Although it may sound confusing, it’s very similar to how you think of clothes as having different parts, i.e. shirts, pants, and shoes, and also different brands.
Not that long ago, you would simply buy a shirt. Maybe yours was made by a renowned tailor, but it had no brand. And it probably didn’t come from china…
With modernity came the advent of brands –now you don’t have just a shirt, you buy a shirt from brand X, and you know what to expect as far as its fit, look and feel. Oh yes, and its price.
Well, it’s not that different here. About 60 years ago, if you practiced meditation, people said you practiced “Raja Yoga”. If you practiced postures, breathing, and other energetic and cleansing techniques, you practiced “Hatha Yoga”.
There was no such thing as a “yoga style”. If you wanted some frame of reference you could have asked details about the practice –is it strong? Does it focus on meditation? Is there chanting involved?
But around the 1950’s, things began to change…
How did styles come about?
branches of yoga
A little visual help
As yoga moved to the West, different teachers had very different ideas as to what to teach and how to teach it. Some teachers focused mostly on postures. Others on meditation. Others on their stock portfolio
But most teachers had a combination of at least some practices, each one teaching a different version of the poses, the way to sequence them, etc.
At first there were only a handful of styles, and very few people knew about them. But as interest in yoga grew, teachers began to differentiate themselves.
They started calling their particular way of teaching with a particular name –like a brand. And in the 1990’s, all hell broke loose, and styles began to sprout like popcorn.
Below is a list of some branches of Yoga. It isn’t definitive either, and it lends itself to lengthy discussions –so if you think that some of these shouldn’t be listed, or that I’m missing some, I’m open to suggestions.
BRANCHES OF YOGA
Raja Yoga: Closely associated with Patanjali’s Eight Limbs of Yoga, this is the path of meditation. Although some people include other practices here, such as breathing or energetic practices, it is mostly achieved “while sitting”.
Bhakti Yoga: For those who prefer to reach their connection with their Source through singing, dancing, writing poems… basically anything that allows them to pour their hearts through the yoga of devotion. You may already be a bhakta if you do any of those things!
Hatha Yoga: The physical practices. Yes, postures. But also breathing, cleansing practices, specific diet, and energetic practices. Some people use the name of this “branch” to describe a yoga Style now called Integral Yoga, or simply “soft yoga”.
Jnana Yoga: This is the Yoga of knowledge, and it’s aim is to use the intellect to discern the truth –that we are one with the divine, pure consciousness that permeates the Universe. The practice can consist of reading books, reflecting and learning from others who have attained enlightenment.
Karma Yoga: The Yoga of Pure Action. That means EVERY action, so it probably applies to all other practices. For the action to be pure, it must arise without aversion or attachment. This means dedicating every action to the Divine, without any expectation, and offering the fruits of the action to something higher than ourselves.
Each style of Yoga takes at least some of these branches in consideration, but they “package it” in a different way. In many cases, the main differences between the styles have to do with the way they approach “Hatha Yoga”, the physical aspect of it.
Some people see this as part of the “corruption” of yoga values. I personally think that it allows people to get at least a sense of what to expect, and be able to make a more informed decision as to what kind of practice they want to embark on, even if they are in their “testing” phase.
If you still have questions… just ask!
To your clarity,