The different yoga schools simply adhere to different applications of inner discipline, all of which ultimately lead to the liberation of the soul and to a unique understanding of the Divine Unity.
The schools are merely named according to the yogi’s objective of self-transformation and the instrument chosen for such anticipated change.
The yoga schools are:
Ashtanga Yoga and it’s different variations, for the most part, aim at the fullest development of any one human faculty—the mind, emotions, life-force or the physical body. Such partial perfection is then allowed to spill over to one’s entire being.
But Sri Aurobindo‘s Purna Yoga or Integral Yoga focuses on the whole being in order to bring about total transformation. The approach, objective and means of Purna Yoga are all integral in essence.
The main stages of Purna Yoga are:
• Aspiration for the Divine.
• Surrender of the individual soul to the Universal Soul.
• Rejection of all obstructions to the path of total transformation.
Realizing the Divine within oneself is the first step of Integral Yoga. The means of achieving this state of Divine awareness is through a regular practice of either concentration, meditation or prayer.
The next step involves the realization of the Divine in entities beyond the subjective self. A realization of all constituent consciousnesses of the universe—an acceptance of a common origin of all beings.
The third stage consists of a true identification with the “Transcendental Divine”, which is neither limited within the being of a single individual nor within any other constituents of existence. According to Sri Aurobindo, unless this crucial Truth is realized, it is impossible for the sadhak or seeker to attain liberation.
In his philosophy, Rishi Aurobindo termed this rarefied region of higher consciousness as the “Supramental Consciousness”, the attainment of which is necessary for the liberation of the soul. The Master believed this stage of spiritual awareness to be potentially the ultimate rung on the human evolutionary ladder.
And the realization of this “Supramental Consciousness” is the principal aspiration of Sri Aurobindo’s Purna Yoga or Integral Yoga.
Jnana refers to knowledge but the emphasis is not on acquiring information but on developing the analytical powers of the mind. The manner in which the power of analysis is applied depends on the metaphysical system within which it is practiced. In the Samkhya system of Indian philosophy, the focus is on understanding one’s own inner self. In Advaita Vedanta (non-dualist Vedanta philosophy), the idea is to understand the difference between reality and illusion.
Bhakti Yoga is all about getting in touch with the Divine Being by following the outpourings of one’s heart. The term ‘bhakti’ can be roughly translated to mean ‘devotion’, and this emotion coupled with the Christian concept of faith leads to a state of mind which can be described as being immersed in bhakti. This strand of yoga principally advocates love and devotion as the path to moksha or liberation.
Originally, it was believed that the practice of Karma Yoga, accompanied by the observance of certain rituals, would lead to liberation from the cycle of birth and death. In the Bhagavad Gita, lord Krishna further extended the semantics of the term karma to mean detached action, that is, subjugation of the individual will to Divine purpose.
According to the Bhagavad Gita, these three different paths of yoga (jnana, bhakti and karma) help to define three different categories of men—reflective, emotional and active, respectively—distinguished on account of the distribution of emphasis on the theoretical, emotional and practical aspects of human personalities.
Raja Yoga or Ashtanga Yoga, which was formulated by Patanjali into a definite system from classical yoga, forms one of the Shad-Darshanas or classical systems of Indian philosophy. The school of Raja Yoga prescribes to a particular meditative system, which focuses on the analysis and control of the field of human consciousness. Often known as the ‘royal road’ or the ‘royal path’ (‘raja’ in Sanskrit denotes ‘king’ or ‘royal’), it offers a comprehensive method for controlling waves of thought by channeling mental and physical energies into spiritual energy.
The school of Hatha Yoga attaches a lot of importance to the perfect physical form, believing it to be a way of attaining spiritual perfection. And to this end it takes the help of pranayama (breath-control exercises) and mudras (hand gestures) to attain self-realization.
Often seen as part of Raja Yoga, the origins of Hatha Yoga can be traced to Gorakhnath, the 12th-century founder of the Kanphata Yogis. The word ‘hatha’ is derived from the two root terms, ‘ha’ meaning ‘the sun’ and ‘tha’ meaning ‘the moon’. Taken together, the term stands for ‘union of force’. Hence, central to Hatha Yoga disciplines is the harmonizing of its positive (sun) and negative (moon) currents.
Kundalini is the potential form of prana or life force, lying dormant in our bodies. It is conceptualized as a coiled up serpent (literally, ‘kundalini’ in Sanskrit is ‘coiled up’) lying at the base of our spine, which can spring awake when activated by spiritual disciplines. The practitioners of Kundalini Yoga concentrate on psychic centers or chakras in the body in order to generate a spiritual power, which is known as kundalini energy.
The practice comprises of awakening and then forcing this energy, flowing through nadis or channels, up the psychic channel of the sushumna, which runs from the base of the spine to the brain. The three main channels running alongside the spinal cord are ida, pingala and the sushumna. When this kundalini energy, pictured as the serpent residing in the first chakra at the root of the spine (muladhar chakra), is
raised up through the rest of the chakras until it reaches the seventh and the highest chakra (sahasrara) located at the crown of the head—self-realization occurs. This induces the blissful state of samadhi. The school of Sahaja Yoga is very similar to the Kundalini school.
Mantra Yoga refers to the repetition of mantras (words or sounds) during various yoga meditation techniques. This ritualistic chanting helps bind the mind to a single thought until it attains the state of samadhi.
The roots of Tantra Yoga go back to ancient fertility cults of India. The history of this strain of yoga, like the Kundalini school, is linked with the worship of Shakti, the primordial female energy. The objective of Tantra Yoga is to merge with the Ultimate by the arousal and channeling of sexual energy.
The Tantra school equates spiritual awakening with the awakening and rising of the kundalini power. According to Tantra, the kundalini is present in everything, even in the smallest of particles, in the form of cosmic energy. Only a fraction of it is operative, while an unmeasured residuum is left ‘coiled up’ and untapped at the ‘base root’.