If you Google “types of yoga,” chances are you’ll find articles on different styles like Bikram Yoga, Power Yoga, Yin Yoga, Ashtanga Yoga, Vinyasa Yoga, and so on. The truth is that these are all just one type of yoga – Hatha yoga, which is the name of the kind of yoga most people practice in a physical class.
There are actually six types of yoga on the Yoga Wheel, which ancient yogis believed would help people work holistically on bettering themselves and become enlightened. In addition to the Hatha yoga we are most familiar with, the other types are:
- Mantra Yoga: The practice of using a syllable (like “om”) or saying to focus the mind.
- Bhakti Yoga: The practice of devotion to a religion, God(s), or other higher power.
- Karma Yoga: The practice of selfless service and doing good works with no desire for repayment.
- Jnana Yoga: Dedication to study to grow our understanding in positive ways.
- Raja Yoga: Meditation practice – the original root from which all other yoga developed.
Today, many modern Hatha practices incorporate different parts of the other spokes of the yoga wheel. When people talk about “living your yoga,” it often means that some of the other elements of the Yoga Wheel are becoming more integrated into our lives. For example, we can practice in class three times a day, but if we are still mindlessly greedy, jealous and reactive, we’re not truly living like yogis. This is where we take note of the central “hub” needed to truly practice yoga – a core foundation built on cultivating honesty and compassion.
The King of All Yoga
Some other forms of yoga may or may not work to compliment your hatha practice, but you may find that raja yoga feels very familiar if you sit down and give it a try. In fact, “raja” means “king” in Sanskrit, the language of yoga’s original roots.
Simple breath awareness may not be as simple as it sounds once we stop everything else and start trying to just observe our breath. Our minds wander, our thoughts seem to pile up one after another. But over time, gently coming back to the breath and letting thoughts and sensations pass starts to help us connect more deeply and observe what rises.
At a deep level, hatha yoga is just raja yoga with all kinds of extra movement thrown in to make it more challenging. In our busy society, most people start with hatha yoga because it helps us exercise the body. As we start to see the truths our physical practice has to offer, trying to do less and just sit in observation can actually help us discover so much more.
Pulling It All Together
All these different types of yoga aren't just there to fit into different arbitrary categories. Outside the wheel is a ring that ties it all together, and that outer shell we’re working towards is enlightenment. That’s a pretty loaded word. Unpacking it, it means to “bring to light,” so we can just understand that this enlightenment is greater connection with what we’re really seeking. There are many paths to our destinations, but as we observe more of these practices, our own version of the yoga wheel will help us roll towards what we’re really looking for out of life.
If you'd like to learn more about the ancient teachings of yoga and its modern evolution, join us for Scholé Yoga Teacher Training where we cover topics like the Yoga Wheel and much more. The Fall 2016 semester starts September 10 – join us to grow like never before.