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9 Ways to Practice Yoga

Join me as I delve into 9 Ways to Practice Yoga. We’ll explore the diverse paths to self-realization from the rich tapestry of classical forms such as karma and hatha plus the lesser-known yet equally profound practices of nidra and seva.

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9 Ways to Practice Yoga Transcript

In today’s episode, I want to talk to you about the classical forms of yoga as well as share two to three minor forms. The first few that I’m going to discuss from the classical forms of yoga come directly from the Bhagavad Gita.

The Bhagavad Gita describes the necessity for different forms of yoga because humans have different needs and different personalities. So it’s important that we have different ways of practicing yoga to meet the needs of those different people.

Raja Yoga: The Path of Meditation

Raja is Sanskrit for king or royal. The focus of raja yoga is meditation and the adherence to the eight limbs of yoga. You might recall from a previous episode where I talked about the eight limbs: yamas, niyamas, asanas, pranayama, pratyahara, dharana, dhyana, and samadhi.

Raja is about clearing and focusing the mind, bringing in concentration and clearing out the clutter. Through the practice of meditation, we release old patterns, we let go of old beliefs, and we clear the way for new ways of thinking and believing and being.

One way that I remember what raja yoga is made up of is to think of its Sanskrit translation: raja meaning royal or kings. I imagine a king sitting on his throne and having to, every day, make decisions for his kingdom. He would need to have the clearest mind, the most open mind, in order to make the best decisions.

Karma Yoga: The Path of Selfless Action

Karma yoga is the next classical form. And if you remember from previous Sanskrit lessons, the k-r means action. So when we talk about karma yoga, we’re talking about the path of selfless action. Most of us are familiar with the term karma. but maybe not exactly in relation to yoga.

When we look at karma yoga, we’re looking at selfless actions in order to eliminate the samskaras. You perform selfless service in order to dissolve the perceived separation between yourself and others, in order to see the divine in everyone and yourself.

We practice this form of yoga anytime we perform our work or live in a selfless fashion. It’s a way that we are able to serve others.

Karma yoga is about putting out there, not necessarily what we want to get back, but putting out because we know we create ripples in the pond. If I do good that creates a ripple for somebody else to do good.

Bhakti Yoga: The Path of Devotion

The next classical form of yoga is bhakti yoga. The root of this word bhaj means devotion, to serve, or to worship. Bhatki yoga is the path of devotion and love and it seeks to teach its students to see those qualities of love and devotion in all of creation. Bhakti provides an opportunity to cultivate acceptance and tolerance, to choose love over anger.

Jnana Yoga: The Path of Wisdom

The next classical form is jnana yoga and it roughly translates to wisdom or knowledge. So as you might guess from its translation, this form of yoga is the path of study or knowledge or wisdom. It’s the path of the sage or the scholar. On this path, you’re developing your intellect through this study of scriptures, yoga text.

This form of yoga appeals to individuals more intellectually inclined and TKV Desikachar in The Heart of Yoga talked about jnana yoga as “the search for real knowledge with the underlying assumption that all knowledge lies hidden within us. We just have to discover it.”

Tantric Yoga: Finding the Divine in Every Experience

The next form of yoga is tantric and this is probably one of the most misunderstood forms and misquoted forms of yoga.

The Sanskrit translation of tantric is technique and focuses on  finding the divine in every experience. Tantric yoga is also a meditative process and preparing for meditation, because remember the root word is technique, is as important as the meditation itself.

Hatha Yoga: The Physical Practice

The last classical form of yoga is hatha yoga, and this is the one that most people are familiar with. This is the physical form of yoga, and is the most widely practiced form of yoga here in America and in Western cultures. 

You can always identify hatha yoga by three main elements: breathing, postures, and meditation. So if you attend a studio and you step on a mat and you practice breathing, postures, and meditation, regardless of what the studio has labeled that [class] you are practicing hatha yoga.

Hatha yoga is not a slower style or a gentler style of yoga. You can go in and take an extremely vigorous vinyasa-style class and you are practicing the form of hatha yoga.

Branded Hatha Yoga

One of the ways in which I help my teachers in training remember the difference between hatha and its different styles is to think of ketchup.

If you go to the grocery store, you go down the condiment aisle and you stop in front of all of the different bottles of ketchup. The ketchup represents hatha yoga. No matter what brand you get, no matter which bottle you choose, you’re still purchasing ketchup.

Now let’s drill it down a level. As you’re looking at the shelves with the different types of ketchup, you’re going to see all kinds of brands. You’re gonna see Heinz, Hunts. You’re gonna see Great Value, Whataburger, or you might see Del Monte.

Those are all ketchup, but they’ve been styled differently. Maybe they have a few different spices. Or their formula is a little bit different. But at the end of the day, all of those different brands or styles are still ketchup.

That’s how you look at hatha yoga. No matter how it’s been styled, no matter how it’s been branded, it’s still hatha yoga because it is breathing, postures and meditation.

Anna Yoga: The Yoga of Nutrition

If you were counting along with me, you probably saw that there are six classical forms of yoga. Again, that’s Raja, Bhatki, Karma, Jnana, Tantric. and Hatha.

Now let’s talk about those minor forms of yoga. These are also ways in which we can practice yoga.

Anna Yoga focuses on the connection between food and energy, emphasizing better nutrition for physical, mental, and spiritual well-being.

In a previous episode, I talked about the progression that many yoga practitioners take. They start with posture classes and then they begin to see how their body responds based on what they’re eating. So they begin to have this awareness around food and how their body is affected with the different food that they eat.

There is actually a practice of yoga around your connection with food, and that is called anna yoga. Anna translates to food. In anna yoga, we understand that better nutrition gives us more energy, better energy, and long-term energy. We know the right nutrients fuel us and give us what we need in order to be active, as well as creating mental health and spiritual health.

Practicing Yoga When We Eat

I love this quote from Baron Baptiste’s book. He says, “food can promote life, increase vitality, strength, health, and emotional well being. Other types of food can make us agitated, cause pain and illness, and still other kinds of food make us sluggish and tired.”

He continues about how “most Westerners overeat, are overweight, and yet undernourished.” He says, “The power food has over our minds is profound. In many ways, we use food as a drug. Our chemical and biological reactions to food fuel us and help our bodies function at peak performance.

“But many of us use this chemical in the worst sense, as a drug to numb, comfort, distract, or take the edge off in times of emotional distress.”

We see anna yoga discussed in the Bhagavad Gita where it addresses the issue of diet or nutrition as an important factor on the yoga path because it speaks of different food being agreeable to different men.

In the Yoga Sutras, an interpretation of a yama can be applied to nutrition as well because yogis do not wish to do violence to the environment, both external and internal.

Seva Yoga: The Yoga of Selfless Service

The next minor form is seva yoga, and this is very similar to karma yoga. However, it applies the idea of selfless action in our everyday activities. So whether you’re cooking or cleaning, teaching or working at your computer, you’re doing it with focus and awareness.

I was first introduced to the concept of seva yoga when I took a week long yoga workshop at Kripalu.

They had a program there where you could come and work at the [center], whether cooking or cleaning, making up rooms, changing sheets, doing laundry. You could do that in exchange for getting to stay at the Institute and take courses.

Yoga Nidra: The Yogic Sleep

The last minor form I want to talk about is yoga nidra. Nidra translates to sleep, and this is called the sleep of the yogis, or to sleep with awareness. It is a very old practice that I’m so happy to see is gaining in popularity.

We live in a constant state of exhaustion and stress, and yoga nidra is a way that we can really settle into complete and deep relaxation, finding a meditative state of consciousness and at the same time rejuvenating ourselves.

Typically, you practice yoga nidra with a guide, someone who is moving you through imagery and yoga nidra can last anywhere from 20 to 45 minutes, maybe even more.

Embracing Diversity in Yoga Practice

Yoga is a vast and multifaceted tradition, offering numerous paths for personal growth and transformation. Whether you’re drawn to meditation, physical postures, or selfless service, there’s a form of yoga that resonates with you. By exploring these different paths, we can deepen our practice and cultivate greater awareness, both on and off the mat.

Which form of yoga resonates with you the most? Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments below. And remember, stay cozy, take care of yourself, and keep exploring the rich tapestry of yoga.

Of all of the different forms that I talked about, which one sounds like one you would love to give a try? Comment and let me know.

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