4 Paths of Yoga

1. Karma Yoga | The Yoga of Action


Karma yoga—the yoga of action—teaches us how to work and serve selflessly without attachment, egoism and expectation of gain or reward. A karma yogi learns to serve others with no expectation of reward, without desire for the fruit of the action, working for work’s sake only, as an act of worship. By detaching ourselves from the fruits of our actions and offering them to a higher power we learn to sublimate the ego. In the practice of karma yoga it is not only the action that is of importance but also the attitude and motive while doing the action. Karma yoga prepares the yogi for the study of higher truths—the knowledge of the Self. Action done in the right spirit, performed as an offering, as a sacrifice without expectation of reward purifies the heart and makes it fit for the practice of steady concentration, meditation and the dawn of higher knowledge. By changing our attitude and emotional relation to it, we spiritualise our work. The work will continue but the work idea in it will disappear and in its place will remain sacrifice and worship. The work becomes transmuted though our spiritual approach and attitude towards it. All acts become sacred—there is nothing small or great or not sacred in any type of work. Through this practice we learn to serve others with tolerance and patience and experience the joy of supporting those around us. Our heart purifies, the ego thins and we begin to experience deeper levels of the Self.

2. Bhakti | The Yoga of Devotion


Bhakti yoga is the path of devotion, of channelling emotion into love. It is the path of transmuting our emotional nature to a higher purpose. Bhakti is intense devotion and supreme attachment to God. It is the path to intuitive realisation of the Supreme through intense love and affection. Bhakti is a higher level of consciousness in which, through love, we become one with God and attain Self-realisation. The practice of bhakti yoga brings humility, compassion and unconditional love. Working with our emotional energy, through faith, prayer, and worship we surrender ourselves to God and transform our emotions into selfless devotion. This sublime love eliminates restlessness and distraction and opens the heart; we see the universe as a manifestation of the divine. We practice love for love’s sake. There is no selfish expectation, nor is there fear. The enemy of devotion is egoism and desire—lust, anger and greed. The path requires thorough discipline and a training of the will and the mind. Love, surrender, service, sacrifice and faith are all practices on the bhakti yoga path. We develop love towards all things at all times. Prayer, kirtan (chanting the names of God), japa (repetition of God’s name), hearing stories of the Lord, serving saints and holy ones, satsang, rituals and worship, charitable acts and service in God’s name all lead us to a higher level of consciousness and union with the Supreme.

3. Raja Yoga | The Yoga of Meditation

Based on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, the path of raja yoga or ashtanga yoga (meaning eight limbs in Sanskrit) consists of eight ‘limbs’ or steps that transform mental and physical energy into spiritual energy. When we control the body and mind the state of meditation comes easily and naturally. Though of ancient origin the methods are still considered to be the most powerful techniques available to combat the tremendous stresses and strains of daily living in modern society. The practices constitute a systematic control of body and mind, culminating in meditation and the superconscious state.

4. Jnana Yoga | The Yoga of Knowledge

“Jnana Yoga, or the science of the Self, is not a subject that can be understood and realised through mere intellectual study, reasoning, discussion or arguments. It is the most difficult of all sciences.” – Swami Sivananda

Jnana yoga is the intellectual approach to spiritual evolution. Following the teachings of Vedanta (the philosophy of non-duality), the jnana yogi uses the mind to inquire into its own nature. Through this practice, we learn of our essential divinity, the unity of life, and the oneness of consciousness. Jnana yoga requires a firm foundation in the other three paths; without fully integrating these lessons, the practice of jnana yoga can become idle speculation.