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Four Different Types Of Yoga - 4 Paths

Did you know that there are different types of yoga? Perhaps you have heard of "Four Paths" or "Eight Limbs" of yoga. No wonder you are confused!

If you think that yoga is a type of exercise or stretching poses, you are not alone. Western societies, including the United States, tend to be more physical than mental/spiritual, so it is not surprising that the type of yoga most practiced in the west is physical.

There are several types of yoga, and each have their own distinctions. The paths all ultimately lead toward the same destination (union with the Lord, Brahman, God, or "the One" if you prefer), and the lessons of each path need to be integrated to attain true wisdom.

The daily practices in the paths are suited to different temperaments or approaches to life, allowing individuals to emphasize the practice of certain Yogas over others. All human beings possess and identify with Intellect, Heart, Body and Mind. Thus the "Yoga of Synthesis" encouraged by Swami Sivananda advocates everyone to practice certain techniques from each path.

The four main paths of yoga include:

  • Karma Yoga

  • Bhakti Yoga

  • Jnana Yoga

  • Raja Yoga

The 4 Paths of Yoga

Let's take a closer look at each of these four paths.

Raja Yoga - The Science of Physical and Mental Control

Sometimes called the "royal road," Raja yoga has to do with refinement of the personality through Ashtanga - the 8 Limbs of Yoga.

Raja Yoga presents a method for controlling waves of thought by turning our mental and physical energy into spiritual energy. Raja Yoga is also called Ashtanga Yoga, referring to the eight limbs leading to absolute mental control.

The primary practice of Raja Yoga is meditation. It also includes all other methods which helps control body, energy, senses and mind. Hatha Yoga uses Relaxation and other practices such as Yamas, Niyamas, Mudras, and Bandhas to gain control of the physical body and the subtle life force called Prana. When body and energy are under control meditation comes naturally.

Ashtanga - The Eight Limbs of Raja Yoga

These teachings are based on yoga sutras. Patanjali is considered the collector of these yogic teachings many years ago. (Sutra means "thread" - a sutra could be considered a stream of consciousness or thought.) To simplify, Raja Yoga is a system of Eight Limbs, which are a progressive series of steps or disciplines which purify the body and mind, ultimately leading to enlightenment.

These 8 limbs of Raja Yoga are:

  1. Yama (principles, restraints, "do nots")

  2. Niyama (personal disciplines, observances, "do's," practices to perform)

  3. Asana (yoga positions or yogic postures, what you might currently think of yoga as)

  4. Pranayama (regulation of the breath, using the breath to control consciousness)

  5. Pratyahara (withdrawal of senses, stilling the mind and looking within)

  6. Dharana (concentration on object, focus and one?pointed consciousness)

  7. Dhyana (meditation, self inquiry, self introspection)

  8. Samadhi (superconsciousness, non-duality, one-ness with God or with all)

Karma Yoga - The Yoga of Action

The path chosen primarily by people who are more outgoing, Karma Yoga is the "Yoga of Action." This path purifies the heart by teaching you to act selflessly, without thinking to achieve any gain or reward for your actions.

You learn to subtly transform the ego by detaching yourself from the fruits of your actions and offering them up to God or the One. Repeating a mantra while engaged in activities helps to keep your mind focused.

Principles of Karma Yoga:

  • Right Attitude

  • Right Motive

  • Do Your Duty

  • Do Your Best

  • Give Up Results

  • Serve God or the Self in All

  • Follow the Discipline of the Job

Bhakti Yoga - The Path of Devotion or Divine Love

Bhakti Yoga is a path of devotion and complete surrender to God. Individuals with an emotional nature are especially attracted to the path of Bhakti Yoga.

Those drawn to this path are primarily motivated by the power of love, and seeing God or the One as the embodiment of love. You will surrender yourself to God to channel and transmute your emotions into unconditional love or devotion through prayer, worship and ritual.

Chanting the praises of God form a substantial part in the path of Bhakti Yoga.

Jnana Yoga - The Yoga of Knowledge or Wisdom

This is considered the most difficult path. Following the philosophy of Vedanta, Jnana Yoga requires tremendous strength of will and intellect to use your mind to inquire into its own nature.

As an example, we perceive the space inside and outside a container as different, just as we see ourselves as separate from God. The goal of a Jnana Yoga devotee is to experience unity with God directly by breaking the container, dissolving the veils of ignorance.


Vedanta philosophy comes from The Upanishads, sacred scriptures that are the final part of the ancient texts known collectively as the Vedas. (Veda means knowledge; Anta means end.) The term "Vedanta" is the both the philosophy that leads to the end of knowledge and, also, from the ending part of the Vedas.

The essence of Vedantic teachings culminates into three concise concepts:

God only is real. The world is unreal. The individual is none other than God.