Yoga encompasses many disciplines and practices. However, if you investigate further, you will realize that there are eight main branches or Yoga. Depending on your preferences, you may find your perfect balance by just practicing with just one form during your yoga class, or pick and choose the ones that you feel will benefit you the most. In any case, it is useful to understand all eight to know Yoga better.
Bhakti Yoga is about fostering loving devotion. Practitioners in this form of yoga believe that there is a supreme being and strive to connect or to be attached to the divine being through acts of devotion. This spiritual practice include rituals and ceremonies like making flowers and food offerings, singing praises and thinking about the supreme being.
Guru Yoga is a spiritual practice where the practitioner submits him/herself to their teacher. In this practice, the teacher is seen to be the enlightened one, and consists of visualizing and meditating on the guru with a goals of merging one’s mind with his or her mind.
Hatha Yoga is the physical discipline of yoga, which is the popularized branch of yoga we see in most yoga classes today. In fact, together with the modernization of Yoga, today there are many different styles of Hatha yoga classes. All of these styles fall back to the same goal of preparing the body physically, because Hatha yoga believes that the body must be properly purified before it is ready for the higher stages of mediation and concentration.
Jnana Yoga practices and teaches through meditation, and is the “wisdom” branch of yoga. The purpose of this meditation is to achieve enlightenment and the ideal of nondualism – withdrawal of the mind from the regular conscious perception of things so that one is attuned with reality, or the immortal spirit.
In Karma Yoga (also known as Buddhi Yoga), practitioners believe that work done without expectations or motives helps to purify one’s mind. All actions have consequences which full responsibility must be assumed, and one needs to act unselfishly, without attachment and with integrity. By doing so, they can achieve the perfection of life and to influence our destiny positively.
Mantra Yoga uses sound and rhythm together with meditation to help the mind to focus. A mantra is traditionally a word, syllable or phrase, which practitioners receive from their guru through an initiation. Practitioners are asked to keep the mantra secret and repeat it during meditation so that the mind focuses on a single thought, until the superconscious is revealed and experienced.
Raja Yoga is also know as Classical Yoga, and literally means “Royal Yoga”. In this practice, the mind is seen as the “king” of the body psycho-physical structure. That means, whatever our body do is to the bidding of our minds, whether we like it or not. Raja Yoga is also referred to as Ashtanga Yoga, which means “eight-limbed yoga” (not to be confused by the other Ashtanga Yoga by K. Pattabhi Jois, which is a style of Hatha Yoga). This is because Raja Yoga practitioners work on the eightfold path or eight limbs of yoga, found in the Yoga-Sutra of Patanjali
Tantra Yoga is the yoga of continuity, and is one of the most misunderstood form of yoga. Many people would relate sex to the word “tantra”, but real Tantra Yoga is more concerned with channeling or transmuting sexual and spiritual life force energy throughout the body. In the practice of partner yoga, tantra yoga positions can help in improving the spiritual level of intimacy between partners.