Hatha Yoga is the physical practice of yoga. The asana practice of hatha yoga symbolizes the connection of the sun and the moon, bringing the world and the physical body into balance. Hatha as well as sun/moon also means “to strike,” meaning to strike the body with the challenge of the postures and to “yoke” (the meaning of yoga) the mind into singular focus. Most styles of yoga in the United States are based in Hatha with different philosophies, practices, and terminology that allow yoga to fit the individual practitioner. Its traditional source in relation to the postures is the Hatha Yoga Pradipika. See below for more information on styles of Hatha yoga.
Raja Yoga is the Royal Path (“raja” means king), the yoga of meditation. Its focus is to quiet the mind similar to what we aim to achieve in a yoga class. The practitioner’s attention is fixed on an object, mantra, or concept. Whenever the mind wanders it is brought back to the object of concentration such as the flame of a candle. In time the mind will cease wandering and become completely still. Raja yoga practitioners aim to establish “a mental link with the supreme source of all spiritual energy and power, the Supreme Soul, with the purpose of freeing the individual soul from misery, pain, fear, illness, and phobias, and enabling the soul to experience peace, happiness and lasting health and prosperity.”
Jnana Yoga is the yoga of knowledge and learning. Jnana yoga is closely associated with Advaita Vedanta, one of the six philosophies of Hinduism. Advaita Vedanta believes that everything in the universe shares a single soul, including all living creatures and God. Jnana yoga is the wisdom associated with discerning the Real from the unreal or illusory.
Bhakti Yoga is the yoga of devotion. In Bhakti yoga, the practitioner’s emotional force is concentrated and channeled toward the Divine. Bhakti practitioners are openly expressive; their devotion is sometimes compared to a love-relationship with a divine being. Kirtan, devotional singing, is a popular practice of Bhakti yoga.
Karma Yoga is the yoga of service to others and to God. Karma yoga practitioners renounce the fruits of action. Activities are assumed for the benefit of the greater good, without concern for personal benefit. The path of Karma-Yoga is described in detail in the Bhagavad-Gita: “Be intent on action; not on the fruits of action.”