Jnana Yoga is the ‘yoga of wisdom’. It is the yoga of the Vedas and the early Upanishads in which the yogi(ni) reaches the discrimination of the real from the unreal, in the light of knowledge through a process of contemplative meditation. Jnana Yoga like Raja Yoga investigates all subtleties of the human mind. Other than Raja Yoga though it utilises the investigating faculty of the rational mind. Our preoccupation remains with the core question: ‘Who am I’?
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Bhakti Yoga utilises the energy of our emotions: desire, affection, devotion and love. Of importance here is, that the object of such feelings is of godly nature rather than mortal. Through rituals, song, dance and the recitation of Mantras, the longing of the human heart is being channeled, intensified and utilised to eliminate the common feeling of being separate from everything else, which automatically leads to endless desires, attachments and suffering.
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The Bhagavad Gita is the main source of Karma Yoga. The Karma Yogin strives after liberation through the act of a self-transcending attitude. Whatever ones tasks, duties or activities, one views everything as an act of sacrifice to the divine, a selfless service and does absolutely nothing in view of the fruits that it might yield, whether financial, social or spiritual. Through that the yogin becomes capable of utilising the worldly daily activities in such a way to help us free from the bondages that make us blind for our relationship with the absolute.
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The word Mantra is derived from two Sanscrit terms: ‘Manas’ (mind) and ‘Trayati’ (liberation) and deals with the liberation of the human mind. In many of the traditional scriptures it is advocated as an ideal yoga practice, if devotion and dedication (Tapas) are not pronounced or not yet developed. In Mantra Yoga a short phrase is being uttered either audible or mentally in order to make the mind concentrated and through it one-pointed. Most of the traditional Mantras posess a particular spiritual meaning and vibration. So each Mantra has got a different spiritual influence on the consciousness of the practitioner.
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Raja Yoga, the ‘royal’ yoga, deals mainly with the techniques of meditation as described in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. Even though the term Raja Yoga is being mentioned in many traditional yoga scriptures, the Yoga Sutras do not at all utilise it. These days Raja Yoga is understood to be meditation, without relating to the other limbs of yoga. Unfortunately, this is a huge misconception. Without the quality of Raja Yoga there cannot be any Hatha Yoga and without Hatha Yoga there can hardly be any Raja Yoga. Hatha Yoga, so to say, builds a ladder to realise the subtler realms of Raja Yoga successfully. The state of meditation usually cannot be experienced without a firm and relaxed yoga pose, a calm, even breath and an inward flowing consciousness. When the body looses its stability the mind starts roaming and the breath becomes erratic; when the mind wanders, the body looses its stability and the breath becomes erratic. So the pose, the breath and consciousness build the thread that connects each part of the practice and leads us from the more concrete aspect of the pose right up the the subtlest realm of pure unconditioned consciousness.
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The word Tantra consists of two Sanscrit terms: ‘Tanoti’ (expansion) and ‘Trayati’ (liberation) and is said to be the only path to liberation in this present age, in which the destructive effects of self-centered wishes and desires are so predominant. Tantra works because it utilises the fundamental energy of daily life and living in order to transform our state of consciousness: the energy of desire!
For this transformation of wishes and desires into spiritual ecstasy or enstasy there have always been two main paths. The outer, left path is the most extreme and at the same time most misunderstood form of tantric practice, the ritualised sexual contact. This path only the highest developed yogi or yogini was initiated to. Yogis that had long detached themselves from sexual phantasies and desires. This extremely difficult path has got nothing whatsoever to do with self-indulgence. It is solely intended to completely purify our consciousness. The inner, right path utilises the practice of Asanas, Pranayama and powerful meditative visualisations to reach the same heights, the realisation of the highest existential principle – or pure unconditioned consciousness – which is nothing less but the supreme state of being, the state of complete liberation.
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Hatha Yoga is one of the most widely practiced forms of yoga and at the same time origin of the following well known yoga styles: Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga, B.K.S. Iyengar Yoga, Traditional Hatha Yoga and Viniyoga. The differences among them will be explained in detail under the heading Yoga Styles.
It is wrongly believed that Hatha Yoga consists mainly of the practice and mastery of Asanas (yoga postures). According to the scriptures of Hatha Yoga a lot more emphasis is given to the more esoteric practices like Pranayama (control of the subtle life force – Prana – in our energy body), the Bandhas (neuro muscular locks), the Shatkriyas (internal cleansing processes) as well as Mudras (particular body positions or ‘gestures’, which together with certain Bandhas regulate the energies in the subtle body). The mastery of Asanas imparts stability and stillness in order to investigate the deeper realms of our existence leading to what is known as Raja Yoga or the spontaneous occurance of meditation.
Hatha means will but is looked upon as being the unison of Ha (moon) and Tha (sun), that is the complementing, opposing principles in body and mind. The aim of Hatha Yoga as well as Kundalini Yoga – both based on Tantra – is, to bring the underlying female and male energies in the body into a state of balance. The ‘moon-energy’ flows through Ida Nadi, through the left nostril and the ‘sun-energy’ through Pingala Nadi, the right nostril in the body. Hatha Yoga techniques, in particular Pranayama and the Shatkriyas, cleanse and stabilise these subtle energyflows. Only when these are in a state of balance, the mystical serpent power Kundalini Shakti (Prana/energy-aspect of consciousness) residing at the base of the spine in a dormant condition, can be awakened and rise up to Shiva (Cit/consciousness-aspect of consciousness itself) through Sushumna Nadi (main energy channel in the centre of the spine) in order to fulfill our highest potential, to realise our own true nature, symbolised by the opening of Sahasrara Chakra at the top of the head!
In its perfection Hatha Yoga even claims to be able to create something like a divine body that is immune against the influence of time and disease. Additionally Hatha Yoga practice can bring about psychic powers known as Siddhis, as well as telepathic abilities and more.