BY URVIL JAMES VILLARUEL
Mar. 3, 2016, Toronto, ON - What is yoga? From what I gather, in the most non-dogmatic and consciously-driven way possible, yoga is any practice by which to quell the unruly mind. At its core, yoga is meditation. However, given the rise in popularity of power-yoga, most may only be familiar with yoga in its more physical sense (postures --- or asanas). But, there are actually four main paths to "yoga"; physical practice just being one of them.
The four main paths to yoga are: Bhakti, Karma, Raja and Jnana (pronounced ghee-ahn). *Note: try not to get too caught-up in the sanskrit naming of these four paths, as they are merely the traditional terms used for describing each of these four methods of practice…
Bhakti yoga --- is the practice of devotional worship towards some entity or force beyond oneself. In this practice, one would perform devotional acts of worship, such as mantra or prayer, as an offering or reconnection to 'god'. In essence, the practitioner has become "safe" - in mind - by engaging in each of these devotional acts of worship because 'god' is now "looking out" for them. It is only by giving oneself up to something greater, something beyond themselves, through these vocational and rigorous routines of ritualistic spiritual practice, that one is able to cultivate a good-standing relationship with the 'divine'. “In caring for 'god', I am then being cared for." -this is bhakti yoga.
Karma yoga --- is the practice of conducting right-action towards another, via the participation of service. In this practice, one would give selflessly of themselves towards another. By acting selflessly of themselves, one can begin to see the higher-order of things and come to realize that all right-action comes with good consequence; leaving the practitioner feeling fulfilled. By doing good, one will start to feel good, not only about themselves, but about those in the world around them. It’s pretty straight forward. Doing good for goodness' sake. “By loving another, I find that I am loved. And so, I am at peace.” -this is karma yoga.
Raja yoga --- or "the most identifiable form of yoga", is the physical practice by which one aims to join the body and the mind (because they are non-separate), through the breath. By engaging in each of these difficult postures, focusing solely on the breath, one is able to become completely absorbed in the present moment. There is nothing but this moment. No problem; no solution; no this; no that. There is only this moment being experienced through the body-mind that we are in. Granted, this may not always be the case with physical practice, as one can still be absorbed in thought while trying to push the body-mind to the limit; however, once one is able to learn to fully let go and give in to what they are doing, then the real magic can begin. The more engaging the posture, the more absorbed in the present movement the practitioner becomes. “1 breath, 2 breath, 3 breath, f----- oh boy, this is intense.” -this is raja yoga.
Jnana yoga --- (my most-utilized path towards yoga) is the practice of engaging in theoretical study, discussion and understanding. In jnana yoga, one uses the mind to overcome the mind; seeing its character, its nature, and finally learning that it is ok to let it go. When the roadmap to one's true nature becomes clear, so too will everything else in life. However, it should be noted that, of the four paths to yoga, this one is regarded as the most difficult. It requires a complete breakdown of one's own system of beliefs and an acknowledgement of: yes, I was wrong. What the mind thinks, it soon believes; which it then encodes and eventually trains-in as a habitual pattern of action or thought. This pattern can be quite difficult to get rid of once the idea has been fully formed in the mind. For this, the real marker of understanding is not only found in a practitioner's outlook, but in them honestly asking themselves: do I truly know what it is to be "here" in this moment? And can I accept the idea of not knowing? "Ah, you know, that's beginning to make a lot of sense." -this is jnana yoga.
After examining each of the four paths to yoga, we can begin to see an undeniable commonality start to emerge: no matter which path we choose for ourselves, we are required to do something. And, in so doing, we become fully "here". Each path, merely a roadmap towards becoming present. No right; no wrong; no better; no worse; just straight forward techniques of understanding to help us along the way. Coming to see that our mental-chatter and unrest is not the be-all, end-all, of our existence; rather, a tool that must be overcome. A tool that we call "the mind".