 who wrote that comment. Thank you

    renu jindal
    Monday 2nd January 2012 at 3:59:56 PM  

    i m agree with u ! because yoga is a technique which can be practiced in every walk of life (food, posture, breathing ,thinking and the whole personalty ).everyone can adopt it. it''s beyond the culture, religion, lenguage and any other diffrences. yoga is like the SunLight which is meant for everyone.

    Sunday 15th January 2012 at 6:18:09 AM  

    Yoga is my life

    Monday 23rd January 2012 at 6:27:03 AM  

    yoga is my life

    Tuesday 24th January 2012 at 8:03:51 PM  

    Having yoga in my life is a great decision and I like to think of it as an alternative to the traditional medicine that we use today. Having been diagnosed for PTSD, I owe a lot to those who have helped me along the way with yoga. For those who believe if its a religion or a culture, don''t think of it as either, just enjoy the teachings and learn from it. If you want to, then do the research and don''t assume based on what you think you know. Take care everyone. Live well and prosper. Have a good one.

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