The West’s main Branch of Yogas

the-west-main-branch-of-yogaI have myself checked many articles on what are the different types of Yoga from time to time. Nowadays, I came across with the Anti-Gravity Yoga, Water Yoga, Hot Yoga and Doga, Yoga for you and your Dog. I do understand that time goes by, things grow and diverse and well, it is a major business. But… Doga That is hilarious!

I am completely pro for doing whatever makes us happy  – especially when it is also helping out our health and not requesting anything else or anyone else – but I do dread at the look on the outcome of a Google search on a Yoga theme. Does it really need the term Yoga on it? It is what I wonder… And as a good friend of mine says: Yep, it is all there and it does not decomposing. Though I am sure passed the idea of the existence of “The Real Yoga” or Yoga needing any protection – it’s been around for a whole lot of time before I was born and it is way stronger than my little self – somehow, I do get sometimes the urge to write a little bit about it.

Yoga Styles and the importance of Prana

This one is an attempt of casting some light on the main approaches of Yoga and also to remember the essence of the practice. Practically all Yoga from today’s perspective is rooted in Hatha Yoga since they are mainly postural Yoga (You can know more about that here). As, William J. Broad has given a good brief picture of several different practices known as Yoga in his book The Science of Yoga, here comes what he had pointed out as Hatha:

Hatha. Ancestral. The forerunner of all postural yoga, from medieval India. Modern forms tend to be gentle.

Yes, the Mother of the Postural Yoga that is spread these days. But it is good to know that this is a branch of it as well as it is good to know a little bit about the other “Yogas” and what is Yoga after all. So firstly, lets just agree on what Yoga is. Whenever, for this articles purposes, you read the word Yoga please understand it as a path that aims the experience of merging or dissolving our-selves – what we understand as I am – into something – or a no-thing – that is Eternal and might be addressed as Higher Consciousness, Universe or chosen Deity. This merging is known as Samadhi, the merge itself is also known as Yoga: and this is the end of suffering.

There are two main lines of Yoga school, and in this article we will address the Prana Samyama Yoga Schools only because they are closer to what is practiced in the West nowadays. These schools make mainly use of Prana, which can be translated as breath as well as life force, or life activity. It’s said also that they make use of our “outer tools of experience” – the breath and also, the body and senses. Those schools are:

Mantra Yoga

This dimension of yoga works with Sound as well as meditation. Sound supposedly have a connection to Subtle Energy Centers in our body known as Chakras.

Hatha Yoga

It is mainly about the control over Prana, in here can be understood as breathing as well as life force. The practice of body postures goes together the breathing practices among others such as cleansing processes, a balanced diet and, of course, meditation.

Laya Yoga

Known as Yoga of Absorption or Yoga of Rhythm. Scholars also understand it as a result of Hatha yoga: it is broadly talked about in one of main Hatha scriptures, Hathapradipika, 15th bce. Laya Yoga  addresses the Samadhi by the mind merging into a sound that arouses inside us with the Hatha Yogic practices.  However, Laya Yoga has also been addressed slightly differently by Paramahamsa Satyananda as a path: it’s seen as a way of consciously bringing out unconsciousness – of physical brain, nervous system, centers consciousness within the body – along with having complete control over this process. It definitely uses mantra, pranayama, meditation and focus upon chakras in its practices.

Raja Yoga

Rajayoga actually is not a school in itself since it is a synonym of Samadhi, but we included here since its very misinterpreted. Patanjali’s Yoga has been commonly called Raja Yoga. It is useful to remember that Patanjali Yoga is the Yoga that is mainly rooted in Patanjali Yoga Sutras, a scripture from around 2bce that mainly summarizes psychological techniques and mechanism as a path. Patanjali himself has never used the term RajaYoga to address the practice or even a style. On the other hand, Raja Yoga is also declared to be the culmination of Hatha Yoga in Hatha Yogic scriptures such as Hathapradipika (around 14th -15th bce). In any case, it’s best understood as Samadhi, the goal of Yoga itself, rather than a specific method.

It is important as well to say that Patanjali’s Yoga is seen as Classical form of Yoga. Also, it is claimed in his Sutras the use of elongating the breath as well as silencing it as an important practice in Yoga, which somehow incorporates an essential tool of the Prana Samyam Schools.

Hatha Yoga and Postural Yoga

So as you can see, those are part of one of the main branches in Yoga, the other branch comes into the category of the Bhavana Yoga Schools, schools that are concern with attaining Samadhi through “developing a particular attitude in one-self and towards the world”, as stated Dr B. R Sharma, a well-known Yoga researcher. Obviously, from all those schools listed above in our small summary the one we are mostly familiar with is the one that uses the body, at least at first, in a more non-subtle way as it is done physically through the postures, the asanas, in a Hatha Yoga Class.
Hatha yoga mushroomed into several different practices as well as other practices combined concepts or techniques of Hathayoga into their own, becoming a line in modern postural Yoga, like Astanga that supposedly blends Indian Martial Arts in its technique. In any case, the connection to Yoga’s goal or different roots when we think of something like Doga, Yoga for you and your dog has become quite fade and sometimes inexistent.

It is very important to understand that is not a matter of purism, as it would be to urge people to practice Yoga as it was in its Origins. It is quite impossible to know what that stands for: for example at first, women were not allowed in the practice. So in here it is not a matter holding on to whatever scriptures states but it is surely a matter of remembering that a crucial practice in whatever Yoga is practiced is the cultivation of Awareness and Self-knowledge. Even if you are not interested in liberation, enlightenment, Samadhi, do remember that if your Yoga practice is not about mainly developing your own awareness whether through mantra, body postures, breathing and mind techniques it is really not connected to Yoga. And that is also ok… Yoga itself is fine, does not need to pretend what is not, it is also not religious, does not aim to be militant or raise a flag “everyone-should-practice”: Yoga will always stay. But we ourselves are loosing quite a lot if misunderstanding the potentiality of what it offers.

So if you’re Yoging in Water or in the Skies, hanging around… Just make sure you are practicing from within and with that aim: self-discovery-expansion. I dare say it still works if you stick to the essence of what Yoga means. If that is not your choice, do it openly for fun, pleasure, fitness or health, which are surely amazing anyway, but no need to call it Yoga, right?

Studying the scriptures and a little bit of History is crucial to keep us inspired. We do offer 200-hour Yoga Teacher Training Course in Goa, India if you are interested in deepening your Yoga Scripture knowledge and your Yoga practice, join us.

Suzana Altero
Turiya Yoga