If you are thinking I will be explaining yoga poses in this article, I’m afraid you will be disappointed. The Sanskrit word, yoga means ‘to unite’ or ‘join’. Any path that you take to unite with your inner spiritual essence is called a yoga. So, a yoga is a spiritual path, but yoga also denotes the goal of union with your spiritual source or essence.
The physical exercises that you are familiar with are called Hatha Yoga. (Hatha = force/opposition). Hatha Yoga employs the opposing forces of stretching and relaxation of the muscles. These exercises are also called yoga, because the main purpose is not physical. Although doing yoga exercises does improve physical health and flexibility, their main purpose to quiet the mind. If the postures are done slowly and mindfully, the mind becomes peaceful and quiet. A quiet mind is ready to go within and realize it’s spiritual source. This is why yoga classes usually end with deep relaxation and meditation.
Hatha Yoga is a preparatory practice that can be incorporated into any spiritual path you follow.. Interestingly, I’ve noticed that most people who are ready to embark on their spiritual journey usually start with joining a yoga class. I certainly did. I was 20 and had recently lost my father. I was seeking purpose and meaning in life.
3 main Yoga-s
But, this is not what I’d like to share with you. What I’d like to describe are the 3 main paths or yoga-s that will help you grow spiritually. * The mind has to be prepared to realize its oneness with Source that lies within.
We all have a physical body, emotions and a thinking mind. My Guru, Swami Chinmayananda, calls these three, the equipment with which we transact with, and gain experiences from the world. When we learn to use our equipment in the right way, we grow spiritually.
Karma Yoga – the Path of Action
At the body level, Karma Yoga is prescribed. The word Karma here does not refer to the Law of Karma but simply means ‘action’. Karma Yoga is the path of doing the right actions with the right attitude. The right actions are selfless actions, and the right attitude is a feeling of gratitude with which you dedicate your actions to a higher goal or purpose.
Karma Yoga does not mean you have to run for public office or join the army. You don’t have to do something big or different. Your everyday duties are selfless actions that you do for the benefit of others. If these are done with the right attitude, they help you grow spiritually.
If you do your duties, while maintaining a feeling of being an instrument in the service of others, you will be preparing your mind for yoga. For a detailed explanation of Karma Yoga, please read my articles on this topic. Click How to use your work to grow spiritually or Detach from outcome and be happy now.
Bhakti Yoga – the Path of Devotion
The Path of Devotion or Bhakti Yoga divinizes your emotions. (Bhakti = devotion) We are advised to turn our emotions to God, the Universe or any form of the divine we can relate to. Regular prayer, singing devotional songs or hymns, or reading about the lives of great devotees are practices on the path of devotion.
When the emotions are uplifted towards the higher, they get absorbed in love for the divine. Movement in this direction takes you away from the ego and thus helps you grow spiritually.
Jnana Yoga – Path of Knowledge
Lastly, the thinking mind that is so full of worldly worries and concerns has to be trained to turn inwards. This is the Path of Knowledge or Jnana Yoga. (Jnana = knowledge) In Jnana Yoga you begin to ask the bigger questions of life: Why am I here? How can I find true happiness? Where or what is God? Where was I before I was born? What will happen to me after I die?
You train your mind to become quieter and more reflective. You study, reflect and meditate on spiritual literature daily. This brings you the answers, removes your doubts and thus uplifts the mind. It becomes peaceful and prepared to go within in meditation and merge with your spiritual essence.
Love is the common factor
What is common in all three paths is love. If duties are done cheerfully in a loving attitude of service to God or Source, they become a yoga. If emotions are turned away from people and worldly concerns towards the divine, they become a yoga. If spiritual studies are done with love for the divine, with the intention of coming closer to it, they become a yoga.
What’s your Yoga?
Which is the path for you? If you are a balanced personality and like being busy and active, then Karma Yoga is the path for you. In fact, the Path of Action is the path for most people.
If you connect with people and life through your emotions, and like doing things for others, then the Path of Devotion combined with the Path of Action is the path for you. The path of devotion cannot go without action, because love always wants to express itself in service for others.
If you are a deep thinker, always asking questions and spending lots of time quietly by yourself, then the Path of Knowledge is for you. Very few of us have the mental stamina to be exclusively on this path.
Spend some time reflecting on what type of a personality you are and find the path that suits you the best. You may find that you would like to integrate practices from all three yoga-s in your life. That’s fine too.
Good luck with finding your yoga!
* You may enjoy: What is Spiritual Growth and How to achieve it.
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