What is yoga? The Sanskrit word yoga literally means “union”, and refers to the union, in love, between the individual consciousness and the Supreme Consciousness, the self and the Superself, the soul and God. Yoga is, indeed, “the path of perfection,” because it aims toward this most exalted human attainment.
For most people in the world, the varieties and subtleties of yoga are unknown. Fortunately in recent years there has been many great Sanskrit works translated into English (by Śrīla Prabhupāda) and the knowledge of Yoga available in English today is vast.
Types of Yoga
In the vedic scriptures we discover that there are many varieties of yoga. Four basic varieties of yoga are described:
- Karma-yoga refers to the process whereby one performs his work for God, without the selfish desire for personal gain.
- Jñāna-yoga is the process of elevation to spiritual consciousness through the cultivation of philosophical knowledge.
- Astanga-yoga system, of which the modern “hatha-yoga” is a watered-down version, is a mechanical, meditative practice meant to control the mind and senses and focus one’s concentration on the Supreme.
- Bhakti-yoga system: The three previous yoga systems culminate in bhakti-yoga, the yoga of selfless, ecstatic, devotional love of God, Kṛṣṇa. Bhakti-yoga includes all previous form of yoga, and Lord Kṛṣṇa Himself says: “Of all yogis, he who always abides in Me with great faith, worshiping Me in transcendental loving service, is most intimately united with Me in yoga and is the highest of all.” [Bhagavad-gītā 6.47]
The processes of mediation, renunciation, japa, harinama sankirtan, temple worship and others are different methods of practicing these different yoga styles.
Where do I start?
It all depends on the type of yoga that you are interested in. In order to get a more in depth definition and explanation of each of these type of yoga, we recommend reading the book called Bhagavad-gītā (free download). The traditional method of learning any of these types of yoga is through a qualified teacher. If you don’t know any qualified teacher personally yet, Bhagavad-gītā is an auspicious way to start.
If for some reason, you are not inclined towards reading vedic scriptures, one can also look for current practitioners of yoga. Specially those practicing harinam–sankirtan (a musical practice within bhakti-yoga). Meet them, ask them questions, learn about their lifestyle. May your life as a yogī be successful!